In 1973, a group of young musicians from East LA – Cesar Rosas, Conrad Lozano, David Hidalgo, Louie Pérez, Steve Berlin (joined in 1984), and the late Francisco González formed Los Lobos del Este De Los Angeles.
Though most well-known, perhaps in some cultural circles, for popularizing and circulating the song La Bamba from the Richie Valens biopic in 1987, Los Lobos is a multi-instrument group that connects generations through language, music, and reinvention. Singing in Spanish and English, and easily navigating genres from rock-n-roll, rockabilly, R&B, folk music, blues, Tex-Mex, and traditional Mexican music like mariachi, conjunto, son jarocho, and huapango, as well as songs associated with the Chicano Movement, Los Lobos created a cross-over=and-back sound that has attracted a broad audience for the last half-century. Ethnomusicologist Estevan Azcona calls this creative energy of political cultures of resistance and creativity "irreverent play."
Check out their first album, "Just Another Band From East L.A.," also known as The Yellow Album.
González left the band in 1977 to become the music director for Theatro Campesino, the Chicano/a theater group that first began as a cultural element of the United Farm Workers. Adam Joseph at Good Times explains, "His unofficial mission for the group has been a guiding light throughout Los Lobos' career." González eventually mastered the Mexican Harp, releasing the album The Gift/Regalo in 2009. González died on March 30, 2022.
Fifty years after their first community gigs in East LA, Los Lobos continue to create and inspire, playing to fans around the world, the consummate rock-n-rollers still making stellar, electrified, and award-winning music. Still and always Chicanos from East LA, their most recent album, Native Sons, won the 2022 Grammy Award in the Best Americana category.
Pitchfork explains Native Sons is "an autobiography told through other people's words. Los Lobos designed this covers album as a tribute to their hometown of Los Angeles, selecting songs they believed would represent the soul of the city, taking pains to incorporate the different sounds and cultures that lie within its urban sprawl. Sticking largely to music written and recorded prior to the band's formation in 1973, Los Lobos dodge nostalgia by side-stepping recognizable tunes in favor of ones that showcase their versatility and taste, elements that have distinguished the band throughout their long career."
Los Lobos innovated a musical genealogy that sequenced and weaved the intricacies and precision of traditional Mexican and Chicano music with any and all melodic and rhythmic forms of sonic function. As artists, they reimagined tradition as part of tradition's demand for remaking and sometimes undoing itself: music as the intersection of moving vernaculars of people migrating across the earth. These rockers from East LA inherited a tradition of artists playing music inspired by conventions and practices that did not center central Europe or the United States. Ethnomusicologist Estevan Azcona calls this creative energy of political cultures of resistance, solidarity, and inventiveness "irreverent play".
Los Lobos were a consequence of who came before them, and conditioned the possibility for uniquely evolving musical genres, including bands like Quetzal, Maneja Beto, and Dos Santos.
For a deeper literary dive, check out Los Lobos: Dream in Blue, by Chris Morris, "the first book on this unique band traces the entire arc of the band's career. Music journalist Chris Morris draws on new interviews with Los Lobos members and their principal collaborators, as well as his own reporting since the early 1980s, to recount the evolution of Los Lobos's music…while following the band's trajectory from playing Mexican folk music at weddings and dances in East L.A. to international stardom and major-label success, as well as their independent work in the new millennium."
If you are in Las Vegas, Nevada, in early July, Los Lobos will play the Vegas Tejano Takeover 2023 at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino.