Early in his life, nobody singled out composer-musician Marcos Loya for greatness.
"By the third grade I was tracked to be a criminal or an auto mechanic," Loya said. "They didn't even bother to see what I had to offer or what the issue was with my reading problem." (Loya had dyslexia, which went undiagnosed for years.)
"In high school, one of my teachers asked everybody what kind of career they wanted," Loya recalled. "When I said I wanted to be a musician, he told me, 'That is never going to happen.' "
Loya strums a few chords on the guitar that rarely leaves his side and chuckles at the memory – easy to do at this point in his busy career – but you can tell by the tone of his voice that the advice hurt. "He was someone I respected, man, so it was kind of heavy to hear that."
Within a few years Loya would be a nationally respected composer and performer of Latin music and a master of many instruments, including requinto guitar, jarrana, cuatro, 6- and12-string guitar, mandolin and electric guitar. His music would be featured in director Robert Rodriguez' film "Once Upon a Time in Mexico." Madonna would drape herself around him and whisper sweet nothings in his ear in her music video, "La Isla Bonita." And, with playwright Octavio Solis, he would write the music for "La Posada Mágica: The Magical Journey," the longest-running Latino-themed Christmas play in the country. Commissioned by South Coast Repertory, it makes its 14th annual appearance there this week. Loya, as always, leads the onstage band.
Loya's career is distinguished by many other highlights. In 1996 he composed the score for the American Playhouse film adaptation of Tomas Rivera's "and the earth did not swallow him (y no selo trago la tierra)." His music is featured in the films "Deep Cover," "The Waterdance," "A Million to Juan," "Old Gringo," "Vibes," "Stand and Deliver," "Born in East LA," "Hold Me, Kiss Me, Thrill Me" and "Kiss Me a Killer" (that score garnered Loya an Independent Spirit Award nomination).
Loya has performed with a Who's Who of famous musicians: Plácido Domingo, Linda Ronstadt, Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, Lalo Guerrero, Chick Corea, Chaka Khan, Gerald Albright, Hugh Masekela, Keiko Matsui, Phillip Bailey, Stephen Stills, Vicki Carr, Luis Enrique and Jose Feliciano.