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Mezcla music director and founder Pablo Menendez visits Cal State LA

The+flyer+for+film+screening
The flyer for film screening

The flyer for film screening

Cal State LA

Cal State LA

The flyer for film screening

David Czinner, Intern

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On Monday April 17, Cal State LA students were in for a treat when musician Pablo Menendez and director David Sandoval came as invited guests to a documentary screening. The film is a biography that discusses the life of Pablo Menendez, the director and founder of the Cuban music group “Mezcla.”

The biography focused on Menendez’s life story and musical background. Menendez went to Cuba in the early 60s and has lived there since 1966 where he was active as a music director and guitarist. He is the son of blues and jazz vocalist Barbara Dane. Menendez has a varied mix of interesting musical influences such as Jazz, Blues, Rock and Cuban styles.

“Mezcla” has been around for over 25 years, and the group has evolved and reshaped its sound numerous times throughout the years. The group has performed with iconic names such as  Chucho Valdes, Roy Hargrove and Carlos Santana to name a few. The word “Mezcla” means “mixture” in Spanish, which accurately captures the aim of the group; to mix and develop a variety of styles in fresh creative ways.

Having a musician of Menendez’s caliber talk to students and student musicians was quite a treat. Several students from the Afro Latin Ensemble were asked to perform for the audience, not knowing that Menendez would step in and jam with them. One of the trickiest things when playing Cuban music is the style. Many believe that Cuban music is “Latin Jazz” but there are numerous differences. One of the main and most important is visible in an element that both Cuban and Jazz styles share; improvisation.  “The main difference is the vocabulary of soloing” commented Luis Caceres, a senior Music Education Major, and Baritone Saxophonist in the Afro Latin Ensemble.  “You do not have your typical II V one licks like in jazz. A lot of musicians know that the core of cuban music is rhythm and without that you have nothing. So I really try my best to emphasize that rhythm in my soloing when it comes to cuban music.”

Both Sandoval and Menendez have a friend and colleague at Cal State LA, Dr. Paul De Castro, Professor of Jazz Studies and Latin American Music and director of the M.M. in Afro Latin Music. “I met Pablo through David Sandoval maybe 15 years ago,” commented Dr. DeCastro. “Throughout the years he has visited CSULA at least three times and performed with our students”.

One of the greatest personal struggles that faces musicians and artists of all sorts is whether or not they should continue their artistic endeavours. For musicians working with Cuban and Latin American styles, it’s a particular challenge because the styles are underappreciated. Yet they are important not just because of the art, but because of the history. Latin American music is intertwined with as much complexity and richness as is Jazz. When asked about that artistic dilemma. If you do music from your heart and what you believe in going to be appreciated one way or another” commented Menendez. “Never give up your heart and your music; humanity at some point will have monuments for those people that were able to do that”

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