Night of Cultura

A woman shrieks in the dead of night. A man strumming on his guitar offsets a serenade of melodic voices. Cussing intervenes the music as drugs are dealt.

This is Night of Cultura at UCLA.

In 2004, a group of Latina/o students came together to establish a creative space for the expression and celebration of Latin American culture through performing arts. The nonprofit, completely run by UCLA students, has since worked toward staging theater productions every spring quarter.

Night of Cultura’s Executive Director Ricardo Ayala, a third year psychology student, describes the essence of the organization as the interweaving of the arts and social justice, “bringing up issues relevant to those in Night of Cultura as well as the communities we represent.”

As stated on their official Facebook page, Night of Cultura aims to “[establish] a creative space that allows students the opportunity to participate in political advocacy, social advocacy, and cathartic expression. Through performing arts, [they] aim to educate the audience for the betterment of the Latin-American community at UCLA.”

Their mission statement was evident during Monday night rehearsals, held on the Tom Bradley International Hall patio from eight to ten. They are a chaotic combination of live music, impassioned arguments, remnants of a past romance, and excruciating loss.

Among this year’s featured productions is art history graduate student Carlos Rivas’ monologue “1932,” inspired by the often overlooked genocide of Salvadoran indigenous peoples.

“Last summer I spent a week in a little town called Nahuizalco in El Salvador. I stayed with an indigenous community with the grandchildren of the grandchildren of the people who were murdered. I was very inspired by [this experience]. I came back and wanted to share the knowledge,” says Rivas. “I was already a part of NoC and [this] fit in with the theme of Latin American culture [while] also still raising awareness for social activism.”

Fourth year Spanish literature student Roberto Reyna’s El Swapmeet takes place closer to home near the border.

Reyna credits his upbringing and experience of selling at his local swap meet alongside his mom as inspiration for his play.

One of the critical themes present throughout his play is the role of money.

“Money is an actor in every Latino’s life. It transforms us,” says Reyna.

The influence of money is evident through his memories of being at swap meets as a kid.

“I think I saw some kids in the swap meet selling by themselves and I said, ‘What got him to selling?’ This kid goes to the swap meet all by himself and he thinks he’s all badass. I wanted his backstory,” says Reyna. “It’s the backstory of a lot of people, to try and work and to earn something out of anything. The journey of the hustle.”

Reyna expresses the journey of the dual culture of border towns and the people who live there through his use of bilingual dialogue. His use of English and Spanish reflect the dichotomy of money and happiness present within El Swapmeet.

Bringing it even closer to home is Giovanni Núñez’s Unbreakable.

Set in a neighborhood similar to South Los Angeles, Unbreakable stars second year sociology major and theater minor Liz Perez as Janet. Núñez’s play chronicles Janet’s transformation as she navigates through her neighborhood and the tribulations of everyday life.

“Throughout the play there’s a change of character within Janet. She herself believes that she is unbreakable.Throughout the play she thinks that she’s invincible and that nothing can hurt her,” explains Perez. “She becomes more critical of her environment.”

This year, Night of Cultura will take place on May 30th-31st in the Northwest Campus Auditorium at 7:00 PM. Admission is free.

Serving as Creative Director, Reyna is confident in the work of his writers, actors, and the entire work force behind Night of Cultura.

“Honestly, I’m confident. There’s a reason why I chose Giovanni, there’s a reason why I chose Carlos. No one’s getting paid. Everyone’s on their own time, everyone’s on their own schedule. It’s just like any other club, it’s a passion, it’s a dedication. The most rewarding part is for us to perform for someone. The rewarding part is the night of the show, the wrap. That’s what makes all the headaches worth it.”

Note: This blog is the first of a three part series following the NoC productions. Look out for the next blog which will be covering the actual production of NoC on May 30th and May 31st. See you there!

Hole in the Wall: The Honey Tones

The rain quickly falls on them as they run up the Kerckhoff steps. They hurried across the wet concrete, making sure not to fall or drop any of their equipment. Some used their jackets to cover their amps, some took off their shirts. All of them were trying to avoid as much rain as possible. This is how The Honey Tones came to our office. Soaked, but with a sound so sweet, it went beyond their name.

