Agustín Lira, whose music became the anthem of the farmworker movement in the 1960s, released an album Friday under the Smithsonian Institution’s record label.
“Songs of Struggle and Hope” is Lira’s first full-length album with Smithsonian Folkways, the institution’s nonprofit label that documents folk and world music. It is the 44th album in the Tradiciones/Traditions Series produced with the Smithsonian Latino Center. A 40-page booklet in Spanish and English accompanies the 16 songs, with photos and notes by musician and anthropologist Russell Rodríguez.
Lira and his band Alma (Spanish for soul) finished recording the album early last year.
The 71-year-old Lira is the driving force behind the group. He writes the music, sings and plays guitar; Patricia Wells Solórzano, 60, plays lead guitar, sings and helps arrange the music; and Ravi Knypstra, 45, plays bass. They describe their music as a hybrid of Mexican, Latin American, American folk and Afro-Cuban styles.
Purchase the album online
Wells Solórzano said she is excited people will hear some of their songs for the first time.
“I’m really fascinated by the idea that somebody in Moscow, for example, could go onto Smithsonian Folkways and buy a song or the whole CD,” she said. “It’s exciting.”
Lira was born into a migrant farmworker family and worked alongside his mother as a child laborer. He was 19 when he joined the farmworker strike a few months after it started in 1965. During the strike, he co-founded El Teatro Campesino with fellow United Farm Workers volunteer Luis Valdez.
Performing on picket lines, at meetings and rallies, the theater company grew to serve as a voice for the Chicano movement. The day before the historic 1966 march from Delano to Sacramento, Cesar Chavez asked Lira to write a song. “La Peregrinacion” (“The Pilgrimage”) became the anthem of the UFW movement.
“Songs of Struggle and Hope” track list Quihubo, Raza (What’s Happening, People) El inmigrante (The Immigrant) Juan Cortina Alma (Soul/Spirit) Gregorio Cortez Summer Winds (Vientos de verano) Los zapatistas (The Zapatistas) The Leaf (La hoja) If You’re Homeless (Si eres desamparado) El indio (The Indian) Taps for Coke (Toque de queda para Coca) She Won’t be There (Ella no estará allí) I Have Been Here Forever - Yo he estado aquí por siempre The Old Man (El viejo) Ser como el aire libre (Be Free Like the Wind) When I Die (Cuando yo me muero)
Lira debuted his music before more than 10,000 people on the state Capitol steps.
“Music and culture is like a powerful weapon that you can use to improve people’s lives,” said Wells Solórzano, who started collaborating with Lira in 1975 after seeing him perform. “When you hear a song that just hits your heart and mind, for me it was the beginning of a different life.”
The album features songs about a variety of issues: The Zapatista Army of National Liberation, a leftist group in Chiapas, Mexico; the immigrant experience; the farmworker movement and love.
“The themes, the issues that the songs reflect are not that different from the ’60s to today,” Lira said.
“Quihubo, Raza,” the first track, became an anthem for Chicanos during the 1960s. “El inmigrante” discusses the traumatic process of being uprooted from one’s homeland and living in fear of deportation.
Lira and Wells Solórzano now run Teatro Inmigrante, a community music and theater group in Fresno. Next up, they plan to dramatize the poems of inmates at Valley State Prison.
If you go
What: Agustin Lira CD release celebration (live music)
When: 3-5 p.m., Saturday
Where: Alfonso Hernandez Youth Center, 1515 Divisadero St. in Fresno