Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Local Musicians Play with Ry Cooder and the Chieftains

Picture of the Upper Rio Grande River near Cre...Image via Wikipedia

Written by Andres Chavez and Diana Martinez, Sun Staff
Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Sergio "Checo" Alonso, Jesus "Chuy" Guzman and Jimmy Cuellar.
From the evocative cover art of La Virgen de Guadalupe holding an Irish solider to the subject matter of the album and, most importantly, in the fusion of the music, San Patricio is a provocative work of art. Ry Cooder and the famous Irish musician Paddy Moloney and his band the Chieftains working with some of the great Mexican musicians have fused traditional Mexican and Irish music to tell the story of the San Patricio brigade.

Most reviews rightly praise the work of Cooder and Moloney and acknowledging this part of both American, Irish and Mexican history through music as commendable, but what should be equally commendable and yet to be fully acknowledged is the long roster of accomplished Latino musicians, including Rene Camacho, Linda Ronstadt, Cesar Duarte, Edmar Castaneda, Los Camperos de Valle are performing alongside their Irish counterparts.

Equally notable among the Latino musicians, is harpist and ethnomusicologist, Sergio" Checo" Alonso, violinist Jesus "Chuy" Guzman and Jimmy Cuellar. They are well known musicians in the San Fernando Valley, past and present members of the world reknown Los Camperos Mariachi group and have worked locally as Master teachers for the City of San Fernando's highly esteemed Mariachi Master Apprentice Program to train the next generation of talent.

Jesus "Chuy" Guzman, violinist, described the experience to musically blend the two cultures, mariachi with Irish flute, "It sounds strange when you first hear it because you're not used to hearing bagpipes with Mariachi music, but it sounds good."

Jimmy Cuellar agrees and said that when he first heard about the idea for the CD, he was intrigued. "Musically, it focuses on the folk tradition. It has a mix of Irish violins and flutes with Mexican rhythms, it fuses very well."

Sergio "Checo" Alonso, a master harpist was enthusiastic about the project. "When we first entered the studio in San Francisco and saw Ry and Paddy Moloney, I was blown away."

As Alonso points out, "There are some musicians that are really known in the business but that are not in the commer-cial sense like Los Tigres del Norte. There's a good representation, the Mexican music component. Ry [Cooder] knew what he was doing in terms of finding the right musicians to put it together to find authenticity."

Alonso is amazed at how well the fusion of Irish and Mexican music works. " I hear some of these tracks and it's amazing how they skewed Irish to it. Anybody who's familiar with Mexican music, you can see that it is the Mexican group playing what they play and the Irish, the Chieftains, adopting to the Mexican songs. For example, Los Camperos del Valle laid down El Caballo, the way that they play it. If anything they (the Chieftains) threw in some appropriate lyrics, talking about San Patricio, the flute and the different pipes that you hear on top is laid over a traditional Husteco group, as is the Mariachi stuff, as is the Linda Ronstadt stuff as is everything in there."

San Patricios


Before and during the Mexican American War of 1846-48, a group of Irish soldiers deserted the American Army to fight for Mexico. Some left because they were tired of Protestant discrimination, others because they saw the war as unjust imperialism and still others, perhaps, to follow their fortune. The Irish joined with men from many other nations, and some runaway slaves, to form the San Patricio Brigades. They were mostly artillery units. Under the command of Captain John Riley they fought bravely and well against the invading American Army. They were finally captured, some say only after their ammunition ran out, at the Battle of Churubusco. Most were sentenced to die. Some were shot but most were hung. The American commander waited until the American army took Mexico City. He hung the San Patricios as the American Flag was raised over Chapultepec castle. A few, like Riley himself, were lashed and then branded on both cheeks with a "D".

While largely forgotten by American historians, the San Patricios are celebrated as heroes in Mexico. Cooder and Moloney take positive approach to the story but, as it should be, the emphasis is on the music. It is truly amazing to hear two different types of music, each maintaining its integrity, yet blended together to create something wholly new.

In the first selection, La Iguana Lillia Downs performs a very tradition Jarocho. "But then you hear the Irish Zapateado on top of it, with the different instruments and it gives it a totally different feel," said Sergio Alonso. "I think it awesome how Moloney and Ry take traditional Mexican music and really color it, adorn it with traditional Irish instrumentation and an Irish feel."

You can hear it more clearly in another Lillia Downs number El Relampago where Moloney's work on the uilleann pipes and tin whistle blend seamlessly with the Mexican fiddle, guitar and cuatro.

The track, "March to Battle (across the Rio Grande)" very neatly tells the Patricios story in a wonderful blend of poetry and music. Spoken by Liam Neeson the poem is:

We are the San Patricios A brave and gallant band There'll be no white flag flying Within this green command We are the San Patricios We have but one demand To see the Yankees safely home Across the Rio Grande But when at Churubusco, We made our final stand No court of justice did we have In the land of Uncle Sam As traitors or deserters all We would be shot or hanged Far from the green, green junip shore

Across the Rio Grande We've disappeared from history Like footprints in the sand But our song is in the tumbleweed Our blood is in this land But if in the desert moon light You see a ghostly band We are the men who died for freedom

Across the Rio Grande
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