Third Root duo connects mixed race with mixed sounds in new LP
Published: June 20, 2012
Music calling for the unification of minorities is not new, but few projects manage the sublime marriage of scholarly research and Afro-Latino musicality that Third Root achieves. Marco "Mexican Stepgrandfather" Cervantes and Charles "Easy Lee" Peters believe that Africans were present in Central and South America long before the arrival of the conquistadores in the 15th century, insinuating that many Latin Americans have some sort of black ancestry. The idea is inspired by research from Ivan Van Sertima in 1976's They Came Before Columbus. Sertima's ideas polarized academia, and the legitimacy of his claims are still debated today.
"Given the patterns of history and power relations, it makes more sense to me that Europeans were responsible for theft and erasure of histories from both Africans and Native Americans," Cervantes said by email recently. "This is why Sertima's argument is more convincing to me."
Cervantes teaches Mexican-American and Afro-Chicano history at UTSA. He points to researchers Van Sertima and Jack Forbes having piecemealed African presence in Latin America through artifacts, cultural practices, and correspondence. Bluntly put, many Latin Americans can call themselves black under the one-drop rule (including many SA residents). Damn, near all of us may qualify because of what's called the "third root."
"There's the indigenous, the European influence, and then African influence," Peters said, discussing the genealogy of Mexico and Central and South American cultures. "Academically, Africa is considered the third root. Third root is where we meet up in the middle: black and brown."
Separately, both Cervantes and Peters have rocked mics under different projects — the former as a solo rapper and the latter as part of live hip-hop band Mojoe. When both artists agreed to pursue Third Root's debut Stand for Something, they decided that the project would embody a manicured vision and celebrate regional sound, if not also regional talent. This is why Greg G. produces opposite stic.man of dead prez on "Call Me Black." While Greg G. chops up samples of Smokey Robinson and funky horn blasts, stic.man celebrates Nubian hips and disses Amerigo Vespucci. Alternately, Cervantes and Peters wax on Sunny & the Sunliners and the defunct Scout Bar's financial troubles over a laid-back Latin groove on "Bendición/Down in SA." Naturally, the project features collabo's that are puro San Antonio, such as Alvaro Del Norte's squeezebox-and-hook cameo on the album's title cut.
"I think having MexStep, Mojoe, and Piñata Protest represented on one song was a first in San Antonio music history," Peters said.
Cervantes describes the concept of black and brown unity as close to his heart, particularly because of his Houston upbringing.
"Growing up as a dark, English-dominant Chicano in a neighborhood that was black and brown, African-American culture was a big part of my identity," he said. "As I studied more about the African presence in Mexican history, I felt I had been cheated out of knowing about my culture. This album has allowed me to explore this history and share with others."
For Peters, Third Root is an educational opportunity for SA's current generation of musicians. He sees older acts like the bluesy, Tejano Sunny & the Sunliners or the grittily soulful Spot Barnett as exemplifying SA's overlap of black and brown cultures.
"Somewhere along the way, the hip-hop generation growing up in San Antonio lost the fact that these cultures make great music," he said. "We're trying to get that out there. San Antonio has a sound for hip-hop that needs to be embraced. If we do that, then who knows what the future will hold for younger artists?" •
Third Root with Mojoe, Mexican Stepgrandfather, DJ Ninja and DJ Notion
9 pm Thur, June 21
On the Half Shell
> Email Adam Villela Coronado