CON SAFOS, a KCET/PBS SoCal Artbound documentary based on my work aired on October 13, 2021. It was nominated for an Emmy and won two LA Press Club awards. My son, Rubén Guevara III was one of the executive producers.

Continue Reading...

My UC Press Site

Continue Reading...

Reading and Singing at Beyond Baroque, 06.30.19. 7pm. Free

Continue Reading...

“Confessions Of A Radical Chicano Doo-Wop Singer” A Finalist

Selected for Best Autobiography in English by the 2019 International Latino Book Awards competition. (05.31.19)

Continue Reading...

“Confessions Of A Radical Chicano Doo-Wop Singer” (UC Press) 2018, 2019, 2020 “XikanosauruX Speaks” Book Tour

2018, 2019, 2020 BOOK TOUR:


WINTER, 2020

University of Michigan

Hosted by professors Ashley Lucas and Colin Gunckel

Multi-Media Performance Reading / Lecture 

La Casa, Latino Students Association

Ann Arbor, MI (02.06.2020)

Wayne State University

Hosted by professor M.L. Liebler

Multi-Media Performance Reading / Lecture 

Two English Classes

Detroit Main Library

Read from “Confessions”

Detroit, MI (02.05.2020)

FALL 2019

University of California

Hosted by Dr. Gaye Therese Johnson 

Professor of Chicanx Studies

Multi-Media Performance Reading / Lecture 

Los Angeles, CA (11.20.19)

California State University

Hosted by Professor Phoung Nguyen

Multi-Media Performance Reading / Signing

Monterey Bay, CA (10.09.19)

University of California

Hosted by Russel Rodriguez

Professor of Ethnomusicology

Multi-Media Performance Reading / Signing

Santa Cruz, CA (10.09.19)

De Anza College

Hosted by Ruchi Rangnath and Jahana Kaliangara

Multi-Media Performance / Reading / Signing

San Jose, CA (10.08.19)

San Francisco State University

Hosted by John-Carlos Perea

Professor of Native American Studies

Hosted by Angelica Camacho

Professor Corrections

Multi-Media Performance Reading /Lecture / Signing

San Francisco, CA (10.07.19)

Los Angeles County Natural History Museum

Hosted by William Estrada, Curator

Multi-Media Reading Performance / Signing

Los Angeles, CA (10.03.19)

Compton College

Hosted by David Hideo Maruyama

English Professor

Hispanic/Indigenous Heritage Month

Multi-Media Reading Performance / Signing

Little Theatre & Library Art Gallery

Los Angeles, CA (09.17.19)


Beyond Baroque

Hosted by ML Liebler

Reading / Signing

Venice, CA (06.30.19)


University of California, San Diego

Hosted by Luis Alvarez

Professor of Chicanx Studies

Multimedia Reading Performance / Lecture

La Jolla CA/ (05.23.19)

University of California

Hosted by Kurt Organista, 

Professor, School of Social Welfare and

Juan Berumen, Project Manager, Latinx Research Center, Instructor, Chicanx Studies Program

Multimedia Reading Performance / Signing

Berkeley, CA (05.08.19)

San José State University

“Culture Counts” Reading Series

Hosted by Jonathan D. Gomez

Assistant Professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies and

Estevan César Azcona

Assistant Professor, Chicana and Chicano Studies

Multimedia Reading Performance / Signing

San José, CA (05.07.19)

Santa Clara University

“Culture, Power, Difference” Reading Series

Hosted by Christina Zanfagna

Co-Director, Center for the Arts and Humanities

Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology

Multimedia Reading Performance / Signing

Santa Clara, CA (05.06.19)


LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes

Hosted by John Echeveste

Executive Director

Multimedia Reading Performance / Signing

Los Angeles, CA (02.28.2019)

Loyola Marymount University

Hosted by Rubén Martínez

Professor of Chicanx Studies

Lecture / Reading

Los Angeles, CA (02.05.19)

FALL 2018

University of California

Hosted by Professors Steve Loza,

 Chair of Ethnomusicology and

Chon Noriega, Director, Chicano Studies Resource Center

Multimedia Reading Performance / Signing

Jan Popper Theatre

Los Angeles, CA (11.30.18)

Pomona Scripps College

Hosted by Martha Gonzalez

Professor Chicano Music

Multimedia Reading Performance / Lecture

Claremont, CA (10.29.18)

University of California

Hosted by Professor George Lipsitz

Chair of Black Studies

Multimedia Performance Reading / Signing / Lecture

Multicultural Center Theatre

Spoke in his Sociology class: “Reimagining Race and Ethnicity”(10.24.18)

Santa Barbara, CA (10.23.18)

University of Wisconsin

Hosted by Professor Craig Werner

Chair Black Studies, Afro-American Studies

Spoke and read from memoir in his two classes, “Jazz Aesthetics” and“The 1960s”

Madison, WI (10.04.18)

Santa Paula Art Museum

“Sanctuary: A Chicano Art Group Show”

Curated by Vanessa Acosta

Reading / Signing

Santa Paula, CA (09.15.18)


East Los Angeles Public Library

Hosted by José Antonio Aguirre 

Multimedia Reading Performance / Signing

East Los Angeles, CA (08.19.18)

Vincent Price Art Museum

Hosted by Pilar Tompkins Rivas

Executive Director

Introduced by Professor Josh Kun (MacArthur Fellow)

Multimedia Reading Performance / Signing

East Los Angeles College, Monterey Park, CA (07.12.18)


Book Soup

Reading /Signing

West Hollywood, CA (05.19.18)

Civic Center Studios

Book Launch

Introduced by Professor George Lipsitz

Chair of Black Studies

University of California, Santa Barbara

Multimedia Reading Performance / Signing

Los Angeles, CA (05.19.18)

Continue Reading...

