I remember when I realized that my interest in politics was beco

A look at the impact of bands that make up L.A.'s underground Chicano music scene

By Amanda Penalosa
Published on LatinoLA: July 3, 2000

I remember when I realized that my interest in politics was beco

I remember when I realized that my interest in politics was becoming part of my otherwise tame everyday life.

I was flipping through my endless number of CDs and screaming out at me were Rage Against the Machine, Quetzal, Ozomatli and Aztlan Underground and I realized that all of these bands, while being somewhat different styles of music, all share a common thread. Most of the members of these bands are all young, urban, talented, politically active individuals, a far cry from the Ricky Martins and Christina Aguileras of today's music scene.

Their lyrics are not about living la vida "sellout" or letting the (naturally) blonde genie escape from the proverbial bottle. These Los Angeles based bands speak of a more pertinent fight - they speak of oppression, of decolonization, of civil rights, of revolution. All in all, they speak of living a life that most Raza in Los Angeles can identify with. But most importantly, these bands do not just preach of these issues, they live them. Their members are at the marches, at the demonstrations; they are sponsoring, recruiting, advocating, and most of all, educating.

In a time when young generations are struggling to find their place in society, many are turning to find their political voice in the words and beats of local Los Angeles bands. Bands such as Ozomatli, Aztlan Underground, and Quetzal have become the first means of political influence for many Los Angeles teens.

Putting themselves on the line

Following the path of bands such as Rage Against the Machine, these groups are incorporating their very liberal ideals into music, not only advocating various causes, but also putting themselves on the line to actively participate in the fights they feel are worthy. These bands are using their voice and power in a positive manner, realizing that for many people in the inner city, music is one of the few means that they can identify with.

Aztlan Underground has been extremely active in the fight for civil rights, for decolonization and for the empowerment of the people. With songs such as "No Soy Animal" speaking out against police brutality, and "Lemon Pledge" fighting against the notorious Prop. 187, AUG's lyrics demonstrate that they have not abandoned their personal politics for fame and that they have in fact used this power to educate. Their website is a virtual forum for education and empowerment, with recommended literature and links to various political organizations. Member Zo Rock states, "I first looked to AUG for their message. The music was just the icing on the cake."

Many fans of the band feel that the two components, the music and the politics, are one. Fan Rena Ravelo feels that "It is important to educate our youth, and Aztlan Underground is sure to get the message across." Because of AUG's influence, Rena has begun to participate and educate herself, her husband and her children in the fight, continuing the cycle of knowledge.

Fighting, educating and empowering
One of the community's favorite and loudest active bands, Ozomatli, has been in the fight for many years. Member Ulises Bella attributes his interest in urban politics to family influences and his own personal interest in political icons such as Durruti, Ferrer, Malcolm X, Marx and various others. Since the first time I heard Ozomatli, they were fighting, educating and empowering themselves and others, being extremely supportive of causes such as immigrant rights, the ELZN movement, and in the words of Bella "the many other prisoners that are still in the belly of the beast."

Bella firmly believes that political awareness of the youth of Los Angeles is due to the reflection of politics in the arts, and rise of conscious bands in Los Angeles.

Longtime fan of Ozomatli Victoria Reyna, first saw Ozo "on accident" at the Universal Amphitheatre. Reyna's first impressions were positive, to say the least. "I never before have seen a band with such diversity move [and] impact such a large group of people," Reyna states. Fan Ivette Carillo also feels that Ozo is using their talents and skills for something positive, and that she has "been impacted both politically and culturally."

Like Reyna and Ivette, I think that many fans, including myself, first got hooked to Ozomatli because of the beat, but soon realized that they are much, much more. With lyrics such as "I think it's a tragedy how we let people who all protectors inflict and oppress us" and despite the fact that many hold their political views against them, Ulises says it best by stating "I personally think we're pissing off the right people."

Being a college student, I have heard countless times that my generation isn't united in fighting for "La Causa". We are accused of being a weak voice, too technologically advanced and too self-centered to be interested in the fight, despite the deafening remains of the struggles fought by our mothers and fathers in generations past. It is not that we aren't fighting for our people as the youth of the 60's and 70's did, but today we are engaging in this political warfare through a different means, with the use of a different voice.

These musicians are the Ruben Salazars, the Cesar Chavezes, the Emiliano Zapatas of today. Their political message is not being preached atop a platform, it is being lived and shared by way of a harmonious backbeat, an electric guitar and a revolutionary message.

Give us your comments on this feature at: letters@latinola.com

Related articles: Why I Like Ozomatli & Backstage with Ozomatli

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