I once said this song is an "artifact, a witness, an indictment, a prayer." Ten years later, "Dry Drunk Emperor" by the 2000s New York band TV on the Radio remains the most stirring offering in any language of mourning to the victims and survivors of Hurricane Katrina.
And more potently, ten years after the avoidable disaster, the song is a clear call for revolution. It's references to then-President George W. Bush as a "dry drunk emperor" of "gold cross jock skull and bones" and a "mocking smile" are reminders of the darkest moments of the Bush-era decadence.
In the remembrances this week, where is the acknowledgement of those days' feelings of anger, desperation, disgust? Where is the howling from the bottom of our gut?
I encourage you to listen today to this track and to ponder the power of its lyrics:
dying under hot desert sun,
watch your colors run.
Did you believe the lie they told you,
that Christ would lead the way
and in a matter of days
hand us victory?
Did you buy the bull they sold you,
that the bullets and the bombs
and all the strong arms
would bring home security?
All eyes upon
Dry Drunk Emperor
gold cross jock skull and bones
standing naked for a while!
Get him gone, get him gone, get him gone!!
and bring all the thieves to trial.
End their promise
end their dream
watch it turn to steam
rising to the nose of some cross-legged god
Gog of Magog
end-times sort of thing.
Oh, unmentionable disgrace
shield the children's faces
as all the monied apes
display unimaginably poor taste
in a scramble for mastery.
Atta' boy get em with your gun
till Mr. Mega-Ton
tells us when we've won
what we're gonna leave undone.
All eyes upon
Dry Drunk Emperor
gold cross jock skull and bones
naked for a while.
Get him gone, get him gone, get him gone!!!
and bring all his thieves to trial.
What if all the fathers and the sons
went marching with their guns
drawn on Washington.
That would seal the deal,
show if it was real,
this supposed freedom.
What if all the bleeding hearts
took it on themselves
to make a brand new start.
Organs pumpin' on their sleeves,
paint murals on the White House
feed the leaders L.S.D.
Grab your fife and drum,
grab your gold baton
and let's meet on the lawn,
shut down this hypocrisy.
** Originally published at Thump:
It was 3AM on a Saturday morning by the time we made it to Del Valle, the middle-class mid-section of Mexico City. We inched our way into a tacky, vacant bar where Siete Catorce was scheduled to play a late-night set. Ten Foot, a prominent DJ from London, was playing before a crowd of about eight, and when the Mexicali electronic music producer walked in he went straight for the DJ table. The two hashed it out, and before long, Siete had assumed the position in front of his PC laptop. We were there to watch him make music live on his screen, mixing and manipulating original tracks with nothing but a laptop and a mousepad.
It was a weird, soggy summer night. There were a few strewn about tables, fluorescent lights, people smoking indoors (which is illegal here, but only incidentally), and furtive passages to the restrooms to “powder noses.” The bar wouldn’t have been out of place tucked away in LA’s Koreatown district, and it was a perfect place to dance to Siete Catorce’s mix of tribal, techno, and “emo broken beats.”
A few minutes into his set, I was dancing. A few minutes more and everyone in the bar was dancing.
Dawn approached, and he kept playing. Thin and wily, basked in the glow of his laptop screen, Siete hopped and swayed through his set. Only after every authority figure in the place, from the bartender to the promoter, told him he had to stop, did Siete stop playing. The speakers rested. People were panting, walking around in circles. The young DJ turned to the nearest girl next to him and asked, still bobbing, “Was that good? Did you like that?” But he already knew the answer.
It was good. The girl by his side knew it. I knew it. Even the angry bartender knew it.
Since moving to Mexico City from his native Mexicali—thanks to the release of his EP with local label NAAFI—Siete Catorce has torn through town, playing wherever he can, and frequently winding up crowd-surfing during his sets. From that nameless bar in Del Valle, to the it venue of the moment, Bahía, to Mexico City living rooms dusted with cigarette smoke, he’s been dazzling audiences with a sound that marries Mexican tribal jubilance (à la 3BALL MTY) with an unmistakable feeling of sadness, rage, and foreboding.
It was about time somebody did it.
Life in Mexico is hard right now: traffic is bad, the rainy season was devastating, no one has money, people get paid shit. Encounters with cartel or state violence are basically considered normal. Some economists already think Mexico is slipping into a new recession, even though the cost of food and transportation continues to rise. But night after night, weekend after weekend, the party rolls on. In Mexico City, Siete Catorce (or “7:14”) has been there for us consistently.
