Quetzal will perform Saturday at La Plaza de Cultura y Arte. Photo by Quetzal

In the year 1993, a neighborhood rock group came to life in a tiny cafe on the edge of Little Tokyo. Within cafe walls, Quetzal would play music that channeled the feelings of the people surrounding them. The band’s distinct sound and soulful lyrics created an emotive experience that resonated deeply with their audience. 

Founder Quetzal Flores established the band at Troy Cafe, a Chicano-owned venue that used to be on Alameda Street and First Street in Little Tokyo. Flores recalls that Troy Cafe was life-altering as it allowed for musicians in the area to “find one another, create, and feed off each other’s energy.” 

While growing up in Northeast LA, in a neighborhood with limited opportunities but an abundance of creativity, Flores chose to channel his feelings through music. “I think all of us just had a desire to channel those feelings that we all had of frustration, anger, disappointment, in the world that we were being given, that we were inheriting,” he says 

Quetzal Flores. Photo by Óscar Vásquez.

Continuing on that journey, Quetzal is reaching a remarkable milestone: the band’s 30th anniversary. The band will celebrate it with a special performance Saturday at La Plaza de Cultura y Artes in Los Angeles. The free event, titled L.A. Profundo: 30 Years of Redefining Chicano Rock, will include special appearances by La Marisoul, Cesar Castro and others.

Led by Flores (guitarist) and his wife and co-founder Martha Gonzalez (lead singer and percussionist), the band currently includes violinist Tylana Enomoto, bassist Juan Perez, drummer Evan Greer, percussionist Alberto Lopez, and keyboardist Sandino Gonzalez Flores. 

Among its many achievements, the band won the Grammy Award for Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album in 2013 for “Imaginaries.”

Quetzal has a very unique approach to the music industry that differs from many other music artists. Flores says that his band is uninterested in the market aspect, of how many tickets or units they can sell. “We’re more interested in building community around music,” he says. 

According to artist-scholar-producer Alex E. Chávez, it’s that commitment to community building, combined with its musical roots, that make Quetzal stand out.

“You hear students of Chicano rock, rhythm and blues, JB funk, Cuban batá, punk, and Motown soul, Chávez writes. “You hear a band that has cut its teeth organizing, that has worked to fight forms of oppression in the communities they are connected to. And in pursuit of forging these creative and political bridges, you hear artists who are at the epicenter of the transnational world of Son Jarocho.”

However, Quetzal’s community-centered approach has brought the band some difficulties, particularly pressure from managers and record labels who attempted to limit the band’s interactions with the community.

Watch video of Quetzal’s NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert:
YouTube video

Many of Quetzal’s songs are inspired by the social justice causes and activism work of its founders. Florez says Quetzal is in the process of creating a cancionero or song book that will showcase lyrics, photos, and reflections on song lyrics from friends of the band members. The cancionero should be published next year.

“In order to understand how to take action, you have to understand what you have,” says Flores. 

Quetzal’s music themes resonate with the community. Its music challenges capitalism and envisions change that would create equal opportunities for everyone. 

When reflecting upon the significance of its heritage, Flores highlights the band’s connection to the ancestral traditions it plans to preserve.

“We carry magic and fire in our heads and our bodies,” he says.


Saturday, Aug. 19, 6 pm

La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, 501 North Main Street, Los Angeles

Ethan Fernandez is a sophomore at Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School. He enjoys photography, music, and writing. He hopes to attend a four-year university in the future. He is determined to pursue...

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