Ruben Funkahuatl Guevara: The Chicano Culture Sculptor

Continue Reading...

Press Release for “Confessions of a Radical Chicano Doo-Wop Singer”

Press Contact:Peter Perez

“Confessions of a Radical Chicano Doo-Wop Singer”
By Rubén Funkahuatl Guevara
Introduction by Josh Kun and George Lipsitz

“Rubén Funkahuatl Guevara, polymath Azteca warrior, Chicano superhero, it is difficult to imagine that there was ever a Los Angeles without him. It was as if he rose with the first East Los Aztlán sun that gave creative light to the barrio. In this book, Rubén provides us the opportunity to grab hold of his belt loop and allow him to walk us through his sometimes glad and sometimes sad but always inspiring life. Hang on tight.”—Louie Pérez, musician, songwriter with Los Lobos

“Rock’s greatest untold story is Chicano rock, and doo-wop is its bedrock. Rubén Funkahuatl Guevara, with his long experience and deep commitment to both the sound and the Chicano community, is the perfect writer to tell the tale. He’s one hell of a storyteller, too, and this is one hell of a story. —Dave Marsh, veteran of Creem Magazine and Rolling Stone and biographer of Bruce Springsteen

“Rubén Funkahuatl Guevara, L.A.’s irrepressible impresario and “culture sculptor,” is a generous mentor and consummate collaborator. In these pages, he takes us on a candid tour of the steps and missteps that have shaped his outlook, creativity, and public productions. Part confessional, part manifesto, these writings map his evolution—through family migrations, rock ‘n’ roll highs, personal lows, and collaborations with diverse activists and artists. With a keen sense of history, and mining his compulsions and desires with candor, Guevara has penned a powerful love letter to his greatest muse of all, his “beloved, unpredictable city of multihued angels.”—Sojin Kim, Curator, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

“I relate to Rubén Funkahuatl Guevara not because he spent his early youth in Santa Monica like me, not because we went through the 60’s side by side on the Sunset Strip, but because he is obsessed with the creative process. It’s in his blood. He gets sidetracked by constantly, impulsively, being caught under the spell of the Goddess, but art is his life line as it is mine. Respect.”—John Densmore, author of Riders on the Storm: My Life with Jim Morrison and the Doors

“Hilarious and heartbreaking, Guevara’s memoir chronicles decades of artistic and spiritual fire. I cannot recommend this work highly enough as a wonderful and wonder-filled resource for students of multicultural Los Angeles, Chicano masculinities and identities, the music industry, performance art, and spiritual seekers in the Southwest. Since it is a treat to read and a joy to teach, I urge my colleagues to share Confessions of a Radical Chicano Doo-Wop Singer with their students.”—Jacqueline M. Hidalgo, author of Revelation in Aztlán: Scriptures, Utopias, and the Chicano Movement

“With provocative observations and original insights, this illuminating musical history also incorporates poetry, performance, and education. Along the way, Guevara engagingly chronicles a lifetime of financial and emotional ups and downs with honesty and vulnerability. As a meditative “funk monk,” for him, art is a political-spiritual calling.”—Anthony Macías, author of Mexican American Mojo: Popular Music, Dance, and Urban Culture in Los Angeles, 1935–1968

“Guevara utilizes intimate vignettes and inspiring poetry to chart his personal and artistic evolution into an “artivist,” a socially committed artist. His memoir is also an invaluable academic resource, documenting an extensive yet long ignored history of LA’s cross-cultural artistic hybridity and sociopolitical contributions exemplified by Guevara’s 50-year career.”—Terezita Romo, author of Malaquías Montoya

“A man sings and in his singing he carries the grace, pains, missteps, and triumphs of his life. Rubén Funkahuatl Guevara’s memoir is such a song—de aquellas y beyond. A Con Safos defiance against systemic injustices and erasures of Chicanos and all oppressed people, Rubén’s book is also flesh & bone, blood & brains, beauty & truth. Sing on, brother, sing on.”—Luis J. Rodriguez, author of Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A. and Los Angeles poet laureate 2014-2016

A pioneer of Chicano rock, Rubén Funkahuatl Guevara performed with Frank Zappa, Johnny Otis, Bo Diddley, Tina Turner, and Celia Cruz, though he is best known as the frontman of the 1970s experimental Chicano rock band Ruben And The Jets. Here he recounts how his youthful experiences in the barrio La Veinte of Santa Monica in the 1940s prepared him for early success in music and how his triumphs and seductive brushes with stardom were met with tragedy and crushing disappointments. Brutally honest and open, Confessions of a Radical Chicano Doo-Wop Singer is an often hilarious and self-critical look inside the struggle of becoming an artist and a man. Recognizing racial identity as composite, contested, and complex, Guevara—an American artist of Mexican descent—embraces a Chicano identity of his own design, calling himself a Chicano “culture sculptor” who has worked to transform the aspirations, alienations, and indignities of the Mexican American people into an aesthetic experience that could point the way to liberation.