“My music is very Mexican but also very tripped-out”—ondeada—Siete Catorce told me. “I like the vibe here. It reminds me of when I lived in Oakland, even in the weather a little bit. I like the vibe of a city that’s always busy.”
Marco Polo Gutierrez was born in Mexicali but was raised mostly in Oakland, CA. He identifies strongly with the Bay Area in his music, tastes, and cultural stance. This got us talking. I went to school in the Bay and spent childhood summer vacations visiting relatives in Northern CA. During one YouTube-scrolling hangout session, we confirmed that we could both rap along with “93 ‘till Infinity.”
“I was born in Mexicali, and when I was two, I went to live in Oakland,” Siete said during a rainstorm in early July. “I lived there till I was 14 or 15. I came over here because they deported my mom, and so, the whole family came back.”
Mexicali is the vast desert sister city to Tijuana. Singer-songwriter Juan Cirerol is from there, and there’s a significant Chinese-Mexican population, but other than that there’s not much going for it. It must have been a tough place to adapt to after feeling the freedom and mobility that comes with life in Oakland.
“Well, over [in Oakland], you’re in the ghetto. It’s dope because there are cultures from everywhere. And you grow up exposed to all that. I just hung out with my cousins. They were stoners and listened to rap and hip-hop. And that’s the environment I grew up in.”
His sound, he explains, is deeply rooted in the all-night birthday and quinceañera parties among relatives that marked his childhood—the hours and hours of cumbia. It’s an experience that almost any Mexican kid can tap into, but in his case, one that is marred by the trauma of a parent’s expulsion from the United States.
In 2007 Siete's mother was deported. He tells me she had to visit a sick relative in Mexicali and used a sister's passport to cross back to the U.S., and was caught. His entire family followed her to Mexicali. This was around the same time that the Baja drug-smuggling corridor erupted in internal warfare—one site of unrest within a country-wide drug war that was getting increasingly out of control. All across northern Mexico, many young producers and musicians at the time were literally retreating to their bedrooms for safety. They dabbled across genres, from sad-core garage to hard-core club. In the process, they developed the personalities that would later become an Erick Rincon or a Dani Shivers, names now defining music in Mexico today.
Siete Catorce started playing piano at the age of five. Once he settled in Mexicali, he downloaded Ableton Live and started taking his first cracks at house and electro. “Then I started making glitch, glitch-hop, dubstep, stuff like that,” Siete said. “But that was a long time ago, when no one listened to Skrillex or anything.”
He explains his start as a producer in recognizable steps: first came the teenage boredom, then the isolation; followed by an introduction to raves, a few lessons in desktop mixing, and a period of dancing around genres and scenes before finally finding a sound. In this case, it was thanks to a cumbia remix he did for the cura of it—the shits-and-giggles.
“You could say that what changed everything was when I remixed a track by Celso Piña, ‘Cumbia del Poder’,” Siete said.
The remix of the Celso was driven by a dubby boom with some hip to it. A DJ in Canada picked it up, and then the music site Generation Bass posted it, Siete recalls. Then, in April 2011, he was invited to open at a party for experimental electronic music in Tijuana.
** Originally published at VICE México:
El miércoles fue 2 de octubre, fecha oscura en México para la gente que le importa una cosita que es la protección de derechos y de la justicia en nuestro país.
En otros años, he cubierto la marcha de los estudiantes y de los señores y las señoras del Comité del ‘68, los que siguen vivos, los que siguen caminando cada 2 de octubre en memoria de los compañeros de las unis y las prepas que perdieron hace 45 años en la Plaza de las Tres Culturas. (QDEP Carlota Botey, ¡presente!)
Créanme que la convicción personal me guía como periodista en esta fecha.
La primera vez que entendí lo que ocurrió en 1968 en México —porque nunca se sabrá a fondo y con claridad— caí en una depresión de varios días, no lo creía y no lo quería creer. ¿Dónde hubiera estado si a mí me hubiera tocado caminar por estas calles en esas fechas y no en las de hoy? ¿Estuviera en Tlatelolco en esos días tensos, antes del inicio de las Olimpiadas en la Ciudad de México, cuando las clases medias del “Mexican Miracle” salieron a reclamar la apertura de un estado autoritario y corrupto?
