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POP MUSIC

Five Picks for Sampling Chicano Alternativo

January 11, 1998|Yvette C. Doss

There are more than two dozen bands in Los Angeles' Chicano underground, including Ollin, Rice and Beans and Cactus Flower, but these five reflect the diversity and talent of the scene. They can be seen regularly at such showcases as the Opium Den, Dragonfly and East L.A. galleries and community centers.

QUETZAL. This six-member group embodies the Chicano aesthetic with its eclectic music and spirited attitude. Drawing from traditional influences as varied as corrido, jarocho and bolero as well as the blues, Quetzal's bilingual music offers thoughtful lyrics and danceable beats. Singer Martha Gonzalez's powerful voice soars on such songs as "Chicano Skies." John Avila, former bassist for Oingo Boingo and current member of Psychotic Aztecs and Cid, has begun work as co-producer of the band's debut album, which they will release independently in February.

OZOMATLI. The Latin-jazz-funk-hip-hop-salsa group is as ethnically diverse as Los Angeles itself. With bassist Wil-dog Abers providing a strong backbone, a horn section offering soulful Latin jazz, Raul Pacheco's penetrating lead vocals and DJ Cut Chemist scratching along with the rhythm section, Ozomatli plays raw-edged, groovy dance tunes in both English and Spanish. During any given performance, expect to hear toasting, rapping, crooning and the festive accompaniment of tablas, bongos, congas and timbales.

LYSA FLORES. If English rock singer-songwriter P.J. Harvey were a Chicana, she'd sound a lot like this 23-year-old folk-rock muse. This is feminist rock at its best. Flores takes on issues such as abortion, sexual dissatisfaction and life on the streets in melodic, bittersweet songs such as "Dollar a Drink Night Dude" and "Queen of the Boulevard."

BLUES EXPERIMENT. Gus Sabina's voice captures the vibrancy of the Chicano music scene with its energy and depth. The talented singer maneuvers his way through straight blues, reggae and R&B with equal command. This septet fuses cocky blues guitar with chunky, soulful funk and Latin percussion, for a retro vibe that'll take you back two decades. Influences range from Curtis Mayfield and Sly & the Family Stone to Santana.

AZTLAN UNDERGROUND. The sound here is a fusion of alternative rock and hip-hop accented by indigenous instrumentation. The seven-member group's visceral music includes hard-rock rants, slow, dreamy drum beats, explosive raps and hypnotic spoken-word incantations. The group's first album, the self-produced "Decolonized," is an exploration of identity issues, self-determination and the concept of mental colonization. A second collection on its own Xicano Records label is due in April.

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