Chris Strachwitz (#3)


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excerpt of interview with The Arhoolie Foundation founder Chris Strachwitz from

The whole thing started when the late professor Guillermo Hernandez found out that I had this enormous Mexican record collection and most of it is from material recorded really on our border in San Antonio and El Paso and during the heyday of the early recording business in the late twenties and early thirties. That’s when so much of the most interesting corridos, which are narrative ballads that are generally true stories, were recorded about every kind of subject along the border.

When he found out I had that he one day came to me in more recent times and said, “Chris, what you going to do with all this stuff?” And I said, “Ever since the late Moses Asch of Folkways Records, he asked the same question to me – Chris, what you going to do with all this stuff?” I said, “I don’t know, I just love to hear it.”

Mo Asch told me, “This is really valuable cultural stuff and it’s got to be preserved somehow.” At that time it was just developing of the whole system of digitizing things. Computers were really in. So that possibility became really very real and so I said, “I don’t want to give this collection to UCLA so it will sit in a little corner someplace and nobody will ever hear it. Why don’t we try to digitize it.”

Guillermo and I were involved in these corrido conferences; he did them almost every year. They are conferences dealing with these wonderful narrative ballads and people gave papers and all that kind of stuff. But I had always paid to get some musicians to come to it. And he called me up and said, “Chris, I want to do a corrido concert here at UCLA in California. Who do you think I can get as musicians?”

I said, “Guillermo, you’re in the same state as the most famous conjunta, that means group, Los Tigres del Norte, and they live in San Jose. They are million sellers, as big as the Rolling Stones are in the gringo world. So he had them come over and play for his corrido concert and they got along really good. I think the leader of the Tigres realized that this institution is recognizing their music as cultural material that should be preserved and studied and analyzed and so on.

All of a sudden here were professors who were spending time researching these stories and finding out why they are singing these songs that are dealing with the daily problems of people, like immigration. So they agreed and their record label Fonovisa decided to get together with the Tigres and they gave $500,000 to UCLA as a gift to, first of all, digitize all of my 78 Mexican stuff. There are roughly 17,000 78s, so that’s two sides per record so that means 34,000 songs or tunes or whatever. So their money helped us get started.

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