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A Metalhead Turns to Cumbias

By Elizabeth Tovar Llamas

Christian Vazquez, a junior at CSUF, has been playing guitar for almost two decades. The first decade was dedicated to him performing metal while spending the second to performing virtually anything. Lately, he’s been playing cumbias, the type you wake up to on a weekend morning signaling it’s time to clean. 

Three years ago, Vazquez was spending weeknights busking in downtown Riverside.

Now, he’s gearing up to play at the iconic and vivacious Tropicalia Music Festival.

Many would enjoy the glory of this glo’ up, but Vazquez is keeping it humble and low-key. In retrospect, he’s only told a handful of people and doesn’t want to say he’s playing Tropicalia.

 “I’m not there because I built up my own band, I’m there because [Eduardo] is trusting me to play his music,” said Vasquez. “I get to play Tropicalia with someone who has been working super hard for a long time.”

This type of trust doesn’t happen overnight and neither does the skill it takes to be able to play at a festival with a crowd of over 6,000 people.

Growing up in a Latinx household

Vasquez started teaching himself to play guitar when he was eight years old by reading numbers rather than musical notes.

When he was 11 years old, his friend burned him a CD filled with music by Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth, “the average bands anyone listens to” as Vazquez puts it.

“They made me this MP3 CD with like 100-200 of all these metal songs,” Vasquez said . “I went home and learned the songs off the CD.”

Growing up in a Latinx household, especially as a first generation kid, you don’t listen to music in English. Instead, Latinx children are exposed to various kinds of Spanish music. 

“I grew up listening to what they were listening to, Caifanes, rock en español, but also banda stuff or grupo stuff like Tigres De Norte and everything from like Shakira to Juan Gabriel,” said Vasquez.

His parents told him that their music is what people want to listen to, slightly inciting that he should be playing Spanish music.

As a child, he never imagined himself playing the music he grew up listening to but that’s what he’s playing with E Arenas.

“It makes me appreciate it a lot more because it’s like ‘Oh yeah look’, in a way I was prepared for this,” said Vasquez.

Vasquez is playing the first day of Tropicalia along with the bands he grew up with.

“It feels like I really am meant to be doing this because this is what I was being shown. My dad took me to see Caifanes when I was 12 and now, I open for them,” said Vasquez.

Getting the gig

Vasquez met former Chicano Batman bassist É Arenas through his best friend Kevin Martin.

By hanging around Martin, Vasquez ended up in the same places as Arenas. Eventually, the band saw Vasquez play guitar a few times. From this, they’d end up messing around in the studio.

Their professional musical journey together began when Arenas was going on tour in the summer and his keyboard player couldn’t go along.

“Eduardo trusted me to play the keyboard parts on the guitar,” said Vasquez.

Even though Vasquez gained the trust of a professional bassist player, he had to adapt to a new style. The Arenas are labeled as a cumbia band; a very old school, throwback sounding band.

“Eduardo was like ‘Less notes, it’s dancing music we don’t need you to play thousands of notes we need you to play three,’’’ said Vasquez.

Vasquez was only hired to play the summer tour, but he enjoyed playing with Arenas that he didn’t want it to end. He asked the band if he could play more shows with him and he did, though he still wasn’t an official member.

Vasquez overheard the official members talk among themselves about securing Tropicalia. When he asked if he was playing, Arenas didn’t give him an answer other than a suspenseful “I’ll let you know.”

A week later he got a call from Arenas asking if he could play the show and was almost crushed with excitement.

Vasquez has done what many first-generation kids strive to do: make their parents proud.

Immigrant parents arrive in America with hopes of giving their children the chance to succeed in life, and because of this, many of them don’t want their kids to chase an “unattainable” dream. Rather, they encourage them to pick career paths that will guarantee employment.

Vasquez’s parents, on the other hand, encouraged him to chase his dream the moment they gave him his first guitar and amp when he was seven years old.

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