LA’s Eska Mexicano Scene Cautiously Optimistic for Peace – 06-13-2015

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I had the good fortune of attending the all-ages NO VIOLENCE IN OUR SCENE 2015 concert.  This Eska Mexicano (Mexican Ska) extravaganza was presented by Concrete Jungle Entertainment at Los Globos in Silverlake on Saturday, June 13th, 2015.

Ska originated from Jamaica in the 1950s.  I enjoyed its 80s incarnation through British bands on corporate labels such as The Specials, Madness, and The English Beat.  A broad collection of bands and artists with Mexican connections I have previously enjoyed in Los Angeles such as Ozomatli, B-Side Players, Olmeca, Rebels to the Grain, Julio Rodriguez-Conga Poet, Quetzal, and La Santa Cecilia are not primarily ska-based acts, boasting broad ranges of influences placing them outside of skaís distinctive musical rhythms and textures.

I am completely new to LAís independent Eska Mexicano scene, and curious about it.  What intrigued me was not only what Mexicoís interpretation of this upbeat dance music would be, but also the non-violence stance taken by the eventís promotion.  I was to be very glad I made it there.

The public was treated to over eight hours of non-stop, energetic Mexican ska, flavored with abundant metal, hardcore punk, crust, and pop influences – all performed on two stages simultaneously.  Hundreds of youth were in attendance, and the ìpitsî were packed and energetic for each gifted performance.  People were IDíd and marked as being underaged, but no one was frisked for weapons, a sign at the door sufficing.  The event lived up to its intent, with no reported altercations during my entire seven hours at the venue despite open bars on all floors and rooms of the club.

The twenty-two bands performing included the likes of well-established musicians such as 8 Kalacas, Red Store Bums, Left Alone, and Roncovacoco.  While there were few women lead singers, I was pleasantly surprised to see a fair share of women in the brass sections of the bands, along with tons of women flailing away in dance circles spontaneously erupting on each dance floor.   The high energy, intense moshing contact, and the crushing forces of blasting horns and punk/metal guitars belied the goodwill shared by everyone present.

I sat down to speak with the Azael Hernandez, producer of the show, who shared the following history of the event.  A number of years ago, a promoter Azael knew paid a band manager for his bandís concert performance, and that manager subsequently absconded with the money.  Thinking that it was the promoter who was dishonest, the band beat the promoter (not an uncommon occurrence at the time for such a misdeed I was told) so severely that he was sent to the hospital sustaining injuries he could not afford to have treated.  Azael held the first NO VIOLENCE IN OUR SCENE concert for his friend, and it did exceedingly well.  This event at Los Globos was the third such festival to be held to date.

I was interested to find out if participating artists held similar sentiments to those declared by the eventís title.  I asked for comments from band members as they were leaving their stages, and everyone I was able to connect with were kind enough to share their views, and to do so in English no less.  The band members I talked to were in the groups Amenaza, La Infinita, Los Pedos, CafÈ con Tequila, River Ratts, Mafia Rusa, Upground, Almalafa, Los Arambula, La Pobreska, and Viernes 13.  If I had to condense and simplify their collective response to the question of the viability of peace in their scene, I would choose the term ìcautious optimism.î

Many band members explained to me that the streets of their neighborhoods are often violent, so much so that life-threatening violence is often a daily occurrence.  Even if one equates the robust energy and the sounds of Eska Mexicano (including expletives) as emanating from violent intent (which it is not), they explained that the music scene was safer than the streets, and a healthier way of getting a name for yourself than gang-banging or drug-dealing.

A number of men and women who shared their opinions with me suggested that violence experiences in life are inevitable because humans are imperfect and self-centered.  Our condition predisposes us to violence, contributing to violence as a natural part of the process of change taking place in the world.  However, most with this view were quick to add that LAís Eska Mexicano music scene offered a way for violent tendencies to be dissipated in a safe and productive/therapeutic fashion.
They noted that the personas projected by the bands were of level-headed, hip people who did not condone violence at their gigs or in their lives.

Most of the band members I talked to also insisted that they sought peace over violence and this message was implied in their lyrics.  While not specifically promoting peace, their songs usually focused on their life experiences, including the injustice imposed upon them and members of their communities.  In presenting this reality, these songs illustrated these troubling situations and in doing so, called for non-violence, respect, restitution, well-being, and peace.

One band leader referred to NO VIOLENCE IN OUR SCENE 2015 as a ìhomecomingî ñ a rare event allowing bringing many musicians and fans together as a community.  From all of the smiles and hugs I saw, I am sure that this perception was shared by many people there.

By Greg Foisie – Change-Links volunteer and CSULA graduate student

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