‘Lucha Mexico’ Filmmaker Honors Lucha Libre’s Proud Tradition

DOC NYC 2015 Premiere Of "Lucha Mexico"Left to right: Filmmaker Alex Hammond, professional wrestlers Jose Luis Jair Soria, aka Shocker, and Jon “Strongman” Andersen, and filmmaker Ian Markiewicz attend the DOC NYC 2015 premiere of “Lucha Mexico” at SVA Theater on November 13, 2015 in New York City. (Photo/Monica Schipper / Getty Images)

For the longest time, documentary filmmaker Alex Hammond had wanted to work on a film which shed light on her Mexican heritage. The director of “Children of Haiti” and “Better Than Something,” which explored the punk underground, grew up in Connecticut but spent nearly every summer in Mexico visiting family; her mother had immigrated to the U.S. from San Luis Potosí.

The result is “Lucha Mexico,” her new film created with longtime co-director Ian Markiewicz, which explores the dynamic subculture of Lucha libre, the beloved and more than century-old Mexican professional wrestling sport.

After four years of shooting in mostly Mexico, “Lucha Mexico,” is being released in theaters and on iTunes on Friday, July 15, playing in cities across the country, including New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston, among others.

Lucha libre literally means “free fight,” and dates back to the Franco-Mexican War in 1863. The wrestlers are known to wear colorful masks, which hide their true identities, and some are known for their aerial maneuvers. They also characterize themselves as “good guys” (called “técnicos”) vs. the “bad guys” (called “rudos”).

“I knew the moment I saw Lucha, that this is what I wanted to make a film about,” said Hammond, 35, to NBC Latino. “The idea that these athletes put themselves in the ring and put their lives on the line is where the interest started. When we got in there, we realized this world was so big.”

Hammond said it’s a good time to shine a spotlight on this sport, since it has been growing in popularity in the U.S. as well. Lucha Underground,” a weekly hour-long TV series which premiered in the U.S. on filmmaker Robert Rodriguez’ El Rey Network in 2014, is still going strong in 2016.

“Because it’s taken us five years to make the film from start to finish, we’ve seen lots of changes,” said Hammond about the growth of Lucha libre. “‘Lucha Underground’ is getting a lot attention now —you’re starting to find them happening more often, I think because WWE is so big. They helped introduce the Mexican wrestlers. More people are exposed to it.”

Film poster for "Lucha Mexico" by Alex Hammond.
Film poster for “Lucha Mexico” by Alex Hammond. (Courtesy Kino Lorber)

One of the film’s protagonists is American Lucha wrestler John Andersen, who goes by the wrestling name, “John Strongman.”

“He came down to Mexico from San Francisco as a pro-wrestler, and we got to document his first time going to Mexico,” says Hammond. “He would live in Mexico for a month at a time — now there are more Americans moving down there to wrestle.”

Hammond says the “luchadores” (wrestlers) are like superheroes for Mexicans.

“They are very real for the people,” says Hammond. “When you go to any show, you’ll see a grandmother and a baby – it’s a family affair.”

The “luchadores” themselves also take their careers very seriously. They go to Lucha school, starting sometimes as young as 15, to learn the proper fighting techniques.

Sexy Star (left), Faby Apache (right)
Sexy Star (left), Faby Apache (right) (Courtesy Kino Lorber)

“These men and women are really athletes, and you see how hard they work,” says Hammond. “For a lot of them, their parents were wrestlers…It’s like a whole close-knit family. When you retire, you work as a wrestling coach.”

The film shows how fans idolize their superheroes, but it’s not so glamorous for the wrestlers themselves. Blue Demon, Jr., the son of the legendary Blue Demon — who was also an actor in many movies, as his wrestling persona, in the 1960’s and 1970’s — describes the way of life as “lonely.”

“Out of 24 hours, I wear my mask for 18,” says Blue Demon, Jr. in the film. “You have to be a loner and not go out too much, eat cold meals in the hotel. You can’t go out at night, or you might be recognized.”

