Mexico-Color & Passion

 

It will be Cinco de Mayo in a few days. Before you drink that margarita, before you have those guacamole and chips or enchiladas with delicious mole, I want to tell you about my love of Mexico. Well I should actually say my love of Mexican culture (which includes the food!). Other than a quick trip across the border to Tijuana when I was eleven, I have not actually traveled there, though I hope that will change in the near future. Much like what St. Patrick’s Day has turned into, Cinco de Mayo has seemingly become co opted as  an excuse for 2 for 1 bottles of Corona and taco specials, though of course it actually commemorates the Mexican victory over the French at the Battle Of Puebla in 1862. Not Mexican independence as some wrongly believe, but an important military victory.  Despite the misunderstanding  it has become in some places a defacto celebration of Mexican culture along with those 2 for 1 Corona’s. Regardless of the misunderstanding, celebrating Mexican culture is never a bad thing, and  there is an awful lot of it  to go around.

If I were to describe Mexican culture using only two words I would simply say ‘colorful’ and ‘passionate’. From the richly dyed and beautiful textiles woven into blankets and clothing to the often subversive art bright colors dominate.   Mexican art somehow seems more visual than in other cultures, and I think it is precisely because of those bright colors used throughout. There is a lot of representation of death and religious themes utilized, but there are also a lot of satirical ones too. Art in Mexico seems to be everywhere, be it simple folk art or street murals. Even the masks worn by professional wrestlers there have a distinctly Mexican flair to them. I may not always understand the meaning of it all, but I admire it deeply for the appearance and style. Art can sometimes be unapproachable, and even exclusionary, but I do not get that sense from the Mexican art I have seen.

The passionate side comes out partly with a strong devotion to soccer, but especially in the music, and there are a bewildering number of styles throughout the country. In my opinion, when one thinks of the music of the Americas, certain countries jump to the front of the line. The U.S. of course with Rock, Country, Blues, Jazz and more.  Brazil has Samba, Bossa Nova and Forro, to name just a few. Cuba has Son, Mambo, Chachacha and the Rumba.  Jamaica is the birthplace of Reggae but there are so many sub genres like Dancehall and Rocksteady that make that island one of the most musical places in the entire world. But I think Mexico should be right there on that list too.  Just a partial list includes Ranchera, Norteno, Mariachi, Huapango and Cumbia. And that’s before you even get to contemporary Rock, Pop and Indigenous styles. One country, with lots of very different sounds.

It can be difficult to understand them all as an outsider but fortunately there is at least one singer I can think of who has attempted to weave her way through the maze. Mexican American singer Lila Downs has been a fixture on the world music circuit for years now. I first became aware of her from an appearance singing in director Julie Taymor’s inventive biographical film about the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Lila Downs also featured heavily on the soundtrack to the film. It isn’t just that she explores Mexican music, but she also freely incorporates other sounds in to the mix, from Hip-Hop, Jazz, Indigenous styles and beyond with her staggeringly powerful voice. She is intensely passionate (see, there is that word again!) about the music, and you can clearly hear it whether you are a Spanish speaker or not.

I decided to feature two songs in this post.  One of the first songs I heard Lila Downs sing, the sublime Paloma Negra (Black Dove) appears on her album Una Sangre. At first I did not know it was actually a well known song performed by other greats like Lola Beltran and Chavela Vargas, but I sensed something hearing Lila Downs perform the song.  It isn’t just that you can hear her classical voice training in this song. It isn’t just that you can feel the devastating sadness of this song of heartbreak- ‘my eyes are dying without looking into yours’. It is so much more. The tempo, the buildup to that long mournful note just shout that Mexican passion to me. Other countries have their own ways of expressing pain and sadness in song, but I doubt many do it with as much raw feeling.

The second song here is the title cut to Lila’s most recent studio album-Balas y Chocolate (Bullets & Chocolate. The song cleverly balances between the real- ‘There’s bullets flying in our world, in our world. There are those who duck the bullets, on the ground, on the ground’ with a simple bit of escapism- ‘Gimme mami chocolate, You are my chocolate, My life my sweet. The rap in the middle of the song goes even further-

If a bullet don’t kill me, a hijacking, or assault,
if I don’t choke on the volcano’s ashes,
From diabetes, cirrhosis
Neurosis psychosis necrosis or from an overdose
If alcoholism doesn’t get me
Or egotism, stupidity, or partisanship
an earthquake or boredom from the soap opera
I’ll take off and toast my cocoa beans
There are dreams that are born in the pueblos and for the people
There are people who live those dreams each day,

Yet despite the harsh reality of those words, the video for the song, filled with those wonderful colors and folk art coming to life, with children dancing to the happy sounding  music portrays something else. Like the passion that exudes with Lila Downs singing Paloma Negra, it is the vibrancy of Mexico coming out. Despite the real life issues and  headlines about Mexico, there is much to admire and celebrate. Whether that is on Cinco de Mayo or any other day of the year, celebrating a country and culture as rich as Mexico is always a good thing.

Paloma Negra-Written By Tomas Mendez

Balas y Chocolate-Written By Lila Downs & Paul Cohen

Follow Me on Facebook-https://www.facebook.com/SoundtrackPhoto

Follow Me On Twitter-https://twitter.com/SoundtrackPhoto

Follow Me On Instagram-https://instagram.com/soundtrackphoto/

All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle

Advertisements

Heating Up!

