Puro pedo punk rock from Pi??ata Protest
It is nothing new to speak of Chicano/a identity and cultural experiences and expressions as hyper-crisscrossed by multiple influences. Back in the 1990s, with Gloria Anzaldua and Guillermo Gomez-Pena leading the theoretical way with their ruminations on Chicano/a identity as a border identity, performers such as El Vez and Culture Clash took a special interest--and pleasure--in dramatizing the postmodern nature of Chicano/a identity. While El Vez deftly stitched lyrics about immigration, racism, and Mexican history to musical quilts seamlessly composed of samples of everyone from Elvis Presley to the Rolling Stones to the Smashing Pumpkins, theatrical works by Culture Clash, in particular ‘«£A Bowl of Beings,‘«ō cogently sketched out the indeterminacy of Chicano/a identity.
Published on LatinoLA: June 25, 2008
Today, music continues to be a highly entertaining register of the polyphonic nature of Chicano/a ontology. Acts such as La Banda Skalavera, Cabeza de Gallo, Pistolera, Los Hollywood, and La Mu??eca y los Muertos (to name just a few) meld together an array of styles in their songs and, in the process, illustrate the expanding, accommodating parameters of Chicano/a culture in general and music in particular.
One of the most interesting groups around right now that many in Southern California may not have heard of yet is Pi??ata Protest. Out of San Antonio, the band‘«÷s music is the bastard progeny of the Sex Pistols and Los Tigres del Norte, according to the band‘«÷s biography,
Pi??ata Protest started off as an attempt to try and come up with a brand new sound by a very frustrated Alvaro [Salas] who, after many frustrating years of playing in copy-cat bands in Austin and San Antonio, decided to blend together two of his biggest musical influences: punk rock and norte??o music. After taking some lessons on accordion at community college he set forth on the chaotic San Antone music scene in search of musicians for this band.
The result was Pi??ata Protest, which since 2006 has rocked the local scene in South Texas, playing, clubs, bars, tattoo parlors, local college campuses, and, on one occasion, the sidewalk outside a skate shop. Last year, the band joined the lineup of the Chicago Latino Fest, giving some folks outside of Texas a treasured opportunity to catch them live. While financial constraints have scuttled plans for a summer tour this year which would have included a trek to Los Angeles, they do have a 10-track demo CD out that is worth getting.
The disc starts off with a rough, 46-second live clip of ‘«£Polka Time,‘«ō a track that signposts their alchemical methodology of co-opting traditional, folkloric musical forms in the service of irresistible punk rock. Listeners may worry, however, that the relatively poor quality of this first track is an ominous sign of what the remainder of the disc will be like. Rest assured, what follows is excellent quality music.
‘«£Cantina‘«ō, the second track, is a splendidly fun song that worked great as an opening track for the original 7-track demo that the group put out in 2007. At the very least, in the second position in the second incarnation of the demo, the song rights the ship and puts the listener back on track for a great listening experience. Guitar, accordion, and a good grito work together right at the start to signal that a good time is to be had. With his rousing vocal delivery, Salas narrates an amusing story about a trip to the eponymous cantina where things end up getting crazy. He drinks, dances to the Kumbia Kings with some ‘«£mamacitas,‘«ō exchanges words with someone, and next thing you know, chingazos are flying.
To be sure, part of the appeal of ‘«£Cantina‘«ō--and, really, of the music of Pi??ata Protest overall--is the rasquachismo that suffuses it. Once at the cantina with his ‘«£chavos,‘«ō for instance, Salas intones, ‘«£y yo no se / lo que tome / pero traeme otra copa, pues‘«ō in a gruff manner which renders his narrative persona endearingly unpretentious. By the end of the song, he is passed out and the night has gone awry, all of which adds to his humble, perhaps relatable character. Not to be defeated, though, and perhaps with nothing better to do, he quixotically resolves in the song‘«÷s final line, ‘«£Pues, ma??ana, chavos, otra vez.‘«ō
The third track, ‘«£Campesino,‘«ō also stands out not just because of its musical energy, but because of its interesting lyrics. Listen carefully and you‘«÷ll hear Salas meditate incisively, albeit at a frenetic one hundred miles-per-hour rate, on the ironic status of migrant farmworkers in the United States. Invisible yet integral to our food production economy, Salas intimates, the fact is that el Hombre Campesino sacrifices his sweat, his blood, and, ultimately, his own destiny ‘«£para que otros coman bien‘«ō. Ultimately, Salas, a Sociology major at San Antonio College, effectively forces pointed realizations about the existential injustice of the division between the haves and the have-nots in American society and the real implications of the institutionalized exploitation of labor that enables plenitude for the haves. It‘«÷s enough to make one think twice about the socio-economic story behind the lettuce, onions, and other greens that one may simply push to the side of a dinner order.