Rubén Funkahuatl Guevara is a native Angelino Chicano musician, singer, and songwriter with Ruben And The Jets (cofounded with Frank Zappa), Con Safos, and the Eastside Luvers; a record producer of Chicano rock and rock en español compilations; and a performance artist, poet, short story writer, historian, journalist, and activist.

Publication Date April 2018
372 pp, 6 x 9 inches, 32 images
ISBN 9780520297234 $29.95 £25 pb

Pre-orders 30% off at Enter 17M6662 at checkout.

Peter Perez, Director, Public Relations and Communications|(510) 883-8318
155 Grand Avenue, Suite 400 | Oakland, California 94612-3758 |

Continue Reading...

My New Fiction

YURIKO & CARLOS By Rubén Funkahuatl Guevara

Second place winner for the Little Tokyo Historical Society’s first annual short story contest, 2014. My first attempt at fiction.

Little Tokyo, 1941

As I jogged toward Little Tokyo over the First Street Bridge from Boyle Heights, I felt the bracing power of the fiery sunset embrace me with more love than my own family gave me. The sky and the air filled me with hope, filled me with big dreams. My father only filled me with anger.

One day as I was leaving my job, I heard loud taiko drums and bamboo flutes wailing away outside the Buddhist temple on First and Central. A group of dancers were dancing in a big circle when she suddenly appeared. She was wearing a beautiful white silk kimono and moved and danced as free as the wind. And her face… it radiated… like a Madonna.

She glanced at me as she floated by and it stopped me cold in my tracks as the beast in my heart started to dance along with the drums. There were many Japanese American girls at Roosevelt High School, but nobody quite like her. I couldn’t get her out of my mind all summer long.

When school finally started up, I saw her in the hallway and worked up enough courage to talk to her. To talk to a saint was tougher than my last fight. I was training for the Golden Gloves flyweight crown. I was a good fighter. And even though I only had two wins and five losses, I knew I’d be a champion someday, even if my father didn’t think so.

“Hi.” I saw you dance in Little Tokyo during the s-s-summer, I stammered. “Hi. Yes, I remember you. That was part of the obon festival at my temple, Nishi Hongwanji. Every July we honor the memory of our ancestors and that dance was my way of honoring mine.” “Oh, man! You know what? Mexicans honor our ancestors too, on Día de los Muertos, Day of the Dead. Hijole, we have something in common!” She just stared at me with a soft smile.“¡Bueno, que bien! I’m sure our ancestors are grateful that we don’t forget them. Remembering them keeps us humble… and human, que no? And, after all, we’ll be ancestors too someday.” “Simón, yeah, right. I never thought of that.” “How did you learn Spanish?” “Oh, my Boyle Heights neighbor, Doña Casillas. We help each other take care of our gardens. “Orale, that’s nice. What’s your name?” I bravely asked. “Yuriko Nakamura. What’s yours? “I’m Carlos Gutiérrez. I’m a boxer. I always walk through Little Tokyo after my work out at the Main Street gym, and, after work. That’s when I saw you dance.” “Oh, I see. I work on First after school, at my parent’s place, the Ebisu Restaurant” “Oh, yeah? Guess what? I work a couple doors down from you at Kimura Brothers Dry Goods.” “Oh, well, you’ll have to stop by the restaurant sometime.” “Orale, I will. Thanks!” Man, I felt good. Felt like a champion.

Walking through Little Tokyo – or J-Town as it’s also known – is like walking through a town in Japan without ever leaving L.A. Little shops selling mochi ice cream, grocery stores selling all kinds of fish along with fresh produce in outdoor sidewalk bins, hardware stores, pool halls, hotels, Japanese and Chinese restaurants, and they even have their own newspaper, the Rafu Shimpo. The people are friendly and nice to me even though they don’t know me. I like that. They even bow to you when they meet you. They make you feel like you’re somebody. In Boyle Heights I’m just another Mexican kid on the street trying to survive.

I was nervous sitting at the counter. I’d never been in a Japanese restaurant before. “Hola Carlos, que tal? Good to see you. What will you have?” “Hola, Yuriko, good to see you too. I’ll have Chow Mein, por favor,” I said confidently. “We serve Japanese food, not Chinese”. “Oh. Sorry. Something with hot sauce, please.” Her mother looked over and smiled. “I just left the gym and was hungry so I thought I’d drop by.” “Glad you did. So, you want to be a boxer?” she asked as she handed me a bowl of miso soup, a bowl of rice, sushi, and what looked like a scoop of avocado. “Yeah, I want to show my father that I can be somebody great, you know – a champion. But you, hijole, you’re already great, a great dancer! I’ve never seen dancing like that before.” “Oh, thanks. I started as a little girl. It’s my duty to keep our cultural traditions alive. But unfortunately, it leaves little time for fun. Besides, my parents are very strict.” “Yeah, I know what you mean. Between school, work, and training there’s no time for fun. Funny how we’re alike like that.” She just stared at me without saying a word. It was a serious stare with a sweet smile in it and it drove me crazy as my head blew off my shoulders. The green stuff was not avocado. It was wasabi, blazing hot horseradish.

