NPR logo Review: Agustín Lira, 'Songs Of Hope And Struggle'

Review: Agustín Lira, 'Songs Of Hope And Struggle'

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

Agustín Lira's new album, Songs Of Hope & Struggle, comes out June 24. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Courtesy of the artist

Agustín Lira's new album, Songs Of Hope & Struggle, comes out June 24.

Courtesy of the artist

California's San Joaquin Valley runs right along the middle of the state, from just south of Bakersfield up to Sacramento. It was ground zero for Cesar Chavez's groundbreaking campaign for farmworkers, and it was where I met Agustín Lira when I lived in Fresno.

He was a hero there — someone who helped kick off a historic social-justice movement using a guitar and his voice. He, along with brothers Luis and Daniel Valdez, used song and theater from the back of flatbed trucks on the edges of orchards to get Chavez's message to the folks working in the unforgiving San Joaquin Valley sun.

Luis Valdez went on to create El Teatro Campesino, which became a world-renowned Chicano theater organization. Agustín Lira stayed in Fresno and continued to sing songs about dignity and resistance to exploitation, with a deep understanding of the value of hard physical labor.

With the release of Songs And Struggle And Hope, Lira finds a new home with the legendary record label Smithsonian Folkways. It is the 44th release in the Traditions/Tradiciones series, produced with the help of the Smithsonian's Latino Center, and it's a perfect match. Lira is a bit of living history who is moving the tradition of protest music forward.

Here, Lira, along with his musical partner Patricia Wells, adapt their message for modern times, while maintaining the same inspirational lyrics and conviction. Their music resonates as strongly as it ever has.