Photo of the late Perro Aguayo Jr.
Photo of the late Perro Aguayo Jr. (Courtesy Kino Lorber)

It’s also a dangerous sport. Hammond says the famous El Hijo de Perro Aguarro died in the ring last year.

“We had to recut the movie,” said Hammond, because he was supposed to be one of the main characters. “It was a freak accident. He died wrestling.”

Hammond said that throughout the making of the film, several wrestlers died from various causes.

But ultimately, the luchadores think it’s worth the risks and the sacrifices. One of the trainers told Hammond that ‘in order to be a wrestler, you have to be hungry and want to have that triumph.’

“That’s essentially what we wanted to capture,” she said, “what drives them to constantly get back in that ring.”

Hammond doesn’t know yet where her next project will bring her, but she says she’s always been interested in exploring different environments.

“I like getting people to feel like they are there,” she says. “For ‘Lucha Mexico,’ I wanted to show also how beautiful Mexico is – not just what you see in the news — it’s not just drugs.”

Originally published on NBCNews.com.

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Film Score Composer Carlos José Alvarez ‘Breathes Life’ Into Movies

Carlos José Alvarez (Photo: CJA Publicity)

Carlos José Alvarez (Photo: CJA Publicity)

The sweeping or exhilarating music you hear as you are watching a favorite scene is a big part of the magic of movies. This is what Carlos José Alvarez does, and at 36, he’s a prolific young composer in what is usually considered a more mature field.

Alvarez has already composed and arranged the scores for Hollywood films such as “Deadline,” “One for the Money,” the documentary “Cubamerican,” and contributed to the Oscar-winning “Still Alice.” He arranged and wrote the music for the Lionsgate thriller, “Exposed,” starring Keanu Reeves and Ana de Armas, which recently opened in theaters.

Alvarez, who has lived in Los Angeles for the past decade and now considers it home, says his career as a film score composer chose him. He also gives his two grandmothers credit.

“My mother’s mother was bed-ridden, and I used to watch films with her,” Alvarez says. “That’s where my fascination with films began. My father’s mother, who is still alive, is an incredible musician. She was a musical voice in our family.”

Alvarez was raised in West Palm Beach, Florida to a music-loving Cuban family. Sounds of classical scores, Cuban folkloric and Beatles tunes often emanated from his house. By 12 years old, he started playing the congas and the piano.

He explains he always knew he wanted to compose music for films, because he had always been in love with cinema, as well as music, and it was a perfect marriage of both of his passions.

“I was always into music, the story, the characters, the setting,” says Alvarez. “The music is there to tell us what’s happening when nothing is happening on the screen. It’s like the poetry behind it all for me.”

His most influential moment in confirming his career choice, he says, was meeting Michael Kamen – the composer for films such as, “Lethal Weapon,” “X-Men,” Die Hard” and “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” while Alvarez was in high school.

“One of the things he did was come to West Palm Beach to give a concert, and I heard about it and I wanted to be a part of it,” remembers Alvarez vividly. “I auditioned for the timpani part, and I got the job… It was such a big deal for me.”

After the concert, Alvarez says he went up to him afterwards, and said, ‘You know I’m going to be in LA one day doing what you’re doing?’ He looked at me and said, ‘I believe you.’ He really knew I meant what I said, and I think that was a turning point for me.”

So after excelling in his high school orchestra, Alvarez received a scholarship to attend Florida State University. Not knowing anything about writing music for films then, he would put up flyers all over campus offering to score student films for practice.

“I’d pull all-nighters trying to make it work,” says Alvarez, who upon graduating, was honored with a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he graduated magna cum laude with a degree in film scoring.

Today, a typical day for him still involves up to 14 hours a day when working on a film.

“I cannot wait to be inspired, there’s no time for that,” says Alvarez, who works from a studio in his house. He was given six weeks to work on the score of “Exposed.” “I have to sit down and go. I have to shut out the world to get in the zone.”

