How many musicians could weave a touching story of romance from the everyday sight of an injured, dirty pigeon? In the case of Southern California band Quetzal, such corollaries come naturally. Singer Martha Gonzalez and guitarist Quetzal Flores spotted such a bird at Los Angeles’ Union Station one day, and went home to write “Palomo Vagabundo,” a slow lament for the ways urban environments grind away at our innate openness to love one another.
After 20 years of distilling and combining many styles from throughout Latin music’s history, Quetzal is a “Chicano rock band” in umbrella terms only. More folk-based than Los Lobos, less hip-hop than Ozomatli, the six-piece band best fits into the son jarocho tradition. Key to that tradition are all-night fandangos and a key place in social justice issues. As Gonzalez, a professor at Scripps College in Pomona, told journalist Oliver Wang earlier this year: “There’s a historical and political trajectory in rhythm, and that’s how it was meant to be.”
When Quetzal play in San Jose this week in support of their new release Quetzanimales, they do so in the afterglow of a 2013 Grammy win, and just one week after San Jose’s own norteño heroes Los Tigres del Norte earned a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. The next afternoon, they play a free outdoor show in San Francisco. Expect a lively party with a social message—and plenty of dancing.