Nueva Trova Music Movement Grows in Southland

A Latin American musical form called "nueva trova" enjoyed a heyday during the protest movements of the 1960s and '70s. The music traveled north in immigrants' cultural knapsacks. The Bay Area's maintained a strong trova scene for 20 years, fostered by Chilean immigrants. In the Southland, trova hasn't taken root until recently. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez reports on a young generation of musicians drawn to the music's message of love and social justice.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: Cuba's Silvio Rodriguez is an idol of nueva trova. In this 1978 song he urged poets and musicians to fight for social justice.

[Song: "Playa Giron" by Silvio Rodriguez]

Guzman-Lopez: Mexico's Oscar Chavez is another icon. He offered this tribute to Chile's socialist president Salvador Allende after he died in a 1973 military coup.

[Song: "A Salvador Allende" by Oscar Chavez]

Guzman-Lopez: The conquering dictators are gone. And trova's surviving founders are graying in an era of music videos and downloads.

But in L.A. and Orange counties, a group of musicians, some of them born decades after nueva trova first sounded from guitars, are opening new venues for the music.

[Sound of Ruby Castellanos welcoming audience and playing song]

Guzman-Lopez: Twenty-six-year-old Ruby Castellanos performed at a monthly trova night in a Long Beach hookah lounge, a café with a water pipe patio out front. Jordanian immigrant Mike Johnson owns the place. He says he doesn't understand trova lyrics, but that's okay with him.

Mike Johnson: Latino music, it's like, especially the guitar is very like, similar or close to the, like, Arabian guitars, like the emotion thing.

Guzman-Lopez: About a dozen men and women in their twenties are in the audience. 25-year-old Paramount resident Diana Villalon heard about this show from her sister.

Diana Villalon: I've invited friends that are white people. My other sister has a friend who's from Africa and he came with us the first night we came out. And he liked it a lot.

Guzman-Lopez: The café's become one more regular venue in a growing cluster of trova performance spaces in East L.A., Norwalk, East Long Beach, and Santa Ana.

All agree the genre's recent growth in the Southland has plenty to do with an Eagle Rock couple who fell in love and got married after they met at a Los Angeles trova show.

Violeta Pineda and Esteban Leon are both 43 years old. They're Mexico City natives who moved to L.A. about 20 years ago. He plays guitar. She sings and promotes trova concerts.

Leon says he used to have a hard time finding trova fans because most Mexican immigrants here come from rural towns where most people don't know the music.

Esteban Leon: It was hard to find someone from Mexico City 20 years ago. Not anymore. You have, from 10 years to now, you have all these immigrations from these cities, same thing with South America, Bogota, from Buenos Aires, Argentina, all these people are familiar with trova music.

Guzman-Lopez: Leon tells people unfamiliar with trova to imagine a Latin American Bob Dylan. That's sort of what Jorge Drexler's become. The Uruguayan won an Academy Award two years ago for his trova style ballad on the "Motorcycle Diaries" soundtrack.

Drexler sings against social injustice and wars. Pineda and Leon say Southland trova musicians should do the same. They've organized a trova concert this coming Sunday in Eagle Rock. They got the idea after they watched LAPD officers use batons and rubber bullets on protestors in MacArthur Park last May. The show's called "Songs for Love and Resistance." Pineda says she was moved to tears when she heard a girl describe on TV how a rubber bullet hit her stomach.

Violeta Pineda: What happened, it was something terrible. And I was watching the news and I saw different cases. What happened with the reporter, happened to this little girl. And I think the situations deserve a special song, on this event.

Guzman-Lopez: Pineda and Leon have asked Sunday's performers to compose songs reflecting on the events of May 1st. Esteban Leon's is nearly finished.

[Sound of Esteban Leon singing song, "Camina, Niña, Camina]

Guzman-Lopez: He's singing about a girl walking, marching, as the rubber bullets fly, and about the way this traumatic experience helps her mature into a confident woman.

That narrative could also describe the story about trova's progression from immigrant music to a genre that's becoming an anthem of the Southland experience.

Note: The trova concert Canciones Por Amor Y Resistencia (Songs for Love and Resistance) is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. this Sunday, August 26, 2007 at Eagle Rock's Center for the Arts.