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Los californios® at the Pena Adobe in Vacaville, CA: Janet Martini, David Swarens, Vykki Mende Gray.

Photo by Jerry Bowen

From left: Janet Martini, David Swarens, Vykki Mende Gray
The Peña Adobe in Vacaville, CA.
Los californios®, based in San Diego, California, play and sing the secular music of California from the days when our state was part of Spain and then Mexico. These sweet, melodic pieces include waltzes and polkas used for dancing, and songs about love and rancho life, often with comic lyrics. Although the music includes elements of Spanish music, it also includes influences from European and American folk music — as trading ships often visited the coast of Alta California, from the indigenous peoples of California, and from the diverse heritages of the early Mexican settlers.

Los californios® is a self-supporting project of San Diego Friends of Old-Time Music, a California non-profit educational corporation. This project works to expose California audiences to their own historic musical heritage; to research, document and transcribe social music and dances from eighteenth and nineteenth century Spanish-speaking Californians; and to teach and distribute this information to a wide audience of musicians, dancers and enthusiasts through workshops, performances, articles and papers presented at educational conferences, and music classes at Sherman Heights Community Center.



For Bookings:

Please Contact David Swarens by Phone: (619)232-4475
Or Send an e-mail to info@loscalifornios.com

Los californios® include:

Janet Martini David Swarens Vykki Mende Gray

Janet Martini,
Accordion and Vocals

David Swarens,
Vykki Mende Gray,
Violín, Tambor, and Vocals

Los californios® received a People in Preservation Award from Save Our Heritage Organization for these accomplishments.

Preserving Californio Social Music

In the era of Alta (Upper) California, the 5,000 or so settlers lived far apart, spread between San Diego and Sonoma. So when friends and relatives gathered at a rancho for a holiday or visit, it was an occasion for many days of singing, dancing and celebrating.

The californio music all but died out after the era of the ranchos ended, but songs performed by the last generations of californios were recorded on wax cylinders by journalist and folklorist Charles Fletcher Lummis, mostly between 1904 and 1907. Lummis published a portfolio of 14 pieces from his recordings in 1923. (For more information about these recordings, see lummis.loscalifornios.net.)

Historical photograph by Irene Welch Garner

Historical photograph by Irene Welch Garner.

Padua Hills Theatre — The Mexican Players
Conchita Gallardo and Magrucio Jara
Los californios® Collection
Over time a number of groups continued in efforts to preserve this California heritage: the Padua Hills Theatre (The Mexican Players) in Claremont, the José Arias Troubadours, Eugene Plummer with his dance group, the folk dance community with dance collectors and teachers like Lucille Czarnowski and Albert Pill, Gabriel Ruíz and his group of musicians and dancers, the A la California Club (later calling itself Los Californios), the Southwest Museum and its adjunct the Casa de Adobe, Elisabeth Waldo with her creative compositions based on historic California music, Elizabeth Erro Hvolboll, Luis Moreno, Luis Goena and his dancers Los parientes, Yesteryears Dancers, Arnold Guerra and his dancers Tatalejos, the Alta California Dance Company, the Calicanto Singers, Los Bailadores of Old Town San Diego, Los Califas in Petaluma, El coro hispano de San Francisco, The Alta California Orchestra (TACO), and descendants groups from all over the state.

In the late 1930s Sidney Robertson Cowell undertook a project to document Northern California Folk Music and included a number of recordings and photographs of people preserving this tradition of music, including informants like: Lottie Espinosa, Hilda Duarte Brown and Walter Sebree, and Jessie de Soto performing Spanish-language songs from California; and The Boys of St. Joseph’s Seminary, women from the Asistencia at Pala (Pala Indian Reservation), and the Choristers of St. Anthony’s Seminary performing music from California’s Spanish-era missions.

In 1989 a group of San Diego folk musicians, organized by Lee Birch and calling itself Los californios®, began playing this music and learning these dances. David Swarens knew of Lummis’ original recordings housed at the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles (a museum that Lummis had helped to found in 1914) and the group was able to obtain funding through San Diego’s Old Town State Park in order to obtain tape recordings from those original wax cylinder recordings.

