In 1981, my friend the great artist Carlos Almaraz called
and asked me to send some of my music to James Tartan, the
director of a project Carlos was working on. It turned
out to be the documentary "Murals of Aztlán."
Tartan gathered nine of the best Chicano muralists to paint
murals at the Craft and Folk Art Museum, which was across
the street from the L.A. County Museum on Wilshire Boulevard.
I knew many of the artists personally such as Carlos, Frank
Romero, Willie Herrón, John Valadez, and Wayne Healy Alaniz.
I also admired the work and talent of all the artists involved,
as well as the East Los Angeles Chicano muralist movement
in general. James Tartan liked my music, but asked me
to turn the songs, which had vocals, into instrumentals so
that the images in the lyrics would not conflict with the
visual images on the murals. The songs I had sent him
were my compositions "On the Boulevard" and "Pre-Columbian
Dream," which I had recently recorded. I decided
to call Jose Hernandez, a very talented mariachi musician
with whom I had just done a project, to help me "instrumentalize"
my songs. (Jose is now the leader of the famous Mariachi
Sol de Mexico, one of the great mariachis in the world.)
Due to our limited budget, Jose brought in a four violinists
and he played trumpet. I had the two inch 24 track tape,
so we muted my vocal and added the strings and Jose playing
the melodies of the two songs and presto, we had instrumental
versions of my songs. As it turned out, Tartan used
the instrumental versions of both songs and the vocal version
of "On the Boulevard" in the documentary.
The documentary starts with the artists being interviewed
in front of their blank walls discussing their plans for their
murals. Some had them sketched and planned out ahead
of time, while others such as Willie Herrón and Gronk had
no plan. They just went ahead and painted what came
to them as they went. The other artists doing murals
were Judith Hernandez, and Wayne Healy Alaniz' fellow Streetscapers
David Botello and George Yepes. As the artists painted
their murals, the public was allowed to come in and talk with
them and ask questions. Some of these exchanges were
used in the documentary. The paintings are being created
and are shown at various stages of their development on camera.
The artists are also interviewed as they work their magic.
The murals were painted on several floors of the building
over the period of a month. At the end of the month
all the paintings were completed. The end results were
phenomenal! These artists are all world class.
The Chicano art movement that came out of East L.A. in the
late 60s/early 70s was nothing short of an artistic renaissance
which went hand in hand with the East L.A. Chicano musical
explosion during the same period. "Murals of Aztlán"
aired on PBS several times in 1981 and each artist and I were
given video copies of the documentary. I was pleased
to find out that finally a DVD has been released of "Murals
of Aztlán" by the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center.
It was released in 2004, but I didn't know about it until
2009, when I happened to "google" the title.
I was very happy about it and ordered it right away.
Added to "Murals of Aztlán" was a short documetary
on Los Four, an artists group consisting of Carlos Almaraz,
Frank Romero, Gilbert "Magu" Lujan, and Beto De
La Rocha. Beto's son is Zack De La Rocha, who gained
fame in the band, Rage Against the Machine. All the
artist featured in "Murals of Aztlán are still living
and working as of this writing in 2009 with the exception
of Carlos Almaraz, who passed away in 1989. This is a
documentary that should be in the collection of anyone
interested in Chicano art and culture.