Then, with those intense, gentle eyes she softly asked, “Do you believe in destiny, Carlos? “ “I don’t know what that means.” “It means that whatever happens in life is meant to happen. There are no accidents. There are no coincidences. Life is just…alive.” “What are you talking about?” I said as I wiped the tears from my eyes. “Oh, that’s some of my Buddhist beliefs and some of my own.” “¿Boo… que? I never heard of that word.” “Well, Buddhism teaches that the present moment is all that matters. Treat it and yourself with careful attention and respect with what you do and say and the future will be – swell.” Mrs. Nakamura handed me another glass of water with more napkins. “Uh, that’s very interesting,” I said trying to stay calm and cool. “When are you going to dance again?” “I’ll be in a dance recital at our temple next month. If you’re interested come on by.” “Orale, awright! Thanks! Stop by the gym sometime. It’s on Main by First.” “Okay, I’ll try.” “Ay te watcho, Yuriko.”

A long week went by. Then, there she was. I couldn’t believe it. I started to spar a little harder with my partner. I guess I was showing off. He came back with a fast left and a right upper cut that messed me up pretty good. It made me angry so I tore into him. My trainer stepped in and stopped the work out and said, “Carlos. You’re problem is that you get mad. You can’t box when you’re mad. You box. Period. A champion knows the difference.” She heard it all.

“That was hard to watch.” “Well, it gets my anger out. My father thinks I’m a loser. Truth is he’s the loser. He was close to being a champ but the bottle got in the way. It killed my poor mom with a broken heart watching him drink his life away like that.” She looked at me with that serene Madonna smile and said, “There’s a saying in bushido, ‘a samurai warrior does not fight his opponent, he watches and reacts with respectful honor.’ My father is also bushido teacher. He teaches at Rafu Dojo on San Pedro Street. You should go.” I did, and a new world opened up for me.

Mr. Nakamura was a martial arts instructor, judo and kendo. He taught me to only eat fish, fowl, rice, and vegetables. I learned to meditate, to quiet my angry emotions and thoughts. I learned about the Buddhist Eight Fold Path which taught me about wisdom: know what your essence is; ethics: watch what you do or say, don’t waste your life, don’t harm others; and mental discipline: to make and keep commitments – things I never knew about. One of the main teachings was that in bushido, “If you hesitate, it’s too late.”

After a few months I felt stronger in my body and my mind. My boxing was smoother with a constant flow of calm energy and I was more focused on the movements of my opponents. I didn’t get angry when they started to attack and score points. I just refocused and right when they’d start to throw another series of punches, I’d step in without hesitation and punch away. It became a winning habit.

Mr. Nakamura was so impressed with my progress and dedication in kendo that he gave me a katana sword which was a great honor. He named it “focus” in Japanese. Even though I was making great progress as his student, he still wouldn’t let me date Yuriko.

Then one the greatest moments of my life happened. Yuriko came to one of my winning bouts and afterwards said, “Carlos, you are boxing like a champion, like a samurai, even my father said so. I’m so proud of you.” With that, I lost my mind and threw my arms around her and finally kissed her. It felt like the world was in slow motion, painless, like when you get knocked out. “Carlos!” “Sorry, Yuriko. Perdón. I couldn’t help it.” “Don’t be sorry. It was beautiful.” “Yuriko, do you think this is what love is about? Because I feel something really different and…” “It must be,” she said as she took my hand and smiled.

All was going great. I was a contender for the crown, was dating Yuriko, and I had her parents respect to boot. My father still wouldn’t give me any. But I didn’t need it from him anymore.
After a long workout, I headed to the Ebisu to see my girl. It was a warm and sunny day in December, and I was feeling all fine and firme. Then, while I was enjoying some miso soup, the radio blared out, “Japan has attacked Pearl Harbor!” Everyone in the restaurant froze in dead silence. It felt like the world had come to an end. I grabbed Yuriko’s hand and squeezed it tight. We just stared into each others’ eyes. We couldn’t talk. Nobody could. It was a very sad Christmas that year.

In February, the following year, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 that said all Japanese Americans were to evacuate their homes and property and were to go to what they called, “internment camps”, but actually were prisons. Doña Casillas graciously offered to store most of Yuriko’s things with her. Yuriko wasn’t able to attend her, nor my graduation, nor my championship fight, which I lost. And, finally, my father passed away from drinking. I was alone for the first time in my life facing the biggest challenge of my life – being apart from Yuriko.

Glenn Miller’s romantic Moonlight Serenade, Yuriko’s favorite, was playing on the radio as I wrote her this letter. She taught me how to write Japanese haiku poetry before she left.

