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LA LA LAND : Grammy nominee Gaby Moreno is a Los Lobos singing neighborhood in historical play


Gaby Moreno turns up in the most interesting places, including the Latin Grammys (nominated and won), the Grammys (nominated), NPR (as a regular on Live From Here), Parks and Recreation (co-wrote the opening theme), Elena of Avalor (sang the theme song and voiced the character Marlena on a special Christmas episode on the Disney Channel), an underground parking garage in Santa Monica with the band We Are The West, and numerous venues in the US, Europe and Latin America.  But I saw her last week in what I think is her most interesting role and location to date: on stage in a preview of About Productions’ restaged presentation of the 2012 musical, Evangeline, The Queen of Make-Believe at the Margot Albert Theater in the Plaza de la Raza in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of LA.

the neighborhood 3

What made it especially interesting is that she and her two bandmates were not the band for the musical;  they were playing a role – they were “The Neighborhood” – a kind of Latino Greek chorus that used the songs of Los Lobos as commentary and context for the action on stage. The action on stage was an intimate look into a Latino family in East Los Angeles during the 1968 East LA Walkout,  the massive protests by Latino students against the Los Angeles Unified School District practices of shortchanging, tracking and belittling Latino Students. Gaby was not only entertaining us with music, she was re-enacting a critical part of LA’s history.

the Neighborhood

The East LA Walkouts,  also known as the Chicano Blowout,  celebrated its 50th anniversary last week.  It started with 200 students at Wilson High School in East LA and spread to seven other schools until a reported 15,00 students, parents and activists thronged the streets in a peaceful protest for better education. The protests continued from March to September, including round- the-clock sit ins at the office of the Board of Education, which denied the students demands and resisted improvements for months.

the neighborhood and the cast

The East LA Walkouts launched the Chicano political movement in LA with many of the organizers going to become movement leaders who are still organizing today, 50 years later.  It also helped launch the iconic Chicano rock band, Los Lobos, co-founded by David Hidalgo and Louie Pérez in 1973, after meeting as students at Garfield High School, ground zero for the Walkouts. The protests and the Chicano movement became an indelible part of the pair’s history and influenced the band’s music, which eventually landed it a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and several Grammys. It is not surprising that Los Lobos’ songs like “The Neighborhood”, “The Mess We’re In”, Evangeline” and “ The Revolution” provide Moreno and The Neighborhood keen commentary on scenes in the play about crossing invisible race lines and the protests,  since Louie Pérez joined playwrights Theresa Chavez and Rose Portillo in writing the script of Evangeline, The Queen of Make-Believe.

In addition to being part of the many 50th anniversary celebrations of The East LA Walkouts, the play opened  only a few days after the nationwide March for Life against gun violence.  In an echo of the 1968 Walkouts, the March for Our Lives gathered over a million high school and middle school students and their parents and activists  in a non-partisan action for the passage of legislation to effectively address the gun violence issues in our country. The songs Gaby Moreno sang from the songbook of Hidalgo and Perez to illustrate the scenes of Evangeline, The Queen of Make-Believe could have been sung both at the 1968 marches and walkouts in LA  and those of the previous weekend across the nation.

gabby back. acators front

As I sat in the darkened theater and tapped my foot to the Moreno’s music I thought back to the events which I had followed on the local television news from my house on the other side of town fifty years ago, and about how history repeats itself. After the play, the cast – including Moreno – chatted with us, a rare opportunity concert goers seldom get and one I certainly appreciated.  Evangeline, The Queen of Make-Believe runs through April 8 and is definitely another one of the interesting places to find Gaby Moreno – along with an intimate look into LA’s history.

Patrick O’Heffernan, PhD., is a music journalist and radio broadcaster based in Los Angeles, California, with a global following. His two weekly radio programs, MusicFridayLive! and MusicaFusionLA are heard nationwide and in the UK. He focuses on two music specialties: emerging bands in all genres, and the growing LA-based ALM genre (American Latino Music) that combines rock and rap, blues and jazz and pop with music from Latin America like cumbia, banda, jarocho and mariachi. He also likes to watch his friend drag race.

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