When the musical ensemble Quetzal performs, there is no audience, no public and no onlookers.
"There are only participants," said Chicano rock guitarist Quetzal Flores, who created an ensemble of musicians and singers that blend Mexican, Afro-Cuban rhythms, jazz, R&B and rock for the sole purpose of putting a very bright spotlight on social, cultural and political issues of the day. In concert Thursday, the group will celebrate the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival on Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage.
"The latest thing for us is developing spaces that use art as a tool for convening, and we are particularly focused on participatory music and dance practices," he explained. "That means getting people together who are at various technical levels of understanding music -- from the very beginner, who has never picked up an instrument or danced, to the master. We put them on one stage, set the protocol, and [we] begin to generate the spirit of living and being together."
Flores perceives the music as a means to work for social justice, as well as a form of creative expression.
|» Where: Kennedy Center, Millennium Stage, 2700 F St. NW|
|» When: 6 p.m. Thursday|
|» Info: Free; 800-444-1324; 202-467-4600; kennedy-center.org|
"What will happen," he noted, "is that people will reconnect for an idea. They will engage one another [and] get out of the house to be with one another.
"Conversation starts happening and [people] are able to share information, and then the community begins to organize itself; to become stronger, to defend itself and create a very healthy and pro-active situation."
Growing up immersed in the social movements of the 1970s, Flores was able to analyze protests and soon realized what was missing. Art and music back then was a side-show and an entertainment, he concluded. His goal was to make art the centerpiece for social change.
"We're going to play songs from our latest album, 'Imaginaries,' " he continued. "The songs describe a community that may not have a lot of capital, but one that has resources [such as] art and culture [and], that if used correctly, we can have a sustainable situation for ourselves."
Most of the songs they will play speak to this idea; most of them are upbeat, some are more relaxed, but powerful. All require the participation of those present, in some form or another. Dancing is encouraged, because, according to Flores, people need to release societal stresses and come together.
"I'd love people to take away a deeper sense of humanity," Flores said. "I believe music can do it."