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.

vagabond shoes

[Image: vagabond shoes, from brainware3000’s cc flickr pool]

“I’ve got my four palomas” goes the chorus of this tune…

Totó la Momposina – Las Cuatro Palomas (from Carmelina)

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.

gal foto2

“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.”


Totó la Momposina – La Sombra Negra (from La Candela Viva)

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.

La Candela Viva


  1. pigeons are a kind of dove — they’re also called “rock doves.” for me, the worst is fucked up pigeon feet.

    been enjoying your blog!

  2. when you fly
    so wingish speed
    then thwack
    ee path be glass
    and brokebeak slump on ground
    all quiverpigeon

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