Category Archives: musica

Black in Latin America

With a little break in the school year, I finally sat down and watched all of Henry Louis Gates’ Black in Latin America PBS series this weekend. There are four 50-minute episodes, and each is worth your time. Luckily, they are all free to view on show’s website.

There are quite a few aha moments to be had in the series. For instance, I had no idea that Haiti occupied the Dominican Republic for 22 years in the mid-19th century (episode 1)—an event that really began the shaping of Dominicans’ conception of “blackness,” as well as their feelings towards Haitians. I also learned about the racially charged character Negro Mama (episode 4)—a bumbling blackface thief played by comedian Jorge Benavides on Peruvian TV.

There is also quite a bit in the series about food, which meant that I was constantly hungry while watching it. At one point, Gates is having a discussion with a Mexican historian about fufu (episode 4), which is a popular savory dish in the Caribbean that has its roots in the cuisine of West Africa. Their discussion made me think of an entertaining episode of Internets Celebrities from a couple of weeks back about mofongo (just another word for the same dish) in Corona, Queens, NYC.

Gates himself seems most taken with the country of Brazil (episode 3), which has over 75 million people of African descent and was the last country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery. Personally, I was  most interested in the complicated path of racial identity in Cuba (episode 2). But I got a ton out of each and every episode. Check it out!

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RPM Miami: US Media’s Spanglish Future?

There was a great feature on BBC Mundo yesterday by Eulimar Núñez about a new bilingual show on Telemundo’s sister station mun2 called RPM Miami (BBC story: “El ‘spanglish’ se expande en la televisión hispana de EE.UU.”).

The show is being promoted as the first bilingual program on US television (with apologies to Dora). The characters are constantly switching back and forth between English and Spanish (“Maybe vamos mañana a cantarte ‘Happy Birthday’. Beso, bye.”), and the program is clearly aimed at Latino youth who were born in the US. Mun2 itself, which is operated by Miami-based Telemundo and owned by NBC Universal, was developed for the Latino youth market by putting together a programming schedule that includes sports coverage, lots of music, and a heavy rotation of English-language shows mixed in with its normal Spanish-language programs.

RPM Miami (full episodes available here) is about a young Iraq War veteran named Alejandro who has returned to South Florida after being discharged.

Cuenta la historia de Alejandro, interpretado por el salvadoreño Adrián Bellani, quien regresa de la guerra de Irak para reunirse con su familia en el sur del estado de Florida y encuentra que su padre está desaparecido.

But a lot has changed while he was gone and Alejandro finds himself drawn into the world of underground street racing when he discovers that his father is missing and that his family is struggling financially.

Now I don’t know if this show will be any good, and I haven’t had a chance to watch the first episode yet…but I do know two things. First, my Spanish professor would hate it. As a first generation, old school Colombian immigrant, nothing gets on his nerves as much as Spanglish (“¡No lo entiendo!”). But my perspective is that it’s only natural for languages to mix in countries like the US, and that this is the way new languages are born. As we all know, Spanish itself evolved from Latin and didn’t fall out of the sky as a fully formed human tongue. Second, if the census numbers released this year tell us anything, it’s that we’re going to see more and more bilingual media in this country soon, whether RPM Miami is a ratings hit or not. So, chau chicos. Nos vemos soon, okay?

Los Isleños in Louisiana

I gave a presentation in Spanish class today about the Isleños community in Saint Bernard Parish, and I thought I’d share a little bit of what I told my fellow classmates this morning.

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Los Isleños are the descendants of Canary Islanders (Canarians) who came to the New World in the 18th century. Many settled in parts of the Caribbean and Venezuela, as well as Mississippi and Texas. They were instrumental in founding San Antonio, for example. But between 1778-1783 about 3,000 hardy Canarians (called “Isleños” or “islanders,” as opposed to “Penisulares,” which are people from the Spanish mainland) made the trek to Louisiana in order to build four colonies for the King of Spain in attempt to secure Spanish territory against possible British incursions into the region. The population grew from there and mostly in Saint Bernard Parish. Amazingly, they were able to maintain many of their cultural traditions, as well as their form of the Spanish language, throughout the next couple hundred years.

Perhaps the most important part of Isleños culture is their music. In particular, los Isleños sing songs called “décimas,” which were originally ten-lines long—hence the name. The singers, of course, are called “decimeros.” Décimas are about Canarian and Isleños history, interesting characters in the community, and the day-to-day working life of the people. The most famous decimero of late was Irván Pérez (he passed away in 2008), a fierce protector and promoter of Isleños history and traditions. (You can hear Pérez singing the décima “El trabajo de Welfare” here, and that’s a picture of him below.)
Every March Saint Bernard Parish throws a Los Isleños Festival that attracts visitors from all over, including quite a few musicians and other attendees from the Canary Islands, as well as other Spanish dignitaries…even the King and Queen of Spain if it is a particularly good year. Los Isleños Heritage and Cultural Society, along with other Isleños groups, has done a good job maintaining strong bonds between the community in Louisiana and all the other places in the world touched by immigration from the Canary Islands. Though a bit dated, there is interesting documentary about los Isleños called Mosquitos and High Water: El mosco y el agua alta that you can watch for free here. The following is a trailer for the film, and it starts with Irván Pérez again!
Unfortunately, los Isleños have had a rough time of it over the past half decade. First, Hurricane Katrina ruined large portions of Saint Bernard Parish, and many feared that the population was going to have to effectively flee the area. Then, just as things were beginning to look up, the BP oil disaster last year contaminated much of the traditional fishing and hunting grounds of los Isleños. Historically the community has consisted primarily of trappers and fishermen, and they are particularly well known for the skills in hunting and trapping ducks, muskrats, and mink. With all the environmental destruction of the area, however, a lot of young Isleños have left. So, will the Isleños form of the Spanish language and the cultural traditions of the community live on during this new diaspora?