Since those humble beginnings, these San Diego musicians have been privileged to conduct original research in this field, and to meet and interview a number of the people who have made contributions to preserving this heritage. The group’s educational mission continues to be extended in many different ways. Their original transcriptions from the Lummis recordings and other recorded sources are a source of joy for many a Californian rediscovering Mexican California, their delightful performances at historic sites and museums on both sides of the border with Mexico enchant people of all ages, their scholarly presentations at universities and for historic academicians are widely applauded, and their popular recording Flowers of Our Lost Romance is available at a growing number of venues.

For more information about the preservation of Spanish-Language Social Music of the 19th Century in Southern California, go to loscalifornios.info.

Flowers of Our Lost Romance

Flowers of Our Lost Romance by Los californios Los californios® have recorded their first album, which includes 60 minutes of beautiful early California dances and songs sung in the original archaic Spanish. Click here to see the cover, and to read the album notes and words to songs. Picture of Remuda DVD Two pieces from this CD are also part of the music used in The Remuda, a DVD film by J & S Productions about the evolution of the buckaroo beginning in California over 200 years ago. Other musicians featured in this movie include Pedro Marquez, Ian Tyson and Dave Stamey.

Music from this CD was used for a Latino USA program reporting on the descendents of Spanish and Mexican-era Californians and their efforts to preserve a genealogical identity.

For a video clip produced by the Lively Arts History Association using this recording for the audio, click here.

Click here for an order form.

Sheet Music Transcriptions

Research by Los californios® has resulted in a growing number of original transcriptions and arrangements of songs and dance tunes, many from the Edison wax cylinders recorded by Charles Fletcher Lummis. This is available as a comb-bound book containing 402 pages of music transcribed over a period of ten years, mostly from primary sources, and arranged with chord indications in common folk music keys. Lead and harmony lines (segunda) are included for most pieces in the traditional style, and an index to the pieces is included. Most of these pieces have not been readily available to a general audience for over a hundred years. These transcriptions finally make this music once again accessible and available for performers and scholars. Click here for additional description. To Order Copies of sheet music transcriptions Click here for an order form.

Charles Fletcher Lummis

Charles Fletcher Lummis

Original autographed photo by Charles Fletcher Lummis,
of Charles Fletcher Lummis

“Always your friend
Chas. F. Lummis — Happy New Year 1910”
Los californios® Collection




Charles Fletcher Lummis (1859-1928) was born in Massachusetts, but came to be an avid promoter of the American Southwest. He walked from Ohio to Los Angeles in 143 days, and published a journal of his trip, A Tramp Across the Continent, in 1892. In addition to the celebrated Edison wax cylinder recordings that he made to preserve historic Spanish-language secular songs of California and Native American music of the Southwest, Lummis helped found the Landmarks Club in 1897 to restore the California missions, founded the Sequoia League in 1901 to protect America’s native people, and helped create the Southwest Museum in 1914. Lummis was an editor for the Los Angeles Times and wrote many other books including The Land of Poco Tiempo (1893). El Alisal, Lummis’ Los Angeles home and gardens, is now the headquarters of the Historical Society of Southern California and is open to the public.

For more information about Lummis and his Edison wax cylinder recordings, go to lummis.loscalifornios.net

Mariachi Sherman

Mariachi Sherman, out of Sherman Heights Community Center in San Diego, is a special project of Los californios®. These enthusiastic young musicians are learning music and performing skills, and are in turn providing community service through their enchanting performances both in Sherman Heights and in the larger San Diego community.


Los californios® is a registered service mark belonging to San Diego Friends of Old-Time Music, Inc.,
a California non-profit corporation.

Contact Los californios® at info@loscalifornios.com

© Vykki Mende Gray, 2008
All rights reserved.

Web design: Ellen Wallace and Vykki Mende Gray
All rights reserved.

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