Interview with Follaje Blues Band (Jorge Garcia Ledesma & Adrian Nunez) - a legendary Mexican band

"The Blues is a tremendus impact because the blues has racial, political and social implications which prevents this music to penetrate other cultures in other countries and it can be mistaken in the global comercial business. It has been manipulated, whitened-up and masked to comply with the commercial ends."

Follaje Blues Band: Hecho En Mexico

Follaje Blues Band is a legendary Mexican blues band. The band wanted to maintain a clear line in gender with the idea of ​​setting a precedent about the root of what should be the current landscape of rock, soul, R&B, rock n' roll and jazz. The constant work of the band is heading (despite stereotypes) in further promoting and spreading the blues, to contribute to the development of popular-music of the country culture, and on the other hand the pleasure of playing music that is born of the soul . The themes of songs are about situations of everyday life in the big city, as well as social aspects related to sexuality and political situation in the country. Founders of band were the guitarist/bassist Adrian Nunez and harmonicist/singer Jorge Garcia Ledesma, with 30+ years of original blues with nine albums under their belts.

(Follaje Blues Band: Adrian Nunez & Jorge Garcia Ledesma on stage / Photo by Lossiel Garnes)

Follaje Blues Band formed in 1981, wanted to maintain a clear line of blues and focuses on promoting and contribute to the development of musical culture of the country, in interpreting a music that is born of the soul. The band began playing the classic of Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Elmore James and Howlin Wolf, among others. However, the concern went beyond a simple taste, because it became a band of his own compositions, more linked to a reality of daily experiences. The band have performed in venues, cultural events, political, social, workshops and festivals. The current members are: Jorge "El Perro" Garcia Ledesma, harmonica and vocals; Adrian "El Oso" Nunez, guitar; Salvador Arceo Roa, bass; and Gustavo "El Pantera" Rivera, drums.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues culture and what does the blues mean to you?

Jorge: With the time the culture of blues music has become for me a way of living. It covers most of my time and I connect almost everything to this majestic music. The Blues possesses its universality which provokes the dynamics of knowledge, teamwork, freedom, spontaneous expression and communication. I’m convinced that the fierce and ever-changing trilogy of blues-jazz-rock has broken into every culture in our planet, serving as a means of expression according to the social context where it’s being performed, projecting a wide range of rich manifestations to be taken into account with all seriousness. We must show a great respect towards the Afro-Americans who have produced such a rich legacy through these three significant genres, with the result of an artistic musical expression that nowadays is a classic and keeps moving beyond frontiers. That’s for me the relevance of the blues in this world of sadness. Although in México blues has been known for over 50 years we can hardly speak of a little movement which intends to dignify such music. Here different kinds of music are heard, but only about 10% of the population listens to jazz or rock and a lesser number listens to blues. The blues is an American product, but it’s not the main musical style associated with the U.S.A. 95% of the bands who play blues don’t make a living out of it, it keeps being an amateur music in which some bands show a small inclination to professionalism. The road to go is still hard and full of obstacles, but I’m sure that it’ll continue to grow without losing its freshness, its sensuality and its search for equality among men. For me the blues means a strong commitment with life because it’s a living music that demands equality, knowledge, liberty and living together. I think the blues helps everyone to get such things. Let’s not forget that “without jam there’s no blues”…

Adrián: Over the years I've learned that the blues is folk music who was born in the southeast of the United States and now it has become a musical genre which gave identity to many people in that country. The blues came to me through the rock of the sixties years and seventies. This rock was as an expression of youth identity and a generational break that really liked among young Mexicans and that I could tell, that strongly marked in my musical taste. The blues is now appreciated worldwide and it has gradually taken root in many people. I started playing rock when I was fourteen years old and I joined a band with friends from high school and my neighborhood. Then I met Jorge García and founded the Follaje Blues Band, that was in 1981. In fact, with him I started to play blues and excite me for this musical genre. Many people believe that play the blues is very simple because basically consists of three chords. Over time, I've realized how complicated it is to play it. To understand the blues, it should hear it constantly and to know the classics of the genre. What I do, is listen to classical records and accompany them with the guitar or bass to expand my knowledge. I started playing bass. In fact, people know me as a bassist, but since five years ago I switched to guitar. Those who listen to me now, don't know that my beginnings were precisely with the bass. This is why one of my main idols is the bassist-guitar Larry Taylor from Canned Heat Band. But I must admit that I play guitar since I was eleven years old, because it is an instrument very popular and very affordable for all in our country. For me the blues has become a way of life, I've come to have devotion. There is no day that don't hear it and play it in my guitar. This is way how I've gotten, even to distinguish, who plays it well and who does not. In 2004, I had the opportunity to go at the Chicago Blues Festival, and I can tell you that over there, all, without exception, play it very well. Of course Chicago is, one of the hearts of this musical genre. In Mexico we need to travel a long way to get to that level; However, there are several musicians in our country that are being cultivated more and more and have improved a lot.

