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Quetzal: a Rollicking, Collective Good Time

The band, grounded in the politics of its founder, Quetzal Flores, stakes a claim as L.A.'s leading current Chicano band.


At a club packed to the rafters Thursday night, Quetzal celebrated the release of its new album with a joyful and passionate performance that cemented its place as the premiere L.A. Chicano band of its generation.

Don't think Santana or Los Lobos. This polished, nine-piece outfit plays what you might call jarocho hip, an original blend of Mexican folklorico, Caribbean rhythms and American rock, all grounded in the Zapatista politics of its intense founder, guitarist Quetzal Flores.

Revolution hasn't been this much fun since the '60s.

Quetzal is a cool and classy band. On stage Thursday at Cafe Club Fais Do Do, they demonstrated the qualities that make them so appealing: Rich songwriting, enchanting arrangements and serious musicianship.

It's all strings and percussion, with Flores on jarana, a small Mexican guitar, the smooth Ray Sandoval on electric guitar and the skillful Kiko Cornejo Jr. on a drums-timbal combination in the style of modern Cuban timba bands. Dante Pascuzzo played the unusual six-string bass, picking it like a classical guitar during a show-stopping solo.

As a group, they exude a lovely and irresistible spirit, much more so live than on record. The attractive brother-and-sister vocal team of Gabriel and Martha Gonzalez make a charming centerpiece. Their sweet harmonies create a magically floating feel, especially when interlaced with the backup vocals of Rocio Marron, who also delivered exciting violin solos to the delight of the mostly young, multiethnic crowd.

Quetzal is living proof that drawing on cultural roots can be a powerful source of creativity, if rock 'n' roll didn't prove that already. They play with conviction, a quality missing from many mainstream Latino acts.

Paradoxically, the band converts its cultural pride into an embracing, unifying force. Its collectivist spirit engulfed the club during an encore Thursday that repeated a one-word chorus: todos (everybody).

"Everybody say it," Gabriel Gonzalez exhorted. "It's not a bad word."

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