Welcome home she-slinger and former North Park neighbor Sandra Velasquez (front) when Pistolera plays Centro Cultural de la Raza.
“Mexican food is huge. It’s definitely what I miss. I still bring tortillas with me back to New York.” When Brooklyn-based Sandra Velasquez and her band Pistolera host a CD-release party July 22 at Balboa Park’s Centro Cultural de la Raza, it will be a homecoming. Velasquez says she craves local food and surf and admits she acts like a tourist when she visits her family. “I have to eat fish tacos whenever I get to San Diego. I have to have quiche at Mama’s Bakery. I have to go to O.B. Now, it all seems so luxurious. When I lived there, it was at my fingertips.”
Velasquez says she grew up in North Park, that her parents still live there. “In high school, I played music but not anything serious. It was nothing that went anywhere. I just played with whoever wanted me in their band.” After graduation, she remembers performing at the Casbah with Tripod Mack and the Wife. “Ben Johnson was in the band. He and his brother have a band now called the Long and the Short of It. I think he actually works at the Casbah these days.”
But why did Pistolera (female gunslinger) book the Centro? “A lot of our songs,” she says, “deal with political issues.” Fitting. During the 1970s the Centro was ground zero for the local Chicano movement. El Desierto y La Ciudad is Pistolera’s third studio album. Velasquez calls it a departure from their dance-oriented, cowbell-and-accordion past. Half of the record was written in the Mojave Desert, and half of it was written in New York. Desert songs, she says, and city songs. “We’re not just a band that plays dance songs anymore.”
Velasquez graduated from Cal Arts in Los Angeles and then left for Cuba to study drumming and dancing. She landed in Brooklyn over 12 years ago. “When I got there, I said, this is my place.” She laughs. “In San Diego, I always felt a little frustrated because it was just so laid back. I felt like you had to work twice as hard to get anything done.... Not everybody wants to come and live a hard life in Brooklyn. Sometimes, you want to live in a nice house and go to the beach and also play your gigs.”