For six months in the mid-2000s I lived in Los Angeles. I had just left my job in Washington, D.C., taking only what fit in my car as I drove 3,000 miles cross country with dreams of the kind of adventure, excitement, and opportunity that has lured idealistic, intrepid, young creatives to California over the years. My ambitions did not lie in Hollywood, however. Rather they were focused on how I could find a place to thrive (personally and professionally) in the broad landscape of grassroots cultural communities that live and work there.
My California journey began with friends and colleagues in the Mexican-American community of Los Angeles mariachis. I spent my days looking for a job, and my evenings tagging along with my musician-friends to community festivals, sporting events, their recurring restaurant gigs (plantas), and to private homes where they worked chambas – hired to perform for various life celebrations such as birthdays, anniversaries, and graduations. At every event I was greeted with a warm plate of food, a cold beer, and a seat at the table – a most welcoming hospitality that quickly allayed any anxiety I felt about being seen as the strange “gavacha” crashing a family gathering.
After six months in Los Angeles, a job opportunity took me to the Bay Area, and for the next 5 years I drove up and down “the 5,” “the 101,” or the Pacific Coast Highway (just once on that windy road!); through the fertile Central Valley or the verdant Salinas Valley between my new home in “NoCal” and the one I loved returning to in “SoCal.”
This playlist represents just a sliver of the Chicanx and/or Mexican-American music of Southern California that holds a special place in my heart and ears – and is reflective of the connections and friendships I maintain to this day in Los Angeles. Many of the artists in the list I’ve followed for years, and others I discovered while compiling this list. I intentionally chose artists and tracks that, curated together into a single list, would illustrate the breadth and depth of Chicanx/Mexican-American contributions to the musical landscape of the U.S. going back decades – from artists deeply rooted in the traditional folk music of Mexico, to those who were inspired and influenced by the sounds of reggae, R&B, hip-hop, country, and rock.
I hope you hear some familiar sounds, and discover a few new ones that will become part of a new soundtrack in your life – as they have in mine.
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