Professor follows the beat of his own drum

FRONTERA DRUM FUSION - English professor Francisco Bustos follows the beat of his heart at his home studio. Photo by Jennalisa Esquivel

FRONTERA DRUM FUSION – English professor Francisco Bustos follows the beat of his heart at his home studio.
Photo by Jennalisa Esquivel

When Francisco Bustos tries to drum up support for his poetry projects he brings real drums. His enthusiasm is hard to beat, as are his results.

Bustos, a cheerful professor of English, does not limit himself to one language. Growing up in the borderlands, he said, helps him straddle la frontera and love the literature of two great languages. His experimental music ensemble, Frontera Drum Fusion, propels this exploration.

“It’s an evolving project,” he said. “I’ve worked with different poets and musicians from both sides of the border. Every semester, every year, new members come and go.”

Bustos’ band seamlessly weaves the rhythm of poetry and percussion, finding an almost-primordial heartbeat to pump life through the language.

“Some sounds are more electronic than others and some are more Caribbean,” he said.

Bustos began playing music at 14, including rock, electronic and tribal bands led by English and Spanish vocalists. He transferred from Southwestern College in 1997 and graduated from SDSU in 2003, earning an MFA in Creative Writing. He was hired at SWC in 2004 and continues to write poetry.

Inspired by his English 271 class in the mid-1990s, Bustos said he found solace in the novels of the late Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez, including “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and “Chronicle of a Death Foretold.” He said he also loved Rudolfo Anaya’s “Bless Me, Ultima.”

“I’ve been writing for 15 years,” Bustos said. “Poetry, mainly.”

Bustos is director of the SWC Guest Writers Series that brings authors to campus.

“I think it’s important for students to be exposed to literature,” he said. “It’s nice to invite students to express their writing. It’s also nice to meet other writers.”

In September San Diego City Councilmember David Alvarez and the Latino City Employees Association (LCEA) celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month by honoring Bustos for his accomplishments in poetry, music and education.

“It felt good to be recognized,” he said. “It’s nice to show people what we do and to see that people care. It motivates me to keep producing music and poetry.”

Bustos showcased his music and poems for the LCEA the following month.

LCEA President John Mendivil said Bustos’ award was well deserved.

“He showed what he has done in both poetry and music,” Mendivil said. “We were looking for local people who contributed for the community in Arts and he was chosen. It is always good to reward and recognize people for their effort, especially when they put themselves out in the public. He is a good person, very open and very honest.”

Bustos’ project was influenced by his poetry and background growing up as a musician.

“Little by little I started working on music again,” he said. “I couldn’t start a traditional band by not having the same group of people rehearsing and doing gigs all the time.”

Like many musicians, Bustos rehearsed and recorded in his garage. Music is a meditation, he said, that fuels creativity.

“It’s a hobby,” he said. “It’s fun to perform and write. I get to meet a lot of people because of it.”

Many musicians have had the opportunity to work with Bustos, including drummer Martin Vela-Sanchez. HeHEHe said he has learned a great deal from Bustos.

“Bustos shows people that words have a rhythm,” he said. “He shows everyone something he enjoys and (teaches) people how to enjoy it as well.”

Bustos said he has been playing frequently in Tijuana and would like to perform more in el norte.

“I want to start doing stuff in San Diego again,” he said. “There are a lot of cultural centers where it would be nice to perform.”


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