12 Questions for Mark Alvarado, Border Roots
by Davi Kallman
Posted on June 20, 2008
Border Roots will perform today at 6 p.m. at Al Fresco Friday, in the Arts Festival Plaza Downtown. Other performances are Saturday (June 28) at the KLAQ Street Fest, and Saturday (July 5) at Ascarate Park. Click here to view their website.
Why do you consider yourself a Chicano-based band?
We are a Chicano band because we possess a certain identity in terms of what is going to separate Border Roots from any other international reggae band. Since reggae is a worldwide phenomena, we wanted to created something that stands out, something that represents issues that affect everyone such as cultural, political, social, and philosophical.
What has kept the band together? How did all the members of Border Roots come together?
What keeps the band unified is ultimately the love of music. The band has a certain respect and love for each other that is able to overcome many obstacles, I am not saying that there has never been fallouts but this group is like a family and this family is similar to an informal marriage and in order to get things done there needs to be a form of respect and once the respect is broken then the trust does not exist. The group did not come together until I moved to El Paso from California in the mid-90s. I was not really doing anything at the time, but one thing is for certain I always had my guitar with me, musicians are like magnets because other musicians seem to gravitate towards you, but the band did not get together until we were asked to play at a fund raiser for the Bridge for Contemporary Arts. The fund raiser took place in Downtown and all of us knew each other from UTEP, but after we played at the fund raiser the members of the band really seemed to click and we made an impact on everyone there and we as a band became a movement. Some might call it an infectious groove.
Living on the border, what challenges do you face playing your music elsewhere? Are you ever criticized for your lyrics or style?
Originating from California it was not much of a culture shock coming to El Paso because there is a strong Chicana/o influence in California similar to the one we have in El Paso. However in California reggae bands were expected to embody a certain purist image such as the band members with dread locks. Playing in El Paso we decided to take a different approach that people can appreciate because of the social issues that we address. The only place that was difficult to get a following in was Chihuahua, Mexico. Every time we played there they always wanted us to play songs by Carlos Santana, in fact one time they actually booed us off the stage. The trick to gaining fans is persistence and now people have a much better appreciation and acceptance of us over there and we get invited to play in Juarez annually.
Heritage and culture are very important to this group, but if you were asked to move for the benefit of the band, would you?
No I would not move I would always try to keep El Paso as the base, I am not saying I would not like to go around and tour because that is the bands ultimate goal, but when is comes to living there is only one place I call home and that is El Paso. It would be extremely difficult to go and reestablish ourselves in another community because this is where our fans are. When you play at different venues you always want to come back to a place that you can feel comfortable and to me El Paso is that place.
What do you enjoy the most about living and performing in El Paso? How does El Paso inspire your music?
The thing I enjoy most about El Paso is the people, I do not think they know how supportive they are of local and outside music and art, they are very appreciative. El Pasoans have a certain vibe, there is a lot of love here and it is that love that keeps us alive. El Paso is all about reciprocating, when people come to a show they want to have a good time, but once you give them the right ingredients in terms of music the people will always reciprocate with enthusiasm. Living on the border has taught me to look at things in a different perspective, one of the biggest things that blew me away was when you go to the state of the art library at UTEP and you look out the window you see complete and utter poverty. Living here has also taught us the importance of giving back to the community and we take any opportunity to play at fund raisers and charities dealing with border rights, immigration, farmworkers, and colonias.
El Paso is the birth place of very talented musicians, how has El Paso contributed to your success?
El Paso has contributed to our success in a number of ways, one being that the people have been supportive of the message in our music and people appreciate the message because we try to keep a fresh perspective on things by exposing issues and making them transparent. If you put the truth out there people will really respond and support you and your music.
From a musician’s perspective, what does the El Paso community lack?
El Paso lacks what I refer to as the true local scene within the music community. This refers to the lack of support from other bands. While there will always be a competitive nature between musicians you do need each other’s support in order to help the community thrive. Musicians need to have unity with in the El Paso community, and our reggae band is all about unity and we try our best to promote as much positive energy as possible and eliminate animosity between other musicians.
What do you enjoy the most about performing?
The most enjoyable thing about performing is the freedom, it is the most liberating thing in the world. Once you get on stage and go in front of a crowd of people and you have to translate your message to them you are free. Sometimes I feel like I am actually lifted off the ground.
What message are you trying to portray to your fans and supporters? What do you want people to understand about your lyrics?
The most important thing that we want our fans to understand from our music is to be conscious of your surroundings and be conscious of yourself, not to be so judgmental of others, and to love the ones around you. When you have love you break down the animosity that you have for others. If you are less judgmental you will have a better experience of what you are going through. It is tough, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. Lyrically we want people to understand that there are certain social conditions that need to be addressed.
What is your favorite thing about El Paso? What do you do in your spare time?
When we have spare time we spend time with our families. Border Roots consists of all male members and every single member of Border Roots who has had a child, the child has been a girl and for the members who have not had children yet we tell them that it will be a girl. Family is very important but we also like sports, in fact we are mourning over the Lakers loss. I would like to think I have the best of both worlds; I am an artist and a family man. I have learned that many musicians fail to understand that there are two aspects to life, there is your stage life and off stage life where you have to be responsible, I am thankful that I learned that early in my career so I can live a longer better quality of life.
If you could tell your fans anything, what would you tell them?
I want to tell my fans that I love them, I appreciate the fact that they are so supportive. I get choked up when they come up and tell me how much they love our music, it becomes a spiritual thing, there is a connection between the musician and the fan that is undeniable. When the fans come up and tell you how much your music means to them it is like a mission accomplished feeling because the only reason we are here is because of them. Being able to touch the fans with something positive which allows them to get into a grove allows us to feel a sense of accomplishment.
What is the band’s goal for the summer? What do you hope to accomplish?
Our next goal is to get through all the summer dates. We need to polish the horn section to get it to where it will take the music to another level, we are always striving to give the people something a little bit more.
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