Usually, Alvarez says his work starts when the film is at the end of the editing process.

“Once the film is close to being completed, I sit with the filmmaker and we go through the entire movie. We decide where the music should start, stop – there’s a lot of problem solving,” he explains.

Then, he begins writing the music by himself. He uses computer technology to create demos for the filmmakers to listen to, which ultimately are replaced by live musicians. Once the score is approved, then comes the recording process, and getting the sheet music ready for the musicians. Once it is recorded, it is time to edit the music, mix it then deliver it.

“‘Exposed’ takes place in Washington Heights [in NYC], which is very Dominican world,” says Alvarez about his latest film project, which he adds, has a large amount of Spanish in the script. “They wanted someone to be sensitive to that…Isabel [the main character who is of ambiguous Hispanic ethnicity] is surrounded by crime and corruption, and the score needed to pull us in there. The music that pulls us into Isabel’s world had to have mystery and playful innocence.”

He says he had this idea of using a female voice, so he sought out the Cuban-American award-winning Broadway star from “In the Heights” – Janet Dacal – for her very strong vocals, and gave her a scene.

“It was the most exciting part, because I knew I had found the heart of the score through her voice,” says the composer. “We really explored the mysterious, almost haunting, side of her voice. It really pulled us into Isabel’s reality and perspective…When I played it for everyone, we all thought this is it.”

Through the orchestral score, which was made up of 34 string players and piano, Alvarez says the main challenge was to connect the two worlds of Isabel and Keanu Reeve’s character, and express to the audience what the characters are feeling and experiencing.

“That’s what so magical about this job,” says Alvarez. “I wake up everyday hoping to create great music. I feel like I’m the first person that hears the film really come to life. If I do my job correctly, I’m breathing life into the film.”

(You can listen to compositions from Carlos José Alvarez here on his website.)

Originally published on NBCNews.com.

This Latino Music Exec Works with Pitbull But Composes Classical Piano

(Photo: Laura Coppelman)

(Photo: Laura Coppelman)

Wherever Jorge Mejía goes, he says he makes sure that a piano is never too far away; his life revolves around music. As the executive vice president of Latin America and U.S. Latin for Sony/ATV, he oversees the world’s largest Latin music publishing house – home to artists like Pitbull and Enrique Iglesias. But he is also an accomplished classical music composer. His debut album, “Preludes,” was released earlier this year with rave reviews.

It took Mejía at least 10 years to finish “Preludes,” which he describes as “biographical tidbits of his life.” As someone might turn to their best friend, he often turned to the piano as if to document each of his life’s moments, one note at a time.

“I have a piano inside my office…I play it every morning when I come in,” says Mejia, 43, who wakes up every morning at 4:30am to walk his dogs with his wife and write music before he starts his full-time job at Sony.

He still occasionally sings and plays guitar in the indie rock band The Green Room, which he started after attending the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and the University of Miami, where he graduated cum laude in piano performance. But Mejía says classical music has been the most constant beat in his heart.

“My first love with music has always been classical music,” Mejía says. “I think music is the closest thing to magic there is. It’s the closest we come to being connected to whatever it is that is beyond us that we cannot see. Classical music, for me, is one of the best expressions of our spirituality and our connection to the world. No language can affect us the way music does.”

Mejía was born in Bogotá, Colombia, where he lived until he was 12, and then his family moved to Spain for a year. However, for the last three decades, he’s called Miami home.

“I like to say that I got my creative side from my mom and my business sense from my dad,” says Mejia.

His mother was a singer-songwriter as well as a TV presenter, and was also the Colombian consul general in Chicago until 2010. His late father was a banker who served as Finance Minister for Colombia, and later at the World Bank.

Mejía says he knew he wanted to be a musician as a young boy.

