At the fence on the Tijuana-San Diego border at the Fandango Fronterizo.
Two new recordings by Latin artists are powerful reflections on the current administration’s treatment of immigrants and enforcement of border policies: Lines in the Sand (CAM Jazz) by Mexican born and raised drummer and composer Antonio Sánchez, a naturalized American citizen; and Fandango at the Wall: A Soundtrack for The United States, Mexico and Beyond (Resilience Music Alliance) by American pianist, composer, arranger and educator Arturo O’Farrill, who was actually born in Mexico, will be released Friday, Sept. 28.
These efforts join recently released works by other high profile Latin artists such as Puerto Rican drummer, bandleader and educator Bobby Sanabria (West Side Story Reimagined), Mexican singer and songwriter Magos Herrera with Brooklyn Rider (Dreamers) and Puerto Rican saxophonist, composer and arranger Miguel Zenón (Yo Soy La Tradición).
While broadly diverse in tone, approach, and instrumentation, these recordings, either explicitly or by the nature of the work, are a response to the current administration’s policies and attitudes towards immigrants and people of color.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” the presidential candidate said. “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
So yes, Sánchez took national politics personally.
“An artist’s weapon is art,” he once told an interviewer, and his response was Bad Hombre (CAM Jazz, 2017), a powerful solo album in which he alchemized anger, pain, and sadness into a transcendent statement, shaped by anguish but also determination. In its follow-up, Lines In The Sand, Sánchez and his band Migration make their points by celebrating the immigrant’s journey.
“With all the political turmoil and ethnic violence that is permeating the country and the world,” writes Sánchez in the liner notes, “it’s been impossible for me not to pay much closer attention to what being a brown-skinned immigrant with a Latin name from a third world country means to me, as well as the implications for my family and my future children.”
“As I write these words [in July 2018], families are being torn apart at the US-Mexico border in a grotesque attempt to deter illegal immigration (which happens to be at a historical low). Small immigrant children being scarred for life by these inhumane policies keep reminding me of the millions of people that aren’t as fortunate as I have been and whose journey to come to this country sometimes becomes a matter of sheer life or death.”
“I just think it’s time to sit down and reflect for a second on what’s going on with a lot of human beings in this precise time in history, not only in the United States but all over the world, and how immigrants are being viewed right now in such a negative light,” he told me recently. “A lot of times it’s just people fleeing the violence. I consider myself very, very lucky, but there are so many other ones that didn’t leave their countries to pursue a career. They left out of fear of being murdered, there was a war or who knows what different circumstances might lead somebody to want to leave everything they know behind.”
“I feel so blessed and so thankful for what I’ve achieved in the United States,” he said. “But at the same time, I feel completely repulsed by what the United States is doing to immigrants — especially to people coming from the South. […] So whenever and wherever I’m performing, I’m speaking out, trying to make sense of what is going on.”
Fandango at the Wall, the extraordinary musical encounter at the Tijuana-San Diego border masterminded and brought together by Arturo O’Farrill and producer Kabir Sehgal, builds on the Fandango Fronterizo Festival, an annual event founded by Jorge Francisco Castillo, a musician and retired librarian.
The Fandango Fronterizo, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, brings together son jarocho musicians from both sides of the border wall between Tijuana and San Diego. “Why to bring together the jaraneros at the border?” asks Castillo in an essay explaining the origin of the event. “Because while the music would bring us together, the obstacles created by the border prevented the jaraneros to get together as a community. The fandango fronterizo was the response.”
Think of Fandango at the Wall as Castillo’s idea writ large.
It features O’Farrill’s Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, Castillo’s son jarocho musicians, and as the note announcing the release states, “more than 60 gifted musicians representing both sides of that divide as well as several of the countries targeted by President Trump’s travel ban,” including Broadway singer-actress Mandy Gonzalez (Hamilton, In the Heights); violinist Regina Carter, cellist Akua Dixon, and drummer Antonio Sánchez; the Mexican violin trio The Villalobos Brothers; Patricio Hidalgo, a champion of Afrojarocho; singer and requinto player Ramón Gutiérrez Hernández; requinto player Tacho Utréra; French-Chilean singer Ana Tijoux; Iraqi-American oud master Rahim AlHaj and his trio; and Iranian sitar virtuoso Sahba Motallebi.
Jaraneros at the IV Fandango Fronterizo. Photo by Julio Blanco.
“Thinking about this awful, awful moment in history – not just American history but world history – I wanted to confront the darkness that has overcome all our lives,” said O’Farrill. “Faced with such stupidity and mediocrity, why not at least try to do something valuable? My first thought was to bring not just great artists but also people from marginalized nations. We understand that humanity and community are so much stronger than cultural constructs, physical walls, or geo-political borders. We saw this in action: we saw our people fall in love with their people and become one people.”
Esperanza Spalding sitting in with Snarky Puppy at the GroundUp Music Festival, North Miami Beach. Photo courtesy of Luis Olazábal, The Rhythm Foundation
If you are planning to be anywhere near Miami Beach next February, make a note to check the 3rd annual GroundUp Music Festival at the North Beach Bandshell on February 8-10.
Hosted by Snarky Puppy and co-produced by GroundUp Music and local non-profit cultural organization The Rhythm Foundation, this festival has become one of the signature music events in South Florida. (For a report on the 2018 festival start here. )
“The festival is like a natural culmination of what we’ve been building for the last 15 years,” Snarky Puppy’s Michael League told me in a conversation backstage, last February. “Snarky Puppy is a band of course, but really what we’ve been trying to do is build a community. And we have built it from the ground up […] we know these artists, not just on our label but artists that we hang and collaborate with and we were asking ‘How can we bring all these people together for our audience?’ A festival, of course. It was a natural progression.”
It’s not only the daily lineup of performers (and the first two editions have featured impressive names) or the program of talks and workshops, but the impromptu collaborations, the unexpected blends and crashes of genres and styles, all set in a low-key, collaborative vibe.
Tickets & Information for the 2019 edition at www.groundupmusicfestival.com