I just got back from the American Sabor exhibit at the Bob Bullock Museum, which I took my partner, mother, stepfather, and stepbrother to see. I specifically wanted to take my mom, a choir director, in honor of Mother’s Day. This wonderful collection focuses on Latino and Latinas contributions to popular music. Having heard guest curator/University of Washington professor Michelle Habell-Pallán’s plenary presentation on the collection at Console-ing Passions, I was itching to go. As a music history educator for Girls Rock Camp Austin, I couldn’t wait to start incorporating these artists into our curriculum.
Three days after Cinco de Mayo, it’s particularly relevant given the racism and xenophobia informing policies like Arizona’s SB 1o70, which my former professor Jennifer Fuller rightly dubbed as wrong-headed at a recent protest in town. If you live in the Austin area, make it a priority to see the exhibit this weekend, as tomorrow is its last day at Bob Bullock.
The bilingual exhibit doesn’t divide the work of these musicians so much by genre, as it’s clearly making the case that Latino and Latina contributions have been varied, ingratiating itself in rock, hip hop, country, dance, soul, jazz, and a myriad of other musical styles. Instead, the exhibit is organized by geographical locations. The emphasized cities are San Antonio, East Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, and New York City, though contributions from folks in Tuscon, Houston, Chicago, and Detroit are also acknowledged. I particularly appreciated the care given toward providing a sociohistoric context toward migration patterns, cultural history, and the evolution of cityspaces in relation to the musical offerings and innovation of its populations.
There were many significant artifacts on display. I was particularly struck by outfits worn by Selena, Celia Cruz, Freddy Fender, and SB 1070 protestor Linda Ronstadt. I also enjoyed seeing Doug Sahm’s guitar, Eva Ybarra’s accordion, and Isidro Lopez’s speaker. I loved the wall of album covers and the displays of vintage posters, some of which were created by Los Angeles-based graphic designers Sister Karen Boccalero and Walter Nelez. I found the collected interview footage, oral history kiosks, and historical timelines for topics like lowrider cars, pachucos, Radio Jalepeno, the United Farm Workers strike, and the Chicano Rights Movement (which informed me of 1954’s sickeningly prescient Operation Wetback) most useful. I loved all the walk-in jukeboxes that represented each area and some of the more noteworthy songs or musical movements that emanated therein. I was energized by how many of these artists were politically active, including Los Illegals and Tijuana No!
I was also pleasantly surprised by how interactive the exhibit is. A dance floor is included for guests who want to learn salsa, mambo, cha cha, and a variety of disciplines these artists and their fans popularized. A mixing board is also available for folks who want to put together their own versions of “Song for Cesar” and “La Murga de Panamá.” I got a kick out of the Play That Hook station, which includes a piano with light-up keys to teach people how to play the hooks to songs like War’s “Low Rider.”
I especially loved how Latina musicians were incorporated throughout the exhibit rather than relegated to one section of it. I was delighted to see East L.A. punks Alice Armandariz of The Bags and Teresa Covarrubias of The Brat alongside San Diego’s Rosie Hamlin of Rosie and the Originals, whose teen pop classic “Angel Baby” (which Hamlin wrote) should be included with the One Kiss Can Lead To Another box set, along with singles from The Arvisu Sisters. I also delighted in discovering Martha Gonzalez of East L.A.-based Quetzal, who plays a tarima, which is a platform onto which the performer stomps rhythms.
I also enjoyed seeing and hearing the influence of Cuban musicians like La Lupe and Celia Cruz and the impact they had on future generations of Cuban American artists, most notably Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine.
As a Texan, I was so proud of Texas Latinas’ contributions to Tejano. Eva Ybarra, Lydia Mendoza, and Laura Canales broke barriers as some of the first women in Tejano’s myriad of subgenres, forging a path Selena would later bring closer to the mainstream. Bands like Girl in a Coma make clear that a variety of influences from multiple cultural origins can be brought together and positively rock in the process.
