This Wednesday at 8pm on WFMU, USC professor Josh Kun will join me on Mudd Up!, to discuss the current wave of hyperviolent Mexican drug ballads (largely produced in L.A., it turns out) and to examine the question ‘why aren’t other songs being sung?’ Kun is a rare academic who manages to do inspirational work both in & out of the academy — such as TED-talking with Ozomatli, curating the Grammy Museum’s current exhibition Trouble in Paradise: Music and Los Angeles 1945-1975, and doing smart, passionate writing about Tijuana & the complex membrane that is the US-Mexico border. His knowledge of Mexican music goes deep… So tune in! Wednesday night, 8-9pm WFMU 91.1FM, streaming at wfmu.org.
If you are unfamiliar with contemporary Mexican corridos in light of the drug war, Kun’s recent essay on what he’s termed ‘necrocorridos,’ is a good place to start. As is this video from Movimiento Alterado, where catchy and lush horn production sparkles alongside bejeweled bulletproof vests as the ‘Sanguinarios del M1’ sing from the assassin’s bloody viewpoint and proudly name the narcos they work for.
And check out the first few minutes of the Kun-Ozomatli “Edge of Urban Identity” TED talk! Josh on the mic, rapping about the new gospel of the monkey (“One of the 20 figures on the ancient ritual Mexican calendar, the monkey sported an ear-ring and wore a crew cut. He was a shapeshifter, a transformer, a changeling…”) It’s great:
A major anthology from friends over at El Proyecto Sonidero was just released! It’s a must-read for fans of cumbia, Mexican soundsystem culture, and anybody interested in how sonic and social spaces can form, enrich, and complexify each other. And there are nice photos, for all you gringos who can’t read Spanish. Contributors include Cathy Ragland, Mariana Delgado, and the book kicks off with a great sonidero prayer by Mexico City firebomb Lupita La Cigarrita. Quick excerpt:
Thanks, Lord, for giving me the gift of being a soundgirl.
Thanks because this profession has taught me how to love the world.
Thanks because for us sonideros there are no races or borders.
Thanks for giving me these hands – strong to setup my soundsystem and delicate to caress a record…
Here’s “La Cumbia de los Saludos” by Monterrey band Javier Lopez y Sus Reyes Vallenatos — when I played this on my radio show, I referred to it as the type of cumbia that Jorge Borges would like: it’s essentially a list. A nicely heterotopic list of fans & crews (“toda la raza que apoya la musica colombiana”). The taxonomy begins about 2 minutes in.
Javier Lopez y sus Reyes Vallenatos were playing at the foundational 3ball club ArcoIris in downtown Monterrey on my second trip there, as I reported in the Fader feature on tribal guarachero, and John Francis Peters’ photo captures the kids holding up precisely the sort of shout-out saludo posters that are being read off in this song:
Les presentamos el libro electrónico Sonideros en las aceras, véngase la gozadera, al cual aportaron generosamente el fruto de su conocimiento, su trabajo y por supuesto de su vida, porque todos los que colaboramos en esto no nos dedicamos a esto por obligación sino, por fortuna, debido al placer que representa en nuestras vidas. Muchas gracias por su confianza y por su amistad, estamos seguros que este esfuerzo será disfrutado por muchos lectores, y esperamos que también sea criticado.
On February 16th, friends at EL PROYECTO SONIDERO are holding a massive book presentation / party in Mexico City. As Mariana writes: “Así va a estar: una presentación con toda la banda del libro, y luego un baile con toda la Dinastía Perea del Peñón de los Baños, La Conga mismo, La Changa y el Sonido Martines. Sonideros 2000 streamingueará todo. Estamos bien emocionados.”
The book, Sonideros en las Aceras, Vengase a la Gozadera, is a beautiful piece of work with essays and photos. It will be available in the next few days as a free PDF. In the meantime, here is some slow & low Mexican New York cumbia sonidera to warm things up:
A soundboy’s lament. On the trials and tribulations of a being a sonidero.’Sonido Desastre’ means Disaster Sound.
¡Órale! Tribal Guarachero – “Aztec Rave from the Future” – keeps on rising.
