Music can be much more than just a catchy lyric or a smooth melody, something to distract and entertain while you’re in the car. It can evoke emotion, spread a message, and sometimes like fine art, it can reveal a story about the American soul. Peabody award-winning filmmaker and Michigan State University Professor of Practice John Valadez, who has a joint appointment with the Film Studies Program and Department of Media and Information, believes music can reach across divides of difference and connect people from various backgrounds.
His film, The Chicano Wave – the third hour in a four-part series, called Latin Music USA, thatwill air nationally on primetime on PBS in May – unequivocally does just that. This entertaining and insightful documentary dives deep into the history of Mexican American music to showcase how the Latino culture is a part of all of us and always has been.
“In America, we are all interconnected in ways that are complicated, often subtle, unseen, and unarticulated, and so this series, Latin Music USA, that’s kind of what it’s about. It’s about making unexpected connections that are actually very beautiful and surprising,” Valadez said. “The show is about music, but in a sense it is really America. It’s about what it means to be American.”
We make sure we are not only accurate but that we are revealing something about the human condition that will stay with the audience long after the images have faded and the tale has been told.
Featured in the film are musicians and performers like Selena, Ritchie Valens, Los Lobos, Linda Ronstadt, and more.
The other films in the series are Bridges, about how Carlos Santana got his start at Woodstock and inspired a new genre of music; The Salsa Revolution, which chronicles the birth and growth of salsa music; and Divas and Superstars, which covers the 1990s and the rise of Latin pop, inspired by artists like Shakira, Jennifer Lopez, and Gloria Estefan.
“We do original research. We go and we scout locations, speak with scholars, artists, musicians, and their family members. We make sure we are not only accurate but that we are revealing something about the human condition that will stay with the audience long after the images have faded and the tale has been told,” Valadez said.
Valadez believes that films like this would not be possible without the expertise and thoughtful research of scholars from the Chicano/Latino Studies Programs like the one at MSU’s College of Social Science.
“You do not get something like Latin Music USA unless there are dedicated folks writing the books; unless there are people exploring and elucidating the history; unless there are talented musicologists who are placing it in context,” he said.
Valadez has often been called “the hardest working Chicano in the Doc Biz,” and in this case, his dedication has certainly paid off. The series will be shown on primetime national television in May, with The Chicano Wave broadcast on Friday, May 5, on PBS at 9 p.m.
WKAR and Prabu David, Dean of the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, are hosting a special preview screening of the film in Room 145 of the Communication Arts and Sciences Building on Thursday, April 13, at 7 p.m. A reception will begin at 6:30 p.m. with live Conjunto music and a free buffet and taco bar. A Q&A with Valadez will take place after the screening. RSVP for the event here.
The event is a collaboration between WKAR/PBS, the Department of Media and Information, the Film Studies Program, the Chicano/Latino Studies Program, the Julian Samora Research Institute, and the College Assistance Migrant Program.
By Savannah Swix, Editorial Assistant for the College of Communication Arts and Sciences