Y a la vez, se me ha pasado la fecha impredeciblemente. El año pasado, casi ni me di cuenta cuando se aproximaba el 2 de octubre. Al final, no hubo heridos en los demadres entre encapuchados/anarquistas/infiltrados/porros y las fuerzas de la seguridad pública en su labor de “vigilar” la marcha conmemorativa, el baile de putazos de siempre.
Pero este 2013 no pude ignorar el calendario. Desde el 1 de diciembre han ido incrementando los golpes entre la policía y manifestantes que ven tan mal su situación y sus expectativas para el futuro que deciden joder el tráfico en la ciudad, y hasta el acceso al aeropuerto cuando se les ocurre. Pobres. Los polis les pegan, y los ciudadanos les tiran duro hate. En todo caso, se siente un lento aumento en la tensión en el aire, y me preocupa lo que traerán los próximos cinco años —por lo menos para todos los que no directamente vamos a ganar bajo la gloria de la restauración del viejo régimen.
Pero… fuera con la depre.
Los días en el inicio del otoño han estado lindos, y hoy viernes es luna nueva. ¡Todo nuevo! Y como la mañana, el día, la tarde, la noche y la madrugada para mí gira alrededor de la comida, decidí el miércoles marcar el 2 de octubre tomándome unos buenos pulques, schido’la’banda.
En la calle Aranda, atrás del triste y olvidado mercado setentero de artesanías de la calle Ayuntamiento, entre unos baños públicos y el Molinero Progreso (que huele tan rico siempre), está la pulquería Las Duelistas. Sí, ya todos las conocen y ya ha salido en todos los medios y ahora llegan turistas y cámaras casi diario. Lo hermoso de Las Duelistas es que a pesar de la atención mediática, no ha cambiado: es un lugar para los viejitos de la colonia que conocen los secretos milenarios de este regalo del maguey, y los chavos estudiantes que lo han “descubierto” de nuevo. (¿Podemos ya dejar de hablar del descubrimiento de estas generaciones al pulque? Ya pasó, ¿no? Por su attn., gracias).
Mi amigo El Ponce me trajo a este lugar por primera vez en 2008 cuando llegué a vivir al barrio. Era cuando apenitas el amigo ponk El Xuve estaba elaborando los bellos murales del panteón de dioses mexicas que ahora decoran el lugar y lo hacen (creo yo) uno de los espacios más especiales en el Centro. El dueño Arturo Garrido siempre me ha dado la bienvenida. Sus curados, más.
Este miércoles en Las Duelistas, me atrajo el tuit de diario de la noche antes, anunciando los curados del día próximo:
Miércoles de Mango, Betabel, Avena, Apio y Guayaba y de botana unos Frijoles guisados con chorizo acompañados de una salsa molcajeteada— Las Duelistas (@LaPulqueria) October 2, 2013
Llegué con mi compañero de VICE México, Alejandro Mendoza, y empecé con un curado de betabel, uno de mis favoritos de este lugar. Como me iba a quedar a tomarme por lo menos dos tarros hoy, pedí la botana, esta vez unos frijoles con chorizo, picados con cebolla y cilantro, y unas tortitillas simples.
La pulquería estaba llena ya de jóvenes y grandes. A tres cuadras de aquí, la policía de la ciudad ya tenía sus vallas metálicas cerrando el paso a la Alameda Central, a Bellas Artes y a Madero. Pero eso no se sentía adentro de Las Duelistas.
Le pregunté a mi servidor de siempre que dónde estaba Don Arturo. Ahí anda, me dejó saber, “A ver si va a la marcha”, agregó, y no entendí si hablaba en serio. En pocos minutos llegó Don Arturo, nos saludamos y sólo se quejó de que los policías hubieran tomado el Centro de nuevo.
Me eché p’atrás el de betabel. Pedí luego un curado de apio, sin chile, sólo sal y limón. Para este entonces, ya sentía la peda de los 400 conejos. Me sentía feliz, fuerte y no quería que las madrizas que seguro venían más tarde en la calle me bajaran la buena vibra.
Los frijolitos me llenaron bien. Me acerqué a la rockola, y, como por instinto, busqué Panteón Rococó. Ahí estaban. Por unos segundos, pensé en pedir “Nada Pasó.”
No, esta vez no. Qué cliché. Qué tristeza. Mejor otra… ¡Salud!
