If you’re an art and culture fan, you’ve likely heard talk about the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA. It’s an initiative dedicated to highlighting important figures in the Latin American art world in Southern California.
And now PST: LA/LA has its own musical soundtrack.
The project is called Musical Interventions and it’s curated by Josh Kun. He’s a music writer, MacArthur fellow, and USC professor.
Rather than put together a traditional exhibition, all confined to one space, Kun had the idea to do six live musical events. He enlisted contemporary bands like Chicano Batman, João Donato and The Mexican Institute of Sound to pay tribute to key figures and movements in L.A. musical history that have been underappreciated in the past.
Alberto Lopez joined Kun as the bandleader and arranger for the series. Lopez is a percussionist with the L.A.-based, afro-funk outfit Jungle Fire. He also comes from a long line of Latino musicians— one of whom is featured in the first Musical Interventions performance at The Getty Center this Saturday.
Kun and Lopez talked with The Frame's John Horn about how Musical Interventions came together.
Alberto Lopez on the untold stories uncovered in Musical Interventions
There's so many untold stories. One of them that surfaced was about my great uncle Johnny Richards... he was here in the 50s and 60s between L.A. and New York writing music for film and doing music for Stan Kenton and Victor Young. He actually wrote "Young at Heart" for Frank Sinatra. [Kun: But he was not born Johnny Richards.] His real name was Juan Manuel Cascales. His parents were from Spain and they lived in Queretaro in Mexico. And my grandfather he was a bandleader too. His name was Carlos Guillermo and on the air on CBS they changed his name to Chuck Cabot. He remained Chuck Cabot until he passed away at the age of 93. And he was a musical director for Liberace and Lawrence Welk and a bunch of other people as well.
Josh Kun on the Latin American influences in Blondie's "The Tide is High," which serves as the basis of the title of his new book
[Blondie] came to L.A. to record this one record in 198o, "Autoamerican," and had talked a lot about wanting to come to Los Angeles to get the kind of sunshine noir myth, anti-myth, all the kind of more stereotypical ideas about L.A. and capture that in their sound. But when they called in all these session players, horn players and string players— all non-Latino players, I should say, in Los Angeles— they all came in and did Mariachi. And that just strikes me as this really important thing about Los Angeles. That if you're a session player in Los Angeles, if you play horns, if you play strings, even if you're not Mexican or not Latino, you know how to play Mariachi. It's just part of the work here.
Josh Kun on the contributions of Latin American film composers like Lalo Schifrin
He's one of a number of prominent composers from across Latin America who came to Los Angeles to record in Hollywood recording studios and, most famously, did themes to "The Man From Uncle" and "Mission Impossible" and "Mission Impossible" is a great example also of the way that you could hear Latin American rhythmic traditions being kind of retranslated for Hollywood scores. So he put a lot of Tango in Hollywood film scores, a lot of Afro-Cuban music, very versatile. And became one of the most in-demand composers for TV and film.
On Anglo artists— like Paul Simon or David Byrne— adopting a "Latin sound" or appropriating the rhythmic traditions of other cultures and whether it can be a good thing if more people get exposed to the music
Lopez: It's great. But he greatness has its limitations too because it doesn't level the field. There's also, with the question of cultural appropriation— everybody talks about Paul Simon's music, but that's not Paul Simon's music. That's music that was created by other people that he put his voice on. It's their music.
Kun: Well or even if he's creating something new out of it, which is fabulous. Which is the history of musical evolution, right? But, how are you doing it? Who's getting the credit? Is everyone getting paid equally? Are you doing it with deference and respect? That's crucial.
To hear the full interview with Josh Kun and Alberto Lopez, click the blue player above.