“I remember sitting with my dad…The Rolling Stones was on TV, and I said, ‘That’s what I want to do,’ and he said, ‘You better be the best one then,'” remembers Mejia vividly. “The movie, ‘Amadeus’ also made me think ‘I have to do music.’ I consider those moments turning points.”

After getting his degree in piano performance, he taught piano for a while, but found out that wasn’t the vocation for him. Instead, he sought out an internship at Sony music; 18 years later that landed him where he is today – overseeing Latin American and U.S. Latin music.

“Whether it’s dealing with opportunities in Brazil or Mexico, or meeting with songwriters and managers, it’s a very varied day – and that’s not when I’m not in a plane, which happens quite often,” says Mejia. “My favorite part of my job is building relationships with people who are as equally passionate about music and living a creative life. I also love the business aspect of it.”

He adds that the music industry is currently adapting itself to a new world.

“Within the Latin industry in the U.S., we’re adapting to changing demographics,” says Mejia. “We have assimilation happening. Finding the true voice of the Latin generation is more of a hybrid thing these days. It’s a great opportunity, and a great challenge.”

Right now, he says the U.S. Latin sound is regional Mexican or Latin urban, like reggaeton. The Latin American sound is more locally driven.

“Brazil [for example] is its own island, planet…Argentina, too,” says Mejia. “There’s a lot of music coming out of Colombia and Mexico, which is breaking out into the other territories. There is definitely crossover success, but a lot of the territories stick to their own local music and identity.”

He does predict that the Latin music sound will become more homogenized – maybe sounding more electronic. However, he says he also sees a possible resurgence to more traditional songs.

“As people become more and more Americanized, they’ll have more nostalgia for the traditional.” Mejia, himself, is all about celebrating nostalgia.

He’s now working on an orchestral version of “Preludes,” as well as an interactive book set to hit shelves in 2016, which is meant to accompany his album.

“The book tells of the biographical tidbits of my life,” explains Mejia. “You read each chapter, and then you play the music – that’s what I do when I do my shows.”

Mejía loves when people gather together to enjoy classical music, an activity he sees growing in Miami.

“I’ve always said that if Latin America came together, what a powerful force we would be,” says Mejia. “However, it is very ironic, because we also pride ourselves in our differences. I wonder if we’ll ever be able to do that?”

Originally published on NBCNews.com.

Mexican-American Monk Shares His Faith Through Chart-Topping Album

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Basil Nixen, center, a native of Arizona, is the choir master of the Monks of Norcia, who have a chart-topping album of Gregorian chants. (Photo/De Montfort Music/ Universal Music)

Basil Nixen always felt a special closeness to God and now the Arizona native who became a monk is sharing that closeness with the rest of the world through a top-selling album of Gregorian chants.

Nixen took an eternal vow to live in a 10th century monastery in Norcia, Italy. At 35, he is one of the 18 monks at the monastery who live relatively solitary and secluded lives, devoted to prayer and music.

But the monks of Norcia (with an average age of 33) also have found a personal connection with the secular world. In 2012, they started a craft brewery at the monastery, Birra Nursia, which has gained worldwide fame and is their primary source of income.

They have also made their debut album of Gregorian chants called “Benedicta,” which has topped Billboard’s Classical Album list for the past nine weeks.

Nixen is the choir master of The Monks of Norcia. He was also musical director for their album and wrote the one original composition on the album, “Nos qui Christi iugum” (We who have received Christ’s yoke).

Before entering the monastery, Nixen spent two years studying music at Arizona State University’s School of Music. He was only 20 when he chose the monastic route.

“I had already wanted to become a priest, but while I was studying for the priesthood, I wanted to understand more about the liturgy of the Church,” he says. “I grew to learn the chants, and this had to be the most important moment of my life. I found a community in Norcia where they lived this daily form of prayer, and this was a very big moment for me where I learned I could live my life through Gregorian chants.”

He believes his Mexican heritage played a key role for him wanting to go into the priesthood from a very young age.