Otras pulquerías donde he chupado, sin fichas directas. (¡Búsquenle, que esto no es Chilango Punto Com, dudes!):
La Ana María, en la Colonia Portales
El Salón Casino, en la Colonia Obrera
La Risa, en Mesones en el Centro
Un puesto en la Merced
La Pirata, por Patriotismo
La Antigua Roma (por si te atreves), sobre Allende, cerca de Garibaldi
No Más No Llores, allá en Xochimilco
La Titina, por Misterios y Calzada de Guadalupe
Un puesto de tacos en la México-Cuernavaca libre, después de Tres Marías
How do you guys rip YouTubes now that Zamzar succumbed and doesn't anymore? Cuz I need the entire audio to this hour-long fashion collection video musicalized by mi hermano Total Freedom, "Meat Fashion Show A/W 2013 - Believe."
Ash's mixing is, like, prime material. Call it trap, rave, hoodie gothic, whateva; his style has become recognizable by ears alone. Particularly in awe of the track that starts at about minute 38. Deaaaaaaamn. (Clothes are good, too.)
If you get a weird jumble of characters in your reader for the headline for this post because of the capitalized ñ in it, it's a minor inconvenience worth swallowing while getting to know the artist and electronica producer known as Ñaka Ñaka.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Bodies found dumped in a well in northeastern Mexico may be those of the 18 musicians and staff of a band that went missing after a Thursday night performance, authorities said.
The members of Kombo Kolombia were reported missing Friday by family members who said they lost contact with the group after it performed at a bar along a highway about 30 miles north of Monterrey, the capital of Nuevo Leon state.
On Monday, Gov. Rodrigo Medina told reporters that early signs indicated the bodies discovered the day before in the community of Mina are probably the missing members of Kombo Kolombia. Medina said four bodies had so far been positively identified as members of the band but that authorities were holding off on confirming that the entire group was found until each victim was accounted for.
Jesus Valencia, a Nuevo Leon state spokesman, told The Times that 18 bodies were found in a well with a water wheel at an abandoned ranch near the group's last known whereabouts, a bar called La Carreta, where the band played Thursday night.
After the band's performance, 10 armed men entered the bar and ordered Kombo Kolombia and their staff into waiting vehicles, Valencia said. One of the members managed to escape after the kidnapping and told authorities he watched as band mates were beaten and interrogated. The captors then began executing the musicians, the witness told officials.
His identity was not released, but the spokesman said the musician was under state guard and cooperating with the investigation.
News reports said eight bodies had been pulled out by noon Monday, some wearing clothing described as similar to the band's costumes, and showing signs of shooting injuries and torture.
At least one musician in the group was a Colombian national, authorities said, but no other details were provided.
Forensic investigators were on the scene and family members were providing DNA samples to help with identification of the bodies. There were no details on who kidnapped the band or why it might have been targeted.
"We assume their killers are related to some kind of criminal group," Valencia said. "They could have played a song someone did not like or said something someone did not like. We don't know."
Kombo Kolombia was known to play a style of Colombian music called vallenato, which is related to the imported cumbia genre that is widely popular in Monterrey and now considered a staple of the region's culture. The band was young and did not have a national profile in a country where many large musical groups earn a living playing at festivals, dance halls, and parties in the countryside.
According to reports, Kombo Kolombia was a fixture on the nightclub scene in Monterrey, but was not known to play the popular narcocorrido ballads that glorify the exploits of drug lords. Nuevo Leon is one of the most violent states in Mexico, as the Sinaloa and Zetas cartels and their allies fight for dominance of key trafficking routes north to the U.S. border
* Photo via LAT.
ESTADO is a series of electronic music sets taking place each Saturday this month at the Estela de Luz monument in Mexico City, showcasing the most cutting-edge and challenging emerging talents from four eletronic music centers in Mexico: Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana, Monterrey, and D.F.
The Estela, a monumentally distastrous project since its inception, is being gradually claimed as everyday-usage public space along Paseo de la Reforma. This was where the #YoSoy132 movement held one of its earliest and most spontaneous demonstrations. Inside, or rather underneath the structure, a Centro de Cultural Digital was established, and from here, musical performances have taken place on the square at the base of the "Suavicrema."
The ESTADO site is well worth a browsing and listen. Here's a compilation of the artists at Soundcloud, with downloadable tracks.
** PREVIOUSLY: See also, Estrella Cercana, "Teen DJ from Ciudad Juarez, Mock the Zuma, reflects a 'bizarro' reality," "More snapshots from Monterrey, NRML fest," "Estrella Cercana: A newspaper's obituary, Part 4."
