Initiated in 2015, Sounds of California is a research and community engagement project that explores music and soundscapes as vital expressions of collective experience. In partnership with the national Latino public radio network Radio Bilingüe and the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, ACTA has focused particular attention on how stories of migration and immigration are embedded and archived within music, sound, and social practice.

La Familia Peña-Govea performing traditional Mexican songs with an activist Chicano perspective at the Sounds of California, Bayview concert. 2018. Photo: DeShawn Davis/BVOH (Bayview Opera House)

Specifically, we are documenting examples of stories, music and sounds reflective of community life, creating a new public collection of recordings from California that are distinctly expressive of the region’s community histories and culture, and sharing research and convening dialogue through public programs in Washington, D.C. and California, as well as online.

We are working on the local level to create portraits of different neighborhoods and their residents through our sound recordings. Inviting residents to contribute their songs, stories, reflections, and voices to a tapestry of their neighborhood’s sonic signature is an opportunity to showcase the vitality of a neighborhood.

Members of Calpulli Tonalequah, a San Jose based community group performs a ritual dance in the plaza. 2017. Photo: Lily Kharrazi/ACTA.

Today, one in four immigrants in the U.S. lives in California. The state has become one of the first states to achieve a majority of people of color.  With foreign-born residents representing more than a quarter of California’s total population, Sounds of California maps an auditory journey of the music, songs, voices, and expressive sounds that contribute to a sense of belonging in diverse California communities.

Program Contact:
Amy Kitchener, Executive Director
(559) 696-2815

This project was made possible with support from California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Visit

This activity is supported in part by the California Arts Council, a state agency. Learn more at