In 1976, after Cesar Chavez helped get Coca-Cola to sponsor his groundbreaking Latin entertainment television show, The Mean Salsa Machine, television and music producer Art Brambila wanted to do something in return for Chavez and the United Farm Workers. The idea of Sí Se Puede! (Yes We Can!) came to him.
“I was grateful but undecided on how I was to make good on my own promise to him,” recalls Brambila. “After thinking long and hard I decided to record an album that would honor his union and represent it with dignity. I could utilize the talents of many local artists I’d worked with in my earlier years as a record producer and the union could sell it at rallies, marches, and huelgas.”
After reviewing over 120 songs and speeches from UFW marches, Brambila began to create the list of songs for the album. Inspired by his work, he wrote “Mañana Is Now,” the only all-English song, for the LP. As the song choices were coming together, he knew who he wanted to record and arrange the music — from East L.A., Los Lobos, then consisting of David Hidalgo, Louie Pérez, Cesar Rojas and Conrad Lozano. This would be the band’s first released recordings, a full two years ahead of their groundbreaking EP Just Another Band From East L.A.
Sí Se Puede will be released digitally-only on March 11, 2014 by Fantasy Records.
His passion and tenaciousness in full swing, Brambila continued to get key people to sign on to his project — Herb Alpert, President of A&M Records, donated studio time. In addition to Los Lobos, singers like Carmen Moreno from Fresno, Geree Gonzales of East L.A., the Salas brothers of Lincoln Heights and Tigre Rodriguez from Phoenix all agreed to participate.
In January 1977 Brambila assembled his cast at A&M’s studio on La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles — as Carole King and The Carpenters were in the studios next door and down the hall — to record the album. By early February he had recorded all the music and vocals with the professional singers and needed only to add the vocals on “Mujeres Valientes” and “De Colores.”
After a long search he found a kids’ choir in a small Catholic school in East L.A., made up of eight-year-olds, to bring the right sound to “De Colores.” The search for the right singer for “Mujeres Valientes” was not long or far, but Brambila’s power of persuasion was on high again as he finally convinced his brother, Raul, to do the honors.
In March, 1977, the United Farm Workers Union was presented with 5,000 albums of Sí Se Puede! The statement on the back of the album reads: “This album mirrors the spirit and vitality that have sustained the farm workers through good times and bad for more than a decade. It celebrates the love and solidarity we share as a people united in a common struggle. It is a tribute to the artists who donated their talents to support the cause. It will be cherished within the movement, and it will help bring our message to friends and supporters everywhere.” —Cesar Chavez
Almost 40 years later, on the verge of Cesar Chavez Day (March 31), Sí Se Puede! once again rises to honor Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers.
Chavez is an upcoming film directed by Diego Luna about the life of American labor leader Cesar Chavez, who cofounded the United Farm Workers. The film stars Michael Peña as Chavez. John Malkovich co-stars as the owner of a large industrial grape farm who leads the opposition to Chávez’s organizing efforts.