** Originally published at World Now and re-published in the Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012, print edition of the Los Angeles Times:
Will the last wailing, stumbling drunk person on Mexico City's Plaza Garibaldi please turn off the lights on the way out?
The government of Mexico City, where drinking until dawn has long been a competitive pastime, has banned the sale and drinking of alcoholic beverages on the esplanade of Plaza Garibaldi. Public drinking was a previously tolerated custom at the meeting point for hundreds of struggling busking mariachi musicians and their glad-to-be-sad customers.
Authorities said alcohol would still be sold at the bars and cantinas that ring Garibaldi, but the practice of chugging beers or downing mixed drinks outdoors in the early-morning hours with mariachis crooning nearby will halt under Operation Zero Tolerance, said Alberto Esteva, subsecretary of public policy at City Hall.
Under the administration of Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, the city has invested about $26.8 million to revitalize Plaza Garibaldi, mostly on the construction of its Museum of Tequila and Mezcal and the repaving of the square. The outdoor alcohol ban is one more step in that plan, Esteva said in an interview.
"We gave the vendors alternative options, they didn't respond, and the city had to make a decision," the official said. "Garibaldi is about evoking that Mexican-ness, those customs, but permanent drunkenness is not one of them."
Alcohol sales were first barred Wednesday night, and by Thursday afternoon, without a vendor in sight on Garibaldi's wide expanse, mariachis and business owners expressed ambivalence about the new policy.
"There will be fewer people, because that's why they come downtown. To drink, drink here, and go somewhere else," said Soledad Diaz de Dios, whose family owns a recently renovated pulque bar on the square, La Hermosa Hortencia. "But [the drinking on the plaza] is also bad, for the tourism aspect."
Complaints of violence, public vomiting and marijuana smoking have grown. The plaza has also seen large brawls and confrontations with police involving semi-homeless youths, identified as "punks" by some of the musicians. Reportedly, drinks on the plaza are also sometimes spiked with substances meant to alter drinkers' mental states and thus make them vulnerable to assault.
"[The policy] is good, in quotation marks," said trumpet player Jesus Rosas. "Every Thursday through Saturday night, the party starts. And what's the party? Fights, breaking bottles, robberies."
But without the open-air drinking to go along with the mariachis, norteños, and jarochos, will Plaza Garibaldi ever be the same? Mariachis have complained to the city that the museum, for example, blocks access to the plaza, reducing their customer base.
"It hasn't been reformed, it's been completely tronado," huffed old-timer David Figueroa, a guitar player, using a slang term for broken, failed or flopped.
* Photo: Soledad Diaz de Dios, a vendor at the pulquería La Hermosa Hortencia on Plaza Garibaldi, Oct. 27, 2012.
Dancing + being in love + flying?
"Dancing in Slow Motion," by friends Teengirl Fantasy, features vocals from the venerable Shannon Funchess. And don't you think she sings with the grace of a chamana from space? There are a variety of great remixes, such as a noteworthy mix Brenmar. But the original has that beautiful pause at 2:39 ... and then it catches you, safe.
* From Latino USA:
Singer Chavela Vargas was beloved throughout the continent for her rough yet tender voice singing songs of love gained and lost. She died August 5. Reporter Daniel Hernandez attended her very public wake in her adopted home, Mexico City.
Listen to the piece here. Previously, "On voting for the first time for president in Mexico."
** Photo: Fans at Garibaldi.
** Originally published at World Now:
It is almost pointless to be sad about the passing of Chavela Vargas. Her entire life, through song, was about transcending and challenging death.
The singer, who passed away Sunday in Cuernavaca, lived to be 93, surviving many contemporaries from decades ago when Vargas wore men’s clothes, smoked, and carried a pistol in macho-bound Mexico.
Then she disappeared. For a few foggy years in the last century, when Vargas stayed away from the capital's cabarets and fell under the spell of alcohol in a forgotten town in the state of Morelos, she had become a ghostly myth. Many people actually thought she had died.
After the reflourishing of her career -- starting in 1991 at the Coyoacan district cabaret El Habito, but marked for U.S. audiences by her performance of "La Llorona" in the 2002 film "Frida" -- Vargas through her performances seemed to be gamely singing her way around death.
It was always a fair match, always a matter of courtly struggle against a respected rival.
In her songs, in that uniquely Latin American way of romancing melancholy, Vargas would channel the long echoes of sorrow and pain that accompany any life as long as hers, armor against its end. Few details are known about her famous affairs, but we didn't really need them. Her songs about love and loss evoked countless shivers and heavy hearts, countless borracheras -- enthusiastically sorrowful drinking sessions.
