Thursday, April 29, 2010

Los Reyes de Albuquerque

a selection from a photograph by Genevieve Russell 

As the debate over Arizona's new immigration policy rages across the country, we should remember that hispanic americans have been contributing to all aspects of the southwestern life for generations--long before much of the current population even had a mailbox in Arizona or New Mexico.

This idea was brought again to my attention when I had a chance to watch this outstanding public radio/online documentary:  Los Reyes de Albuquerque. A collaboration between Paul Ingles and photographer Genevieve Russell (of StoryPortrait Media), the documentary is a lush collage of photographs, video and music that tells the story of the legendary Los Reyes de Albuquerque and the Martínez family of musicians. Enrique Lamadrid wrote an excellent feature on the group for Smithsonian Folkways magazine; here's his introduction to the legacy of Mr. Martínez and his family:
In New Mexico, the name Roberto Martínez is synonymous with royalty. Los Reyes de Alburquerque (The Kings of Albuquerque) is a Nuevo Mexicano–styled mariachi group he founded with Ray Flores, Miguel Archibeque, and other friends in 1962. For nearly a half-century, Los Reyes has performed all over the region and the nation in a wide variety of venues both humble and grand—from schools, nursing homes, and the live local talent shows of the 1960s to community dances, concerts, feast days, state fairs, and festivals, including several appearances at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. These public performances as well as the group's exposure on Spanish-language radio stations generated a demand for recordings, and dozens of them, from 45s to cassettes to CDs, have been issued on the homegrown M.O.R.E. (Minority Owned Record Enterprises) label founded by Roberto Martínez. The collection is now part of the Smithsonian Folkways with many albums available. Their music features mariachi favorites in familiar arrangements of guitarra, requinto, vihuela, guitarrón, violín, and trompeta (guitar; soprano, rhythm, and bass guitars; violin; and trumpet), but what distinguishes Los Reyes is the lyrical New Mexican violin as well as Martínez's original compositions. 

Don Roberto is also the patriarch of one of New Mexico's most prominent musical families. His five children (Roberta, Doris, Lorenzo, Debra, Roberto Jr.) and several grandchildren (Sheila and Larry) have all played with the group, and many young musicians got their start with Los Reyes as well. Two stars emerged from this family constellation: the late Debbie "La Chicanita" Martínez, whose meteoric singing career was tragically ended by deafness and illness, and Lorenzo, whose violin has introduced a new generation to the resonant instrumental music of the past.
While documentary does great work to convey the beauty of this music, it's also a love story and a story of family. It traces Mr. Martínez's childhood in Chacon, New Mexico through his service in the Air Force and his courtship of wife Ramona and the beginnings of a musical career that would take influences from both sides of the border to create a music that is distinct to New Mexico. The documentary will be embedded below, but a larger HD version is located on the filmmakers' site, along with some galleries of photos and more information on the project. Though we say this a lot around here, this documentary and its companion site are well-worth visiting, so find a comfortable chair and settle in.

Los Reyes de ABQ Documentary – 22 Minutes from StoryPortrait Media on Vimeo.