Linda and the Mockingbirds

is a road movie with music — a song-soaked, foot-stomping trip straight to the heart of what it means to be Mexican, and to be American, and the complex joy of being both at the same time. 

Linda is Linda Ronstadt and The Mockingbirds are Los Cenzontles ("mockingbirds" in the Nahuatl language), a band and a music academy for young people in the San Francisco Bay Area. In this documentary by award-winning director and producer James Keach, we ride with Ronstadt, musician Jackson Browne, and a busload of Cenzontles from Arizona to the little town of Banámichi in Sonora, Mexico, where Ronstadt's grandfather was born. 

On the way we learn of Ronstadt's long friendship with Eugene Rodriguez, a third-generation Mexican-American and musician who founded the Cenzontles 30 years ago to reconnect working-class kids with the dignity and beauty of their ancestral music and culture. It worked so well, and the Cenzontles became musicians of such skill and heart, that they drew admirers and collaborators like Ronstadt, Browne and Los Lobos. 

The film explodes with rhythm — the pounding feet of zapateado dancers, the strumming of jarana and guitar, the clacking buzz of the quijada, a donkey jawbone.  And it swells with soulful voices. It's a journey of pride and self-knowledge with a solid rootsy groove. (This is not Latin-ish "Dorito music," Ronstadt says. "This is Mexican music.")

When will this film break your heart? When a young Cenzontle, Sarahi Velazquez, dedicates to Ronstadt a sorrowful song about a lonely orphan in a palm grove, a tune Ronstadt learned from her father, as Ronstadt softly sings along? When you meet the five dazzling Ortega sisters, so bursting with music that their proud dad, a carpenter, says he sometimes has to tell them to knock it off and go to sleep? When two Cenzontles singer-teachers, Fabiola Trujillo and Lucina Rodriguez, harmonize on Woody Guthrie's "Deportee," giving the old song a haunting dimension only immigrant voices can supply? Or when Rodriguez — beside the razor-wired border in Nogales — tells of crossing over as an undocumented girl of 10? Her perilous family journey inspired Browne and Rodriguez to write "The Dreamer," a song that asks: "A dónde van los sueños?"  — "Where do the dreams go?"

As Linda and the Mockingbirds powerfully shows, they go to young people, who learn from their elders and add their own spirit and soul, bringing forth new flowers from ancient roots.

Synopsis courtesy of Lawrence Downes

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Los Cenzontles Cultural Arts Center

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