For that, audiences and listeners across Mexico, the Americas and Spain would sometimes find themselves under a surprising state of rapture in the presence of her voice. It was pleading and raspy, yet always remarkably controlled.
On Monday night, throngs of Vargas devotees filled Plaza Garibaldi near downtown Mexico City to be near her casket for a few hours and participate in a customary Mexican ritual that's become familiar after the passings of Carlos Fuentes and Carlos Monsivais: a public mourning session.
Howls of farewell from fans were heard across the plaza. When prominent folk singer Eugenia Leon led the crowds in the universally revered ranchera ballad “Volver,” which Vargas always delivered with fire and ruination, hundreds of voices joined in what felt like a spontaneous group therapy session. There was a lot of tequila flowing by then.
This sort of event in any context can become a platform for insincere or awkward reactions to the death of a beloved figure, and this was particularly apparent. The memorial was organized by the culture ministry of the Mexico City municipal government and included the participation of a mariachi band associated with the media conglomerate Televisa.
Against such a powerfully distinct voice as that of "Chavela," the tributes sung by Leon, Tania Libertad and Lila Downs as "offerings" before her reboso-covered casket served only as reminders of what has been lost. All are accomplished singers, but none could capture what Vargas could.
When she sang, she'd sometimes lift her chin in a slow physical gesture, as if exposing both her dignity and wounds. At a microphone, she'd take her arms and raise them past her head, palms open, as though conjuring a ghost. Vargas might have laughed out loud if she was observing the memorial Monday night from the comforts of the Aztecs' underworld.
At Plaza Garibaldi, the troubled meeting-point for Mexico City’s roving mariachi musicians, several mariachis said gruffly that they were respectful but indifferent to her passing because Vargas usually did not perform with mariachis but with the solitary guitar.
She did, however, drink at the Tenampa cantina on the plaza. On Monday night, a group of longtime lesbian activists who knew Vargas gathered at a table at the Tenampa, with a bottle of tequila in her honor.
Patria Jimenez Flores, 55, described herself as a "spiritual daughter" to Vargas, who was also seriously regarded by many as a shaman.
"She was the first to break with all the stereotypes and paradigms in a country like Mexico, that is somachista. She took the criticisms, and then had the public at her feet," Jimenez said.
A comment heard since Vargas's death is that, as a chamana, she not merely died but "transcended" to another plane.
In one of her final interviews, Vargas told the El Universal newspaper's Sunday magazine in April that she was enjoying her final years in her home in Tepoztlan. She told the magazine that she would "cease living without dying."
* Photo: Chavela Vargas performs in Lima, Peru, on Oct. 12, 2002. Credit: Jaime Razuri / AFP/Getty Images
From Frank Ocean's first mixtape, a video and track that captures with uncanny accuracy a certain late-2000s decade Los Angeles lifestyle that led to many transcended boundaries for many kids in the city at the time -- right when no one was really paying attention.
* "Excavations" is not a category on this blog, it's a theme.
We're doing a cool event on Tuesday night, May 22, at Casa Familiar in right in San Ysidro, the most southwesterly community on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Excited to share the space with Gustavo Arellano, OC Weekly editor and author of the new book "Taco USA"; Bill Nericcio, San Diego State professor and author of "Tex[t]-Mex," who organized the event; and un servidor. I think I'll read some from "El bajón y el delirio."
El Festival NRMAL fue *laaaaa onda.* Pero la otra realidad pica.
From Wikileaks: "While there is public concern about the influence of the cartels, civil society is in general unaware of the degree to which the cartels have infiltrated key state and municipal institutions. All of the region's police forces are controlled by organized crime. In the case of San Pedro, the ABL cartel called the shots although a 15-person advance squad from la Familia was present in the city and trying to gain a foothold among the police force. (Separately, the former San Pedro Secretary of Public Security reports that La Familia has been engaged in such efforts intermittently since 2006.) As for the other police forces in the area, the Gulf Cartel was the true master. In general, and as was the case in San Pedro, the cartels did not attempt to bribe the municipal secretaries of public security, but bought off the number two and number three level officials on the force. Note: The mid-September detention by state law enforcement authorities of the Municipal Secretary for Public Security of Santiago (a Monterrey suburb) would represent an exception to this rule. End Note."