Mi Querida, Yuriko:
This poem is about the last time I saw you at your temple as you and your parents got on the bus with all the others. Ojalá que te gusta. I hope you like it.


The sun couldn’t shine
Air choking with emotion
Destiny breathing

Five busses pulled up
Lined up ready to fill up
Straight to Manzanar

Needed a strong heart
Strong as a samurai sword
Fierce as a Yaqui

Melted when you smiled
Arms wrapped in desperation
Our tears fell in grace

“This ain’t right,” I said
Relatives in Tijuana
Let’s get out of here!”

“Can’t leave family
Can’t leave my duty behind
It’s my cross to bear”

Watched you with parents
Sitting in meditation
Honor, crown of thorns

Busses pulled away
Almost refusing to go
As the stunned crowd waved

Winds started to moan
Dark clouds spun a sad rainbow
Angels sang the blues

Sayonara, babe
Cuidate bien, mi reina
Adios Yuriko

Te amo,

She wrote back.

Mi Querido, Carlos:
Thanks for the beautiful haiku. You have become a great poet! Here is my reply also an informal haiku.


Camp is heartbreaking
But this is our destiny
Make the most of it

Guards in gun towers
Watching us like criminals
Wrapped in cold barbed wire

The skies are ice blue
Jagged peaks covered in snow
Desert dust storms choke

Cold nights this winter
Bitter wind blows through wall cracks
Our love keeps me warm

Obon this summer
Keeping traditions alive
Ancestors will dance

Our love will endure
Meditation keeps me calm
Your love is my strength

I miss my garden
I miss Little Tokyo
I miss you, sweetheart

Te amo,

The separation drove me crazy. I lost my job when Kimura Brothers had to close. I stopped boxing. I stopped meditating. I felt weak and empty. So, I decided to join the Marines. Most of my friends were signing up. It was “the American thing to do” even though I was mad at the Marines and sailors for attacking my pachuco buddies in the Zoot Suit riots. But still, it felt strange to be fighting Yuriko’s people. But, it was because of them that she was in a concentration camp.

I was sent to Iwo Jima and fought in one of the last battles that eventually ended the war. Our company was attacked one early morning killing most of my platoon. We held our ground until our ammo ran out. Then my commander yelled out, “fix bayonets!” As I faced the oncoming troops, I remembered what Mr. Nakamura taught me about kendo sword fighting, “If you hesitate, it’s too late.”

I bowed to the enemy as they attacked. Then, my mind left my body as I swung and thrust my razor sharp bayonet with blazing speed killing five soldiers before being shot several times then left for dead. Luckily, Medics found me before I bled to death. My platoon, what was left of it, barely survived the attack. It was the toughest bout of my life but instead of winning the flyweight crown I received the Medal of Honor.

When I finally saw Yuriko get off the train at Union Station I ran to her, limping and crying like an orphan with polio seeing his parents for the first time. She was thinner but still had that serene radiant smile. That’s what I was living and almost died for.

We eventually got married at Nishi Hongwanji and for our formal wedding picture I wore a fancy tailor made mariachi suit and Yuriko wore her mother’s treasured white silk wedding kimono. It reminded me of the first time I saw her.

I opened up a school that combined boxing and martial arts and Yuriko became a traditional dance teacher at Nishi Hongwanji. She was also in charge of organizing the summer obon festivals there along with the help of our beautiful kid’s, Ichiko, Emiko, and Carlitos.

Yuriko, Mr. and Mrs. Nakamura, and Little Tokyo, had turned this crazy angry Chicano into a poet, a war hero, a teacher, a husband, a father, and finally, into a true champion – a man.


A finalist for the second annual Little Tokyo Historical Society’s short story contest, 2015.

Boyle Heights, 1940

“Hey Masao, where did you score those fine drapes, ese?”
“Over on Brooklyn and Soto. Manny Garcia’s uncle has a tailor shop there.” “Órale pues, you’re lookin’ sharp, vato!” “Thanks, Lil’ Joe, ay te watcho, catch you later, carnal!”

Yeah, Masao Imoto knew how to dress sharp alright. He was a Japanese American nisei zoot suitor, a pachuke, Japanese slang for pachuco. The older generation called them yogore “those that get dirty drinking and gambling hanging out at pool halls and picking up prostitutes.” Yeah, they were the bad boys of Boyle Heights and it was mostly all about partying and chicks. But for Masao, it was mostly about jazz, rhythm & blues. He played tenor saxophone and wanted to be a great jazz musician someday. Jazz was his mission. Jazz was his life. Jazz was his word.

Masao cast a long handsome shadow as he strolled down Soto this bright sunny day with his shiny neatly combed pompadour and ducktail haircut and sportin’ his fiiiine purple drapes: a broad-shouldered, fingertip zoot coat, pleated, pegged pants tapered at the ankles, a long gold watch chain, and a wide brimmed hat. As he strutted past the Paramount Ballroom on Brooklyn he saw a poster that blew his mind: “Tonight, The Count Basie Orchestra!” Man! Masao flipped out! Finally, he could hear a big band in person. He used to take the streetcar down to south Central Avenue where all the action was and stand in the alleys behind the nightclubs listening to the bands and play along with them. That was his training. That was his school.