“Both of my parents come from Mexico – they came from traditional Mexican families,” says Nixen. “Being Catholic was part of their heritage and identity – they passed that down to me.”

The life of a monk is no easy task. Nixen says a typical day begins at 3:30 a.m. and ends around 9 pm.

“Some might wake up earlier,” he says. “Our first prayer is at 4 o’clock … It’s the longest and most difficult prayer of the day, but it really gets the body and the mind flowing.”

He adds that it’s a crucial element in monastic life to gather throughout the day. Including the Mass, they gather eight times to pray through chanting.

“In between those prayers, we work,” says Nixen. “In addition to the brewery, a lot of work goes into receiving guests and pilgrims. We also have a monastic store that we operate, and the normal runnings of the monastery – cooking – which I oversee as cooking master, liturgical work goes into prayer service, and then the managing finances and communications – our lives our very full.”

As far as diet, he says they follow the rule of St. Benedict who asked that they abstain from eating meat. Additionally, for half of the year (from September until Easter) they have only one primary meal in the afternoon, instead of two, as the rest of the year.

“This small expression of discipline helps us devote ourselves to God,” explains Nixen. “Our diet consists of fish, eggs, legumes, beans. We are living in Italy, so we have pasta almost every day. We are also an international community, so we might have a strong Asian meal. I come from a Mexican family, so we might have a Mexican meal.”

Nixen, who just celebrated his seventh year of perpetual vows, says he’s noticed quite a few changes since he’s joined the monastery.

“Before, the distance from your family was a much bigger sacrifice,” he says. “Now I can have Skype contact … However, it’s still important that you have separation from the world and separation of family and friends … It’s arranged by our superiors how often [you can contact the outside world].”

Additionally, the number of Latino Catholics have decreased. According to the latest Pew Research Center report, 55 percent of Latinos are Catholic in the U.S., down from 67 percent in 2010. However, Nixen does not show concern.

“I think the best thing that the church can do is be herself and be the living truth as given to us by Christ,” says Nixen. “The more authentically she does this, the more people will be drawn to it. Authenticity is key.”

It was authenticity after all which led to the success of “Benedicta.”

“These chants were written in a climate of prayer – an expression of somebody’s prayer and relationship with God – that’s the reason for its beauty,” he says. “You perceive some of the peace that was part of the experience. The music itself is written through an authentic experience with God.”

Originally published on NBCNews.com.

‘Unity’: A Latin-Style Tribute to King Of Pop Michael Jackson

Composer and arranger Tony Succar (Photo/ Julie Hunter)

Composer and arranger Tony Succar (Photo/ Julie Hunter)

At 28, composer and multi-instrumentalist Tony Succar has accomplished a pretty remarkable feat. For the past four years, he has worked tirelessly to bring to life the masterpiece that lived in his musical mind – to unite 100 talented musicians, including Jon Secada and salsa stars such as Tito Nieves, Obie Bermudez and La India, to make the first-ever Latino tribute to the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson. In other words, think “I Want You Back” with a salsa twist.

After licensing obstacles and hours and hours of rehearsals and editing with Michael Jackson’s very own Grammy-winning audio engineer Bruce Swedien, Succar’s 12-track album, aptly titled “UNITY: The Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson,” is being released April 14th on Universal Music Classics in collaboration with Universal Music Latin Entertainment.

As part of the project, Succar and his production company produced an hour-long documentary about the legendary experience which is going to be released on DVD in Mexico this month and with plans for the U.S. in the future.

It’s fuego!” (“It’s fire!”) is how Succar describes his debut album.

Born in Peru to a Japanese mother and a father with Lebanese, Mexican, and Spanish roots, Succar immigrated to Miami, where he presently lives, when he was two. He was surrounded by music all of his life, as his parents Antonio and Mimy Succar were musicians in Peru. While in the U.S., the family started their own family band called Mixtura – the same name Succar named his current production company after.