"I really feel satisfied when there’s a song, a group or anything aknowledged as blues. I truely believe that Follaje, the AMBLUES (Mexican Association of Blues) and all the musicians and followers have the commitment to support and spread that majestic music which was born to protest against the white oppression." (Jorge Garcia Ledesma / Photo by Juan Esspinosa-Imagen en vivo)

How do you describe Follaje Banda de Blues sound and songbook? What characterize the band’s philosophy?

Jorge: Follaje Blues Band has a simple assumption about blues (musically speaking). We (the members of the band) are able to enjoy it, create it and above all, utilize it to write our own songs based on our Mexican social context. There is too much blues all over the world and we are inspired by it. Globalisation infatuates us and we think that through it we can aspire to a world with less violence. Through the blues in general and the Mexican blues in particular, we can express our dissatisfaction and point at injustices. On the other hand, it’s an enormous privilege to use the music to express our thoughts and feelings. It may sound like a contradiction, but it’s because of this that there’s an evolution towards better lifestyles, where there’s a collective participation. This is the main idea of Follaje Blues Band and their original songs.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Jorge: For over 35 years I’ve been leading a small movement to promote and defend the blues in Mexico; 15 years of expanding such movement to the Mexican states of Jalisco, Nuevo León, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Hidalgo, Aguascalientes, Veracruz, Puebla, San Luis Potosí, Quintana Roo, and Baja California. Since 1991 we have been holding the festivals called “Encuentro de Blues Hecho en México (Summit of Blues Made in Mexico) where all of the Mexico City groups and many from other states have played. Following these “Summits” there have been other festivals: “Aguas Blues”, “Pozos Blues”, “San Luis Blues”, “Huatulco Blues Festival”, “San Miguel de Allende Blues Festival”, “Pulque Blues”, “Morelia Blues”, “Puebla Blues”, “Blues of Mexico City”, “Querétaro Blues”, “Rosarito Blues Festival”, and some others. Follaje has recorded one-take 15 cds, mainly due to economy hardships. We have appeared in Mexican rock films and documentaries. Follaje has played along with international musicians like Rod Piazza, Billy Branch, Toronzo Cannon, Sista Mónica, Tía Carrol, Melvin Taylor, Paul Orta, as well as Mexican performers such as Javier Bátiz, El Tri, Real de Catorce, Mind Lagunas, Gato Gordo, Radio Blues, Juan Carlos Cortés, Fonzeca, Horacio Reni, El Gato Callejero Baby Bátiz, Betsy Pecanins, etc. In 2015 Follaje was invited to the “Festiblues of La Paz, Bolivia”, that may be the first time that a Mexican band was invited. Follaje Blues Band is cofounder of the “Asociación Mexicana de Blues, Arte Musical, A.C.” (Mexican Association of Blues, Musical Art, Civil Association) publicly registered in 2007. This association supports the blues music made in México, it has organised several concerts, produced three recordings, radio programs, conferences, 4 books, all connected with Blues Made in México of course. It´s been a long and hard walk with good and bad moments. There are some persons who don’t understand the blues, opportunist yuppies who exploit their privileged position only to gain a place in the Mexican blues scenario, who discriminate real blues musicians in favor of their friends, no matter how badly they play. Only time will tell if we have worked properly to dignify and promote real Mexican blues, it seems that in this country and many others too, the things work in reverse.

Adrián: I've played in plenty of places and with a wide range of audience. I have thirty-five years playing with Follaje Blues Band, where I´ve had many experiences. When Follaje Blues Band began to play in the 1980s, arising in the city places called "funky holes" (Juke Joints). These sites were in marginalized áreas with very popular people, as vacant or abandoned warehouses or, simply, streets unpaved. They flocked to them, generally marginalized boys and, given that Foliage Blues Band plays original songs in Spanish that speak of everyday social problems, generated an immediate identification with the band. There are several pleasant experiences in my musical career, as the accompanying on bass to Demetria Taylor - singer from Chicago USA – playing the guitar twice with the harmónica player Paul Orta from Texas. With Foliage Blues Band, I alternated with USA musicians such as Rod Piazza, Melvin Taylor, Sista Monica, Tia Carroll and Toronzo Cannon. Memorable experiences all them.