A quick review: There was my Fader feature on Tribal Guarachero in Monterrey from last year, now viewable online. Then came a National Geographic article suggesting that certain stone buildings in the Americas were Pre-Columbian ritual spaces for heightened sound reception and communal celebration — aka rave caves. My post on these Ancient Mayan Subwoofers contains a handful of tribal MP3s which very intentionally invoke Aztec and Maya pasts (as do the t-shirts and posters of Erick & Sheeqo).
Erick Rincon and Sheeqo Beat in Erick’s studio. photo by John Francis Peters for The Fader
Next, VBS hopped into the game with a great little piece on the new music from Monterrey birthing a pointy boot craze in north Mexico and beyond.
The big picture in all these stories is the stunning creativity and vitality of Mexican youth culture — other aspects of which Daniel Hernandez chronicles in his recent book Down and Delirious in Mexico City. Here’s my previous post about the book, and here is his guest appearance on Mudd Up radio.
And now these various manifestations of tribal guarachero take another step forward, as the pioneering Monterrey crew of 3Ball MTY (DJs Erick Rincon, Sheeqo Beat, and Otto) release their first official video, “Inténtalo (Me Prende)” complete with CD-J fetish shots and a pointy boot dance section. These are some of the nicest kids around and it’s so satisfying to watch them on the up & up. ¡Chequealo! And when you see Toy Selectah, buy that man a drink.
I’m about 600 pages into Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 –a book that is both horrible and hypnotic, one of the few Bolaño works I’ve been able to finish (Amuleto was the other one). Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read a lot of most of his books, some in English and some in Spanish; I simply think he’s overrated and overtranslated when compared to the amazing wealth of other contemporary Latin American writers. 2666’s spot-on epigraph begins things with a quote from Baudelaire: “An oasis of horror in a desert of boredom”. The 1000+ page book is divided into five parts. I’m drowning in part four, “The Part About The Crimes”. It describes, in blunt unaffected language, dozens upon dozens of brutal rapes and murders that occurred in Santa Teresa. The Mexican border city is Bolaño’s fictional stand-in for the very real Ciudad Juárez, where hundreds of women have been killed in unsolved murders stretching back to 1993. As in 2666 , many of these women worked in the American-owned maquiladoras in the nearby desert, making products for export north.
If it were the stand-alone work of an unknown writer, The Part About The Crimes would be an insane, unpublishable anti-novel . But Bolaño’s writing has long embraced themes of systemic violence and the relationship (if any) of literature to any actual world.
Today, taking a break from the dark gravity of Part Four, I came across several related articles.
The New York Times reports that: “Foxconn, a Taiwanese firm that makes iPhones, Dell computers and other electronics, is one of several Asian companies taking root. It opened a plant in Juárez last summer. . .Despite several murders a day, trade between Juárez and Texas rose 47 percent last year to $71.1 billion.”
And The Guardian says: “Not by coincidence, Juarez is also a model for the capitalist economy. Recruits for the drug war come from the vast, sprawling maquiladora – bonded assembly plants where, for rock-bottom wages, workers make the goods that fill America’s supermarket shelves or become America’s automobiles, imported duty-free… ‘It’s a city based on markets and on trash,’ says Julián Cardona, a photographer who has chronicled the implosion.”
That quote brings to mind a scene from 2666‘s Part Three “The Part About Fate”, which chronicles a black New York City journalist who ends up in Santa Teresa covering a boxing game but learns about the killing of women (and ultimately engages in a favored Bolaño trope: having an outsider enter in a potentially lethal situation and extract a person at risk with the power of words or at least without physical force). This excerpt is rich in its typical Bolañoid blankness (“the sandwich was full of all kinds of things”), laced with a humor so dark you almost forget the room has no windows and we’re running out of air:
He could see hills on the horizon. The hills were dark yellow and black. Past the hills, he guessed, was the desert. He felt the urge to leave and drive into the hills, but when he got back to his table the woman had brought him a beer and a very thick kind of sandwich. He took a bite and it was good. The taste was strange, spicy. Out of curiosity, he lifted the piece of bread on top: the sandwich was full of all kinds of things. He took a long drink of beer and stretched in his chair. Through the vine leaves he saw a bee, perched motionless. Two slender rays of sun fell vertically on the dirt floor. When the man came back he asked how to get to the hills. The man laughed. He spoke a few words Fate didn’t understand and then he said not pretty, several times.