Soon after graduating with a master’s degree in jazz performance at Florida International University in 2010, Succar says he got a call from a booking agent asking him to produce an outdoor Halloween tribute to Michael Jackson called “Thriller on Collins.”

“But I said, ‘I’m a salsa band – how am I going to do that?’,” Succar recalls replying to him. “So it was like God saying this is going to happen. I did a salsa version. The people loved it,” he says. “When I saw the reaction, I thought if they liked it with ‘Thriller,’ they would like it with other songs. It was a dream for me starting from nothing.”

After the success of show, Succar wasted no time in starting a Kickstarter campaign which raised $10,700.

“The main thing that connected with me is his (Michael Jackson’s) musicality. He kept pop music at a high level. Being a musician, you love that and all of us [musicians] understand that,” says Succar. “And secondly, I really admired that he wrote music with a very positive social message that spoke about love and change. Something we need to respect Michael Jackson for, and why I named the album “UNITY.”

The other musicians share a similar sentiment.

“Michael Jackson was an influence for a lot of singer-songwriters,” says singer Jon Secada in the “UNITY” documentary. “I think what attracted me to this project starts with the music – how much I love the music. I think Michael Jackson would love it, because he was an innovator. He enjoyed taking chances.”

Tito Nieves added, “All we can do is make sure his music never dies.”

How did Succar get so many well-known musicians to participate in his project?

“It wasn’t that I chose them, it was a domino effect,” says Succar. “I tried to get Tito Nieves for three months until I said ‘Olvídate!’ (‘Forget it!’) I ran into Kevin Ceballo. We started recording the songs. I was planning just to do it with him. Then a guy peeked in the studio one day and said, ‘Hey, it sounds pretty good.’ He was really good friends with Tito Nieves!”

Apparently, Succar says he had e-mailed Nieves so many times, they told him he had been labeled as spam. However, thanks to that random listener who knew Nieves and called him on the spot, Nieves agreed to participate in the project immediately.

“The music spoke for itself – that’s how everyone was chosen,” says Succar. “No money in the world could have made this happen.”

Succar says he listened to every Michael Jackson song multiple times in order to choose the tracks for the “UNITY” album. At first, he was going to choose the ones that gave him goosebumps.

“But all of them gave me goosebumps,” says Succar laughing.

“All African music has la clave – bam bam…bam bam,” he continues, while tapping his hand on his knee as if it were a cajón – the first instrument he ever learned at age three. “When you analyze Michael Jackson’s music, I would call it African American music. When I listened to the music, I’d play la clave to it, if it sounded good, those were the ones I’d keep.”

Then, he says he thought about how to create a story with the songs he picked.

“‘I Want You Back’ was a song he sang as a little boy on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’…the most important I wanted to include were songs that spoke about Michael Jackson’s mission – about unity and change,” says Succar, who also ended up including “Earth Song” sung by La India and “They Don’t Care About Us” sung by Kevin Ceballo, among others. “At the end, it’s to be a grain of sand to continue what he wanted to see in this world – ‘No’ to discrimination and ‘yes’ to equality.”

Succar says he had become the ultimate fan of Jackson after he died, and even more so after this project.

“I’m so thankful for the opportunity for me to put a drop of sand in his legacy and inspire others to learn about his music,” he says. “Many times Latinos know the songs, but not the lyrics so sometimes we change the lyrics to Spanish.”

In total, 100 musicians participated in the “UNITY” album, but Succar says there are 16 of them that travel to play.

“I want to be able to tour the live Michael Jackson experience,” says Succar. “I strongly believe that ‘UNITY,’ that title, is not only a representation of what this album means, but a representation of a movement that I’d like to create where we can unite cultures and do special projects. I want to try to do the same with other artists and bands like The Beatles, and the Bee Gees – songs that translate to the Latin format. Un granito de arena. UNITY is not going to end here. You’ll see more in the near future.”

