Put on a zoot suit ... with the reet pleat, sang the Andrews Sisters in their 1940s tune "Zoot Suit for My Sunday Gal." The zoot suit was a fashion popular in the black community in Harlem, best exemplified by Cab Calloway in films like Stormy Weather. In Mexican-American barrios from El Paso to Los Angeles, it was embraced by a generation who called themselves pachucos. The zoot suit marked a subculture that created its own clothing, mannerisms, and even its own language, caló. Condemned by traditional Mexican families for its connections to gangs and juvenile delinquency, it gave young Chicanos -- stuck between the traditional values of their parents and American pop culture -- a sense of identity. "They were considered an outlaw class people," says Jose Cuellar, the distinguished Ph.D anthropologist and sax-playing bandleader known as Dr. Loco. "So well into the 1950s they were getting beat up regularly by the authorities for wearing zoot suits and acting pachuco."
The music that sprouted from this subculture was rebellious and highly danceable, with young bandleaders like Don Tosti and Lalo Guerrero doing tunes like "Pachuco Boogie," "Wine-O Boogie," "Marijuana Boogie," and "Chucos Suaves." Dr. Loco notes: "What these young pachuco bandleaders did was to create an appeal in young Chicanos for Afrocentric music, at a time when many traditional forces were identifying as being of Spanish descent, given the negative connotation the word 'Mexican' had at the time. What Lalo and Don Tosti did was to sow the seeds of Afrocentricity among Chicanos so that by the 1950s we're listening to black music from the Caribbean, and African-American jazz and blues. It's that quality that begins to distinguish us from our brothers and sisters on the other side of the border."
This Saturday night at La Peña in Berkeley (3105 Shattuck Ave., 510-849-2568), the third annual Pachucada -- a celebration of the pachuco era -- features Dr. Loco's Rockin' Jalapeño Band with special guest Fuga, sponsored by El Club de Alumnos Chicano Latino de UC Berkeley. They'll also honor the late Lalo Guerrero, father of Chicano music. Info: www.lapena.org
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