"The original meaning of any expression is changing over time. Although the blues was born in the southern U.S. as an expression of search, freedom, longing or lament, here in Mexico it is in other way." (Photo: Adrian "El Oso" Nunez on guitar & Paul Orta on stage, Mexico City, 2015)

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Jorge: Listening to our heros is both, enriching and challenging as we obtain from them our basic musical preparation, no matter how different their countries and cultures may be. We must always return to the roots, the maestros who created the blues-jazz-rock music to make our work better and better. In México our movement is just beginning, there’s a whole lot to do and there are good hopes and schools for future generations to learn the blues. Another important target to achieve is to get more places to play the blues in our city and all over the country. As you can see the blues environment in Mexico is rather complicated. We must dignify such music as a real cultural and musical value, which is not easy in a country where Reggeton, salsa and “música grupera” (large bands with metals that play at parties, concerts and on the radio) are aired 24/7/365. It will have to make a very intelligent work to countinue to be a good representative (the blues) of cultural, artistic and human formation.

Adrián: Speaking of U.S. blues, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, the first B.B. King, Albert King, and Albert Collins I like very much. I think now has makeup the way of playing with the modern American blues; Although, technically there is an improvement in the execution, now becomes more complicated, I believe has left behind the emotion and sentiment. In Mexico we are still under construction.

Make an account of the case of the blues in Mexico. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?

Jorge: In México the blues began to be heard by the end of the fifties. Some relevant names for the beginnings of the blues in México are: Horacio Reni, Javier Bátiz, Javier Flores (el Zoa), Adolfo Fito de la Parra (Canned Heat), Lalo Toral, Parménides García Saldaña (writer), Olaf de la Barreda, David Alton, René Maldonado, Carlos Santana. By 1970 some blues-oriented bands appeared in my country: Árbol, Ginebra Fría, Three Souls in my Mind, Hangar Ambulante de Blues, La División del Norte, Baby Bátiz, La Cosa Nostra, Fachada de Piedra, Spiders, Vampiro Blues Band, Mayita Campos, Norma Valdés. In the eighties appeared 100% blues bands: Follaje, Gato Gordo, Betsy Pecanins, Real de Catorce, Ernesto de León, Hot Jam, Juan Hernández, Alce Blues, Blues Boys, mainly. Today only Follaje and Gato Gordo survive and are still playing. In the nineties the number of blues groups appeared again. Some important bands are: El GatoCallejero y Mecedonio, Ruben Varela, Chivo Azul, Nina Galindo (soloist), La Rambla, Años Blues, El Charro, Callejón Azul, Naranjito Blues, Juan Carlos Cortés, Fonzeca, Chris Sánchez, Doberman, Radio Blues, Castalia, Sebastián Hernández, Jr. Willy, Serpiente Elástica, La Blues Band, Monroy Blues, Los Corsarios, Dalia Negra, Los Mind Lagunas, Danny North Side Train, Blues Demons, Ensamble Ardiente, etc.

Adrián: I believe that all periods are interesting and important. Somebody say that the first musician of blues in Mexico was Javier Bátiz. I will tell you what I have seen and heard. I think that the Three Souls in my Mind was a rock-blues band very good, they started making their songs in Spanish. This group is an icon now, I saw and play with them, and I really liked. Pure Blues did not exist in Mexico, there are fussions or rock-blues too. In Mexico is classified blues to: Javier Bátiz, Betsy Pecanins, Real de Catorce, Guillermo Briseño, Nina Galindo, they play more local rock with "blues" tinged. Nowadays there is a good movement, now we can call it is blues, however, most of the groups playing classic blues in English. I think that we have to make our songs, make Mexican blues that speak of us and playing from our capabilities and resources. The Mexican groups that I like are: Los Mind Lagunas, North Side Train, Burning Assembly and Stormy Monday, among others. I believe that those who play blues do for pleasure, knowing that there is no economic possibility of living or well with modest income.

"The Blues possesses its universality which provokes the dynamics of knowledge, teamwork, freedom, spontaneous expression and communication." (Photo: Follaje & Sista Monica, 2013)

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the local music circuits?

Jorge: I really feel satisfied when there’s a song, a group or anything aknowledged as blues. I truely believe that Follaje, the AMBLUES (Mexican Association of Blues) and all the musicians and followers have the commitment to support and spread that majestic music which was born to protest against the white oppression. We can use this wonderful music to point at our present day social and political shameful issues in our native language. Through the blues we can promote the necessary changes in this world. Although the blues is rated in the last place of popular acceptation in México, more and more people are playing and listening to it, which is a hopeful expectation. Unfortunately the cafés, bars and stages are monopolised by people who are completely ignorant about the good music. There is a bad habit in modern music in Mexico becuase people liked only hear the covers and covers all the time, so it is very difficult to find things with certain creativity, nor is there a demanding audience.

Adrián: Follaje Blues Band plays very often and we've gone to any Forum, bars, festivals, particular parties or any cultural venues of Mexico. No places, but the people, the audience excited me, and where I am most excited is with the Pulque Blues Festival in Santa Cruz Xochitepec Village, in Xochimilco, México City.

