The Battle of Los Angeles: The Cultural Politics of Chicana/o Music in the Greater Eastside

East Los Angeles is the center of a flourishing musical cultural scene with a renewed “Chicana/o” sensibility.3 This scene is being led by a collective of socially conscious and politically active Latin-fusion bands that emerged in the 1990s, including Aztlán Underground, Blues Experiment, Lysa Flores, Ozomatli, Ollin, Quetzal, Quinto Sol, Slowrider, and Yeska. These groups compose original songs that weave together the sounds of the Americas, from soul, samba, and the son jarocho to reggae, rumba, and rap. Multilingual lyrics in Spanish, English, Cálo, or Nahuatl that speak to themes of urban exile, indigenous identity, and multiracial unity are layered over the music to produce a sonic Chicana/o imaginary of the global city in the twenty-first century.4 Several of the bands within the scene have released full-length albums on their own independent record labels such as Xicano Records and Film (Aztlán Underground and Quinto Sol), De Volada Records (Slowrider and Blues Experiment), and Lysa Flores’s Bring Your Love Records (see discography). The bands often collaborate with one another, producing or playing on each other’s records and touring on the same bill. While their music is sold primarily in California, where they perform most often, the Eastside scene is building an enthusiastic and global following through the growing popularity of Quetzal and Ozomatli. Since releasing their self-titled debut in 1998, Quetzal has released two successful and critically acclaimed albums on the premier folk label Vanguard Records. Ozomatli has sold more than half a million records of their first two CDs, their eponymous debut and the Grammy award-winning Embrace the Chaos (2001).

The popularity of the Eastside scene in California reflects a consumer market inhabited by millions of Latina/os with a bilingual and bicultural sensibility.5 Latina/os make up a third of California’s population and a near majority of Los Angeles County residents. Notably, more than 70 percent of Latina/os in Los Angeles are of Mexican origin.6 The musicians and the audience of the Eastside scene are predominantly bilingual ethnic Mexican and Latina/o youth of the one-and-a-half, second, and third generations.7 The cultural formations of the East L.A. scene emerge from this Latina/o population, as subjects of their lyrical voices, as potential consumers, and, most important, as cultural producers.

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