What is Fusion LA?
BY EMILY LAUTCH
Fusion. It’s not a set thing. Live music events are typically categorized; you’ve got tickets to a punk show, an indie show, a jazz show, and so on. Cesar Gandara wants to transcend genre—and for a good cause. On this warm, do-nothing December day in Los Angeles, I sit across the table from Cesar, founder of Fusion LA. He tells me he wants Fusion LA to be everything. “I come from a background where I grew up with my grandpa listening to blues, my mom in a mariachi band, my dad—metal. Those were good memories and I want to share that, so that everyone can experience everything in one.”
A gentle, unassuming man with kind brown eyes, he’s outfitted in flannel and an Iron Maiden t-shirt. I ask him how he found his way to Small Green Door. He tells me that Henry, Small Green Door’s resident musician, performed at the last Fusion LA event and fell in love with project. “I produced our first event back in September. I felt guilty charging people to come in. What was I gonna do, pocket money for fun? Just to have it? So I decided I was going to make it non-profit.” He goes on to tell me that the first beneficiary of Fusion LA proceeds was none other than 32nd St High School’s music club, Cesar’s old stomping grounds.
Cesar began freshman year at a high school without a music program, or any extra curricular music opportunities—but it didn’t stay that way for long. One of his friends started a music club, which was entrusted to Cesar when the founder graduated. He tells me they took kids to play gigs outside of school and even hosted shows during lunch. They would set up a stage and their own PA system. “That’s the key thing about the club,” he tells me, “To this day there are no adults involved. It’s all student run. We learned from each other.”
I ask Cesar what it was like in the club. His eyes light up, “I know it sounds cheesy...but it became like a family. Everybody was so connected by it. I have never seen anything at the school like that. There was no art, so when we would do our performances people loved it. I saw a huge connection.” I recall hearing about this kid in his backyard, shutting down the neighborhood.
Art bridges gaps. Cesar knows this, and Small Green Door knows it too. Proceeds from their February 1st event will be donated to A Place Called Home Foundation, a community center dedicated to providing a safe and nurturing environment with programs in arts, education, and wellness for young people in South Central Los Angeles. Welcoming people of every race, sexual orientation, gender identity, faith and immigration status, APCH offers professional arts staff, access, and empowerment for young artists, delivering inspirational programs and opportunities that public schools in South Central rarely provide.
Cesar Gandara wants every kid to have the opportunity to experience what it feels like to pick up an instrument for the first time and fall in love. I ask him what that felt like for him. With graceful simplicity he replies, “It felt like home.”
And it could happen with any kid. Give them an instrument, a script, a costume—they might not even think they’re interested until they see friends doing it and before they know it their lives are forever changed. Art enriches. Art says: You are a part of something greater than yourself. You have a responsibility to be exactly who you are and to share that. Art allows for the construction of worlds, for revolution. Art gives children and adults alike something to turn to when they feel too alone and when they need to be alone. It creates friendships and families and quite literally saves lives. Cesar adds, “It brings people together. There’s an area I rehearse in—it’s so dead. But this cafe just opened up, it’s called Hot and Cool. And they’re always having people perform. I’ve noticed it’s starting to bring a lot of people into that community. You always hear about the community that music builds and the way it brings people together, but it’s true. Music is very powerful.”
I have lived and traveled across the world. While I’ve experienced profound moments of human connection, I have often fallen into isolation navigating linguistic and socio-cultural boundaries in a new place. The spaces where I discovered people would actually speak with me—where we could share and celebrate our humanness—were live music events. At a concert everyone is there to enjoy the same magic. That’s what Fusion LA is about—bringing people together over good music.
We get the word fusion from studying high magnitude stars, like the sun. Celestial bodies generate unparalleled energy by combining particles of different mass. Fusion LA is also an astrophysical event. It’s artists setting aside ego, lifting each other up, and collaborating across genre for the worthy cause of gifting music to others. As Leo of Small Green Door says, “When you bring communities together, you elevate both communities.”
I ask Cesar what he sees when he looks into the future. He smiles.
“If I could do this Fusion LA thing for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t mind. It’s art.”
Fusion LA. February 1st @ Small Green Door. Come crash the party.