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placeholder November 9, 2015   •   VOL. 53, NO. 19   •   Oakland, CA

Smithsonian Folkways artist Jose-Luis Orozco poses with children in late September at the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley.
Jeannie O'Connor/Arcoiris Records, cns

Mexican-American Catholic urges kids
in song to 'eat right'

WASHINGTON — Although Jose-Luis Orozco is no longer a boy soprano singing largely to adult audiences, he's still singing, this time as an adult to a largely children's audience.

His latest CD — "Come Bien! Eat Right!" — gives kids and their parents a number of musical lessons about healthy food.

Orozco, 64, who received his first Communion aboard a ship — no, it wasn't sinking — said he had written 60 songs for the CD, distributed by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. But that number had to go on a diet, pared to 19. However, the songs are sung first in Spanish, then sung once more in English for 38 tracks in all. The lyrics in each language accompany the CD.

When Orozco came to the United States at age 19 with his family, "I noticed there was much more processed food," he said in a telephone interview. "My mother would go to the marketplace every single day so that we would eat fresh food, and almost nothing that came from the package," just as had been the case in his native Mexico.

"But here in the United States, I noticed there was a lot of stuff. The first things I noticed was the dressings for the salad with all the fancy colors and all the fancy bottles. ... I didn't realize the Mexican dressing was the most natural one, with the lemon. I notice today, when I go to restaurants, they ask me if I want vinaigrette, or French, or thousand island. And I say I would only like to have Mexican dressing. I'm teaching them something: only lemon."

Orozco said he followed Pope Francis' September visit to Cuba and the United States, but particularly the Cuba leg of the trip, as he had performed there as part of the Mexico City Boys Choir and was a featured soloist. "I visited in 1960. I loved it. We went from one side of the island to the other. Major concert halls, we visited families, mostly Catholic families. Throughout my tours, most of the families were Catholic."

Even on tour, Orozco was trained in the habits of eating right. "I grew up traveling. Eating balanced, right. We stayed with middle-class families, upper-middle-class families. They didn't try to overfeed us. And they would tell us to try to not eat too much," he recalled.

With healthy eating habits instilled in him, Orozco wanted to find a way to transfer the wisdom he's gained to a new generation. His songs cover the spectrum of comestibles, just as a well-balanced diet would, with snappy tunes such as "The Fruit Conga," "The Legumes Dance," "Juanito's Chicken" — which doubles as a counting song -— and "Compadre, Buy Me a Coconut." He had to shave plenty of songs about vegetables to keep the bilingual album at a reasonable length, and he didn't write any songs about meat.

"Anybody can eat anything, but what we recommend is well-balanced. Whatever you eat, it's in moderation," Orozco said. Further, he told CNS, even his arrangements cover a wide array of Latin and Caribbean musical genres to make for a well-balanced musical diet.

Orozco, based in Northern California, said he was soon venturing to Los Angeles to perform at a benefit for CARECEN, the Central American Resource Center, founded in 1983 to aid Central American refugees fleeing civil strife in their homelands.

And about that first Communion: "I was traveling from Cuba to Spain," Orozco said. "Some men who saw us asked, 'How many of these haven't gone through their first Communion?' So the captain of the boat became our godfather on the high seas of the Atlantic."

Orozco doesn't get around much by boat anymore, but "as I travel, I visit some of the Catholic churches and ask for permission to sing 'Ave Maria' in Portugal and Mexico. It's something I love to do."

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