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It’s awkward when Joaquin McWhinney’s students recognize him as Quino, lead singer of Big Mountain, the local reggae band that had a top-ten hit 15 years ago with single “Baby I Love Your Way.”

“They say ‘Why did you cut your dreads?’ or, ‘McWhinney, do you still smoke ganga?’ Reggae is associated with that.” Joaquin McWhinney is a vocational teacher at Olympian High School in Chula Vista. “Or they say, ‘What the hell are you doing here anyway?’ I tell them at some point in my career I had to make a decision: I was either going to kill myself on the road as a traveling musician or I was going to try and be a good father and husband.”

McWhinney is in his second year as an ROP teacher. “Back in the day, ROP meant wood shop, auto shop, home economics. Now, because of the whole tech boom, we are teaching multimedia, showing kids animation and web design [in vocational classes]. One of my classes teaches kids professional audio recording.”

But teaching music recording in high school can be tough. “I do a lot of yelling. All they want to do is jump on MySpace. Every day I have to put the punching gloves on to get ready for 130 kids in six classes. Part of this digital age is kids get distracted by so much media. I try and let them know they should focus on the music and not get distracted by all the bling and images.”

Quino made news three years ago when he played Chicano protest rallies with his new band Quinazo. “On May 1, we’re gonna shut this country down,” he said three years ago about the May Day events that protested anti-immigration laws. He notes that Olympian High is the “third closest high school to the border,” but that the district is conservative. “It might as well be 500 miles away. There’s a lot of Navy kids in Otay [Mesa].... I don’t spend that much time engaging in my political beliefs in my workplace. But I’m not going to give up my platform when I jump on stage.... To me reggae music still has this mystic, revolutionary part to it. I got into reggae music because I wanted to change the world. To me Bob Marley was Che Guevara with a guitar.”

Quinazo just released La Ofrenda, which was recorded at Signature Sound earlier this year. The CD-release party was supposed to be June 14 at Anthology. The club has announced that the show is canceled.

“It just wasn’t the right situation. They wanted a jazz [group]. I wanted it to be more of a political thing. They didn’t think the bill was strong enough. I decided to [stick to] my cultural roots [rather] than suck up to a sissy jazz club.”

The Quinazo record-release party is rescheduled for June 20 at the Sunset Temple Theatre in North Park (rebelink.com).

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