People talk about how Eskimos have a few dozen words for snow, how rappers have a few dozen words for cocaine, how Republicans have a few dozen words for fukallyall. It’s an amazing phenomenon. So too is the opposite – single words possessing multiple meanings.
A troubling example of this – if you, like me, think of pigeons as flying rats – is the Spanish noun La Paloma. It means dove or pigeon. That’s what I call a perverse ambiguity.
The white dove, beloved of poets & lovers since time immemorial.
The nasty pigeon, pecking away at nuggets of vomit & discarded fast food in alleys, staining city roofs with its corrosive droppings. Each one a paloma.
“I’ve got my four palomas” goes the chorus of this tune…
there must exist a language with a word to describe how those flutes relate to the rumbling drums, one specific adjective for the beauty & movement conjured by that relationship and another for what happens when her voice enters into it.
“The music I play has its roots in mixed race,” Totó explains. “The flutes are pre-Columbian, the drums of course are from Africa, and the guitar from the conquisadors.”
Totó La Momposina is a towering figure in (indigenous-) (Afro-) (Latin-) Colombian folk, with good reason. “I don’t think of it as ‘folklore’. To me, folklore means something that is dead, in a museum. Traditional music, music from the old days is alive.”
La somba negra – the black shadow. Listen to the way this song starts as an orderly Latin love song, spare acoustic guitar and voice strolling along… then Afro-Cuban drums creep in, slowly accelerating the rhythm. The guitar shifts from lead instrument to accompaniment. The solo vocalist gets swept up into call & response, not one or two people but many; black Africa eats up the solitude. This becomes a communal tune and its drums are racing.