The dark, loud, smoky ballroom was filled with mostly Chicanos, Japanese Americans, Blacks and a few whites. Masao and his zoot buddies, Lil’ Joe Casillas and Mike Shibata were there with their gorgeous pachuca girlfriends Chata and Rosie looking fine as wine and ready to shine with their stacked hair, heavy make-up, and drapes.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome the great Count Basie Orchestra!”

The room exploded in cheers as the band started blowing away with everybody jumpin’ and rockin’ and tearing up the dance floor.
“Lil’ Joe, you wait and see, ese. I’ll have a band some day and I’ll play in this ballroom.” “Órale, Mas! Simón que si!”
A couple years later World War II exploded and blew Masao’s dreams to smithereens.

Masao sat staring out the window of the packed bus as it headed to Manzanar remembering that wild night at the Paramount. All he could bring was his saxophone and a small suit case filled with records of the Count, the Duke, and Billie Holiday, and, of course, a set of his drapes. Mike sat next to him. His parents sat silently behind them.

Everyone was quiet, numb, as the gun towers greeted them at the gates. “Welcome to America…,” Masoa groaned, “…land of the free. This is bullshit!” “Yeah! We’re going to prison ‘cause we’re Japanese and that ain’t right!” Mike shouted. “Yeah, but don’t forget, ese, we are pachuke samurai and screw the U.S. government! They can take us out of Little Tokyo and Boyle Heights but they can’t take Little Tokyo and Boyle Heights out of us!” “¡Oooraaaleeeh!” they yelled out together.

Masao and Mike became heroes at Manzanar. The young prisoners dug their drapes and rowdy behavior. They taught them that being a zoot suitor was a way of getting back at the government for putting them there. Soon, zoot suitors spread through the prison like wildfire with drapes getting smuggled in and sold for cigarettes. Still, Masao struggled to keep his spirits up by playing his records all night and practicing all day. It became his only solace, his only escape.

“Hey Mas, you won’t believe it, ese, there’s a jazz band here called the Jive Bombers and they’re looking for a tenor sax player!” “¡Óooralee! Awwwriiiight! ” Masao yelled out.
He joined the band and started playing at all the Saturday night dances. For a few hours the Jive Bombers and the prisoners felt free as the cold wind that blew through the thin tar-papered cabin walls as the suave pachuke bad boys chased and danced with the sweet sansei girls. “Hey Mike, guess what, ese? I’m free from the draft! I failed the physical! And to celebrate we’re gonna play “Don’t Fence Me In” real loud over and over until it drives the guards crazy. It’ll give ‘em nightmares for years!”

The war ended and Masao eventually moved into Little Tokyo and got a job as a janitor at his hotel. It was now mostly an African American community along with Mexican and Native Americans. It was known as Bronzeville.

One night Masao was listening to the radio:
“Ladies and Gentlemen, lovers of bebop jazz. Tonight ‘After-Hours at the Finale Club in Bronzeville’ will bring you the one and only Charlie Parker and his band!”

“Hey, Lil’ Joe!” Masao yelled into the phone. “Meet me at the Finale Club tonight on First and San Pedro. We’re gonna catch some crazy sounds, ese…bebop by the one and only Charlie “Bird” Parker and some new guy named Miles Davis!”

Masao put on his fine midnight blue drapes and set out for the club. He barely recognized Little Tokyo as he strolled past Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple which was now a Baptist Church. Lusty prostitutes reached out for him, car horns honked in heavy traffic and the sidewalks were jammed while jazz blew and dripped through the thick noisy night air like hot molasses.

By 1946 there were over 14 jazz nightclubs within a six block area. The scene rivaled the action down on south Central Avenue with Shepp’s Playhouse on First and Los Angeles featuring jazz greats T-Bone Walker, and Coleman Hawkins. There were now over 75,000 people living in an area that used to hold 30,000. It was tight. Real tight, but it was alright for Masao as he strutted down First Street grinnin’ and spinnin’ his long gold watch chain. He was home. He was in pachuke heaven.

He arrived at the Finale Club and greeted Lil’ Joe, Mike, Chata, and Rosie, and, as they climbed the long dark narrow stairs to the second floor Masao heard a woman’s voice that stopped him cold in his hot pachuke tracks. A voice so pure it instantly cut through his scarred soul. She was singing one of his favorite ballads by Billie Holliday, the heartbreaking “I’ll Be Seeing You.” He reached the top of the stairs and stood motionless entranced by the soulful sexy siren. She was beyond beautiful. She was jazz incarnate. She was known as the Bronze Nightingale.

Charlie Parker then took the stage and dazzled the crowd with his flights of magical bebop madness. Then Miles took a solo. His playing was fluid and abstract, his tone, eerie, dissonant, yet deep, pure, and haunting. All that was groovy and inspiring but Masao was now only interested in the Bronze Nightingale. He said good night to his friends and headed for the bar.