With a dapper air surrounding them and a weird kind of grace, they struck off the set with their signature oldies infused with their unique indie sound. With Crystal Cerecedes as vocalist and guitarist, April Jimenez on keyboards, Omar Praslin on bass, and Jesse (Stewey) Mendez on drums, they dragged us into their melodic, charming sound, taking us somewhere carefree.

“I think every time we’re asked what our sound is…” April begins to explain.

“It’s lowrider music,” Crystal jokingly chimes in.

“We’re dream pop,” Omar exclaims.

Each member idled with various music groups; Crystal use to play in a funk group, April was in a surf rock band, while Stewey was part of the metal scene. Despite these vast differences and even though they don’t hang out as much, they cohesively work together.

“We all come from different musical backgrounds… We all meshed into one,” April says.

“As a band, we don’t hang out at all… But see, everybody has a job and a different life. It’s time to grow up. This is more like a hobby,” Stewey explains.

This mesh of a group began with Crystal Cerecedes’ desire to create an all girl band. When that didn’t become end game, they continued on with The Honey Tones, wanting to add something different to the booming backyard Los Angeles music scene.

“I guess basically its wanting to do our own thing. I’ve been in the shadows of other musicians… Most of them are dominant male bands… So, that’s kind of refreshing that Crystal wanted to start her own thing,” April says.

And though the intensity of life gets them down from accomplishing mainstream success, they manage to do what they must do to survive this kind of lifestyle.

“Cos we’re working class, we got to work our way to the top. And it’s hard cos you’re trying to make ends meets,” April says. “It’s just a balancing act to be honest. Because when we find time, the little spare, scraps of time we have, that’s when we meet up and try to make something. It’s difficult.”

“It takes a lot of drugs to keep up,” Omar says, laughing.

They continue to believe in the music they produce and greatly appreciate those that recognize their work.

“We want to make it but at the same time the biggest reward would be the music,” April says. “And I know it sounds really cheesy, but when a fan comes up to us, that makes it worth it.”

Catch them at local shows around Los Angeles and follow their Instagram (@thehoneytones) for updates.

Hole in the Wall: Jorge Lopez

Jorge Lopez, originally from East Palo Alto, recently moved to Los Angeles in pursuit of his educational and artistic goals.  He studies Sociology at Santa Monica Community College and hopes to transfer into the University of California, Los Angeles. Jorge developed a deeper appreciation for education after leaving high school, as one of his songs “Standardizing Creativity” illustrates. This song reveals Jorge’s desire to really explore his own creativity through writing rather than just regurgitating irrelevant information to pass an exam. In his high school he became known as the rapper and he recorded his first song at age 14 with his older brother, Freddy Lopez. From then on he continues to write in hopes that others will connect with his flows.

“I like writing, so might as well try to rap,” said Jorge. “[My lyrics are] really just myself, what I’m feeling or thinking.”

Click here for more of Jorge Lopez’s music!

Hole in the Wall became a series of La Gente Newsmagazine, hoping to feature musicians and artists of color. Artists of color do not receive much praise or recognition despite overwhelming talent. This segment’s main purpose is to alleviate that by becoming a platform for artists of color. If you are interested in being part of the series, please email [email protected] 

Boyle Heights Dia de los Muertos Festivities

On November 2, 2014, the community of Boyle Heights honored those who have passed in spaces like Espacio 1839, Mariachi Plaza and Self Help Graphics.

At the store and autonomous radio station, Espacio 1839, various altars decorated its sidewalk, giving life to the street as the dead were commemorated.   One of the altars was set up by students of Roosevelt High School and their teacher, Jorge Lopez.  The students decided to honor various revolutionaries who have died fighting for justice.

Inside the store there were performances by various artists, such as Son de Centro and El-Haru Kuroi, to name a few.  In addition, there was a space dedicated for an altar that displayed the faces of the 43 students who were disappeared in Guerrero, Mexico.  On the wall right from the altar, a row of posters with Black and Brown faces whose lives were taken by police brutality, were lined up across the room.

At Mariachi Plaza, there were vendors and cumbia that made a large crowd dance.  And just down that same street, Self Help Graphics was hosting their 41st annual Dia de los Muertos celebration at their neighboring Mendez High School.  The area was filled with more vendors, altars, photo booths, food, and a stage for performances by artists such as Las Cafeteras.

Created with flickr slideshow.

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