5 Questions With Mark Torres
Mark Torres is quite possibly the most important single figure of the past 3 decades in the life and proliferation of Chicano music made and heard in the city of Los Angeles. The program he founded Travel Tips for Aztlan is an essential building block to the scene that thrives today. Since its debut in March, 1995 Mark’s show was the first of its kind to feature the music of the Latino youth culture giving voice to the previously unknown music from an underrepresented community and now features both emerging talent and international superstars. Several bands that have performed live on Travel Tips For Aztlan and KPFK for their radio debuts and have gone on to win Grammy’s or Latin Grammy’s including Ozomatli, Lila Downs, Gaby Moreno, Quetzal, La Santa Cecilia, Flor de Toloache and Juanes. The quintessential man behind the man, Torres has brought up acts that have gone on to build their legend and in doing so with such love and consistency has built something of a legend of his own.
We here are Tele-Jaguar got a chance to catch up with the great Mark Torres and ask him a few questions. Enjoy.
1) Mark you are an institution. You are like a Chicano Dick Clark or Don Cornelius, an icon that makes icons. Who are some acts that were first featured on Travel Tips for Aztlan who went on to connect with national audiences?
My show Travel Tips for Aztlan has been on KPFK 90.7 FM since 1995. There was a dire need to create radio space for the great LatinX talent that didn’t have airplay, access to record labels, agents, managers, etc… the few clubs that existed at the time.
My show was originally created in the early days to be one hour of recorded music and one hour of live Performances. This allowed all bands at every level a chance to have millions of Angelinos hear their music.
The early bands that gained success started with Ozomatli. They came up to perform live in KPFK’S Studio A in 1998 and they almost immediately were signed by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss’s (AM Records) new record label ALMO Records. We took a trip to Havana that summer together and they came back to LA ready to record their first big label record. They went on to win Grammy’s and open doors for our scene.
Quetzal performed the first year I was on the air in 1995, but the music industry didn’t know what to do with a hybrid folkloric rock band. Quetzal would produce fantastic record after record with great critical acclaim. It wasn’t until they signed with Smithsonian Folkways that they would win a much deserved Grammy.
In 1998 KPFK Global Village creator Beto Arcos knew that I had a regular live program that was really helping the LatinX bands each week. He asked me if I would help him engineer a new artist he stumbled upon in Oaxaca, Lila Downs.I said of course, and brought in LA’s best live audio team. Her debut on KPFK launched a career that included a film debut in Selma Hayek’s Frida, Grammy’s and really an industry changing career.
Later, Travel Tips live performance alum that went in to great success include Grammy winners include Gaby Moreno and LA Santa Cecilia.
2) As the host of Travel Tips you are both a chronicler and participant in the history of Chicano musical movements. You know better than most that our community rich with talent and yet face all kinds of barriers to “mainstream success.” Why do you think this is and what can we do about it?
It was worse when I started as I said above..Xicano/a bands had very few public spaces to perform in, no radio play no record labels or music industry infrastructure (management, booking, agents, publicity, AR at labels to champion at labels) to help. The Recording Acadamy Grammy Museum just gave a section of the museum to showcase the Latin Grammy winners after 20 years. There have been improvements in all of these areas but there is so much more that needs to happen. There are few Latinos in positions of decision making power and those that are in those positions aren’t doing enough for the incredible talent in our communities. We need to keep being undeniable in our abilities and talent and pushing forward. The few LatinX who have big success and resources need to step up and help the newer generation.
3) Who are some of the most exciting acts of 2020 our audience might not be up on?
Make sure you check out the great women songwriters and performers in 2020:
Weapons of Mass Creation – an entire family of talented artist who formed and R&B soulful Hip Hop group spreading based in Orange County. Messaging is knowledge,
awareness of greatness of self and culture.
Reverie – a very powerful hip hop artist who has helped forget a community of powerful female hip hip scene with Val the Wonder and others.
Welfair – a very Grass Roots soulful Hip hop artist with powerful messages on community, women, wealth gap, many of the problems we face today
Nancy Sanchez – an artist who blends jazz, Mexican folkloric, pop, and Latin Alternative. Lyrics tell stories of women empowerment, embracing our rich history, listening to our indigenous ancestors, continuing our struggle against intolerance.
Jessica Medina – Jazz and R& B and Carribean influences carry Jessica’s songs of liberation, female empowerment, anthems against injustice and racism.
These are just a handful of so many doing great things and making incredible music in an industry not set up for them to succeed.
Each one of these artists, in their own way are creating powerful messages, beautiful music and are breaking through all of the barriers we have been speaking about using the tools at their disposal: Tenacity, Persistence, Energy, Intelligence, Creativity, Talent, Nerve. It is not easy, but it is very possible to make and share uncompromising beautiful music and make a living with Music.
4) Two part question for a multifaceted man. In addition to being host of Travel tips for Aztlan you are the lead archivist for the Pacifica Archive, the largest of its kind in the country. Can you tell the audience just some of the treasures of the archive and what are some of your plans or projects you are planning to bring them to the public?
Rosa Parks 1956 Interview just after being released from jail for refusing to leave her seat in a public bus. One of the most powerful interviews you will ever listen to. A mild mannered women took a stand, risked her life, and changed the world.
Fannie Lou Hamer 1963 Interview about her efforts to register Blacks in the South ahead of the 1964 Presidential election. She tells the story of being beaten to within an inch of her life, with permanent physical damage. Inspiring to whole generations to take action when there is injustice.
Bob Dylan 1962 first live radio performance reveals a very talented and creative poet who told tall tales to help create a myth and mystery about him to protect his youth and Minnesota privilege as he quickly ascended to be one of the greatest voices of our time.
Cesar Chavez 1965 before he and Dolores Huerta formed the United Farm workers talking about organizing community and labor. A great lesson to learn about the sleeping power our communities have if we unite and have a common goal.
There are 65,000 of these incredible recordings that many people don’t know about. In 2020, we will begin putting these recordings online so the public can stream these recordings. We also plan to expand our Campus Campaign to give access to these primary source recordings to students at every level around the world.
5) Who is the best poet you ever had on Travel Tips for Aztlan,( no pressure to say Matt Sedillo) ?
Iris De Anda