A Word With: QVLN, making world music with his blue violin

Stressed and sleep deprived by the pressures of a nearby graduation, you find the homie and videographer, Vladimir and I driving from Westwood toward East Hollywood to catch an interview with Quetzal Guerrero, alias QVLN. Because we much rather document his excellence than suffer through another two hour lecture. And as soon as we step out the car, there he is, waving to us from his window with a welcoming smile on his face.

I first came across Quetzal through fliers for shows that I never attended, until one that took place at La Cita Bar in Downtown LA. It was a show in collaboration with another LA band, Viento Callejero. First off, I go into this red-lit bar and see a guy holding a violin while singing Calle 13’s “Esto va suave, sabe bien suave, suave, suave, sabe bien suave.” I was hooked.

Quetzal started playing the violin when he was four years old and studied classical music from then to about sixteen years of age. His strong commitment to his craft along with his talent, has led him to many honorable opportunities such as playing alongside exceptional artists like Tito Puente and Lalo Guerrero. Today, he is a multi-instrumentalist bringing sounds from around the world onto whatever stage he and his ensemble step on.

It’s a few minutes past noon, as we walk up a narrow flight of stairs into Quetzal’s home juggling coffee and video equipment, only to go in awe soon as we enter the living room. Pineapple colored walls decorated with string instruments horizontally modeling across the room, evidently an artist’s home.

We talk about family, his relationship with LA, the latest EP, and his new project with music partner, OVEOUS. You can watch the official video to the newly dropped single “Bones” from this duo’s upcoming album. Read further to learn more about this West Coast music artist Quetzal Guerrero, alias QVLN

On his familial foundation 

Soon as Quetzal begins to describe his parents, we hear someone unlocking the door and see his wife and yoga instructor, Sunshine Zerda.  After hearing about the power couple that his parents are, it is no surprise to see him building a similar empire with Sunshine.

Quetzal was born to Carmen Guerrero and Zarco Guerrero. His mother is an all around artist and activist from Northern Brazil who became the family’s disciplinary music leader, making sure Quetzal practiced everyday. His father, born and raised in Mesa, Arizona, is a fifth generation Chicano artist and activist as well. When these two met, they made music together, founded events and festivals together, and most importantly, raised Quetzal and his siblings into the beings they are today. “I have a lot of roots and a lot to live up to, as far as what I can bring and what I have to say and following my parents footsteps,” Quetzal reflects.

On his love for LA

As a native Angelina, I admit sometimes I can take my city for granted. Quetzal moved to LA from Phoenix, Arizona about ten years ago to pursue his dream of becoming a performing artist because he felt the opportunities back home were limited. He affirms, “I really felt like this is where I needed to be.”

But not only has he cultivated a musical community for himself in LA, he also joined a capoeira community to continue what he started at the age of nineteen. “Capoeira for me has kind of been like my balance—physical health and wellness, to kind of keep things in perspective for me,” he explains. Quetzal’s capoeira skills become evident in his “Run like the Wind” music video, directed by his cousin David Telles.

This video symbolically encompasses various social issues through a 30 second single shot of an indigenous man running though the streets of LA as the police chases behind him. “There’s so many issues right now in the United States, socially, politically when we talk about immigrant rights, when we talk about indigenous peoples rights and awareness, when we talk about police brutality, when you talk about capitalistic, oppressive, government institutions. This is kind of all the issues that we’re addressing in a video,” Quetzal emphasizes.

On his Paleta EP

The second time I saw QVLN perform was at Mrs. Fish in Downtown LA and that’s when I first heard his single, “Paleta” which also happens to be the name of his latest EP. As he tells me the story behind the song, I half-reluctantly listen to what feels like a secret I shouldn’t know, “I was stuck in the subway for about five hours, trying to take the train out into Puebla, Mexico and it was packed, it was like rush hour. And the entire time I was in this train there was this guy selling paletas, he was going, “Paleta, paleta, de menta y cereza. Un peso te vale, un peso te cuesta.”

Quetzal listened to the vendor repeat the same phrase for what seemed an eternity to him so, “By the time I got to Puebla I woke in the middle of the night, thinking about this guy selling these paletas,” he confesses. His creative gears started turning and the “Paleta” idea was born. He and his band members messed around with music arrangements that eventually made the stage and the audience reaction is what motivated the creation of an EP to go along with this catchy single.

On his latest project with OVEOUS

It’s almost been an hour and by now Quetzal’s management team, who arrived sometime during the interview, is patiently waiting for us to finish so they can have a meeting right after. It’s a busy time for Quetzal, with his relocating to Australia to his album release with OVEOUS.

In 2015, QVLN and OVEOUS went on tour through Latin America with the American Music Abroad program. They were selected from a pool of 300 applicants to tour via US embassies and cultural outreach programs. It was during this tour that these two brewed new ideas for songs and when they returned to the US, they recorded an entire album.

The album will be released at the AfroLatino Music Festival at the Ford Theatre on September 10. Along with that, the duo will begin releasing a web series of episodes from their American Music Abroad tour that they shot and produced themselves.

After a brief tour of the instruments modeled around the living room, we leave Quetzal’s home with gratitude for being welcomed into his and his wife’s home and excited to see the nearby release of these upcoming projects.

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