“Hi, my name is Mas. Can I buy you a drink?” “Sure.” “You know, you sure can sing, Miss Nightingale. I could almost hear your life story. I could hear and feel the scars.”“Thanks, baby. You can call me Charlene,” she said as Masao lit her cigarette. “Long story short, I came to L.A. from Kansas City, you know, to make it big someday. I wound up getting this gig here with a trio I put together.” Charlene took a long hit on her cigarette as she checked out Masao. “Say, Mas, if you don’t mind me asking… Are you…Japanese? I’ve never seen drapes on your people before.” “Yeah, Japanese American, born and raised in Boyle Heights, right down First Street over the L.A. River. I run with Chicano pachuco cats. I got my style from them.” He ordered another round.

“Charlene, let me give you some background on this neighborhood. It used to be called Little Tokyo. It was the center of our community but it closed down when the war broke out. We were all kicked out.” “Say what?” “Yeah, the government thought we were a threat so they put us in concentration camps.” “Man, baby, that is too cold! And I thought my people had it rough. My mama is Cherokee and my papa’s father was a slave.” “Ah so, I see. Now I know where some of those scars come from.”

“So, what was it like in prison?” she asked. “Luckily there was a jazz band there so I was able to keep my chops up. I play tenor sax. Yeah, well, the war and the nightmare of prison are all over now.” They clicked their glasses and made a toast: “To freedom. To jazz.”

“So, what did you think of “Bird” and Miles?” she asked. “I respect both of their playing. Monster chops and imagination, but I’m more into cats like Joe Liggins and His Honey Drippers, you know, the rhythm & blues dance bands from south Central Avenue. I respect bebop and I play a little, but you can’t really dance to it.” “Yeah… right. Hmm, I’ve got a feeling you can really blow, baby. Why don’t you bring your sax down tomorrow night and sit in with the band? Let’s see what you got.” “Hey now, thanks, Charlene! Thanks a lot!” Masao finished his drink then said, “I need to hear you sing again. Can I walk you to your car after you finish tonight?” “Sure, baby.”

Masao ordered another whiskey and dissolved into the Bronze Nightingale’s voice. He felt her pain and her joy as she radiated a sweet, gentle, yet, soulful power. That was the sound he wanted from his sax. That was the life he wanted: free, pure, deep, and true. And he wanted it with the Bronze Nightingale.

“You know what Charlene? As I listened to you tonight you reminded me of Billie Holiday. You both sing like strong birds with broken hearts. That’s the way I wanna play my horn.” “Aww, that’s sweet, baby. That’s the nicest compliment I’ve ever gotten.” “Well, Mas, it was nice meeting you and thanks for walking me to my car. See you tomorrow night.” “Awreet, Charlene! We’re gonna jump, jive and harmonize, esa! Just wait. We’re gonna blow the roof off, then…take off.” “You’re too much, Mas. I dig you, baby.”

Masao practiced all night in an alley behind the Club Rendezvous playing along with Roy Milton and His Solid Senders. His sax sounded different. The Bronze Nightingale had brought something out of him…something wild, deep, sweet, and intense.

“Ladies and Gents, please welcome Masao Imoto. He’s from here.” Masao confidently walked to the stage and blew the crowd away with his powerful soulful playing. There was some Parker, Miles, and a lot of the Bronze Nightingale coming through. The room was transfixed, then, jumped into the night in full flight.

“Hey, Mas? What happened, ese? You never sounded that good before!” “I think I’m in love, Lil’ Joe. I think I’m in love for reals.”

Masoa and the Bronze Nightingale became lovers bonded by their shared history of racism and their deep devotion to jazz. But Masoa’s family, were opposed to the relationship and the entire nightclub scene. They wanted Little Tokyo back like it used to be. “But you don’t understand,” Masao pleaded. “It’s all about the music. The music and Charlene make me feel like I’m somebody, somebody more complete, and free. Free from being an outcast. Free from being called a ‘Jap.’”

Masao eventually joined Charlene’s band and all was going good until one night some drunk yelled out “why is that Jap in the band?” Customers weren’t coming back so the owner fired them.
“Sorry, baby. I got an offer to sing in ‘Frisco.” “What, you’re leaving? You can’t quit on me Charlene…on the band…on the music…our music.” “Sorry, Mas, but I gotta go. Gotta work. Gotta eat. I’ll be back. I promise. Just keep playing that horn, baby, ‘cause that’s where I’ll be…in your music…in your horn. So play it sweet, you hear?” “But I don’t want you in my horn, baby. I want you right here, in my arms…in my life!” “Sorry, baby… bye.” She hugged him and gave him a soft kiss, turned, walked away and got into a cab.

The night was cold unusual, for springtime. The cool air shivered as Bronzeville jumped and shimmied in its own hot bitter sweet jazz as Masao slowly walked to his hotel, his heart torn to shreds. He sat staring at his horn then after a few minutes and a few drinks slowly picked it up, fingered the keys, licked the mouthpiece, and blew out a torrent of pain. Then he stopped. He couldn’t blow from shaking.

Charlene never came back. Masao quit playing and started to drink heavily and got into a bad drug habit. He was dying and didn’t care. Music and life was too painful without the Bronze Nightingale.