Subsequent songs like ‘«£Denied Rights,‘«ō ‘«£Matador,‘«ō and ‘«£Suckcess,‘«ō draw their musical impact from the semblance of a race between Salas‘«÷s vocals and accordion. Egged on by backing drums and guitar, Salas‘«÷s vocals and accordion pick up speed in the course of the tracks, creating the exhilarating impression of musical boundlessness. ‘«£Jackeee,‘«ō meanwhile, might be described as a punked up, dark cumbia cautionary tale about a girl who runs away and finds herself alone and ‘«£far from home.‘«ō Although not as intense as some of the other tracks, its pulsing rhythm does make it an eminently engaging song. As with ‘«£Campesino,‘«ō there is a curious tension in ‘«£Jackeee‘«ō between its pointed lyrics and its capacity to get people responding to its rhythm.
The penultimate track is ‘«£La Cucaracha,‘«ō a 40-second, thrashed-out, screamo version of the traditional song. For me, the best turn occurs 21 seconds into the sonic melee when a trumpet is thrown into the mix. As soon as that trumpet appears, it seems that the band is going to pull out all the stops and delve into uninhibited musical revelry ... akin, in fact, to the feeling evoked when the trumpets come out in The Cure‘«÷s ‘«£Close to Me‘«ō. Just when it seems that all hell is going to break loose, though, the track ends, potentially leaving listeners with a feeling of unfulfilled anticipation (which, I must note, is pretty much how I also feel about the abrupt ending of ‘«£Close to Me‘«ō). Oh well.
With ‘«£Cold Fries,‘«ō the final track, the band eases up on the pace to offer a wonderfully wry, country/Tejano-inflected ditty about a day in the life of an employee of the Riverview Restaurant. With this song, one can‘«÷t help but be drawn not only to its rasquache aesthetic, but also its dry sense of humor. Direct addresses to a customer looking for a bathroom (‘«£Sorry, sir, there are no bathrooms here / but there‘«÷s one located just right down that way‘«ō) or a customer having to live without a lid and straw for her drink (‘«£I‘«÷m sorry, ma‘«÷am, we have no lids or straws here / for the safety of the animals, you see?‘«ō) capture the petty details of a fast food job that can combine to make it a rather absurd experience. Such a depiction of working class tedium is likely to resonate with many who have had to endure at some point in their lives a similarly tiresome position. While the drawling musical pace and weary vocals from Salas further lay out the numbing nature of the fast food experience, the song is also very funny. Consider, for instance, the droll introduction of the character Nancy:
Nancy is this girl I know who works there
She tells me she hates everyone else but me
And everybody loves you when you say goodbye
So run, run, Nancy, run, bye-bye, baby‘«™
With a similar touch of wryness the song wraps up with working class fatalism. The final realization of ‘«£You know I‘«÷ll be there 10 more years‘«ō as well as the concluding drone of ‘«£Order number 256, your order is ready‘«ō render the Riverview employee an amusingly hapless individual in whom one might be able to see his/her own experience (past or present) with working class angst.
In all, Pi??ata Protest is a splendid, noteworthy band. The field of Chicana/o music continues to get more interesting because of the passion, energy, uniqueness, and artistry of bands such as this one. In lieu of capturing the band on the tour that was initially scheduled to stop in Southern California, Angelenos can at least capture clips of them on YouTube and MySpace and, of course, indulge in the band‘«÷s self-produced CD.
Phillip Serrato is Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature at San Diego State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.