Womxn Warriors, history lessons, and great music in a print shop
Sometimes great music happens where you don’t expect it. Last week I attended the Womxn Warriors live art show and exhibition grand opening commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the role of women in The East LA Blowouts, the student walkouts in 1968 protesting unequal conditions in the LA Unified School District. The location was Self-Help Graphics, an East LA nonprofit graphics design and print studio with a gallery and space for community meetings. I had visited Self Help Graphics in the fall as part of my tour of the PST exhibition on Latino Art so I knew the exhibition would be a powerful, activist-oriented program. I didn’t realize that tucked into the event’s art, speeches, and panels was some damn good music.
I arrived just as the Entre Mujeres band mounted the stage. I knew nothing of the band, but I knew immediately it was going to be fun because of the zapadeado platform on stage – a 3×3 amplified wooden platform for the tap dancing of the son jarocho music of the Veracruz region of Mexico. I had been introduced to the zapedeado by my friends in the hip-hop/Mexican trad group Las Cafeteras and I knew that son jarocho (music of the Veracruz region) bands that use zapedeado were always a lot of infectious fun.
Entre Mujeres was that and more. The six-piece ensemble – five women and one man – delivered a high energy set of seven songs, some performed with the “help” of one of the band member’s two young children, they deftly intertwined LA activist history and music. Although my Español is still nascent (I practice every day!) I could follow some of the lyrics. However the between-song conversation was in English and in it I learned about the women renowned in the local Latino community who, as high school students in 1968, were part of the driving force behind the walkouts. Their names and likenesses – Paula Christomo, Tanya Luna Mount, Mita Cuaron and others – scrolled across the stage backdrop. Earlier that day one of them, Paula Christomo, spoke on a panel on Art, the Student Movement and Social change – just days before a new student movement brought a million people out to march against gun violence.
It turns out that Entre Mujeres is actually a bi-national academic project in art and activism co-launched by son jarocho artist Laura Marina Rebolloso and Dr. Martha Gonzales, an Assistant Professor at Scripps College at the Claremont Colleges in Pasadena and one of the musicians. A music producer, arranger and songwriter, Dr. Gonzales has worked with Latin Grammy and Grammy winning bands like Quetzal, Maya Jupiter and Los Lobos. Entre Mujeres brings together /Latina musicians in the U.S. and Jarochas/female musicians in Mexico to spark ideas and dialogues among musicians from Los Angeles and Veracruz, Mexico. The result is a band made up of some of LA’s finest Latina singers blending traditional music with rock, jazz, blues, hip-hop, and African rhythms in kick-ass tunes.
The program also included Medusa The Gangsta Goddess, the Grammy- winning Queen of West Coast hip-hop, who treated us to her signature fun/advice raps that got the room on its feet and moving. Medusa, who has producing and acting credits including the HBO film Stranger Inside, knew exactly how to perk up the audience and keep it singing and laughing. Always approachable and funny, she not only underscored the womxn’s power theme of the event, but broadened it by giving the men in the room some gentle advice — in hip-hop, of course. With a wide grin from under her trademark bright red mohawked curls, she told them to go slow, be loving and sync your life with your woman’s. No complaints there.
Later in the afternoon I toured the festival and took in the art show and the posters as I originally had intended to do. The female power at Self Help Graphics that day was energizing for me as well as for the women and girls turning with me. With the #MeToo movement forcing the Grammys and music industry to confront its problem with women, Womxn Warriors and the music of Entre Mujeres, Medusa and the other women and girls who took the stage with poetry, raps and challenges, signaled a rising force for change. The music was the highlight — at least for me. Not only because it was so good, but because it gave me a look into a world of women’s voices that I hadn’t heard before, and I am hopefully wiser for it. Such is the power of music and you never know where it will happen.