Born in Torreon, Coahuila, Mexico, in 1945, Agustín Lira (NEA National Heritage Fellow, 2007) emigrated first to Lordsburg, New Mexico and then shortly after to California with his mother, brothers, sister, and a cousin at the age of seven. The family wandered through small farmworker towns and labor camps, following the crops up and down the San Joaquin Valley, finally settling in Selma.
In 1965, at the age of 19, he cofounded El Teatro Campesino with Luis Valdez during the Delano Grape Strike headed by Cesar Chavez. The company created songs and plays, performed on picket lines, at rallies and toured throughout the United States, giving voice to the farmworkers’ plight and demonstrating the power of artistic expression in uniting and inspiring the farmworker communities.Campesino received the New York Off Broadway Award, the Los Angeles Drama Critic’s Circle Award, appeared at the Newport Folk Festival and was the subject of feature articles in Time, Newsweek, and the Wall Street Journal.
Lira’s powerful singing and socially relevant lyrics were at the heart of El Teatro Campesino and established his role as the preeminent musical voice of the early Chicano Movement. After leaving Campesino in 1969, Agustin resumed his work in music and theater forming several theater groups notably El Teatro de la Tierra which performed throughout Southern California and the Los Angeles metropolitan area to critical acclaim. Lira also taught drama, music, and creative writing at universities, schools, and community organizations throughout California. With musical group Alma (formed in 1979 by Lira and Patricia Wells Solorzano), he has performed at national and international festivals in the United States, Mexico and Cuba.
Lira has produced music for films and recordings. His music appeared in the film documentaries: Students of Change: Los del ’68, (2010), by Martha Sanchez and Mario Zavaleta, KCTS 9 Television; “Viva La Causa!” (2008) by Bill Brummel and Alonso F. Maya (short listed for an Oscar). Lira was highlighted prominently on the Smithsonian Folkways retrospective Rolas de Aztlan: Songs of the Chicano Movement (2006). Previous recognition of Lira’s work includes Horizon Award (2010) by the Fresno Arts Council; Hispanic American Portraits of Success Award 2008, from KSEE Channel 24; the California Latino Legislative Caucus Award, 2007; Local Hero Award, 2006 from Valley Public Television, Channel 18 and Union Bank.
“Their use of music, theater and photographs is masterful. Lira and Wells could have taken roles in their play, Ricardo Magon, but their places as musicians, singers, narrators was perfect.” — Juan L. Esparza, VIDA EN EL VALLE, 2010
Patricia Wells Solorzano
Patricia Wells Solórzano was born in Brawley, California 25 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border and spent her early childhood immersed in two different and distinct cultures. Playing various instruments in grade school, she was attracted to drama and Mexican folkloric dance in high school. While a college student at CSU Northridge in 1975, she participated in the Los Angeles Gallo boycott spearheaded by the United Farm Worker’s Union. Working together with UFW organizers, many of them farmworkers themselves, deeply impacted her. Patricia joined El Teatro de la Tierra, a non-profit arts organization and taught Spanish to children, studying drama and music with Agustin Lira (cofounder of El Teatro Campesino).
In 1976 she moved to Mexico City to study Mexican and World History at the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico returning to Fresno 2 years later. She began an intensive study of singing and lead guitar gaining control of both disciplines within 6 months. She cofounded musical group Alma in 1979 becoming the manager, touring nationally and internationally at festivals such as the Smithsonian Institute’s American Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C.; the Cervantino International Arts Festival, Mexico; the U.S.-Cuba Friendship Concert in Havana Cuba and so on.Patricia has recorded music for various labels and for film: Rolas de Aztlan: Songs of the Chicano Movement, Smithsonian-Folkways; The Fight in the Fields: Cesar Chavez and the Farmworker’s Struggle, PBS/Paradigm film. For more than 30 years she has taught music to all age groups in her community, California schools, correctional institutions. She produced concerts of Latin American Folklore and Nuevo Canto at local venues from 1993 to 2003, as well as recitals by her student chorus throughout the community. In defense of immigrants, Wells cofounded Teatro Inmigrante (Immigrant Theater) in 2001 creating, codirecting and producing new plays such as:
- Regeneración: Ricardo Flores Magón and the Mexican Revolution of 1910, (2010);
- The Life and Times of Candelaria Arroyo (2004);
- Esperanza and Luz: A Tale of Two Immigrant Women (2001); and others.
In the Spring of 2010 Patricia received her Bachelor of Arts degree at Goddard College in Vermont. She is the recipient of many awards among them the most recent are the Horizon Artist Award (2010) from the Fresno Arts Council and the Non-Violence and Peace Studies Award from University of Rhode Island. She is one of 72 women chosen to appear in Victoria Alvarado’s book, Mujeres de Consciencia/Women of Conscience (Floricanto Press, 2009), “A tribute to Latinas who have made a definite and long standing contribution to the Hispanic community and country at large.”
Ravi Knypstra was born and raised in Los Angeles and grew up in North Hollywood. At the age of six Ravi started playing the trumpet, and played all the way through his first year in college, when he began to play the bass, discovering that when played well, the bass actually has the power to steer the music in more directions than lead instruments do.
Ravi played in blues, country and rock & roll bands for the first couple of years he spent as a bass player, playing all over the San Joaquin valley while attending college. After spending three-plus years pursuing an engineering degree at Fresno State, Ravi dropped out, moved home to Los Angeles and attended the Musician’s Institute in 1992-93, leaving the school with honors from their BIT program. Even though the school did and still does have a reputation as a “rock” school, Ravi spent all his time at the school in the care of tremendous players and teachers, who could answer any musical question arose, in any style, and it was there that he began to learn about the role the bass carries in that great traditional American art form known as Jazz. He didn’t realize it at the time, but as far as the bass goes, Ravi was already hooked.After school Ravi toured the coast of California extensively with Agustin Lira and Patricia Wells-Solorzano’s group “Alma.” Ravi also toured extensively in Europe, playing roots and country music, and toured across the United States from coast to coast as well. Since then he has played literally thousands of shows, primarily in California but also in Japan, India, Thailand, Cuba, and across the United States. Ravi’s musical tastes run the gamut, including folk music, Mexican, Cuban, Brazilian, funk, soul, R & B, blues, rare groove, fusion, pop, songwriter stuff, and of course, all forms shapes and sizes of jazz ensembles, from two- to 20-piece bands.
Around 2000, Ravi started to become interested in recording music, and since then he has engineered and produced several full length CDs. He remains active a live performer and stufio bass player in all styles, playing upright and electric bass, as a tracking/mixing studio engineer for ensembles from two-piece to twenty-piece, and a live performance mix engineer as well. He is also faculty at Musician’s Institute in Hollywood where he teaches the incoming bass students music reading.
Ravi has appeared on television shows for MTV, Showtime, Bravo and on the Jimmy Kimmel Live Show and The Carson Daly Show. His playing has been in movies for HBO and the Sundance Film Festival. His true love is jazz, and he has played or recorded with jazz artists such as Plas Johnson, Sam and Abe Most, Kim Richmond, Joey Heredia, Paul Kreibich, Jake Hanna, Steve Pemberton, Dale Fielder, Dave Pell, Pete Christlieb, Gary Herbig and Bob Summers and dozens of others.