Thus, American Sabor proves that Latino and Latina contributions to popular music have been intrinsic and influential. By emphasizing the diversity of participants within this large aggregate, it makes the point even clearer that they themselves are ubiquitous in music culture.
It’s Mother’s Day weekend and to celebrate, I thought today I’d write up a tribute to some awesome women who balance and blend the dual identities of musician and mother in their own ways.
First up, Erykah Badu and Jill Scott.
So much to love about these two. They’re smart, talented, politically conscious, unconventionally beautiful, and have earned plenty of mainstream recognition but choose to stay on the fringe of popular culture.
Also, they’re autonomous women who have opted out of a conventional family unit. Both are unmarried. Badu had son Seven and daughters Puma and Mars from her relationships with André 3000 of OutKast, The D.O.C., and Jay Electronica, respectively. Scott is divorced and welcomed the birth of her first child, Jett, with her boyfriend, Lil John Roberts, last year at the age of 36.
And finally, I love that they’re friends, came up from the Philly “neo-soul” circuit together, and often perform together (as evidenced from the photo above; see also their stirring performance of “You Got Me” on Dave Chappelle’s Block Party). I like to imagine that they hang out together a lot, helping each other write, sing, or think through the struggles and joys of daily life.
Next up, Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon.
After being married to bandmate Thurston Moore for about ten years, Gordon (who kept her name, thank you) gave birth to Coco Hayley Gordon Moore in 1994, thus bringing presumably one of the coolest girls into the world as a result. I like to imagine that Coco was schooling her classmates about Merzbow by the sixth grade. Also, a friend of mine’s sister used to babysit Coco, and says that she is a really nice, well-adjusted kid. Yay!
I like that Kim had Coco — an only child — on her own time and later in life. It probably reminds me of my mom, who had me (and only me) at 36. Plus, Gordon and Moore performed a song with Coco on The Gilmore Girls. How cool is that?
Speaking of cool moms, what about M.I.A., who welcomed her first son Ikhyd into the world with fiancé Benjamin Brewer earlier this year?
Unfortunately, I can’t find a hi-res version of the Grammy performance of T.I.’s “Swagga Like Us”, but I really love it. I love that M.I.A., whose song “Paper Planes” is sampled and provides the song title, opens the performance. I love that she interacts with the other rappers, who seem to be treating her as an equal. I love that the men she shares the stage with, all of whom are African American and thus stigmatized by the racist, sexist stereotype of the wayward, absentee black father, seem to be excited and happy for her. I love that she’s ready-to-burst pregnant in public and is wearing a tight, short, see-through black and white dress, thus confronting and subverting the conception of the sexless matriarch (in fact, she got a lot of flak for the dress; some people dubbed it “slutty” and “trashy”). I also love that she paired the ensemble with sneakers, because pregnant ladies gotta be comfortable. And most of all, I love that we haven’t seen much of baby Ikhyd since he came into the world, suggesting that the family wants their son to grow up a person and not a tabloid ficture.
Another low-key mom is Yoshimi Yokota, legendary drummer of Boredoms and singer/guitarist of OOIOO.
Like Gordon, she’s got one daughter, and seems to be pleased with that. But like M.I.A., she’s not forthcoming about her personal life, particularly the family she’s creating for herself. And finally, I love that unlike what we may expect from mom musicians, Yoshimi doesn’t think her entrance into motherhood has changed her music.
And finally, the mother of all cool musician moms, Björk.
So, Björk is interesting for many reasons. Like Badu, she had two children with two different partners (son Sindri with former Sugarcubes bandmate Þór Eldon; daughter Ísadóra with artist Matthew Barney). There’s also an unsual age difference between her children. Sindri was born in 1986, when Björk was 21. Ísadóra was born sixteen years later in 2002. And, despite her diminuitive figure and elfin looks, Björk is fiercely protective of her children and their privacy (anyone remember when Björk went off and beat up a journalist who waved a microphone in Sindri’s face at the airport?). Don’t fuck with mom.
But these moms are just a few examples. Who are your favorite musician moms?