Chuy Martinez (guitar, vocals) and Oti Ruiz (harp, violin, requinto, vocals) came to music via very different paths that intersected very sweetly. Martinez learned to play guitar while working as a migrant farmworker in California, a job he started at age 12, when he fled from an abusive foster home. Joining the the United Farm Workers Union at 16, he worked rallies in many states as an organizer and musician. Ruiz, orphaned at 11 and growing up with his grandmother in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico, started playing at age 13. He studied at the Music Conservatory in Xalapa and went on to tour the world with internationally renowned groups.
In 2001, fate or luck or the angels, call it what you will, brought them together in
Albuquerque at trying times in their lives. Playing Latin American music together brought solace and direction, and bore fruit: within a year of meeting, they produced their lovely first CD, Pa’ Uste’, a passionately
delivered collection of popular and folkloric music from Latin America and the Caribbean.
Their artistic collaboration has continued ever since. Unfortunately, their day jobs prevent them from playing out very often. Martinez is Old Town manager/curator for Albuquerque’s Cultural Services Department/Community Events and is well-known as the host of Lo Maduro de la Cultura, a popular public-access TV show on the arts. Ruiz teaches at Coronado Elementary and is music director of La Rondalla de
Albuquerque. That makes their concert at the Outpost this Friday, May 10, where they’ll be joined by John Mancha (guitarrón, accordion), a rare and special event.
In 2001, Ruiz found himself in Albuquerque, the last stop on a tour with the internationally
respected group Tlen Huicani, from Veracruz. Though his work with the group was musically satisfying, Ruiz felt that something important was missing. “Personally, it was a moment for me that I needed to find something else to do,” he says, and he decided to hang in the city for a couple of weeks and make music with friends here.
At the time, Martinez was looking for someone with whom he could play Latin American music. He and Ruiz were introduced by a mutual friend.
“It was impressive. We got the music just like this,” Ruiz says, putting his hands together. “How do you say, an amalgama? Like mixed metals.”
“Our chemistry was there,” says Martinez. “I told him he could play with me at Little Anita’s. We used to play there on weekends. Once I found out about his talent, I was almost embarrassed to ask him to play with me at a place like that.”
For Ruiz, who’s performed in major theaters from New York to Sydney, playing in local eateries and schools with Martinez was a way to ground himself in the community, and he welcomed the opportunity.
After a month of working together, Martinez asked Ruiz to stay a little longer, and helped him begin the process for bringing his wife and children up from Veracruz. “He gave me a lot of peace,” says Ruiz.
For Martinez, who had endured the death of his son shortly before Ruiz’ arrival, the musical collaboration seemed to help salve the wound. “He was passing through a very very bad time because of his loss,” says Ruiz. “So I think he saw in me somebody to cover this part with the music. We support each other all the time.”
Always engaged in a variety of community programs, Martinez got Ruiz involved in some of them. Working with kids at the Bernalillo County Juvenile Detention Center helped center Ruiz on what he needed to do. A licensed teacher in Mexico, he decided to work with kids in
Albuquerque, and with the help of Leila Flores-Dueñas at UNM, he got his credentials in order and found work.
Passion and Respect
Although they cannot perform as often as they’d like, the two friends continue to collaborate and play together when they can. You can usually find them performing at the acequia-clearing fiestas in northern New Mexico in the spring.
Over the years, the long car rides to these events have given the two men plenty of time to
articulate and align their philosophies about the music. “Him and I discuss all the time about the respect that we should give to those who created the music, and also what we should put into our own songs, which is the passion, the story behind it, and then the complements which are with the music,” says Martinez, who thrills to the “millions of vibrations” emanating from Ruiz’ 36-string harp and his 6-string guitar.
What’s absolutely clear is that for both men, music is a spiritual act of communion and a
celebration of community—a community that includes, at the very least, those of us in the room with them, the generations who have preceded us and left us the music, and those who will follow.
Martinez is looking forward to the Outpost event, where, unlike parties, “you have all the focus of the people there,” he says. “So it’s like a dialogue with the people.”
The dialogue will include songs from Pa’ Uste, possibly some of Martinez’ corridos, which reflect his life in the farmworker and Chicano movements, and new originals from Ruiz, who has just released a solo CD, Hoy soñé con mi pueblo.
Chuy Martinez and Oti Ruiz
An Evening of Latin American Songs
Friday, May 10, 7:30 p.m.
Outpost Performance Space
210 Yale Blvd. SE, Albuquerque
Tickets $15/$10 members and students
For more info, call 268-0044.
© 2013 Mel Minter. All rights reserved.