Originally published on NBCNews.com.

The Tejano Sculptor Behind The Life-Size Statue Of Texas Coach Gil Steinke

 

Armando Hinojosa with his statue of Coach Gil Steinke (Photo/Doug Smith)

Armando Hinojosa with his statue of Coach Gil Steinke (Photo/Doug Smith)

Amando Hinojosa is a former art teacher from Laredo, Texas, well-known for his beautiful bronze sculptures across the nation.

Over his 40-year sculpting career, his intricately detailed work can be seen decorating Sea World, Boy Scouts of America, and different hotels and court houses around the country. In 2012, his Tejano Monument was unveiled in Austin – the largest monument at any state capitol in the nation. It is comprised of 11 life-size bronze sculptures and represents the Hispanic influence on the formation of Texas.

RELATED: Sculptor to unveil Tejano Monument after a decade

On Saturday his latest project was unveiled at the football stadium of Texas A&M University-Kingsville: a life-size, 6-foot statue of its legendary football coach, Gil Steinke. Steinke led the Javelina football team from 1954 to 1977, and played for Texas A&I University, as it was known until 1993, from 1938 to 1941.

“He was the first college football coach to recruit Blacks and Hispanics,” said Hinojosa in an interview with NBC News, when asked why this particular project makes him so proud. “He won six national champions…and got more players in the NFL Hall of Fame than any other coach.”

Hinojosa, who is an alum of the University when it was called A&I, said that a life-size statue costs about $30,000 to make. According to a University news release, the Texas A&I Alumni Association donated the statue to the school, and the University paid $70,000 to prepare the foundation.

“Twenty years ago, we changed our name from A&I, but we still have an alumni group for A&I,” said A&M University-Kingsville President Steven Tallant. “That group raised the money and selected Armando to do the sculpture, and they donated the sculpture to us.”

Hinojosa has two more statues on the Kingsville campus, including one of their mascot, javelinas, called “Leader of the Pack.”

(Photo/Doug Smith)

Hinojosa explained he is a proud Tejano. His father – also an artist– came from Mexico and married his mother, an American citizen, who was a direct descendant of the founder of Laredo, Don Tomas Sanchez. His family resided in Texas as early as 1755.

The energetic 70-year-old artist said he’s looking forward to his next project. The Cotulla Convention Center in South Texas has already booked him to make a life-size sculpture of the city’s founder, Joseph Cotulla.

“I gotta move on,” he said. “I gotta work for the future now. I’m ready for something new.”

Originally published on September 6, 2014 on NBCNews.com.

NYC songwriter couple sing together in the name of immigration

Katya Diaz and Chris Hierro (Courtesy Break Out The Crazy)

Katya Diaz and Chris Hierro (Courtesy Break Out The Crazy)

Talk about a match made in heaven.

Katya Diaz is the daughter of Puerto Rican opera singer Justino Diaz, and Chris Hierro is the son of Henry Hierro, music producer and Dominican leader of the 80’s merengue band La Gran Manzana.

Katya and Chris are singer/songwriters themselves and met while singing background for multi-Grammy-winning Spanish pop singer Alejandro Sanz two years ago. Ever since then, their love for each other blossomed, and they started writing songs together. Their repertoire has a wide range from country/pop to electronic dance music.

“After reaching out to everyone we know, we decided to just upload our demos to the internet via Soundcloud, and now YouTube, under the name ‘Break Out The Crazy’ and try our luck that way,” says Chris, who produces and accompanies other artists and is currently signed with Peer Aquos Music.

His latest project, with girlfriend Katya, is for a cause they are both passionate about – immigration.

“It was originally suggested by our good friend Anthony Valderrama who, like us, was seeing what was happening at the border on the news,” says Chris. “We are usually not political writers, but Katya and I were compelled by the fact that this was affecting innocent children. I am a father of a 4-year-old boy and will always champion for children’s rights.”

Originally published on DailyVida.com.