“Mas, get up ese! You can’t die!” Lil’ Joe cried. “You gotta play! It’s in your blood, ese! Don’t you know we’re proud of you?! You’re our hero! You inspired me to take up the drums and now Mike has taken up the bass! Let’s put a band together, ese! What do you say? C’mon! Get up Mas! Get up!” Masao looked up at Lil’ Joe and Mike with tears burning his eyes and slowly stood up trembling then mumbled, “Órale …awright… let’s do it.”

A few months later the Pachuke Boogie Boys were born and Masao got that dream gig he always wanted at the Paramount Ballroom. All the bad Boyle Heights zooters showed up resplendent in their fine drapes and proceeded to tear up the dance floor.
“Now we’re gonna burn this place all the way down with a new tune of ours!” Masao shouted. “The Boyle Heights Boogie!” “Órraaleeh, Masaooo!” the audience yelled out. Masao grinned proudly and waved back from the bandstand, swung his gold watch chain a couple times, then tore into a wild solo as the audience and the dance floor jumped and swayed to the burning beat.
While the crowd yelled for an encore, a woman across the dance floor slowly glided through the smoky ballroom like a flashlight shining through a thick fog. When she reached the bandstand, she whispered in Masao’s ear, “Hi, baby. How about, “I’ll Be Seeing You?”

The packed room went silent as she started to sing with Masao’s crying sax singing and wailing right along with her. It was glorious. It felt like some kind of church. The music filled everyone and everything in the room… with love…as it started to glow…then… rise.

Yeah…music can do that…especially if its pachuke jazz…rhythm, and blues…by Masao…and the Bronze Nightingale.

Continue Reading...

Webinar Series Coming Soon

“The Latinization of Art and Culture in America”

“The Impact of Latin Music on US Pop Culture: From Ragtime to Rock ‘n’ Roll”

An analysis of the influence of Afro-Cuban music in ragtime, jazz, boogie-woogie, rhythm & blues, rockabilly, funk, and rock ‘n’ roll.

First presented at the Western Knight Center for Specialized Journalism, Annenberg School for Communication and the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, University of Southern California, Los Angeles (10.19.2005) (Live Webcast)

Continue Reading...

Recent Fundraising Project

¡ANGELIN@S PRESENTE! An All-Star Benefit Concert, Poetry Reading & Art Auction Honoring LA’s New Poet Laureate, Luis J. Rodriguez & Tía Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore
Producer, Curator, Director
Concert: John Densmore (The Doors) and Rubén Funkahuatl Guevara in a spoken word and percussion duet, Quetzal Flores, Martha Gonzalez, Sandno Flores, (Quetzal), Nobuko Miyamoto, “Atomic” Nancy Matoba, Carla Vega, Asiyah Ayubbi, Sean Miura, George Abe (Great Leap), Maceo Hernández (East L.A. Taiko), Mellow Man Ace
Poetry Reading: Luis J. Rodriguez, traci kato-kiriyama, Peter J. Harris, Luivette Resto, Mike the Poet
Art Auction: Carlos Almaraz, Judithe Hernández, Margaret Garcia, Gilbert “Magu” Luján, John Valadez, Wayne Alaniz Healy, David Botello, Willie F. Herrón III, Ofelia Esparza, Eloy Torrez, Barbara Carrasco, José Antonio Aguirre, and Arturo Urista, among many other emerging giants including: Sonia Romero, Shizu Saldamando, Sandy Rodriguez, Jaime “Germs” Zacarias, Wenceslao Quiroz, Daniel Gonzalez, Raul Paulino Baltazar, José Lozano, Emilia García, Rick Ortega, Mario Trillo, Lilia Ramirez,
Gabriela Malinalxochitl Zapata; Urban Contemporary Graffiti Art: Chaz Bojórquez, Man One, Nuke One; Fine Art Prints: Richard Duardo/Modern Multiples, Francesco X. Siqueiros/El Nopal Press, José Alpuche/Self Help Graphics & Art; Photography: George Rodriguez, Mike Murase, Rafael Cardenas, Vicente Mercado. Auctioneer: Herbert Siguenza of Culture Clash.
Pico House, El Pueblo Historical Monument, Olvera Street / La Placita Olvera, LA, CA (06/28/2015) Pick of the Week, LA Weekly

Continue Reading...
  • The Tao of Funkahuatl

    "Amazing artwork...
    amazing artistry!"

    - Anthony Valadez, KCRW 89.9 FM Los Angeles

    "Funky and deliciously delightful!"
    - Dave Marsh, The Loft (SIRIUS Satellite Radio)

    Buy Your Copy Today!

      Vinyl LP
    Price includes:
    • Limited Edition (100) Vinyl LP
    • Signed & Numbered Litho Print
    • CD Baby MP3 Download Card
    • Shipping & Handling

      Compact Disc

  • Ruben Guevara
    Ruben GuevaraTo some, Rubén Guevara (sometimes referred to as Rubén Funkahuatl Ladrón de Guevara) is most important as the man behind Ruben & the Jets, the real group that followed in the wake of the 1968 Frank Zappa album Cruising with Ruben & the Jets and left behind two of the finest rock & roll albums of the early to mid 1970s. But Guevara is so much more...
  • Albums
    Ad Ad Ad Ad
  • More photos & music on My Space
  • Slideshow

    no images were found