Brothers in Arms

Chicano Power Revival brilliantly crosses cultural boundaries with its wildly eclectic grooves

The Puerto Rican-born Santiago, for one, initially balked at singing the tune. "He was like, 'What does this song mean? I can't sing this, I'm not Chicano,'" recalls Raul. "But when I was writing that I wasn't thinking of justChicanos."

Santiago and Yáñez would sit down together and tweak the wording so that the lyrics would reference a bringing together, not just of "my people," but of alldisenfranchised Latinos.

"For us the word 'Chicano' means something else, something deeper," explains George Yáñez of the confusion surrounding the name. "Sure, in the '60s and '70s it was more of a revolutionary-type thing. But the way we were thinking of Chicano is the actual Mexican meaning of the word, which describes poor people or working-class people. If you look back at something like mariachi music, it came about in the early 19th century so that poor people who couldn't afford to go hear 'legitimate music' in concert halls could enjoy music as well. It was about making music accessible."

Chicano Power Revival melds Latin American rhythms with improvisational jazz.
Irvin Serrano
Chicano Power Revival melds Latin American rhythms with improvisational jazz.
Raul Yáñez, left, is CPR's keyboardist and bandleader.
Irvin Serrano
Raul Yáñez, left, is CPR's keyboardist and bandleader.

In terms of logistics and economics, keeping an 11-piece orchestra funded and gigging has presented its own unique set of challenges and sacrifices. Most nights, the group members go home with far less than they might otherwise make playing high-dollar resort and hotel gigs.

"They're definitely making a sacrifice to play with CPR," says Raul of his bandmates. "Because these guys are so talented, they could easily be making more doing something else. But they have such a respect for the music that I think they'd do it for free if they had to."

"I've made good money playing music," he adds, recalling his profitable stints as a hired hand touring Asia. "But I'd rather be broke doing this, something I love."

CPR's kinship is rooted not only in a common love for the music, but also in a love of teaching music. Nine of the 11 members of CPR are involved in music education in one form or another, many at the middle or high school levels.

Raul himself has been getting up at 5 a.m. each morning to conduct the Marcos de Niza High School band as part of his master's program.

"No matter where you look in music, people do it because they love it. Teaching music, especially, you have to have a passion for it. Because you're definitely not going to get rich from it," he says, chuckling.

"But one of the things I learned from my dad is that music is all about learning. The learning never stops. With music, every time you think you know something, another door opens up."


Like the portrait that graces the cover of CPR's forthcoming CD, the music contained inside is a vibrant slapdash of color and style, a furious aural collage of old and new that puts them in middle of the broad nexus somewhere between Cachao and Ozomatli.

In the winter of 2000-2001, the band set itself up at Clarke Rigsby's Tempe Tempest studios for a series of loose but productive live sessions. Rigsby, whose own credits include a long list of well-known jazz, Latin and big bands, is effusive in his praise of the group.

"[CPR] has a jazz sensibility, a jazz harmony and a Latin feel that's very natural," says the production vet. "I think there's an interesting sort of twisted combination happening on the record."

After a nearly a year of delays, the CPR Orchestra's much anticipated debut, Chicano Power Revival, is finally set for release next month on Yáñez's own Rrrrr Records label. (The group plans to mark the occasion with a CD-release party on April 5 at Beeloe's.)

The 11-song disc is a compilation of sorts, gathering a mix of originals the band has catalogued since its inception. From the organic piano and percussion opener "Tabula Rasa" to the Marvin Gaye-goes-salsero experiment "La Vid Sin Amor," the album is a broad, bold statement that veers wildly and beautifully, not just song to song, but moment by moment.

"It's going to take people with open minds to really understand the record," says Raul. "'Cause it jumps, man. It will jump from a rock feel to a salsa feel or salsa feel to a Brazilian flavor just like that. But whatever we do we try to respect all the styles. We've really spend time studying the music of all the cultures and pay as much respect to them as we can."

In addition to the band's core unit, the disc benefits from the talents of several gifted local luminaries, among them Navajo/world beat percussionist Tony Redhouse and renowned tubaist Sam Pilafian, who's worked with everyone from Leonard Bernstein to Pink Floyd. Both leave memorable sonic imprints: Pilafian with his infectious oom-pahs and Redhouse with the moody Native chanting that closes the disc.

CPR has already amassed more than enough material for a follow-up, which Raul says will likely explore new areas. It's not clear exactly what the next step will be, but with Yáñez brother Xavier bringing a healthy passion for tejano and ranchero music, things may head in a more classic Mexican direction. There's even been talk of opening a few shows as a stripped-down mariachi combo.

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