Mexican-American culture took the stage Thursday night as the Ballet Folklorico Mexicano de Carlos Moreno danced and Los Lobos played music. The resulting concert was a whirl of color and sound, rhythms echoing back and forth among dancers and musicians, as each ensemble told tales in its own way, working in tandem sometimes and by themselves at others.
Los Lobos has been together as a unit for nigh unto half a century. As Cesar Rosas noted while introducing a song from their first album, “Yeah, we’re old guys.”
Their art encompassed all of the influences surrounding them, as they eventually began developing a stage presence that meshed rock and roll with the tunes they played at neighborhood gatherings in East L.A. It was an embrace of the multicultural reality they were living on a day-to-day level. And they made it work.
Los Lobos has worked with other organizations active in preserving Mexican-American culture, and the Ballet Folklorico Mexicano is just the most recent example. The dance company had been using the band’s material in its choreography and it seemed like a good idea to join their forces together on a tour.
The dancers enacted vignettes, both little stories of courtship and larger set pieces utilizing a Mesoamerican backdrop that involved pre-Conquistador dress and a semblance of ritual. Sometimes Los Lobos backed them up and other times, especially during the second half of the program, they piped in their own soundtrack.
Costume changes were frequent, a convenient fact that allowed space for the band to play a tune or two before they either became accompaniment or left the stage to the dancers. Big, colorful, flowing dresses were the default for the female dancers while the males generally cavorted in peasant, western, or leather.
The patterns unveiled onstage flowed into each other with admirable consistency; the footwork seemed to have roots in flamenco, tap, and the kind of step dancing found in European folk traditions.
Musically speaking, Los Lobos had their amps and standard rock gear, but they also delved into their old traditions, playing accordion, fiddle, vihuela, and saxophones.
Bassist Conrad Lozano even played a guitarron, an acoustic bass guitar that looks big enough to have eaten two or three regular sized guitars for appetizers. When the band was in non-electric mode, Lozano’s instrument boomed the central rhythm that everything else flowed from.
By the end of the concert when the band played “La Bamba” and, eventually “Guantanamera”, some of the dancers left the stage to wander the aisles, selecting audience members to dance with. Up in the balcony, a few folks had brought a Mexican flag with them and began waving it, much to the delight of the musicians.
Who: Los Lobos and Ballet Folklorico Mexicano de Carlos Moreno
When: Thursday evening in University at Buffalo Center for the Arts