Before Tupac vowed to live and die in L.A. there was "Angeltown" a wistful ballad that was considered by some to be the official anthem of Los Angeles. It was written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans in 1959.
This track will be resurrected on Friday when multicultural fusion band Ozomatli -- whom Randall Roberts traveled with to Burma for a cover story a few years ago -- performs it and other lost classics at a free concert at California Plaza downtown. (Also on the bill will be buzzed-about Latin alternative act La Santa Cecilia, I See Hawks in L.A. and The Petrojvic Blasting Co.) The event features a modern spin on the L.A. love songs from the 19th to mid-20th century.
It's the brainchild of USC professor Josh Kun, who is the Indiana Jones of excavating musical treasures. His stunning coffee table book Songs in the Key of Los Angeles (which is also the title of the event) is a collection of sheet music and a map of L.A.'s musical history,
"As important as it was to create the collection," says Kun, "we also wanted to make sure the collection leaped out into life."
For the book, Kun and his students scoured the Los Angeles Public Library's extensive sheet music collection and came across hundreds of vintage odes to Southern California's striking sunsets, beautiful women, mountains and beaches.
Designed by Amy Inouye, it includes wistful sheet music illustrations that sell Los Angeles as a utopia. Many of these covers are already on exhibit at the Los Angeles Public Library.
Ozomatli, which headlines the event, will pay tribute to L.A.'s Mexican heritage.
"You can't tell the story of music in Los Angeles without telling the story of Mexican music in Los Angeles," says Kun.
We spoke with Ozomatli's bassist Wil-Dog about the project.
We're curious to hear your rendition of century old music. How are you going to approach these songs?
Well, there's no such thing as an out of date melody. You take the melody and recreate or rewrite the tune. We're doing some songs in the Samba, Latin Bossa Nova, reggae and hip hop style and backing up some of the bands who have already done an amazing job with the old sheet music.
Is this event particular important for Ozomatli, considering your standing as the multicultural voice of Los Angeles?
Just like everybody else in this country, especially in L.A., we're all immigrants. And these songs are part of the reason why all of our families came here. The music was all about coming to the West Coast for a better life; they're the reason why my family left Yugoslavia and Poland, and the reason why Uli's family left Mexico and all the way down the line. We wouldn't be a band otherwise. Part of the dream, more than the American dream, is the California dream. In some way, it isn't a reality, but this is what people thought and continue to think.
What do you mean?