Hispanic heritage shared through music

“This is 25 years of creating and discovering Mexican culture and tradition,” said Eugene Rodriguez, lead of the band Los Cenzontles. Los Cenzontles is in its 25th year of promoting Mexican pride, dignity and accountability. Los Cenzontles honors traditional Mexican musical roots and blends American culture to bring a fresh new sound. 

The Chicano and Latino studies department was given an academic grant that gave Professors Ron Lopez and Amanda Martinez-Morrison the opportunity to invite Los Cenzontles to perform at the Green Music Center Thursday evening. 

“Los Cenzontles are both a touring band and a cultural-arts academy for youth in San Pablo, California,” said Martinez-Morrison. “The band is often described as a ‘Chicano roots rock’ band and compared to Los Lobos. They mix traditional music from Mexico with other genres like rock, soul, bluegrass, cumbia, salsa, etc.”

Eugene Rodriguez, from Los Angeles, was joined at the Green Music Center on Thursday Evening with the other members of the band: Fabiola Trujillo, Lucina Rodriguez and Emiliano Rodriguez. 

The front vocals of the band are Trujillo and Lucina Rodriguez. Fabiola, born in Mexico, moved to Oakland at the age of seven and joined Los Cenzontles at the age of 15. Lucina, also born in Mexico, moved to California at the age of 11 and joined Los Cenzontles at the age of 15. Emiliano, born in San Francisco and raised in Richmond, joined the Los Cenzontles Mexican Arts Center in San Pablo for over nine years and plays a variety of instruments, including piano, electric bass, guitar, jarana, and leon, with the band Los Cenzontles.

Los Cenzontles is more than just a band but also a cultural arts center in San Pablo. Los Cenzontles Mexican Arts Center, founded in 1989 by the band’s Eugene Rodriguez, is also a non-profit organization that connects young Mexicans to music, art and their cultural roots. 

The center is a cultural academy that provides classes and workshops that teach young children about music, dance, arts and crafts that relate to the Mexican tradition in an effort to keep the Mexican culture alive. Lucina works at the Los Cenzontles Mexican Arts Center as a dance teacher and business manager.

The band’s sound is a mix of modern electric bass and drums, and traditional Mexican instruments including jarana, vihuela, requinto, pandero and quijada. This mix of traditional mariachi music paired with contemporary American sounds creates a contemporary soulful musical sound. 

“Their approach is not to think of ‘folk’ or ‘traditional’ music as archival, overly precious, or metaphorically frozen in amber but as a living tradition that is constantly changing and adapting to the realities of people’s lives,” said Martinez-Morrison.

In a blended sound of upbeat tempo of the electric bass and traditional mariachi sounds, Eugene sang, “Soy Mexico Americano.” As he sang, the audience clapped along in enjoyment and two young girls from the cultural academy dressed in colorful Mexican traditional dance costumes jumping around the stage in rhythm with the music.

Los Cenzontles performed some songs in English and other songs in Spanish. “Adios California” was a fun and entertaining number sung in Spanish that even English speakers could enjoy.

 Los Cenzontles has worked with multiple artists and bands, including Los Lobos and Neil Young. The band performed a song about positive vibes from the future which they learned from “Los Lobos,” which Eugene described as “the greatest Mexican Chicano musical group.” 

The performance ended with a song by Neil Young using folk instruments and traditional Mexican sound.

Eugene’s purpose for the creation of the Los Cenzontles Mexican Cultural Arts Center and the formation of the Los Cenzontles band is to advocate and educate our children, which is the only way that to move forward. 

Los Cenzontles has come a long way from their start and has toured all over California spreading traditional Mexican roots and culture.

Follow the band on Facebook and YouTube to follow their successes.