As part of our celebration of Black History Month and Afro-Latino culture, we turn this week to how the influence of Africa has been interpreted in various Latin and Caribbean cultures. The music of West Africa, where a majority of those enslaved in the Americas came from, was diffused through both an indigenous and Spanish filter to become the distinct sounds and rhythms that we know today.
Cumbia, bachata, mambo and son jarocho are all quite distinct from each other and are still very vibrant expressions of tradition. But, more importantly, they also inform and influence a tidal wave of new expression, mixing with hip-hop, electronic, rock and jazz to form the musical bedrock of Alt.Latino.
In this week’s show, we dive into the vaults of Smithsonian Folkways, the non-profit record label dedicated to American folk traditions of all kinds. Our guide is Folkways curator emeritus Dan Sheehy, who knows a thing or two about Afro-Latino music and culture: He has traveled extensively to produce many of the great recordings in the archive.
Paola Escobar is a graphic artist who lives and works at an advertising agency in Bogotá, Colombia.
My friends over at Colombian art and culture site, Bacánika, turned me onto Escobar and conducted a Q & A with the young artist. When asked about her style, she gave a non-answer that made perfect sense:
How would you describe your style?
“I do not know, I could not describe it, I can hardly do it because in general those who are dedicated to this we are in a constant struggle to find the style, and you will probably never find it. But I always try to leave my essence in all illustrations, through details, as both my childhood and my life were always marked by them. I like to communicate a story and always try to fill my artwork with them. My style has no name.”
Don’t freak out, it’s NOT an upcoming episode of The Simpsons featuring two of the most infamous drug kingpins in history; it’s art.
Italian artist Alexsandro Palombo debuted new work which features Simpsons’ patriarch, Homer Simpson, as notorious Colombian drug lord, Pablo Escobar, and recently arrested Sinaloa, Mexico, cartel boss, Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzman.
“Stop Drug War,” is Palombo’s effort to draw attention to both the drug war that has caused more than 60,000 deaths in Mexico alone, as well as the legalization of drugs, which has has become a popular topic after Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize the production and sale of marijuana and two American states also decriminalized the drug.
One of the images depicts Homer, as Pablo Escobar, kneeling in front of the photographs of journalist and politician Luis Carlos Galán, journalist Guillermo Cano, lawyer and politician Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, and lawyer Carlos Mauro Hoyos– all victims of drug cartel hits in Colombia.
“Pablo Escobar was a ruthless drug dealer responsible for the massacres of his fellow civilians and officers, but he was also a drug trafficker that was in favor of drug legalization, and his idea was prophetic,” Palombo said in a press release. “If, 30 years ago, the institutions of various countries would have taken the path of the drug legalization, would have there been all that blood shed and a drug dealer as powerful as ‘El Chapo’ today?”
Grab your máscaras and join us as we celebrate the joyful Caribbean and Latin American tradition of Carnaval with music, storytelling, dance workshops, and art-making for all ages. It all takes place on Saturday, Feb. 15, from noon to 4 p.m. at El Museo del Barrio in Harlem.
I have an interesting relationship with Colombian vallenato music in that my Colombian-music loving self didn’t always love it. I recall my cousin Maria asking me why I didn’t love it at and me saying “it’s old people music.” Ha! (We joke now that she was — and still is– a romantic, and I was [and still am] a cynical cold hearted kid. Go figure.)
I often heard vallenato at parties growing up because it is somewhat of a somber music, in which the ‘grownups’ sat around, reminisced about their homeland, and had shots of aguardiente. At home, my dad preferred to play salsa and cumbia as he was always more of an upbeat music fan (like me!).
Like my father, I preferred to listen to salsa and cumbia, and later champeta, but I gained an appreciation for vallenato as a young adult when I really started paying attention to the lyrics. So sentimental!
This form of music originated from farmers who, keeping a tradition of Spanish minstrels (Juglares in Spanish), mixed also with the West African-inherited tradition of griots (African version of juglar), who used to travel through the region with their cattle in search of pastures or to sell them in cattle fairs. Because they traveled from town to town and the region lacked rapid communications, these farmers served as bearers of news for families living in other towns or villages. Their only form of entertainment during these trips was singing and playing guitars or indigenous gaita flutes, known as kuisis in the Kogi language, and their form of transmitting their news was by singing their messages. (Source.)
