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Salinas-based band embodies Chicano identity through music, dreams of winning Tiny Desk Contest

Flaco El Jandro performing live for NPR Tiny Desk Contest in 2023.
Courtesy of Flaco El Jandro
Flaco El Jandro performing live for NPR Tiny Desk Contest in 2023.

A Chicano-band based in the Salinas Valley, called Flaco El Jandro, recently released recordings in hopes of winning National Public Radio’s 2024 Tiny Desk Contest. Winners of the contest have a chance to highlight their talent by going on a national tour.

Flaco El Jandro didn’t win this year’s competition, but that isn’t stopping front-man Alejandro ‘Flaco’ Gomez from releasing more music.

Gomez was born and raised in Salinas, California. About 80% of people who live in the city identify as Hispanic or Latino. He credits his music influence to the local area.

“The reason I listen to such a diverse amount of music and why my music is so diverse is because of everything I heard growing up in Salinas,” Gomez said.

Flaco El Jandro released two live recordings filmed against the backdrop of an abandoned thrift store in Watsonville — it’s called, "Live at TBH." The release showcases their song "Lluvia Pesada" and an English track called “Nemo.” Gomez describes “NEMO,” as power pop, a subgenre of rock music that has pop rock influences.

He explained he wrote the song during a time he was facing financial and emotional hardship, and wants to leave the interpretation of the song up to the listener.

Whereas the song ‘Lluvia Pesada,’ has elements of traditional Colombian cumbia as well as Spanish rock.

When I initially reached out to Gomez, I asked him why he chose to highlight songs in two different languages in his live recordings. Gomez paused thoughtfully for a moment.

“For me its emblematic of the fact that I’m chicano. Chicano culture in and of itself is a mix of two worlds. We’re not from here and we’re not from there,” Gomez said.

Gomez is a CSUMB student studying music. He also just finished writing his capstone on the history of Chicano music.

For Gomez, being chicano is about identifying with his Mexican, American and Indigenous roots. He said, all of which, “create a new identity that represents a new culture born out of struggle and perseverance.”

He’s also been an instructor at the Alisal Center for the Fine Arts (ACFA) since 2019. It’s a local community center in Salinas that has been offering after-school programs in dance, art, and music to youth across Monterey County since the 1980s.

He leads the beginner and advanced class performance ensemble which plays traditional and contemporary Sierreno music, a genre of regional Mexican music that centers around acoustic guitars.

“It’s really rewarding to be teaching kids from my general neighborhood. I never took any musical lessons growing up so the fact that I’m able to do that for kids who are in that same situation or in situations where their parents really can’t afford to put them into any kind of program is extremely special and rewarding for me,” he said.

Gomez is a first-generation Chicano in this country. His parents, both farmworkers with no musical background, instilled in him a strong work ethic and determination.

Alejandro ‘Flaco’ Gomez is the front-man of the Salinas-based band Flaco El Jandro.
Courtesy of Flaco El Jandro.
Alejandro ‘Flaco’ Gomez is the front-man of the Salinas-based band Flaco El Jandro.

At the age of twelve, when his mother bought him a guitar at a local garage sale, Gomez took it upon himself to learn how to play, teaching himself the ropes and nurturing his musical passion from scratch.

“At first I made a lot of noise. When I got to high school I started playing in metal bands and then fell into the reggae scene. I was in and out of reggae bands through out high school and we played all over California,” Gomez said.

Gomez credits his eclectic taste in music and the diverse sound of his band to the vibrant tapestry of musical influences he encountered while growing up in Salinas.

“I was 13 when I played my first show. I’m 30 now. I’ve played in a lot of different types of projects. I was in ska bands, metal bands, punk bands, and then my neighbor had an accordion so I’d go over to his house and we’d play nortenos and corridos,” he said.

According to Gomez, pursuing a career in music can feel markedly different from other creative paths. While some endeavors may offer a more defined route to success, the trajectory for musicians often appears less clear-cut and more open-ended.

“With music it’s easy to get stuck somewhere, and the music industry changes so fast. When I started playing music to now, the way to put yourself out there, the way to promote yourself has completely changed. Being able to navigate that world while trying to support yourself and getting older, all those things, that’s a big challenge,” he said.

While NPR's Tiny Desk Contest serves as just one avenue among many for Gomez and other bands to garner attention and build momentum in their musical careers, it's clear that the passion for music and the joy of creation are what drive small-town artists like him to keep pushing forward.

“The whole process for me isn’t centered around winning or the end result, it’s more about having the opportunity to create this piece of art, this piece of content to share with everyone within a network of musicians all across the country. At the end of the day I’ve learned over time that it’s about authenticity so like if you could just learn to be yourself and if people are able to connect with that then you’ve already won,” Gomez said.

Listeners can keep up with Flaco El Jandro and their upcoming shows on their website flacoeljandro.com or follow them on Instagram @flacoeljandro.

Alyssa Toledo is an award-winning queer Latina writer, director, and editor from California's Central Coast. She came to KCBX in April 2024 as a freelance reporter, who focuses on covering the arts. After studying film at Allan Hancock College and Cal State Fullerton, she dove into the film industry, spending several years assisting on Netflix's hit series, "Outer Banks." Aside from reporting at KCBX, Alyssa is wrapping up her latest feature film, "Toledo," which draws from her own Latin upbringing on the Central Coast.
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