Ozomatli's Raul Pacheco on collaboration, creativity and Dreaming Sin Fronteras

Categories: Activism, Theater

Courtesy of Shawn King
Dante Pascuzzo plays guitar on a recording for Dreaming Sin Fronteras.
When DeVotchKa'sShawn King approached Raul Pacheco to collaborate, he accepted the invitation with open arms. Despite being in the middle of recording, releasing and then touring for Ozomatli's new album, Place in the Sun, Pacheco carved out time to work on Dreaming Sin Fronteras: Stories of Immigration and American Identity, a multimedia, theatrical exploration of the true stories of dreamers: undocumented youth seeking a clear path to U.S. citizenship. The show opens Friday, March 21 at North High; in advance of Dreaming Sin Fronteras's two-day run, Westword spoke with Pacheco about creativity, Place in the Sun and the new production.

See also: DeVotchKa's Shawn King on Dreaming Sin Fronteras, art and immigration

Westword: Talk about your creative practice.

Raul Pacheco: I sing and play guitar for Ozomatli. I've been in that band for almost nineteen years. We just came out with a record called Place in the Sun, our eighth studio release. I'm also making music with Denver's Shawn King, who plays in DeVotchka. We are working on Dreaming Sin Fronteras.

Talk about the production.

It's a play that was organized by a professor at the University of Colorado Denver, Jose Antonio Mercado. He was inspired by a series of immigration stories. I've known Shawn loosely for many years. Recently, we have been involved with an organization called Air Traffic Control that helps artists with political messaging. When this opportunity came to collaborate on music, he called me up and asked if I wanted to be a part of it. I'm interested in doing more songwriting with other people, audio engineering and producing, and I'm supportive of immigration reform, so it seemed like a good thing.

It's been a really exciting thing for all of us to be in different rooms with different people and put our own spin on what this could be. As creative people, it's been super-satisfying to try something different, and it's turning out to be something that we're proud of. This idea of collaboration is super-cool to me. In the modern world, with the way that media is, one of the tools of survival is collaboration.

Talk about how music and activism intersect for you.

Ozomatli started at a labor protest. That was our first performance; it was to raise money for a group on strike. We have always want to be supportive of political movements with our music, from just creating good vibes for people to putting out specific messages in our songs.

How do you approach writing political music? Does it give you anxiety?

In general, I do what I want. I don't worry about it either way. For me, as a songwriter, what's important is sincerity. I'm okay with songs that are party songs. I'm okay with songs that are outright protest songs. What I judge it on is the song. Is the song good? If I'm writing a protest song, I make sure I'm speaking about the issue in a real sense. That will make it a better song. I don't think about whether it will turn off people or not, because I really don't care. What I care about is whether or not I write a good song.

Talk about your writing process?

Whether it's Ozomatli or musicians outside of Ozomatli, I like collaborating. If I'm trying to write, what I hone in on is what is real for us. How do you write lyrics? You start with something real, not so esoteric, but instead something from real life, so someone can say, "Oh, yeah, I understand that." I think what's appropriate when you're writing with people is finding that real part of what they're actually saying.

How are you approaching these stories in your writing? How do you tap into the experiences that Mercado has documented?

Shawn would come with a few examples of stuff that Jose was writing and stories that he was referencing, and then we would sit around as musicians and songwriters and talk about what they meant to us. There is a really great song that Ceci Bastida came up with. It had the idea that immigrants come here and then turn their backs on newer immigrants. I found that interesting. There's the general story of whether you're for immigration or not, but then there are all these deeper nuances and deeper stories. Some of them are even self-critical of our communities.

It's not just about challenging the other. It's about challenging myself. Those stories are way more rich -- rich for challenging the notion of the self, of our community, of humanity. With songwriting, that's a good place to be. It's challenging. It's not simple. We may assume that everyone who shows up supports immigration, but within us there are things that we've got to learn to be better about also.

If we're really interested in growing and being better, there are things we have to challenge ourselves on. That's the point, for me, of art. There is a political edge in the kind of work that I'm attracted to and I respond to. It's not so black and white for any of us. There are the kinds of conversations that I see in most media that are super-extreme, and I get it. But I think we can connect more through our own personal struggles. People go through so much to live with dignity. What does that mean for someone with money? What does it mean for someone without money? Everywhere you go, you want a roof over your head, you want a job, you want to provide for your family and put food on your table, all very basic things. I think in the struggle, if we can remember those things, we can connect.

Continue on for more about Raul Pacheco's thoughts on creativity and borders.

Location Info


North High School

2960 N. Speer Blvd., Denver, CO

Category: General

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