Fine blended cultures
Roberto Martinez Sr. remembers his first guitar. It was a 10-gallon metal gas can with a tin string made by his uncle in 1935. “You couldn’t tune it,” Martinez said. “I was 6 years old, and I would just pound away at it.” Over the next 30 years, Martinez mastered a vast catalog of traditional Northern New Mexico songs, taught by ear and passed down from family to family. These ballads and corridos depict the rough-hewn life of the Upper Río Grande as it once was. In these songs, men are killed on horseback hunting buffalo, Hispanos and Native Americans battle one another on the frontier, and the affections of young women are sought through waltzes, polkas, redondos, and chotiz at village dances.
Martinez founded Los Reyes de Albuquerque with trumpeter Ray Flores in 1962, and together they revived the traditional sounds of Northern New Mexico. They cut a string of well-received albums, such as 1989’s Sabor Nuevo Mexicano, and performed corridos, inditas (ballads that meld Spanish romance ballads with the drum songs and chants of Pueblo Indians), and polkas in every conceivable venue, from smalltown dances to the Smithsonian Institution’s American Folklife Festival on the Mall in Washington, D.C. In 2003, Martinez’s sons, Lorenzo and Roberto Jr., were named National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship winners.
This Saturday, April 17, the 80-year-old Martinez takes the stage with his sons Lorenzo and Roberto Jr. as La Familia Martinez at the Lensic Performing Arts Center. The trio is performing as part of Nuestra Música, Celebración de los Viejitos, an annual April tradition that showcases El Norte’s best-known Latino folk musicians and is co-sponsored by the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art.
In honor of Martinez’s legacy of reviving traditional violin and guitar music, the Lensic screens Los Reyes de Albuquerque y La Familia Martinez, a short but visually arresting documentary about Roberto Sr. and his highly musical family. Created by journalist Paul Ingles and photographer Genevieve Russell, the documentary traces the role that New Mexican folk music played in sustaining Martinez, his wife, and