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Portraying the Celebration of Life and Death

Francisco Franco paintings | Photo by Patricia Ruiz

Juan Diego walked back down from the mountain in Mexico to share the image of La Virgen (Our Lady of Guadalupe) with his people.

Francisco Franco, a 39-year-old accomplished local artist, says, “My mother wanted me to be an artist. In kindergarten I won some award out of the whole elementary school; the teacher had a conversation with my mom and put me in art classes.”

As a 10-year-old child, he visited that same mountain in Mexico with his family but returned without his mother, who passed away while on vacation to the mother-country.

Francisco Franco in his studio | Photo by Patricia Ruiz

“Because the virgin is the mother to all of us, she is my surrogate mother in a way … I went through a lot, was raised in the hood with gangs, and many friends died. Death was so much a part of what guided me,” but in Modesto as a youth, Franco created no art. He adds, “From age 10 to 18. I never drew. I never painted,” although he was into graffiti.

“I see myself as Juan Diego…” He smiles and explains that he loves to use the metaphor of someone who climbed to the top of this hill and was enlightened, got to see the world from a higher vantage, and saw the light. “So I see The Virgen is just The Light; his tunic is a painting, so if you think about it Juan Diego was painter.”

Today in his naturally sky-lit studio, with a large flat screen displayed high in one corner, house music playing in surround sound, Franco, known for his murals and calacas paintings says, “My art evolved, developed symbiotically and started with what they (commissioned employers) wanted. I was lead in a direction that gave me a chance to explore my own heritage.”

He continues, “I did not want to be a quote-un-quote Chicano artist and resisted it. Now I am realizing that I was pulled into it.” His art is collected by a diverse group of collectors of various ethnicities and backgrounds.

“There was a void there. I speak for mi gente as Americans, as a unique American experience.” His father is from Chihuahua, Mexico and immigrated here when he was around 14 years-old. His mother was Native American and Mexican, so both parents spoke English and Spanish fluently. “I am Native Californian and Mexican.”

“I did not want to be the Day of Dead painter but I embraced it. Now it’s natural I could have fun with it. It has made me more of a whole person,” explains Franco, as he paints two vibrant art pieces; one of singing icon Selena using peoples and another of a vixen (Especially created for the January 19, 2012 Grand Opening at Chacho’s Restaurant in San Jose, Calif.) painted in luscious reds.

Franco’s ties to iconography also extend through his travels and higher education. Not only was he born el dia de San Francisco (his Saint’s day), but by some landmark occurrences. He attended Modesto Junior College after high school, traveled with his mentor to 27 major cities in Europe just to look at art, was accepted to University of California at Berkeley’s undergraduate program with a full ride (tuition scholarship), studied anatomy at the Ruskin School of Drawing  & Fine Art at Oxford University, and New York Academy of Art for his Master’s. At the age of thirty and just out of grad school, he developed gluten intolerance and for two years he thought he was dying because the doctors could not diagnose his illness. Naturally, he questioned life.

“Not only that…, I was in New York when the Twin Towers fell … I saw them fall. I became mortal all of a sudden and it bothered me. Life took on a meaningless thing. Before that, life had an order; there was a destiny for me.” He dwelled on the topic of death.

“I came to the conclusion … You can’t have life without death. We are the walking dead, the living dead. Let’s have a party. Let’s enjoy life. Eat, drink, dance, and know that it’s short and sweet. And it became a philosophy.” Franco declares, “Live a good life and leave something behind.”

To learn more about Fancisco Franco’s exhibits, workshops, and how to purchase his art visit: http://www.franciscofrancostudios.com/

Nortec Makes Me Happy

Photo courtesy of Nacional Records

If you haven’t heard Nortec Collective Bostich + Fussible‘s (Nortec Collective) music yet, it is time to adjust the dial on your internal soundtrack of the Mexican borderlands. This is not your papi’s norteño. Nortec is based on the unmistakable banda, tambora, norteño sounds common to northern Mexico. They build on these traditions and mix it with electronica to create music that crosses cultural boundaries, producing a sound that is as just as norteño as it is techno (Nor+tec).

Photo courtesy of Nacional Records

Nortec Collective began in late 1990s when Ramón Amezcua (aka Bostich) founded the record label Mil Records,with Pepe Mogt (Fussible). Members of the collective have gone on to produce various musical projects under the names Clorofila, Hiboreal, Bostich and Fussible. Some of their earlier works brought together their electronic dance grooves with a musical identity firmly rooted in Tijuana. Their tune Tijuana Makes Me Happy begins with “Some people call it the happiest place on earth,” captures their essential idea of honoring their hometown.

Nortec‘s 2010 Grammy nominated album, Bulevar 2000 (Nacional Records) builds a longer bridge across the border. The album is lyrically stronger than previous works and one gets the sense that they are narrating a journey. The title track, Bulevar 2000 is haunting and enchanting where the tuba sounds like a heart-beat while driving along a highway trying to forget your lost love. It is “not a love song,” but it really is. Many of the lyrics on Bulevar are in English, including Centinela, which tells the story of star-crossed lovers that can only meet once a year on Día de Los Muertos. Nortec also teamed up with San Francisco based Loquat on the track I Count the Ways.

A Nortec Collective Bostich + Fussible show is a multi-sensory event and offers the best avenue to experience their distinct intersection of the contemporary and traditional Mexican music. On stage, DJs Bostich + Fussible are accompanied by musicians playing the sousaphone (tuba), accordion and trumpet. Their self-created DJ station has a futuristic 1960s look to it and the duo alternates between iPads and Tenori-on (a tablet of LED switches that create sounds). They complete their illustrated soundscape by projecting color-rich images of Tijuana behind the stage. Watching Nortec, you get the sense that they are creating music not only for their audience, but with their audience, as the relationship between the musicians, the sound, images and lights work in tandem to raise the energy of the crowd to a dancing frenzy.

Nortec have been outspoken critics of internet censorship. You can get many of their remixes free on SoundCloud, where they reached a million downloads of their tracks by the beginning of February 2012.

If you never thought you would be getting down to norteño and electronica, now is the time to try it. Nortec Collective Bostich + Fussible are performing at the New Parish in Oakland, Calif. on March 13th.

¡No te lo pierdas! 

Written by Michelle Siprut