“Not pretty,” said the man, and he laughed again.
Then he took Fate by the arm and dragged him into a room that served as a kitchen and that looked very tidy to Fate, each thing in its place, not a spot of grease on the white-tiled wall, and he pointed to the garbage can.
“Hills not pretty?” asked Fate.
The man laughed again.
“Hills are garbage?”
The man couldn’t stop laughing. He had a bird tattoed on his left forearm. Not a bird in flight, like most tattoos of birds, but a bird perched on a branch, a little bird, possibly a swallow.
“Hills a garbage dump?”
The man laughed even more and nodded his head.
And that’s that. The complex — and extremely macho — intensity of Bolaño’s Grand Novel can certainly benefit from queering interventions & inversions more about seeds than graves. First there’s Rihanna’s new single, in which the pop star from Barbados goes reggae as she recounts gunning down Chris Brown “a man”, in broad daylight, with immaculate hair and styling. Personally, I believe guns should be illegal. But I’m willing to make exceptions for Rihanna.
Edging further towards 2666 is Rita Indiana’s punk-mambo apocalyptic embrace of a song, whose title translates to “The Devil’s Takin’ Us Away”, which we produced and released on Dutty Artz awhile back — Rita was in NYC recently and whipped crowds into a frenzy with each performance of “No Ta Llevando El Diablo”. Here’s footage from her Summerstage rendition of it, “a tune so bold and out-of-this-world, that it really seems like a trip to hell.”
One of my favorite Mexican bands calls themselves Super Grupo Colombia. They’re one of those groups who have moments so good they cease being songs or even hits and pass into the DNA of things, transformed into a reference and departure point for cumbia lovers everywhere.
Today was Cinco de Mayo. I ate my breakfast, I had my NY day, and down in Mexico hundreds celebrated this holiday with the start of a 4-day peace march (#marchanacional) beginning in the city of Cuernavaca and moving towards Mexico City, where it will conclude this Sunday. Envio un abrazo solidario. As Geraldine Juarez writes, the march is “to demand the end to the ‘War on Drugs’ and the removal of all government officials responsible for more than 35,000 deaths and the increase of insecurity and corruption.”
Here’s an important video from poet Javier Sicilia, “who became the leading voice of the discontent towards the government’s method of tackling the drug trafficking problem after his son Juan Francisco was killed.” It’s important to me because I fell in love with Mexico, it captured me like no other country has. Cinco de Mayo fiestas & tequila shots can ease the weight of now, but it’s a weight I want to feel. Before we can begin to care about the impact of American drug consumption and U.S. drug policy on the tens of thousands of Mexicans dead, we have to feel… that Mexican problems are American problems. Not just intimate, but interchangeable. You make a border real by policing it, and there’s a disturbing corollary: living in the United States and ignoring the political situation in Mexico helps feed the violence of that border. Wanting to be ‘global’ or ‘cosmopolitan’ is missing the point — so slippery and abstract as to be useless. We should try to be good neighbors and take it from there.
I might not be thinking these thoughts if it weren’t for cumbia. That’s why I’m putting up this Super Grupo Colombia song. The lyrics aren’t topical – though their flow on the chorus never ceases to amaze – it’s simply a nice song from Mexico, and golden minutes help fuel long hours.
