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'Connection, History And Resilience': Capturing The Heart Of LA's Boyle Heights In Song

 November 24, 2020 at 10:15 AM PST

Speaker 1: 00:00 A new project called sounds of California is collecting music and cultural expression from across the state. It's spearheaded by the Alliance for California, traditional arts in conjunction with the Smithsonian. They commissioned 10 original songs from local artists about Boyle Heights, a longtime immigrant neighborhood East of downtown Los Angeles. That's been gentrifying the California report magazine hosts, a Sasha Coca talks with musician quetzal Flores. Who's been helping to curate the project. Speaker 2: 00:32 Boyle Heights is a community of immigrants since its inception. You had these communities that literally could not live anywhere else and had to live in Boyle Heights or Compton or other parts of the city that were designated for that through red lines. Speaker 3: 00:56 [inaudible] Speaker 2: 00:58 So when we look at what's happening in Boyle Heights and how the economic powers within the city of Los Angeles are positioning themselves to gentrify Boyle Heights, to displace people to prey on economic opportunity in a place that, that has been the sanctuary. You know, there's this history of defiance and resistance to power, to the oppressive tactics of capitalism, of patriarchy and white supremacy. Speaker 3: 01:28 These are songs where you're commissioning work by artists from the community about their community. I'm thinking about the song by Eddie, [inaudible] called their landing. [inaudible] I mean, it details even really specific street corners in Boyle Heights, specific establishment, but it also Chronicles a migration story from Atlanta to Boyle Heights. Speaker 2: 02:15 I think a story is the story of many people that live in Boyle Heights right now. And so she really was able to tell her personal story, the story of her family, a story of her parents arriving from the one being homeless in the city and looking for a place and finding home in Boyle Heights. So much of the narrative that's been told about Boyle Heights is that, Oh, it's just a community of poor people and there's gangs there and bad schools. And when we're able to control that narrative and tell our own narrative, and you put the narrative in the hands of artists, they tell beautiful stories. They tell powerful stories of deep connection, deep history, and also a resilience. There's a story that I was told by a friend where a Eastern European woman would walk by my friend's house every day, one day she stopped and she said, Hey, little girl, come here. What does that smell? I pass by your house every day. And that smell, it just reels me in. She says, Oh, my mom was making tortillas. So she brought her a tortilla with some butter on it. The woman was like, this is incredible. Can we exchange? I make sour cream. I will bring you a batch of sour cream every week. And you give me tortillas and we'll exchange. And these two women became best friends and commodities. And, and you know, we're connected for the rest of their lives. Speaker 4: 03:44 Boyle Heights is a place of ridges stories. Crossing stories, never ran Speaker 5: 03:54 Well. There's a song in this collection that captures some of that cross-cultural connection between communities from Nobuko Miyamoto. Speaker 2: 04:03 So Novaco is an 80 year old Japanese American when she was a very young girl. She and her family were incarcerated during the incarceration of Japanese Americans, uh, by the U S government. And so coming out of camp, they landed in Boyle Heights, Speaker 4: 04:19 Four years. They get done. And now we're back to start from zero mom's happy sewing curtains stitching up, Speaker 2: 04:29 Seeing her mother Ristich their lives back together, healing from the trauma of, of being forcibly removed and incarcerated. Novaco was a trained dancer who landed in Broadway and did many musicals and, uh, landed a part. Also in West side story, she is an elder, a community elder, and she holds a very important perspective. The cross-generational dialogue within these compositions, that was going to be key, right? So we have someone like [inaudible] who's in her early twenties. That's a pretty broad, uh, perspective Speaker 4: 05:13 Tara. Speaker 5: 05:14 Well, let's talk about Anhelica Mata song, mariachi Plaza. It's it's one of the songs in this collection. That's bilingual, both in English and Spanish, and it also blends different genres of music. Speaker 4: 05:29 Lovely [inaudible]. Speaker 2: 05:40 So Anhelica is the child of two prominent mariachis in Los Angeles. She can go from this very sort of lush ballad, like a introduction, and then into this mariachi piece that has that fervor and that, and that pride Speaker 4: 06:03 [inaudible] Speaker 2: 06:03 Her tradition or main tradition is mariachi music, but she's a lover of all kinds of music. She loves Brazilian music. She loves jazz. And then lyrically, you know, she loves her neighborhood Speaker 4: 06:21 [inaudible]. Speaker 2: 06:21 And oftentimes what happens is in the process of gentrifying a community, there's any ratio of culture and the people to really center the culture that exists now. And the people is a way of reaffirming our existence. It's the mirror that people can look at and say to themselves. I matter I have value and my value is not determined by how much money I make, but instead all of the deep, deep connections that I have to people in this neighborhood. And the sounds that remind me that I belong here, Speaker 4: 07:14 [inaudible] Speaker 6: 07:14 Gets on Flores from the Alliance for California, traditional arts, the sounds of California project. We'll launch a public archive in the spring where you can hear sounds from many vibrant communities across the state. Meanwhile, you can check out the songs from Boyle Heights. We've got a link at our website, California report.org. Speaker 4: 07:47 [inaudible] that was California report magazine, host, Sasha Coca.

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How do sounds capture a neighborhood? What does it mean when local residents archive their own local soundscape? Those are the driving questions behind a new project in the East Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights.
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