“While the mainstream media’s narrative for Monterrey tells of a formerly safe city ravaged by encroaching drug wars (nearly 300 people were killed there this year), tribal guarachero’s potency and exuberance tells the other story: irrepressible youth culture sweating it out in a healthy scene so hype that they barely have time to realize what’s being created.” – Jace Clayton ‘Siempre y Para Siempre’ from Fader issue 69
This is the short version. My feature on Tribal Guarachero in Monterrey Mexico, originally published in the Fader’s fall 2010 issue, is now available online. Read it here, as accompanied by some of John Francis Peters’ photographs from our trip.
Aaah, Rita Indiana. I feel weird explaining what’s up to people since the easiest thing would simply be to wait — soon enough she’ll be as well-known in the US as she is across the Dominican Republic. But here we go-
Rita’s a former model who first enjoyed fame as a writer. Her two novels, La Estrategia de Chochueca and Papi, enjoy cult status among fans of contemporary Caribbean lit. Her innovative writing straddled pop and street, leading to her current stint as screenwriter for Grammy-winning reggaeton group Calle 13’s upcoming movie. But she’s spent the last year taking over her hometown of Santo Domingo via a musical project, Rita Indiana y los Misterios. With effortless swagger, Rita has achieved the holy grail: cutting edge musical & lyrical innovations that draw on local roots and enjoy populist success (read: capacity crowds at 1000 person venues).
[Rita Indiana y (algunos de) Los Misterios]
Rita’s powerful sound – which includes choreographed stage dancers, daring outfits, and a 5-person band – creates a space where old school merengue fans, new-school mambo thugs, hiphop kids, rockers, and fashionistas can all party together. She’s performed live on Caribbean and Miami TV stations over a dozen times in as many months. Rita’s low, powerful voice captivates listeners on timbre & flow alone, and her incisive, sexy lyrics display some of the smartest songwriting around. Sounds like hyperbole but isn’t!!!!
She sings in slang-filled, proudly Dominican dialect, refering to herself as ‘la montra’ (the monster). Rita Indiana was nominated for a 2010 Cassandra Award (the DR’s Grammy equivalent) as ‘Best New Act’ and performed at the star-studded televised ceremony. (read: Omega!)
We’d been in touch since the days of her Miti Miti project, vibing on a shared love of contemporary sounds shot thru with roots and existing on a similar platform-agnostic multimedia storm tip. I have to say, it’s been an incredible process, from receiving practice-room demo recordings of her nascent project to watching Rita transform into a major cultural force.
And despite TV and youtube portraying Rita Indiana as recently coming out, she’s never been in the closet. As one blogger explains: “It really turns what has been the mantra in Latino music marketing totally upside down – with promoters, producers and managers telling gay performers to keep it on the down low – and it’s totally refreshing… people don’t really know what to make of Rita Indiana but they certainly love the music and, at least for now, she is being able to play her looks, her sexuality, her music and her openness to full advantage in a country not necessarily known for being that open.”
A few months ago Rita + I labbed up for an intense week in my Brooklyn studio, enlisting the help of producer Matt Shadetek and Domincan percussionist Ivory Nuñez, writing new material and producing multitrack recordings of Rita with her band.
First results are a 2-track single – her debut!! – out now on Dutty Artz. BUY IT AND SUPPORT US, PLZ! – iTunes US | Amazon | TTL | Boomkat |Juno |etc.
“No Ta Llevando El Diablo” has been a favorite on all her live shows, a tune so bold and out-of-this-world, that it really seems like a trip to hell. This is how we like our Rita Indiana, with those powerful upbeat songs that only she can do. The press release notes the song “clocks in at a breakneck 185 beats-per-minute.” Just like in “El Blu del Ping Pong”, Rita’s story-telling qualities are starting to be identifiable, complex songs in the rush of the moment, and you got to love her shameless pop culture shout outs, this time singing a bit of Yuri’s “El Apagon.”
Last but not least: A couple months ago Geko Jones texted me from Bogota, Colombia. He was at a club or bar and the DJ put on a Rita track, Jardinera. The crowd started singing along… they knew the words! The words are awesome. Like all her songs, once you hear it you listen again. And again. And soon enough, the words live in your head, too. Here’s some footage from a hometown performance of Jardinera (everybody’s singing along here, too):
2 mambo tunes for you. The first is a flu song — a pre swine-flu flu song! Complete with coughing & sneezes. Salud! “I’ve got flu. Ha-choo.” Sickness turns audible. Manicomio means nuthouse; NYC’s Manikkomio are disturbing, both unintentionally and on-purpose. They are cute beefy young men who perform with ‘Jason’ Friday the 13th hockey masks on, often shirtless and/or in (more) S&M gear. Totally gay? Ultramacho heteros? Semi-closeted merengue-club? Please advise. Manikkomio’s myspace crashes my web browser sometimes.
& then DJ Ricky. He does a lot of production for Omega and is generally fantastic (he has earned the right to call himself El Rey del Mambo, not that kind of Mambo King.), with a special talent for making songs feel like they’re constantly accelerating. This one’s a rush-
Arabasque flamenco-mambo from the Dominican Republic based on a Eurovision-winning kids’ song from Spain. (Hearing a grown woman sing it removes the pedophilic overtones of the original… I’d rather be dead than plain)
Over in the Dominican Republic, there’s a young man by the name of Omega, last letter in the Greek alphabet. It’s already a bit apocalyptic. And his band? Mambo Violento. And their deal!? Deft, catchy street merengue (‘meregue de la calle’ aka mambo)that surges over 200bpm+, coolly guided by his slo-mo baritone.
Does the song below have Amen breaks? I think so. “Tu No Ta Pa Mi”: this contains the best doubletime riddim shift I’ve heard in a long time, starts off smooth and just launches. Shout to dutty bredren Geko Jones for the digging assistance. Note that I found it on Domincantube.com — i like the ‘eastafricantubeization‘ of streaming media sites.
anyhow, here’s Omega Mambo Violento. Don’t let the mismatched video fool you — it’s for “Alante Alante”. The audio belongs to “Tu No Ta Pa Mi,” and he’s singing about finding himself alone with the TV on, crying over impossible love, etc. It’s downright Morrisey :