By Michaela Payne
This year’s Grammy Awards on February 15 will be tense for Greg Landau. The City College instructor and music producer is up for his seventh and eighth nominations, for “Mondongo” by La Cuneta Son Machín in the best Latin rock category and “Zapateando” by Los Cojolites for best regional Mexican music album.
La Cuneta’s nomination is a big surprise, according to Billboard.com, but Los Cojolites are up for their second Grammy nomination in 20 years as a band. Landau released both albums in the last year on Round Whirled Records, the label he cofounded with his nephew, Camilo Landau.
La Cuneta will perform at the Great American Music Hall on Saturday, Feb. 13, at 859 O’Farrell St. in the Tenderloin district. They’ll share a bill with Los Cojolites at Hollywood’s Roxy venue on Feb. 16.
Los Cojolites, from Vereda, Veracruz, Mexico, perform music in their region’s jarocho style. “Zapateando” is their fifth album, following “Sembrando Flores” which was nominated for a Grammy in 2013.
La Cuneta is a cumbia-rock band from Managua, Nicaragua which released their third album,“Mondongo” on Sept. 30. The 10 energetic tracks are about dancing, food and fun in the streets, taxi drivers, earthquakes and traditional Nicaraguan meals like tripe soup with congo chile—and the band’s name translates as “the gutter sound machine.”
“They’re the most popular band in Central America,” Landau said, who worked with La Cuneta for the first time since advising on the band on their last record, “Amor Fritanguero,” two years ago.
“I worked with their father. They also knew of my other work with other Latin American artists,” Landau said. “They sought me out because I was somebody who could understand what they were doing—combining traditional Nicaraguan cumbia styles with modern rock and popular styles.”
The seven-member band traveled to San Francisco to work with Landau, but left their own instruments at home in Nicaragua.
“We had instruments here,” Landau said, who also hired session musicians to play on “Mondongo” with the band members. “We also wrote the songs in my studio. I pushed them to open up the arrangements and to explore different ways of doing things.”
“It was exciting because they have so much energy,” Landau said. “To incorporate elements of modern and classic rock, we listened to lots of Queen and Zappa and The Beatles, and revisited traditional Nicaraguan music.”
Landau lived in Nicaragua during the 1980s and worked in the Ministry of Culture. “I played with many bands there, including Carlos Mejía Godoy and Luis Enrique (Mejía Godoy), two brothers who were the top folk musicians in Nicaragua. I toured with them for nine years all over Latin America, Europe and the United States on 35 tours,” Landau said.
Now Landau no longer tours, devoting his time to music production and teaching. “I play the guitar and the Cuban tres, a Cuban-style guitar,” Landau said, which has six strings grouped in twos and is played for rhythm.
Landau studied at University of California, Berkeley and began teaching at City College in the mid-1990s while finishing a doctorate at UC San Diego. “I was living in San Francisco and wanted to connect with students in the area. It allowed me to continue my dissertation and play music,” he said.
City College Music Department Chair Madeline Mueller estimated that Landau taught in the college’s music department for 15 years. He now teaches three online classes which are history of Latin America, Latin American social movements, and Diego Rivera: Art and Social Change.
“Because he is so popular and in-demand, he hasn’t been teaching in our department for some time. He’s top in his field and we miss him,” Mueller said. “He’s a Renaissance person—he has skills in so many areas as so many musicians do. He plays and produces, writes and composes. He’s a historian and linguist. His skills seem to be worldwide and he has such a fantastic knowledge of the Americas.”
Not His First Nomination
Landau’s career has taken him around the world and to the top of the charts. “I’ve produced six Grammy-nominated CDs while teaching at City College,” Landau said, before “Mondongo” and “Zapateando” were announced as nominees.
“I’ve produced more than 90 CDs, mostly of Latin American music. I’ve worked with some top Latin American artists like Susana Baca, folk musicians and Mexican rockers like Maldita Vecindad,” he said.
Landau also makes music for films, he said, like “The Other Barrio,” made in the Mission district last year and produced by local photojournalist Lou Demattais.
Mueller added that Landau has extensive knowledge of ethnomusicology. “One time he was recording native Peruvian music and I said, ‘In my goodness, I didn’t know you were an expert in that too,’” Mueller said.
Actually it’s the reverse, Landau told her. He was sent to Peru to listen to traditional music and analyze it for elements of modern music it may have influenced.
“As a department we’ve always had a big national reputation for having music from so many countries,” Mueller said. “Other schools often have just ‘world music.’”
In addition to Landau’s music of Latin America course, the department offers African drumming, traditional African music, history of jazz, music of East Asia, music in American culture and the Labor Heritage Chorus.
Viewers can watch the 58th annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 15 live at 5 p.m. Pacific time.
La Cuneta’s Grammy-nominated album “Mondongo” is available on Spotify, Amazon and iTunes. Listeners can reach the band on their Facebook page, on Twitter @LaCunetaNic and at www.lacunetasonmachin.com. The band will give out the album —for free—at their Feb. 13 show in San Francisco.
Los Cojolites are on Facebook, Spotify, and on Bandcamp through Round Whirled Records.
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Send an email to: Michaela Payne