Sing the Real

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Quetzal has forged a signature sound out of Chicano barrio history and the challenges of daily life within an immigrant society. Not surprisingly, they draw heavily upon mariachi traditions, but also incorporate loping Colombian Cumbia rhythms, Afro-Caribbean-Yoruba drums, and violin riffs and call-and-response choruses more typical of Cuban charanga. Amusing '70s-era instrumental quotes abound, including cheesy jazz fusion keyboards; richly textured, overripe wah-wah guitars; and vintage Santana solos. The split-cowhide-clad ghosts of Weather Report, War, and Sly Stone also run amok through the grooves -- you can practically hear the Afros growing. Jamaican reggae, Nuyorican salsa, and doo wop provide further grist for this busy mill, but East L.A.'s modern hip-hop culture only surfaces as an occasional clipped snare beat. Ultimately, the band's jazz vocabulary has transformed their ethnicity into something musically universal. The earnestly conscious lyrics, sung in Spanish and English, address issues like female empowerment, political activism, and social justice. This is not mere lip service, as the band is heavily committed to local community outreach programs and is especially devoted to working with children. Even so, their style is so adult-oriented that it might not appeal to the younger audiences who would most benefit from their message. The producer, Greg Landau (Susana Baca, Ritmo Y Candela with Patato Valdez, Orestes Vilato, Changuito, etc.) has wisely given the recording a rough-and-tumble, studio-live acoustic, providing a you-are-there ambience ideally suited to their style and content.

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