Prior to the existence of the vibrant mural decorating St. Peter’s Church at the corner of 24th and Florida streets, young Latinos and African-Americans of the 1960s had filled the church’s parking lot with lively energy as they sang and danced doo-wop late into the night.
The Mission District’s history is steeped in music, as the new theatrical production, “El Son de la Misión,” beautifully illustrates.
Encompassing six decades of musical tradition, “El Son de la Misión” is a collaboration of talented Bay Area community members—artists, actors and musicians—celebrating “the heartbeat of the whole enchilada” that is the Latino influence of the neighborhood.
“The monster is coming together,” said Alfonso López, co-theatrical director, anticipating the production’s completion.
The producers wanted to give the audience a sense of the musical variety of the passing decades according to actor and lyricist Carlos Baron, who wrote the script.
“The production is a historical review of the Mission and the focus is in the music,” he said.
The entire program is tied by a dynamic conversation between a young Rosa Martin (played by actress Araceli Leon) and a veteran resident Don Rafa (played by Baron), who grew up in the Mission District, but has since relocated to Daly City.
“I wanted this to be a full collaborative effort between local artists and ourselves,” said the musical’s composer John Calloway.
When the program director of the Community Music Center (CMC), Sylvia Sherman, approached Calloway about creating a project looking into the Mission District’s history, Calloway said he knew the musical would have to be intertwined into a story, told by different community artists.
CMC’s Mission District Young Musicians Program, Fogo Na Roupa, Loco Bloco, Soltrón and other Mission District music students will all perform in the musical.
Other guest artists will include Leo Rosales of the 1970s Latin rock group Malo (notable for their hit “Suavecito,” which was popular among many Chicanos) and jazz musician John Santos, whose 1975 arrest for playing congas at Dolores Park by police enforcing a city noise ordinance is brought up as an example of the discrimination of Latinos.
“There are many Bay Area roots meshed in one,” said Loco Bloco musician Liza Calderon. “There are different generations of artists who have expanded into their own acts and it’s beautiful to come back and reconnect.”
Calderon mentioned Bayonics, a hip-hop and Latin funk group based in the Mission District that had been touring in California and will also perform a number in the show.
“El Son de la Misión” is chronological but also thematic, according to Calloway, and includes discussions of police brutality, gentrification and immigration, all of which are brought to life with music that jumps from doo-wop to salsa to Latin rock.
“A lot of these kids grew up in local music organizations and have now formed their own groups, Sherman said. “The piece will include different generations of Mission District kids.”
The production will also include a slideshow composed of photographs, some from the personal photo albums of residents, as well as the original artwork of muralist Carlos Gonzalez.
The performance will begin with an Afro-Cuban prayer to Eleggba, the Child-God of the Afro-Cuban Santería Pantheon. The prayer is to bless the show but also to emphasize the influence and relevance of Afro-Cuban rhythms in the Mission District’s music scene, according to Calloway.
Viewers—having experienced the intricate history of the Mission District through music and other forms of art—will feel a renewed sense of hope for the neighborhood and its longtime residents according to Baron.
“El Son de la Misión” shows at the Brava Theater March 19 and 20. Tickets are $12 pre-sale and $15 at the door.
Story by: Alma Villegas