Are there any similarities between the blues and the genres of local folk music and traditional forms?

Jorge: In México the Corridos & Música ranchera & Mariachis have lots of similarities with the blues in the lyrical texts of the songs and the feeling when singing. There’s no doubt that the three some association jazz-blues-rock has been able to go beyond frontiers and they are listend the world over by millions of people. We have the western European education model: we attend concert halls and applaud, but the Africans (who “invented the blues”) are born with music and music is present every single day of their lives and they sing and dance from the very moment they are born. I think all popular music have the same feature set for participation in special events of life.

Adrián: There are similarities and differences between the blues of USA. Our Mexican blues. It is similar because if you says that plays the, blues then you should hear as such it is. Now, if he plays well, regular or bad, it depends of each person. The differences with the U.S. are very obvious; blues is not our music, is not from here, but it doesn't mean that we like it and we do it our way; every musical genre from anywhere, is world heritage site and somebody can interpret it, in the way most he want, but it must be done with great respect and knowledge, that´s the way iti is. I really learned to play blues by listening to many records and watching videos, watching how they play. Our Mexican music is very varied: ranchera, norteña, huapango and sones, as well as Afro-American. There is also a commercial with crooners and pop music. I think that the blues has no presence or influence in Mexican music. They say that the blues if influenced other music, but maybe in the U.S. and England. There are anthropological studies about Mexican blacks people and I have read that in the music of the latter, there is no something it looks like blues.

"Follaje Blues Band has a simple assumption about blues (musically speaking). We are able to enjoy it, create it and above all, utilize it to write our own songs based on our Mexican social context. There is too much blues all over the world and we are inspired by it. Globalisation infatuates us and we think that through it we can aspire to a world with less violence."

What is the impact of the Blues music and culture to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

Jorge: It’s a tremendus impact because the blues has racial, political and social implications which prevents this music to penetrate other cultures in other countries and it can be mistaken in the global comercial business. It has been manipulated, whitened-up and masked to comply with the commercial ends. It has been manipulated and set aside even in the U.S.A. Nevertheless it has jumped simply but powerfully over the borders and got into many countries in a natural way. The recording companies have always overlooked the blues. Therefore, we have to work hard to preserve it and make an endless effort to strengthen and diffuse its main intention: the search for freedom and opportunities of equality with no discrimination at all, I said.

Adrián: The original meaning of any expression is changing over time. Although the blues was born in the southern U.S. as an expression of search, freedom, longing or lament, here in Mexico it is in other way. Perhaps for some people our Mexican ranchera music is blues, as Cuco Sanchez or José Alfredo Jiménez, which would be justified because of the feeling and emotion in their songs. But if we think in this way, then all the music world would be blues because they also have a lot of feeling and emotion. For this reason, we must should emphasize that the blues it´s blues, the ranchera is ranchera and cumbia is cumbia. That identifies a musical genre is not sentiment but the musical structure. I believe that in Mexico what it is called or named blues has its own meaning according to every social sector, and it is not the same for social class each. When I started to play, the blues was synonymous of calm, sadness or depression, as typical of a sluggish state ("pachequez"), this was in the 1970s. In the following decade, here in Mexico, was given to the blues fine label music and selective, something like intellectual; Although he began to compose in Spanish and make original songs, I think it confused the audience by making them think that blues belonged to an intellectual elite. In that sense, Follaje Blues Band combined blues with rock music, we own original songs in our language. Starting from the 1990s, as that we became more bluesmen. On the impact that has had the blues on the world, I think that there was no politics significance, possibly a little in the social sphere, although economic obviously with the promotion of the blues from USA, through its huge music industry.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

Jorge: I’d like to be able to fly back in time and arrive in the city of Chicago in the beginnings of the Chicago Blues and be able to have a drink all nights long and play with the ones like Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Little Walter, Jimmy Rogers, Willy Dixon, Big Walter, Howlin’Wolf, Elmore James, Chuck Berry, Big Mamma Thornton, Koko Taylor, Buddy Guy, Billy Boy Arnold, George Harmonica Smith, Bo Diddley and everyone else on a big jam on the seventh second, on the seventh hour, on the seventh day, on the seventh month, on the seventh year and the seventh century say.

Adrián: I would go to the year 3000 A.C. to see what has happened to humanity.

"The original meaning of any expression is changing over time. Although the blues was born in the southern U.S. as an expression of search, freedom, longing or lament, here in Mexico it is in other way. Perhaps for some people our Mexican ranchera music is blues, as Cuco Sanchez or José Alfredo Jiménez, which would be justified because of the feeling and emotion in their songs." (Photo: Adrian Nunez & Jorge Garcia Ledesma, early years of Follaje Blues Band, c. 1980s)

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