** Originally published in the Calendar section of the Sunday Los Angeles Times:
On a wide but quiet strip of Vermont Avenue in South Los Angeles, in the run-down Casa Honduras dance hall, the ska kids are waiting for the next band to start.
Couples are making out in the corners of the venue, attached to a Honduran restaurant. They sport dreadlocks, Afros and spiky punk 'dos and are dressed in everything from camouflage and combat boots to Chucks and suspenders.
A sound check ensues with a band called Blanco y Negro. Once its members get going, blasting the room with a frenetic Latin-punk sound sung both in English and Spanish, the young crowd forms a circle and begins to skank. The dance has them lifting their elbows and knees rhythmically to the ska beat, rushing and pushing against one another when the music accelerates into punk or metal.
Bodies are in motion, sweating, pounding skin to skin. Though just eight miles from downtown L.A., by the sounds and faces, this could be a jam in Mexico City or Tijuana.
Ska — the Jamaican sound that expanded into a variety of rock and reggae subgenres in the United Kingdom and then the United States in the late 1970s through the '90s — is booming again in Southern California. It is experiencing a comeback after a decade of relative exile, but this time around it's influenced by ska from Latin America.
Underground shows are happening in backyards and warehouses across Southern California, with mini-scenes developing in areas such as South and southeastern Los Angeles, Orange County and the Inland Empire.
"Do you remember the swing days? This is the new era of that," said Hollywood resident Josh Morales, 24. "But it's more ska-reggae."
"It's like a combination of cumbia with ska," Morales said as the band Los Chiles Verdes began warming up for its set. "It's like Spanish rock.... I don't know. It's hard to explain."
** Read the rest here. Read more ...
** Originally published in the L.A. Times Calendar section:
REPORTING FROM SAN PEDRO GARZA GARCIA, MEXICO -- Oakland-bred Raka Rich brought the flow of California hip-hop, in Spanish.
Puerto Rico's Davila 666 ignited a wild mosh-pit with its Latin-tinged punk.
And all kinds of new Mexican acts — as varied as Juan Cirerol of Mexicali and cumbia-rockers Sonido San Francisco — showed that Mexico's independent music scene just might be at its most dynamic in years. Over 12 hours on Saturday, some 4,500 fans gathered to hear more than 50 international acts at a sonically diverse annual music festival called NRMAL.
The name belies the fact that nothing here can be taken for granted. Not only was it the biggest NRMAL fest held in the past three years, but the fact that it took place in this industrial city of more than 4 million without any serious trouble makes it even more of a triumph.
Metropolitan Monterrey is currently a battleground in Mexico's ongoing drug war, where a string of deadly tragedies such as the last August's Casino Royale massacre, in which 52 people died after drug traffickers torched a casino, have traumatized a once-proud hub of industry and innovation.
The storied Monterrey night life that was once centered around the Barrio Antiguo neighborhood is all but dead after a series of shootings with multiple fatalities at popular night spots. Many musicians who in previous years helped make Monterrey an incubator for new Latino sounds — groups such as Kinky or newer rockers She's a Tease — have migrated to safer centers such as Mexico City or to the United States.
"There was sadness, deception, uncertainty, a lack of will to get things done," said NRMAL organizer Pablo Martinez, speaking about the effects of violence on the Monterrey scene. "I think the fruits of staying standing through this year is this festival."
The outdoor fete, with bands spread over three stages all day long, was a stylish yet friendly event where security was casual and the boundary between the performing musicians and the fans was almost nonexistent.
"This is definitely a cutting-edge festival," said Travis Egedy of Denver punk-rave act Pictureplane as the afternoon got going. "The idea to have a cross-cultural music festival is really important and really cool, getting Americans to play down here for Mexicans."
That welcoming vibe was partly the product of a new spirit of collaboration brought by this year's NRMAL co-curator, Brooklyn DIY promoter Todd P.
In 2010, Todd P. organized a separate festival in Monterrey dubbed MTY MX, competing with the budding NRMAL crew and its first festival. That same year, an outbreak of drug-war violence in Monterrey resulted in many U.S. performers canceling their visits at the last minute. Both festivals struggled.
This year, Todd P. joined forces with NRMAL, setting aside the previous atmosphere of competition. He pumped a New York indie ethos into the lineup with acts he invited such as Prince Rama, Liturgy and Gatekeeper.
"The story line is: It's so bad, things are falling apart and it's chaos," Todd P. said. "I'm here, I'm looking around. It's not falling apart. This is a functioning country. It has problems but it's not the country portrayed in the news."
