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The Spine of Califas

The best group spoken word performance/reading I've seen in years

By Seshu Foster
Published on LatinoLA: March 20, 2003


The Spine of Califas


I stopped by Galeria Tropico de Nopal last nite to see Los Illegals and the Taco Shop Poets read together in an ensemble they called "The Spine of Califas, a Poetic Road Trip, 2003," which is the best group spoken word performance/reading I've seen in years.

"Driver" Adolfo Guzman Lopez, co-founder of San Diego's Taco Shop Poets MC'd, stitching the evening together with his own bits & pieces. Also melding a night of pouring rain, accidents, TransCalifornia poets (Tomas Riley and Norman Zelaya down from the Bay Area), plus an almost SRP crowd into unison were Los Illegals' Willie Herron (who designed the terrific set), and Xiuy Velo, with Herron delivering atmospheric yawps & clanks & moody zooms & hums via synthesizer, with Velo walking thru it a backbeat on bass.

We'd spent the afternoon on the Queen Mary at a college recruiting luncheon for Umeko, wandering around the huge nearly deserted 1930s ocean liner in the rain afterwards, moored in Long Beach where the San Gabrial River emptied the trashy effluent of the storm out into the Pacific, gray and chilly and windswept.

We were glad we weren't out at sea.

That evening we took refuge at the poetry reading: Tomas Riley, college instructor in the Bay Area, rapped and Ariel Robello sang as an intro to hip hop inflected pieces on the Women of Juarez, etc. (During the intermission Ruben Guevara introduced me to Francesco of Nopal Press, a fine art press, and complained loudly to me that I should tell that girl to stop with the hip hip bullshit. She has a beautiful natural voice, why not use it?

I laughed and told him you can't say stuff like that. They'll just think we're old & old-fashioned on top of it. The girl was standing right behind him.

It was drizzling in my cup of red wine meanwhile, as I was thinking, they might be able to take that hip hop thing somewhere we might not prefigure. It's a thing.)

Marisela Norte ("Poet Laureate of Boyle Heights") and Josh Kun went on next with Marisela's Fellini Nights piece, pretty much what the title says, savagely romantic & savaging romanticism at the same time, a piece that wears a large heart on its sleeve, like a bleeding heart in a Gronk painting, and then Norman Zelaya read some stories from the Mission, short, fast and moving, funny too.

Best ensemble thing i've seen around here in years, I wanted to say, besides we should note too that the space for these kind of events is being provided by Reyes Rodriguez and his Galeria Tropical del Nopal. It's a beautiful 1930s art deco building rReyes has remodeled, a block north of Belmont High School on Beverly, not as far north as Ramparts or Alvarado or Tommy's Burgers.

The vibe in the place is as good as, say Cafe Cultural on First in Boyle Heights in the 1980s, when Ruben Martinez or Bill Oandasan might be reading there with Claribel Alegria or Manlio Argueta, but the music and art is even more potent at Tropico these days.

It's one of the best venues in town and it's doing work that matters. Check it out.





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