Los Cenzontles at Americas Society, July 21 2010

Ernest Barteldes By

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Los Cenzontles
Americas Society
New York, NY
Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The California-based 8-piece ensemble came to the crowded Upper East Side room with a selection of contemporary-inflected traditional Mexican music, kicking off with "Hermosissimo Lucero," an a capella number in two voices. That was followed by an original number entitles "Soy Mexico Americano," an up-tempo ranchera led by musical director Eugene Rodriguez on twelve-string guitar. The lyrics speak of the ups, downs and pride of being part of two distinctively different cultural realities.

During their set, the group went through a mix of originals and standard Mexican songs, some of which they recorded with The Chieftains and Ry Cooder (of Buena Vista Social Club fame). The musicians often switched instruments between tunes, but what caught the audience's attention was their liberal use of the zapateado a form of tap dancing clearly inherited from the Spanish colonizers. According to Rodriguez, this dance style is present everywhere in Mexico, and it is done in a very spontaneous manner.

The most poignant part of the show came when the group addressed immigration. On the pop-inflected "Voy Caminando," (I Go Walking) the group tells the story of a young man who recognizes that there is no future for him in his Mexican Village, and leaves his homeland to try his luck in America, hoping to make a living and someday return to see his family again. On the corrido "Estado de Verguenza" (State of Shame) they openly criticize Arizona's controversial SB 1070 with Spanish-language lyrics that say "Arizona/state of shame/ instead of being known for your beauty/you have a fame of racism and hatred."

The show closed with a rendition of Los Lobos' "Good Morning Aztlan," an English-language rocker with an optimistic view of the future, and returned for an encore playing a traditional take on the timeless classic "La Bamba," a tune immortalized by the late Ritchie Valens.

Throughout the two sets, Rodriguez explained (in English) what the songs were about, and also explained the Mexican instruments they used—including a joke on Emiliano Rodriguez's Fender bass, which he said "was found in an indigenous village."

Los Cenzontles' concert was highly enjoyable both musically and visually, thanks to the costumes designed by Marie Astrid De Rodriguez (the bandleader's wife). All the musicians are highly talented, and one can only hope to hear them again in a larger venue.

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