SILICON VALLEY, CA-- Grammy-nominated producer and US Artist Fellow, EUGENE RODRIGUEZ, the Director/founder of Los Cenzontles Cultural Art Academy, is a well known personality in the musical world.
RODRIGUEZ has produced more than thirty musical albums and collaborated with artists DAVID HIDALGO, JACKSON BROWNE, RY COODER, FLACO JIMENES, LINDA RONSTADT and groups like Los Lobos, Taj Mahal, The Chieftains', Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and numerous Mexican folk artists. As a movie producer, his documentary productions have been widely broadcast nationally on PBS.
CULTURAL WORLD BILINGUAL is interviewing him to discuss his new documentary based on EL DIA DE LOS MUERTOS. We ask Maestro RODRIGUEZ to introduce himself to our readership, in his own words.
EUGENE RODRIGUES and his orchestra Photo courtesy: Jeanette Yu
E. R: "My name is Eugene, I am third generation Mexican American, and I usually work with Mexican music. I write music, I play music, I founded a music Academy and I produce music albums."
C.W.B: How did you get interested in Music?
E.R.: "When I was a child, my father used to play guitar, simple songs for me and my brothers, and I enjoyed that connection with him. As a teenager, I played music with my brother. Later on, when my aunt and my uncle had parties they played Mariachi music, and I noticed that I enjoyed the feeling that the Marichi music gave me because it was part of my family. That is what attracted me to music."
C.W.B. How did you start your career as a musician?"
E.R. "After I started playing guitar with my brother we went to guitar lessons together, and when I was fifteen I started taking classical guitar lessons. Years later when I went to school (U. C. Santa Cruz where he got his Master Degree in Music) I learned to play different instruments but I got my degree in Classical Guitar."
EUGENE RODRIGUEZ --CURRENTS Photo by: Jeanette Yu
C.W.B. What inspire you to start your music academy?
E.R. "I wanted to work with children and when I was trying to learn more about Mexican folk music , in l989, I met a musician from Veracruz who was involved with the revival of the "Fandango Jarocho" which is the "Campesino Jarocho," and I began to work with him. We did cultural exchanges: we would take children to Mexico, to Veracruz and we would invite musicians from Veracruz to come to California. Later, I started looking for other maestros, and I found a wonderful maestro from Jalisco who taught me the traditional mariachi.
C.W.B. What is the traditional Mariachi?
E.R. "Is a quartet (four musicians) with two violins, Guitarron and Bijuela. The Mariachi that we all know as "The New Mariachi," was born in 1940's as a movies' creation, which is the reason why when I wanted to learn about "The older mariachi" we did a tour to Jalisco and Nayarit.
But going back to your question about the founding of my Academy. Around 1989, I met another maestro who knew some of the music from Michoacán, so we just went on in an adventure, and all the time, my students were my "collaborators" because as I was learning the new music, my students were singing it, playing in in their instruments and dancing it. During the years, I realized that the children (his students) were really interested in the music. By then, I wanted to become independent from other people who did not respect my vision. I knew that if I wanted to be right, for me, I have to do it myself. So, in 1994, I started Los Cenzontles Cultural Arts Academy with the purpose to train people in the traditional music from our heritage."
C.W.B. Can you tell us something unique about Los Cenzontles Cultural Arts Academy?
E.R. "We are an after school program, and what I consider unique about the Academy, is that we teach music to very young children, as young as four year old or five year old, and that we teach them music with movement, starting with zapateado (Stomping both their feet in rhythm with the music) and sometimes with art. When they get older, we teach them to translate the rhythms that they learned before and use them, but this time into many different kinds of instruments. But all is based on rhythm. They acquire the dexterity (to play their instruments) though art."
C.W.B "That is Unique. What courses does the school teach?
The school teaches music, singing, (individually and in harmony) dancing, violin, and how to play different type guitars. But we also teach artesania and how to make jewelry."
Because the new production of Maestro RODRIGUEZ is related with DIA DE LOS MUERTOS, (Day of the Dead) for those of our readers unfamiliar with the Mexican festivity we will explain it:
On the night of October 31st, (a day before All Saints Day in the Catholic Church) called here HALLOWEEN, (All hallow even ) as the American families have their yards decorated with witches, skeletons and pumpkins and are preparing their children, wearing costumes, to go out to collect candy, inside the Mexico-American homes, people are preparing elaborate altars to Celebration of EL DIA DE LOS MUERTOS. A day dedicated to the dead.
The home's rituals of
"EL DIA DE LOS MUERTOS, originated in Mexico, and for years, the day has been celebrated on the night of OCTOBER 31st in the rural areas of México, by building altars in their homes and decorating them with candles, with ornaments that belonged to those who died, and with their photographs. The altars are decorated with flowers made out of tissue paper. Some people cook favorite food dishes of the person and placed it on the altars, who according to many, may actually visit the family in spirit.
UNESCO become aware of the holiday in 2008, and when it added to its calendar of Cultural Heritage of Humanity "as "Indigenous Festivity dedicated to the dead" many people of Mexican descend started celebrating it here On November 2nd. The S.F. Symphony will celebrate DIA DE LOS MUERTOS in San Francisco with Latin American music and Guest artists in collaboration between NEW ORCHESTRA WASHINGTON (NOW). Tickets are available ONLINE at https://www.sfsymphony.org/ or by calling (415) 864-6000.
C.W.B. What will Maestro RODRIGUEZ produce this year for DIA DE LOS MUERTOS?
E.R. "At our Center, for the public and for the families we are going to do a unique event with my wife, who is an art teacher. Because we could not build an altar because of the pandemic, with another Mexican Artist my wife created what we call a "living Altar" which is an altar that people's wear on their bodies. So on Sunday, November 1st, (All Saints Day according to the Catholic Church) we are going to premier a video of all the altars."
The Program will be streaming on our page on Face Book on Sunday, November 1st at 7PM at https://fb.me/e/1AkcKh3Wp