I previewed tonight’s show here. The above portrait comes from a recent Spanish-language interview in Frente (warning: it’s one of those horrible flash-based sites whose ‘digital layouts’ ensure that none of the content can ever be linked to). Clearly, Daniel brought the heat to our city today. The radio show kicks off his NYC stint, keep an eye out for the Thursday book party + Columbia U. talk
Right now I’d like to excerpt two sections from his new book, Down and Delirious in Mexico City. Together they hint at its narrative arc as Daniel moves from “a sort of native foreigner” to a sharp-eyed chilango whose self has been rewritten by the city he writes of — from ex-punks tending their aging legacies to the birth of fashion blogging to neo-indigenista sweat lodges– with such lyricism and insight.
from Chapter 2: Points of Arrival
“And this is the house where La Malinche lived,” Victor says, pointing to a plain colonial structure on Calle República de Cuba, in the Centro. The building doesn’t seem like much: pink walls, brown wooden doors that appear indifferent to their age, shuttered windows. On a wall high above the sidewalk, a tile marker with blue cursive script indicates that “according to the tradition” the house once belonged to a woman named Doña Marina. Also known by her Indian name Malinalli Tenepal, Marina served infamously as Hernán Cortés’s translator and mistress during his conquest of the Aztec empire.
“Uff,” I respond, and frown. Among some Mexicans in the United States, La Malinche is reviled as a traitor, the Judas Iscariot of the New World. By grunting I think I am doing my duty.
But Victor, an artist with whom I have struck a fast friendship, recoils. “You Chicanos need to get over the conquista,” he says. “La Malinche was amazing. She was incredibly smart and beautiful and knew many languages. She is one of the only women historical figures we have from the period.”
I am strolling with Victor after lunch. It is a warm and drizzly day, mid-July 2002, just a few weeks into my first visit to Mexico City. From the moment I land, nearly every human interaction and every street corner turned offers an eye-widening lession. The onslaught of information and sensations leaves me fatigued. Almost anything I say is analyzed, mocked, or critiqued in relation to my being a sort of native foreigner — a Mexican born in the United States, Mexican but not quite. Victor’s reproach shocks my brain. . .
And then, crescendoing with feverish visions after several years spent in D.F., we get to this section of chapter 15: The Seven Muses of Mexico City:
Everything is thrilling in Mexico City because everything is out of whack. There is a sense of delirious rupture, everywhere. The Cathedral, built over a dead Aztec temple, is sinking. The video game arcades are packed. I’m looking at male stripper clubs for women in Iztapalapa, extremely open public displays of affection on the metro, between men and women, children, and men and men, at political propaganda calling for the death penalty for kidnappers. A man without legs is begging on the sidewalks, just a human stump riding a skateboard. A little indigenous girl is stricken with panic, screaming in an indigenous language, as she gets off a metro car before her mother can reach the closing doors. On the platforms, the blind are walking with blind. Chaos and mutation on every corner. How, I wonder, can we mediate the doom?
We are not asking it enough. We are watching out for ourselves, like true urban rats, wondering, What is it that I want? I fall into the same mind-frame, thinking lecherously, I want it all. I want clothes. I want the Hustle. I’m a Mexico City mutant eating sidewalk hamburgers for dinner under a pounding brown rain. I want cactus juice to flow through my veins. I want to dance upon the pyramids. I want to sweat droplets of jade. I want acid.
+ + +
Bogota’s Frente Cumbiero has a year-old mixtape of originals and edits, which makes for a fine soundtrack to our displaced Mexico City memories on this warm Nueva Jork / Puebla York / Neza York day:
You can stream last night’s radio show for deep, consistently fascinating discussion from Liturgy! Topics include: tremelo strumming, 19th ct. Romanticism, encore vs apocalypse, the value of effort, and my esoteric theories regarding Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s esoteric theories. Liturgy’s musical selection began with 14th ct Frenchman Guillaume de Machaut and ended with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. In between you’ll hear weighty black metal, including previews from their upcoming album on Thrill Jockey.
How to follow up such a rich show? With another equally rich show.
In the opening sentence of my Fader feature on the young Mexican music of tribal guarachero, I wrote that teen prodigy Erick Rincon ‘radiates preternatural calm.’ You can now witness that for yourself, as he appears on-location in Matehuala in this new VBS video — totally unfazed by the fact that his music, along with that of friends Sheeqo Beat and Otto has directly inspired a pointy boot (& skinny jean) craze with rodeo cowboy-ravers from north Mexico into the U.S. Incredible!
Video below. Check this post for some tribal MP3s and reflections on ancient Mayan subwoofers.