Cuñao is a Latin folk, multi-ethnic group from Los Angeles, California. Their second album Sangre y Arena transports the listener right out into the unforgiving wilderness of the desert. The sociopolitical lyrics merge seamlessly with the African rhythms, Latin beats and American rock aesthetics. More importantly, it shows the sense of solidarity with our Latino community, as they take charge of their musical ability to tell our stories.
Cuñao speaks in a voice that feels the duality of cultures as the norm not the exception and that learns the way of the new but yearns to belong to the old.
I had the chance to a brief, inspiring chat with the lead singer and guitarist Julio Montero.
Marlena Fitzpatrick: Your album could easily be a soundtrack for someone crossing the desert. What was your inspiration for his album?
Julio Montero: It’s supposed to be an album about change. We talk about what’s happening here in L.A., in the desert area. It’s also about how we, as a band, are transitioning in our creative process. The first couple of songs are old and we have released them before. We have retreated and added accordions, new sounds and added new songs about strife and new stories about the Latin American experience. But primarily, it’s about immigration and what’s happening here.
MF: I have to be honest with you. The title “Sangre y Arena,” evokes an ode to war, as in “Desert Storm.” Are we living on the edge of a civil war with all this anti-immigrant rhetoric?
JM: We are definitely living in times of social strife. I don’t think it is quite a civil war yet — mainly because there are still a lot of people that are unaware. We are all aware of how we are treated as individuals. I think too many people are not looking beyond our scale, or a wide angle from farther away. Latinos are becoming more and more aware, however. We are coming together, influencing others, and we are gaining more perspective. We are fighting to get our stories out.
MF: That triggers many questions! First, that’s exactly what Latino Rebels does. We get our stories out there. Do we need more outlets to speak to us and about us? Are we portrayed realistically by the current media platforms?
JM: I think sometimes you do not get typical media to focus on us realistically: primarily, not to be portrayed as angry. I’m very aware of that actually. When you write something, when you point out something, people bring it up. We need to make sure that there’s more than just anger. There’s a whole lot of other emotions, like pride and nostalgia. Instead of putting all these emotions in the anger vehicle, we should write stories that people can empathize with. People react better with these stories. That’s my experience so far. I think that, while media continues to think that writing songs about injustice or things like that is just angry people screaming, we’re not going to get any kind of attention. The way that we’re communicating these stories is very important.
MF: Now, your music is very Seventies- and Latin America-influenced, with a touch of rock. It really is a holistic approach to the immigrant trip. I think the album could easily be a rock opera.
JM: Thank you, that is very nice.
MF: You’re welcome. I can hear the overreaching arc. It has all the elements of a musical. You have a protagonist that’s crossing the desert. Which brings me to the song “Oveja Negra.” What is your stance on this anti-Latino rhetoric being spewed by politicians?
JM: To be honest I’m quite amazed people say these things. In a lot of ways it’s beneficial having them exposed. I do think that the way we deal with it is having one-on-one conversations, be courteous; in other words don’t put everything as a slogan and deal with it one on one. When that happens you break a lot of barriers. Instead of calling them out, let’s discuss with them and ask: “Why do you feel this way?” I think that’s what we’re trying to do with the music, rather than just calling out to people. Let’s just have a dialogue. Screaming back at the GOP is not making progress; it’s more divisive.
MF: Very interesting! You have a song called “Niños del Desierto.” What is your opinion on the lack of media coverage over the child immigrant crisis?
JM: It’s all very unfortunate. I’m not saying one news is more important over the other, but I do think we need to keep perspective and continue the reminder. We are covering the refugees going into Europe. And that’s another headline staying in media, which is good, but they’re not covering what’s happening in the border. I walk the streets of L.A. and I’m constantly reminded of the children. I’m just saying there should be a little bit more equal coverage. Ironically, I almost don’t expect it. We have to keep the reminders to ourselves. Again let’s tell our stories and remind our community of what is going on. Let’s create a media wave on its own.
MF: We are covering these issues, and we’re covering artists like you: our storytellers. With that said, what is your definition of a Latino Rebel?
JM: A Latino Rebel is basically someone who is willing to tell his or her story of his or her roots, whether it is the story of our grandmothers or the children in the desert, or even about calling out people. At the same time a Latino Rebel talks, not just about Latinos, but uplifts the world. I think that’s very important too. We’re not the only ones, and our cause is not more important than the others oppressed. We stand in solidarity.
MF: And that’s the best way to rebel: standing in solidarity. Congratulations on a great album.
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