Taj Mahal collaborating with Los Cenzontles Mexican Arts Center
Award: $40,000 Performing Arts grant awarded in 2008
Published and premiered: October 2009
Musician Taj Mahal collaborated with Los Cenzontles Touring Group to create a song cycle for the American worker. The project culminated with a recording, American Horizon and live performance. In American Horizon, African American and Mexican American music styles were synthesized to honor the vital roles that these respective communities contribute to the United States. The CD’s 15 songs form a 60 minute narrative.
The project included two live performances: one with Taj Mahal and David Hidalgo at the Hollywood Bowl for the Bienvenido Gustavo celebration to welcome incoming LA Philharmonic conductor Gustavo Dudamel, and a second at Los Cenzontles Mexican Arts Center with Taj Mahal.
Jon Pareles of the New York Times wrote of the recording, “The songs are never preservationist, much less didactic. It’s the flexible, hard-nosed, impure music of people gleaning pleasure when they can, on new ground and in tough times.”
Taj Mahal brought to this project a long history of combining musical influences to create something new and distinctive for contemporary audiences. His influences have included blues, jazz, Hawaiian, African and Caribbean music. In recent decades he has become more aware of and interested in connections between Latin music and these other forms.
Los Cenzontles Mexican Arts Center has conducted exhaustive research and documentation of Mexican roots music from the source in Mexico and has established strong and ongoing connections and collaborations with the authentic practitioners of many of those forms. It honors this cultural heritage through managing a school for the arts, presenting community events and touring performances, and a Cultures of Mexico in California Project. It also produces documentaries, musical CDs, and educational materials.