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  • Songs of Struggle and Hope by Agustín Lira and Alma
  • Martha Gonzalez
Songs of Struggle and Hope by Agustín Lira and Alma. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, SFW CD 40567, 2016.

The liner notes for Songs of Struggle and Hope begin with a quote from longtime musician/activist Agustín Lira affirming the importance of the songs on the album: "They reflect the realities of a lot of people in this country and also people from outside of this country. … [P]eople need to hear those songs. … It is a real history that has taken place here, and it should not be forgotten." Indeed, the stories and memories Lira invokes in this sixteen-track recording are a sonic ride through the history of the Chicano movement, but also stories into present struggles. As the primary lyricist and composer of Trio Alma, Agustín Lira is one of the most important figures in the Movimiento, or the Chicano movement, music tradition, so it was gratifying to know that the Smithsonian Folkways label commissioned Lira's Trio Alma to record under the Tradiciones/Traditions series of Latino music albums in 2016.

A transformative moment in US history, the Chicano movement in Chicano and Mexicano communities demanded equal rights and justice in all areas of life, including but not limited to political representation, education, health care, cultural pride, and human and civil rights. The Movimiento was part of a general zeitgeist, as it was in dialogue with and inspired by the efforts of the Black Power, civil rights, Asian American, and American Indian movements from the 1960s through the 1970s. Difference was in essence taking a stand across the United States, and great gains were accomplished as a result of these groups' individual and collective efforts. From these varied struggles, the lexicon of social movement strategies was reaffirmed in human history. Social tools such as the boycott, picketing, marches, sit-ins, and hunger strikes became common practice. Most importantly, music, theater, and various forms of cultural expressions became an integral part of facilitating mass understanding and participation. Music was one of the most important tools in the struggle for human dignity in all groups, including the Chicano movement. The Chicano movement in particular drew from the plethora of Mexican genres to express the plight of Mexican and Chicano communities. Songs of Struggle and Hope features Agustín Lira's newly recorded and most notable songs, along with his most current compositions.

Songs of Struggle and Hope is preceded by the Smithsonian Folkways 2005 release, Rolas de Aztlan: Songs of the Chicano Movement, which is a compilation of songs that contributed to the spirit of the Chicano movement, featuring songwriters such as Daniel Valdez, Corky "Chunky" Gonzalez, and Los Alvarados. Among the songwriters in Rolas de Aztlan, Agustín Lira's compositions were represented more than once, as the compilation included a live 1966 recording of "Yo no le tengo miedo a nada" (I am afraid of nothing) and "El Picket Sign." Cultural anthropologists Russell Rodriguez and Estevan Azcona compiled Rolas de Aztlan after listening to the vast archives of albums released during this groundbreaking time. This thoughtful project drew from the most notable albums, such as Viva la Causa! Sounds from the Delano Grape Strike (LP, 1966), Gramática Cantada (LP, 1977), and Broadside Ballads, volume 4 (EP, 1967). Due to the rarity of the original recordings, Rolas de Aztlan can be considered a rescue project in assuring that some songs are archived in a national registry. Rolas de [End Page 250] Aztlan, however, did not showcase the breadth of Lira's catalog composed during these formative years. Songs of Struggle and Hope manages to capture Lira's versatile songwriting approach.

This album includes an extensive booklet of bilingual liner notes written by Russell Rodriguez, as well as black-and-white photographs of Lira in the throes of social movement as we see him play an esquirol (strike breaker) in a teatro play or singing at a farmworker rally alongside Luis Valdez. The liner notes do a wonderful job in situating Lira as a unique contributor to the Chicano movement through his music amid the vast number of composers and musicians...


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