Tuesday, December 18, 2007

El Tri hits Times Square and a few media outposts know it

Mexico's most famous and enduring rock band, El Tri, played New York's Times Square Saturday, and like the illegal immigrants they sing about and who packed the Nokia Theater, the band was largely invisible.

The New York Times, just around the corner, ignored the show, as did the Village Voice, the New Yorker and all English TV and radio.

The Daily News and Newark's Star Ledger ran nice stories (note to the Star Ledger writer: Mexico's 1971 "Woodstock" was 500,000 people, not 50,000).

The best thing about my time at the Mercury News was meeting and getting to know these guys.

Singer Alex Lora, who has produced 42 albums in 39 years, invited me to join him in the concert, which was a historical event for the band: it's big shot at notoriety at the center of New York. I also followed him on a 15-hour publicity tour of Spanish radio stations.

I'm awaiting some video of my playing in the concert. Totally bummed that my camera ran out of batteries.

Alex on the radio:

When I get it, I can show you the evolution of a song. Alex wrote the music while we jammed together at the NAMM music store conference in LA in January and added words. It's now a big hit in Mexico, called "Besame," and I got to share in a long two-harmonica introduction to it live Saturday.

Birth of Besame:

And the final video by El Tri:

Some observations: hanging with Alex, one sees just how many Mexicans there are here, even in places such as Indiana, Iowa and New York.

We were mobbed everywhere, from Queens to Madison Avenue. People saw us and begged us to come in for free coffee, food, chat and autographs. Lora, who believes in giving back everything he can to the fans, rarely says no to anything they ask.

Most of them are illegal and do not come over the border by land. They have fake documents and they fly in.

"What choice do I have?" said a 30-year electrician who has been in New York for 10 years. "I can work in Mexico for 26 dollars a week and not be able to feed my family, or I can come to the U.S. and make $26 an hour."

Lora sang a song called "Las Victimas Invisibles de Nuevo York," about the illegals who died on 9/11 in the World Trade Center (one he wrote on our first jam in 2001).

And the feeling in the mainstream media is that Mexicans here are still largely invisible, perennial busboys.

But this show, where they paid $50 and $75 a ticket and packed into one of the city's most prestigious theaters, was another wake up call. The cultures are merging, and the results can be sublime and wonderful.

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