What’s in My Bag?

There are a million and one ways of wasting time on the internet, but I find few as enjoyable and enlightening as watching Amoeba Records’ series “What’s in My Bag?”

(Venezuela’s Los Amigos Invisibles on a recent episode.)

Amoeba is, of course, the infamous California indy music store with locations in Berkley, San Francisco, and Hollywood. Each is gigantic (the SF store is in an old bowling alley) and filled to the gills with CDs, cassettes, records, DVDs, VHS tapes, and even laser discs. The selection is always deep and exotic—anyone could find at least one thing there that they’d like but have never heard before. That even goes for M.I.S.‘s Camilo Lara.

“What’s in My Bag?” is simply someone from Amoeba with a camera grabbing a famous patron and having him or her show off what they’re buying. Baggists include everyone: cartoonist Joe MattElviraElijah WoodDuran Duran, Robb Reiner from Anvil, the Roots’ Questlove, and on and on. I’ve never learned as much about music history and celebrity taste as I have from watching this fabulous series. And speaking of fabulous, here’s Argentina’s Los Fabulosos Cadillacs (¡en español!)…

La Maldita Vecindad y los Hijos del Quinto Patio

Latin Jazz percussionist Poncho Sanchez

Pat Hoed…er, I mean Fantasma from the metal band Brujeria

Parroquia Santa Cecilia “Mexican Fish Fry”

I finally got off my rear and did something last night that I’ve been meaning to do for a couple of years now: attend the famous “Mexican Fish Fry” at St. Cecilia’s Church (Parroquia Santa Cecilia) in South St. Louis City. And I made it just in time…it was the last one of the year!

In the last few years St. Louis has been catching up with all the other urban centers in the United States by attracting a large influx of hispanic and latino immigrants. This new population has centered its spiritual life around St. Cecilia’s Church, a once dying parish that is now thriving again because of this new membership. So a couple of years ago the church decided to revive its defunct Friday Lenten fish fry…only with a Mexican twist. Yes, you can get fried fish, shrimp, and the like…but the menu also features handmade chiles rellenos, tostadas, and quesadillas with a side of rice and beans. There are also Latin American dancers, a trio of Mexican musicians, and lots of Cerveza Tecate.

I had heard that the wait for food could be long—and they weren’t kidding! Exactly two hours and seventeen minutes passed between the moment my friends and I first got into line and the time two fresh-faced school children set our plates down in front of us. But no worries…there are plenty of chips and salsa, tamales, and beer stands, as well as aural and visual delights, to savor while slowly snaking through the school’s gym to place your dinner order.

Quesadilla frita, tostada, refried beans, and rice.

A lot of love and preparation for the event clearly came from the Latino community—Spanish menus were plastered to the walls and adornments of Mexican and Latin American culture were everywhere. However, gringos easily outnumbered Latinos at the event by at least a 10 to 1 margin. I hope that’s a sign that my little city is growing up and finally embracing diversity…but I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t able to practice my language skills with anyone or anything other than the menu and deciphering the romantic lyrics of the singers.

RNE Spanish Radio App is…awesome!

If you’ve spent any time cruising through the Spanish-language media apps for an iPad, iPod, smart phone, etc., you’ve probably noticed that most are connected to either Mexican or Puerto Rican media outlets—and that’s great! But if you’re looking to expand your language horizons a little bit and want more European perspectives in your media diet, I highly recommend RNE‘s radio app (available from iTunes here). How amazing is it? Well, it’s frickin’ free for one thing, so even if you end up hating it you should at least check it out.

Simple user interface!

The app streams six different channels live on your device, and programming includes news, sports, music, and Catalan language (!) treats on Radio 4. I haven’t been using it all that long myself, but I’m already in love.

Reborn Stone in South America

I’m more than a casual fan of the Rolling Stones, and I’ve been known to throw down the cash to see the geriatric rockers shake their decades-old moneymakers on stage. So my interest was doubly piqued this morning when I heard from a friend that the Stones’ first manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, has become a rock ‘n’ roll guru again…only in South America this time!

Oldham guided the Stones during the British group’s formative years in the 60s. He is credited with contributing to many of their big hits, he was behind their first major record deal, and he inspired their bad boy style, which was directly opposed to the image of their British Invasion rivals the Beatles. He was also the originator of many of the cheeky headlines and catchphrases surrounding the band, such as the classic “Would you let your daughter marry a Rolling Stone?” (The answer to that question, by the way, is “no.”)

Following a typical rock ‘n’ roll storyline, Oldham got heavy into drugs during his Stones days and almost burned himself out completely. Though he reemerged in the music world a couple of times after his tenure with the band ended, he basically disappeared from public view. But he stayed busy. During that time, he made his way down to Colombia and occasionally helped mentor young musicians on that continent. And over the last few years, as this dilettante just learned, he’s been producing and recording again with great success. This time with Rock en Español acts. Perhaps his best known work is with the Argentine group Los Ratones Paranoicos (The Paranoid Mice), a band with a distinct Rolling Stones-like sound.

Besides the production and recording work in South America, he’s also been the host of Underground Garage on Sirius Satellite Radio since 2005, which can be heard here en Los Estados Unidos. (Where have I been?) In a recent interview he said that he wished his mother could see him now…because for the first time in his life, he actually works a steady job. I, for one, am certainly glad to see that the old boy is making the most of this stage in his life. Keep on rockin’, Andrew.