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Quetzal celebrates its roots

The East L.A. band, marking 10 years of creative music-making, shares new material with an enthusiastic audience at the Ford.

June 02, 2003|Agustin Gurza | Times Staff Writer

Near the end of Quetzal's rousing concert Saturday night at Hollywood's John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, lead singer Martha Gonzalez thanked fans for coming out to celebrate the East L.A. band's 10th anniversary.

"I know you could be across the street at Coldplay," the charming Chicana vocalist joked.

Actually, the British group was playing across the freeway at the Hollywood Bowl, another open-air venue carved into the canyon.

The roar of Coldplay's capacity crowd could be heard from the entrance to the much smaller Ford, only about three-quarters full.

Quetzal's followers were just as enthusiastic. But after 10 years, a hometown band with this much soul, creativity and musicianship really deserves a full house. The problem is that this multiethnic ensemble refuses to sell out. Quetzal remains oblivious to mainstream tastes, true to its Afro-jarocho musical roots and committed to its challenging, community-oriented vision.

The band opened its 90-minute set with "Planta Los Pies" (Plant Your Feet), a new number that reasserts its self-assured Chicano identity, mixing touches of rock with the Mexican son. That was one of several sophisticated new songs from the group's upcoming third album, "Worksongs," which were unveiled during the show. The new material blended smoothly with older work in a seamless sequence, as band members inconspicuously switched instruments to incorporate congas, keyboards and cajones, or percussive wooden crates.

Those rough-hewn boxes were used most effectively on "Limones Agrios" (Bitter Lemons), a tribute to the late grandfather of bandleader Quetzal Flores, farm worker Chema Valdez. The band also introduced two new members, guitarist Camilo Landau and violinist Daphne Chen, who thrilled the audience with her aggressive and emotional style. The show closed with a big jam on the traditional son jarocho "El Cascabel." By then, Quetzal had created such a warm, embracing and celebrative spirit, you felt there's no other place you'd rather be.

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