Known as “el cacique (native chief),” Diaz was regarded as one of the best singer-songwriters of vallenato. But he didn’t come without controversy:
Diaz led a tempestuous life, serving time in jail over the death of a fan at a party in his home. He often showed up late to concerts or not at all, something his fans put down to his addiction to drugs and alcohol.
In 1997, at the height of his career and shortly before the launch of his album Mi Biografia (My Biography), a fan and friend of Diaz, Doris Adriana Nino, was found dead by the side of a highway in Tunja province. Forensic experts at first said that she had died of a heart attack following a drug overdose at a party hosted by Diaz, but a later forensic report suggested she had been suffocated.
After a lengthy trial, Diaz was sentenced to 12 years in jail for homicide, a sentence which was later reduced to six years.
Diaz, who had been put under house arrest, went on the run when he was due to be transferred to jail, allegedly hiding away in an area controlled by the infamous paramilitary leader known as Jorge 40. He handed himself in to the authorities in 2002 and, after having his sentence further reduced, was released in 2004. (Source.)
Much like when tropical music king Joe Arroyo died in 2011, Colombians have taken to the streets to pay homage to Diaz. And Valledupar’s mayor has declared four days of mourning.
Radio stations are playing songs from his vast discography nonstop.
There are several favorites of Diaz I love, but I’ll leave you with “Mensaje de Navidad” since it’s appropriate for the Christmas season:
Again, the lyrics are somber, but true, as the holidays aren’t always “joyous” if one is away from loved ones.
Unos dicen: Que buena las navidades Es la época más linda de los años Pero hay otros que no quieren acordarse De la fiesta de Año Nuevo y aguinaldo Pero hay otros que no quieren acordarse De la fiesta de Año Nuevo y aguinaldo
I wanted to share a couple of recent posts I wrote for the London, England,-based Sounds and Colours, a music and culture magazine that focuses on Latin America.
SOAP OPERA RELIVES COLOMBIAN SOCCER HISTORY
One cannot discuss Colombian history of the 1990s without a mention of the national soccer teams of the era. After all, the squads of that decade made Colombian history, qualifying for three World Cups in a row—Italy ’90, USA ’94 and France ’98.
Now, those moments in futbol history are being played out in a telenovela by Caracol Television that has millions of Colombians hooked. The soap opera, “La Selección,” is also playing in the United States.
The series focuses on four of the country’s best-known players, Carlos “El Pibe” Valderrama, Rene Higuita, Freddy Rincon, and Faustino Aspirilla.
If there is one thing I equate with Colombia and its people, flag, music, Carnival, Feria de las Flores, and several other festivals, it is bright, exuberant colors. So I wasn’t surprised when I stumbled upon works by Colombian artist Jorge Luis Rosenvaig.
I was searching for an image for a Chibcha (my parents had a couple of Chibcha wall ornaments when I was a kid) for a possible tattoo when I came across Rosenvaig’s “Chibchacum” on a site called Saatchi Online, a site whose tagline is “Discover Art. Get Discovered.”
Discover I did, and once I started clicking through to his other works, I immediately set out to find out more about the artist. Rosenvaig obliged with the following email interview.
Barranquilla Mayor Elsa Noguera De La Espriella and Tampa’s Bob Buckhorn. (Image courtesy of the city of Tampa.)
I keep up on general news (especially music-related) coming out of Barranquilla, Colombia, because it’s where my parents are from. I love going there for the annual carnival, which I wrote about for Sounds and Colours. It’s QUITE the party.
So you can imagine my surprise when I received a press release today about Barranquilla’s sister city in the United States. Because that city is Tampa. Tampa? Yes, Tampa.
Apparently, Barranquilla and Tampa have been sister cities since 1966. The two cities agreed to collaborate through the “Sister Cities” program “for the mutual benefit of their citizens and communities by exploring educational, economic and cultural opportunities.” (By the way, for you random trivia buffs, Tampa is also the Sister City of: LeHavre, France, Oviedo, Spain, Vera Cruz/Boca del Rio, Mexico, Izmir, Turkey, Agrigento, Italy, and Ashdod, Israel.)
Apparently the “Sister Cities” thing isn’t a permanent affair because on Dec. 6, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn joined Barranquilla Mayor Elsa Noguera De La Espriella to reaffirm the Sister Cities partnership. Buckhorn presented Noguera De La Espriella with a painting of Old City Hall by local artist Arnold Martinez as a gift.