Genre bending, Grammys, and Gentrification
Quetzal Flores of the Grammy winning band Quetzal talks new album, activist work, and building community through music
March 23, 2017
Filed under Arts
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The East LA band Quetzal cannot be defined by one genre, as their songs fuse multiple musical styles together to craft one unique sound. Likewise, their activism works sprawl across multiple platforms. They advocate for social justice as seen through their performances and also going to schools to inspire young people to follow their dreams.
On their seventh album “The Eternal Getdown,” the Grammy award-winning band continued down the path of musical fusion and social activism. The group’s guitarist, Quetzal Flores, discussed why they remained committed to build community through songs and outreach.
“We’ve been committed to using the music as a platform to talk about social justice, and on a deeper level… to have conversations and to exercise community with music,” said Flores.
Flores talked about not wanting to simply resist and fight the system, but “also dreaming, proposing, and moving things forward… according to the things that are important to us and not simply in response to some crisis that is happening due to systems of oppression.”
When asked about the band’s overall purpose and what they are aiming to achieve through their music, Flores spoke in length about the way art and culture can intertwine to support the regenerative processes in social movements.
He cited “Barrio Healer” as an example, a song in “The Eternal Getdown.” It highlights the story of Ofelia Esparza, “an 86-year-old woman who is a healer, a school teacher for many years in East LA, had 9 kids, and who carried the tradition of the Altar and taught it to so many people. That’s why you go to Dia de Los Muertos altars in East LA, and you see these monumental altars; that’s Ofelia’s work, that’s her legacy.”
Flores referenced Esparza’s De de Los Muertos altar work as regenerative processes because he believed that it helps people who are in mourning to heal through celebrating their loved ones’ lives and to move forward.
Flores and his bandmates told stories of people like Esparza for the sake of giving communities like East LA a positive voice. However, the same communities are now facing changes such as gentrification.
“Gentrification is yet another example of colonialism, of how colonialism works. It’s about [Christopher] Columbus and his men… dominating a community into submission, and trying to erase any sign of the culture that existed there before in order to gain this capital wealth,” Flores said. “There was never [an] equal relationship there, and that’s gentrification… it’s dehumanizing people and displacing them in the process.” When asked whether he thought new wealthy residents could coexist with the older residents that built the community up, Flores emphasized that intentionality is crucial.
As quoted from Flores, “If you come in with the intention of being part of community… then every decision you make will have that decision in mind. Everything from that price you pay for that house, understanding that you can potentially drive the market up and make it impossible for people in this community to live.”