Sunday, December 14, 2008 (check local listings)
9:00-10:00 p.m. ET
60 years of Chicano music provides the soundtrack for a new America in the making
CHICANO ROCK! THE SOUNDS OF EAST LOS ANGELES, a film by Jon Wilkman, narrated by Edward James Olmos, tells the inspiring story of generations of young artists and audiences who proudly expressed their cross cultural identity with a unique style of rock ‘n’ roll, born and nurtured in America’s largest Mexican-American community. 50 years after the untimely death of Chicano rock’s first breakout star, Ritchie Valens, CHICANO ROCK! airs Sunday, December 14, 2008, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings. )
CHICANO ROCK! is filled with intimate first person story-telling, rare film and photos, and ever-changing and exuberant music from artists such as Lalo Guerrero, the Father of Chicano Music, and the legendary Ritchie Valens, as well as classic bands such as Cannibal and the Headhunters, who toured with the Beatles, Thee Midniters of “Whittier Blvd. ” fame, El Chicano, Tierra and perhaps the greatest of them all, Los Lobos.
A celebration of community as well as music, CHICANO ROCK! THE SOUNDS OF EAST LOS ANGELES writes an overlooked chapter to the history of American popular music. “This was an eight year long labor of love,” says Wilkman, an award-winning documentarian whose career began at CBS with Walter Cronkite. “The stories I’m especially attracted to are often ignored or untold, with unexpected depth and significance. The subject of Chicano rock is that and even more. ” Wilkman, whose credits include work for CBS, ABC, NBC, PBS, HBO, the History Channel and A&E, was the producer, director, writer and editor on the one-hour documentary. With his wife Nancy, he is also author of the authoritative illustrated history of Los Angeles, “Picturing Los Angeles. ”
Wilkman’s lively and engaging film begins during the Zoot Suit era of World War II when young Mexican-Americans, known as Pachucos, began a musical dialogue with Anglos and African Americans. Faced with prejudice and injustice, both in the United States and Mexico, pioneering musicians such as Lalo Guerrero and Don Tosti defined themselves with hipster fashion, unique slang, and most of all music, adding a Spanish-language twist to swing, boogie-woogie and jazz, providing the roots for a musical blend that is the essence of Chicano rock.
With the beginnings of rock ‘n’ roll, a young Chicano from the San Fernando Valley, Ritchie Valens, brought Latin rhythms to rock with his hit “La Bamba. ” Ritchie’s untimely death in 1959, in the same plane crash that killed the Big Bopper and Buddy Holly, was tragic, but also inspired an astonishing musical and artistic renaissance in East Los Angeles during the 1960s. Bands such as the Premieres, and especially Cannibal and the Headhunters, had national hits. With “Land of a Thousand Dances,” Cannibal attracted the admiration of the Beatles and, as we see in rare footage, the band toured with the British superstars in 1965.
The late 60s and early 70s brought a bold new generation to L.A. ‘s Chicano community, proclaiming pride in their Mexican heritage as they openly protested against prejudice and injustice during the Vietnam War. The music of Eastside bands such as El Chicano and Tierra gave a Mexican-American voice to an activist era.
From the beginning, caught between cultures, Chicano rockers defined their dual identities with music. The emergence of Los Lobos during the 1980s and 90s joined Mexican roots and American diversity into a powerful new amalgam of melody and rhythm. It was a preview of Latin influences that would sweep across America in the decades to come, with East L.A. bands such as Ozomatli and Quetzal leading the way. An entertaining and moving story, CHICANO ROCK! THE SOUNDS OF EAST LOS ANGELES is truly the sound track for a new multicultural America in the making.
Producer: Wilkman Productions, Inc. Presenter: Latino Public Broadcasting.
Producer/Writer/Director/Editor: Jon Wilkman.
Associate Producers: Ruben Molina,David Reyes, Max Uballez, Tom Waldman and Nancy Wilkman.
Cinematography: Neal Brown. Sound: Yuri Raicin. Graphic Design: Jorge Luis Gonzalez.
Made possible in part by a grant from the California Council for the Humanities and the Skirball Foundation as part of the California Stories Initiative.
Format: CC Stereo. Online: pbs.org