American Sabor | Oct. 28, 2013 | Spotlight

‘American Sabor’ brings Latin ‘flavor’ to Cal State L.A.

Smithsonian exhibit presents musical contributions of U.S. Latinos from 1940s to the present

From cha-cha-chá to rumba, these distinctive musical styles have influenced American popular music for decades. Bringing with them a diverse array of rhythms and regional styles, Latino artists have contributed extensively to U.S. musical history.

Los Angeles is a hub for Latino culture and music, so it’s fitting for the Smithsonian to bring “American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music,” to California State University, Los Angeles.

The traveling exhibition celebrates the true flavor, or “sabor,” of Latin music in the United States from the 1940s to the present. And it focuses on Los Angeles as one of the five major centers of Latino popular music production, representing the remarkable diversity of this music.

“As a result of the infusion of immigrants in Los Angeles from Mexico and Central America, the dynamic music scenes in this great city have helped shape American popular music, such as rock and roll, jazz, punk and hip-hop,” explained CSULA Professor John Kennedy, one of CSULA’s committee members organizing the exhibit on campus.

As the world’s entertainment capitol, Los Angeles is home to many Latino artists. Cal State L.A. is particularly proud of those artists who began their careers here, and in the surrounding communities.

Picture of Sonia Marie De León de Vega.
Sonia Marie De León de Vega.

For example, noted symphony and opera conductor Sonia Marie De León de Vega honed her talent and began conducting at CSULA, while pursuing her academic degrees in music.

“Cal State L.A. was a very important aspect of my life. I started out as a music major with a focus on piano performance, but after taking a class with Professor David Buck, I was inspired to train as a musical conductor,” said De León de Vega, who grew up listening to pop music in Echo Park but fell in love with classical music when she first heard Beethoven’s symphony as a little girl. “The CSULA conducting professor was wonderful in helping to develop the skills needed for me to pursue a professional career in music. I am still in touch with him and will always consider him my mentor.”

De León de Vega was instrumental in forming the Santa Cecilia Orchestra in Los Angeles in 1992 in an effort to bring classical music to the Latino community. She has achieved distinction as a creative and consummate musician and as a leading influence in the growing Latino culture in the United States. Her musical talents have inspired a large following in Southern California through live orchestral presentations, as well as an international audience through televised performances in the United States, Latin America and Europe. De León de Vega has also been a guest conductor for many orchestras and opera companies and has developed concerts and children’s music workshops for the Cultural Affairs Department of the City of Los Angeles.

De León de Vega, who was the first woman in history to receive a Vatican invitation to conduct a symphony orchestra at a Papal Mass, is recognized as part of the “American Sabor” exhibit for her accomplishments and career in conducting.

“It’s great to be part of such an exhibit. One that is important to our city and its huge population of Latin Americans,” she said. “This will be a remarkable way to offer the public a deeper cultural understanding of the history of Latino art and music.”

Picture of Mark Guerrero.
Mark Guerrero.

Another CSULA alum featured in “American Sabor” is singer, songwriter and musician Mark Guerrero, who earned a bachelor’s degree in Chicano studies.

“It is amazing how things work in life,” said Guerrero, who has music in his blood. He started playing in a band at 13 and was heavily influenced by his father, the late legendary singer/songwriter Lalo Guerrero.

“I was fascinated to delve into my cultural and family history as a Chicano studies major at CSULA,” he said. “So, the more I learned about my Mexican and Chicano heritage, the more it got infused in my music. In order to chronicle and preserve the rich history of East L.A. and Chicano rock, I developed a website,, which is now referenced by colleges and universities around the world.”

Guerrero, who led the popular East L.A. band Mark & the Escorts, recorded two singles for GNP Crescendo Records: “Get Your Baby” and “Dance With Me.” He also recorded as a solo artist for Ode Records (produced by the legendary Lou Adler), Capitol Records, and with his group, Tango, for A&M Records. He has performed on stage with a variety of renowned performers, such as Redbone, Eric Burdon, El Chicano, Tierra, Lalo Guerrero, and many others. Guerrero also has written more than a hundred articles, hosted an internet radio show called “Chicano Music Chronicles,” been a guest on numerous radio and television programs, consulted for museums, and lectured at universities.

For his distinguished musical career and expertise in Chicano and East L.A. music history, Guerrero was invited from the onset to be part of the advisory board for the original Experience Music Project (EMP) exhibit on “American Sabor,” helping to provide artifacts and to conduct oral interviews.

“It is notable of the Smithsonian to take this EMP exhibit further, so others can explore and appreciate the Latin musical culture and genre of the U.S.,” said Guerrero. “I am deeply honored to be included among other illustrious Latino musicians, and to be able to share my life’s experience and contributions in American music history through the exhibit.”

Picture of Edward Resto.
Edward Resto.

The exhibit also plays tribute to legendary Latin jazz bassist Edward Resto, who completed his bachelor’s degree in jazz studies and performance, and master’s degree in Afro-Latin music at CSULA.

“Here, I found that I had so much to learn,” said Resto. “I had been a professional, accomplished musician for most of my life, yet I always knew that the life of a true artist is a never-ending process of growth, knowledge and creative development. I was able to embrace this educational environment and re-ignite the passion that lives inside of me as an artist and as an academic.”

Resto, who enjoyed a celebrated career with the Grammy award-winning Eddie Palmieri Orchestra, is recognized as a first class bassist for his extensive experience in a broad range of musical styles. He had his start at 15 in New York, playing bass at a wedding celebration. From there, he began performing, touring, teaching, and recording around the world. This helped him to develop rapidly as a versatile bassist and was immediately sought after to perform by major performers and music groups, such as Rene Touzet, Tito Puente, Chick Corea, Kenny Burrell, Rita Moreno, Francisco Aguabella, Poncho Sanchez, Paul Simon, Don Tosti, Shakira, Celia Cruz, Freddie Fender and Flaco Jimenez, Jennifer Lopez, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lalo Guerrero and many others.

Resto is acknowledged in the exhibit at CSULA for his bassist career, which captured the New York City Afro-Latin music scene of the 1970s and 1980s, and is still making a major impact to the music of today.

“This exhibition provides a huge Latino melting pot of music that can be explored, researched, appreciated and enjoyed. Thanks to the Smithsonian, lovers of this wonderful Latino culture and music can find a place to flourish and grow in their quest for exploration of this rich music,” said Resto. “I am proud and excited that the Smithsonian’s ‘American Sabor’ exhibit included my grandfathers and my own personal Afro Latino genre, demographic and musical contributions, but also integrated the numerous Latino musical cultures scattered across the United States.”

“American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music” exhibition will be on display in the Fine Arts Gallery at CSULA from Nov. 16 through Feb. 9, 2014. “American Sabor” is a 2,500-square-foot learning experience with engaging bilingual (English and Spanish) text panels, striking graphics and photographs, a dance floor and compelling listening stations and films. The exhibit’s open house will take place on Saturday, Nov. 16, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

Developed by EMP Museum and the University of Washington, and organized for travel by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Services (SITES), the exhibition, its national tour and related programs are made possible by Ford Motor Company Fund.

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