There is no generation gap in the Cruz family. They have been working together since 1980, when grandfather Gilberto founded their folklorico group Ecos de Chiapas in the Mexican region of the same name. Gilberto was then 54 years old; the youngest member of the three-generation ensemble was 8.
Today Ecos de Chiapas--which performs Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Fiesta Marketplace in Santa Ana--is based in San Bernardino. Still under the direction of Gilberto, members now include sons Epigmenio (the manager), Ruisenor and Almibar; daughter Carmen; and grandchildren Veronica, Ivan and Abel.
Elders within the family hierarchy teach younger family members the skills necessary to become well-versed musicians, particularly on the marimba--a beautifully built instrument constructed of rosewood from their native Chiapas. Chiapans take great pride in traditional craftsmanship, calling the wood \o7 ormiguillo de marimba\f7 . The marimba forms the focal point of their folklorico arrangements--which are passed among marimba groups--with five or six players often playing it simultaneously. Though the entire Cruz family can read music, they are more likely to learn and perform their numbers by ear.
But versatility on a single instrument is not considered sufficient. According to 18-year-old Veronica, who alternately answered questions herself and interpreted for her father, Epigmenio, during an interview this week, she and each relative involved sings and plays several other instruments. Any combination of French horn, flute, guitar, piano, organ and accordion may be used in a show, although Sunday afternoon the Cruzes will restrict themselves to marimba and electric bass, while Epigmenio and Ruisenor (whose name, appropriately, translates to "Nightingale") will lead the singing. Veronica will also dance.
According to Epigmenio, the goal of the group is to share Mexican--and particularly Chiapan--culture in California and other states. Dedication, however, outstrips monetary rewards, for all of the men must support their families with work outside the group. Yet their commitment remains firm and productive.
Performance venues usually reflect the grass-roots nature of the music--public schools, universities (including several University of California campuses and the University of Redlands), markets, churches and private parties. Yet invitations that the group has received to appear in higher-profile surroundings--such as at a party for former President Gerald R. Ford given in Palm Springs last year and attended by a host of White House officials--underscores increasing recognition of the validity of folk-based artistic contributions.
Though Ecos de Chiapas occasionally joins forces with other folklorico and flamenco groups, on Sunday the ensemble will appear alone, presenting typical examples of regional music. Epigmenio pointed out that the marimba serves various traditions in different parts of the country--folklorico dance music in southeastern Chiapas, Indian dances in other areas of the South, mariachi strains in Guadalajara and polkas in the North. The family performs in folk costume as well. Women appear resplendent in colorful, handmade dresses called \o7 chiapanecas\f7 , while men sport the blousy shirts and baggy pants of \o7 chamulas\f7 .
Ecos de Chiapas will inaugurate the first annual Summer Fiesta at Santa Ana's downtown Fiesta Marketplace. Marketing director Florinda Mintz said she chose the group because she felt it represented "the most classical expression of the folk art." Six months ago, she tested Ecos de Chiapas before an "opportunity" audience, without advance publicity. "They were a complete success," she said.
All concerts in the marketplace are free, funded by a budget amassed from a percentage of rent money from resident merchants. Moreover, since a popular three-day Cinco de Mayo festival this year attracted 15,000 attendants daily, potential sponsors have begun to surface. Mintz spoke optimistically of future programs that will both reach out to and enrich the community.
\o7 Ecos de Chiapas performs traditional music and dance of Chiapas, Mexico, on Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m. at Fiesta Marketplace, 204 E. 4th St., Santa Ana. Admission: free. Information: (714) 550-0910. \f7