Cloud Horizon, NYC

 

Hot. Warm. Scorching. Blistering. Broiling. Sweltering. Like a steam bath. Hotter than an oven…

Oh by the way, it is summer time too, so I suppose the above words could also describe the temperature, and not the music for this post! I don’t know about anyone else, but my listening habits often become defined by the temperature outside.  Sure, I listen to lots of different types of music throughout the year, but certain styles seem more appropriate to the weather somehow. So it is that at this time of year here in New York when the first effects of summer start creeping in that I dig deeper into my collection for some Latin music. There is just something about the longer and hotter days, the wafting smells of barbecues on the weekends together with all the people hanging out on their front stoops, balconies, and fire escapes that really makes it feel like summer in the big city. Though New York City is culturally diverse, to me the sound of summer is made complete by the sexy Latin rhythms that dominate the sounds pouring out from those apartments or passing cars or heard on the boomboxes at those barbecues. It is a sound that in many ways IS New York because the development and popularity of it is largely based on the melting pot of the city.

Continue reading “Heating Up!”

Soundtrack Of A Photograph-Faded America

“A quiet voice is singing something to me, 

An age old song about the home of the brave 

In this land here of the free”

I seem to be getting annoyed about events in this country more easily these days. Not just annoyed, but frankly pissed off. Recently while listening to a song and reading the lyrics I realized I was listening to a song that had a real anger to it, masked within a foot tapping medium-tempo country beat. It  oozes that anger and vitriol with vivid little snapshots the song describes. There is senseless violence, abandonment, and unhappiness at a life feeling over before it really begins. It mirrors much of what we seem to hear today in the continual breaking down of society that makes us shake our heads and say, how did we get here. How, when and why did it get so bad.

The thing was,  as I read the lyrics that were so forthright and contemporary it actually became the cause of pissing me off. You see though the reality of those words were so relatable today  I became angry when I realized they were in fact from almost 30 years ago. The song in question is One Time, One Night by one of the greatest American bands, Los Lobos. It is over 40 years since the band’s formation and they show no sign of slowing up and unlike a lot of bands, have continually explored a range of styles. As to the song One Time, One Night, I have known it for years myself, but playing it again recently the lyrics hit me hard and deep at the right time.

“A lady dressed in white with the man she loved

Standing along the side of their pickup truck

A shot rang out in the night, just when everything seemed right

Another headline written down in America”

There was just something that really struck a nerve with me  as our country seems to be angrier and filled with less compassion and more violence and racism than ever before. We have become so desensitized to the violence and anger that even the headlines seem passe somehow.  Even worse is that collectively we do not seem to care that we have reached this stage as a nation. Where once was discourse is now shouting. Where once we tried to understand one another and our personal views , there is instead gamesmanship. We try to best the other person, with half-truths from 24/7 news cycles and memes we share on our social media which conveniently sum up our thoughts for us, saving us the time to you know…have a conversation with one another. I am guilty of all of the above because sadly, it really has become the norm in our society.

This  becomes more disheartening when I see elected officials and pundits who should know better spouting  misinformation and downright lies to a public gullible to share it, usually with the proclamation, “I heard it for myself on TV so it is true.” Sadly so much is actually untrue these days. Or exaggerated. The once valued sources of information that used to be considered fact are now thrown aside and replaced by angry people shouting into a microphone.  Worse still is that I believe a deep divide has happened in this country now, and sides are being pitted against one another. There was a time in my life where I thought collectively as a nation we were moving past those kinds of assumptions yet it has faded in my opinion. A Faded America.

“I wake up to a world that’s still the same

My father said to be strong and that a good man could never do wrong

In a dream I had last night in America”

 A few weeks ago a clip of a mariachi band singing the National Anthem at a baseball game went viral. It was right in the midst of a firestorm surrounding comments from a certain billionaire running for President who has enough hubris to hand out to the entire country and still come out leading the nation with it. The fact that he had insulted millions of people did not bother him and appeared to strengthen his campaign in fact. But as I watched that clip a thought struck me. It applies to both that billionaire and to you and me. On a one to one basis I don’t think as a country we really understand each other much anymore. We are quicker with an insult than a helping hand. Quicker with an assumption about people we don’t know because we have never tried to get to know them.

As I watched that mariachi band, dressed in their elaborate charros and singing an amazing rendition of the anthem I thought it such a telling contrast. Here was a group employing the style, the instruments, the flair of one culture, and using it on one of the most symbolic measures of unity for a country, the national anthem. Americans all, unified. I felt in its own small way that this is precisely what we needed more of right now. Johnny Cash once sang “there’s things that will never be right I know.” Which is true, but collectively that idea should frighten us, and challenge us to prove it wrong. Instead it seems we have accepted it, just like we do with ‘the news’ we get from dubious sources.

I called this blog Faded America not to sound unpatriotic, and not to belittle all the good that millions of people from all walks of life do in this country every day. There are people working hard to make a difference. Yet despite that, to me it feels like we are losing steam collectively. Can we get it back?  Frankly yes, I think we can but we need to lose the anger.  To listen and not shout. To stop pretending we are experts on a subject and ridicule the people who actually are like scientists and doctors. To learn and not make assumptions and broad condemnations based on ignorance. We can do that but we have to do it small scale in our one on one interactions with people. Music and sports can be some of the best icebreakers there are. So one time, one night let’s crack open a beer,  play some music by one of the best bands in America and talk about moving forward again.  Not a fading but a shining America.

IMG_0762

One Time, One Night-Written By David Hidalgo & Louie Perez

Follow Me on Facebook-https://www.facebook.com/SoundtrackPhoto

Follow Me On Twitter-https://twitter.com/SoundtrackPhoto

Follow Me On Instagram-https://instagram.com/soundtrackphoto/

All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle

SHARES AND LIKES APPRECIATED!