* Read the rest here.
* Photo: Tijuana goth-pop singer Dani Shivers performs at Festival NRMAL in San Pedro Garza Garcia, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, March 10, 2012.
** Never got around to posting this here! Originally published at World Now (months ago):
Like most of the mariachi musicians milling about Plaza Garibaldi this early morning waiting for work, Juan Ramon Ramirez had his hands in his pockets, not on the strings of his vihuela.
It was cold, and there weren't many customers out looking for a song. Not even just a few days after Mexico's most well-known musical tradition got a dose of good news.
Mariachi music -- who hasn't ever heard that spirited strumming? -- now belongs to the world's list of "Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity," as declared this week by the United Nations.
Ramirez, 62, had heard about the U.N. designation and it sounded good to him.
"I hope it turns into more work," he said, not appearing very hopeful. "Well, it could turn into more work."
"Let's hope this gets fixed," the musician said.
UNESCO, the U.N. educational and cultural agency, added mariachi and 18 other demonstrations of intangible world heritage to its list during a meeting in Bali, Indonesia. The additions include Chinese shadow puppetry and French horseback riding, which is intangibly vital for the world because it "emphasizes harmonious relations between humans and horses," the agency said.
UNESCO also added 11 demonstrations of intangible world heritage that, in its phrasing, are in Need of Urgent Safeguarding. These include Yaokwa, the "Enawene Nawe people's ritual for the maintenance of social and cosmic order," in the Brazilian Amazon, and a "circular breathing" singing technique from Mongolia.
But was mariachi placed on the wrong list? Could it be considered in Need of Urgent Safeguarding?
You might think so after a night at Plaza Garibaldi, or any plaza, it might seem, where mariachis traditionally gather and busk for work. Mariachis everywhere are having a tough time.
In Los Angeles, home to the world's second largest population of Mexicans, mariachis are feeling pushed out of the traditional Mariachi Plaza east of downtown due to the looming threat of development and gentrification.
In Guadalajara, the historic birthplace of mariachi, the musicians at the Plaza de los Mariachis complain of a declining clientele due to security fears and a lack of support from the local government.
The city is the capital of Jalisco state in western Mexico, and it means business when it often proclaims itself the "cradle" of Mexican culture. Tequila, the highly tangible alcoholic spirit, is also from there.
Here in Mexico City, Plaza Garibaldi north of downtown has been completely remodeled in the last two years, with a new plaza floor and a new tequila museum. Local mariachis, however, say the imposing museum structure is unwelcoming and "doesn't have a point." The remodeling also kept customers away for months at a time, and since the project was finished, they haven't quite come back.
That's how mariachi David Figueroa put it. The 66-year-old guitar player said the fixes to the plaza are largely cosmetic. He's played in Plaza Garibaldi, he said, since 1957. His workload suffered once the city started cleaning up the area, and it hasn't fully recovered since.
Attempts at integrating mariachis into established unions have also produced poor results for the musicians, Figueroa added.
"What we really need is a good restaurant with good food where you can go listen to good music," Figueroa said. "They don't help us at all."
Indeed, mariachi's addition to the UNESCO list will probably mean little to the musicians who gather at places like Garibaldi. (The full-band price for a song, 150 pesos or about $11, has not changed since the Sunday news of the UNESCO list, several musicians acknowledged.)
Here, drunken revelers show up to hire bands or trios for whatever song they might want, in just about any genre. Few make much of a distinction between the traditional mariachis -- with their form-fitting suits and wide-brimmed sombreros -- and newer additions to the plaza who play popular nortenos from Mexico's north or jarocho from the tropical eastern coast.
"Now they think they own the plaza!" Figueroa huffed. "But here, the tradition of Plaza Garibaldi has always been mariachi. It's not norteno, not jarocho, not trio, it's mariachi."
A song wafted over the chilly night air from nearby. The men shivered.
"Hopefully the patrimony [list] will mean people will respect mariachis more," said viola player Antonio Hernandez, 55. "We only charge what you're supposed to charge."
* Photo: Mariachis perform in 2009. Credit: UNESCO
** Originally published at World Now:
Kevin Santana remembers with a blank disenchantment the night he threw a party in his hometown of Ciudad Juarez and soldiers came to break it up.
It was in 2009, the young music producer and DJ recalls, and he and his friends had set up a sound system at a raquetball court and invited other teens to come dance. "There was nothing else going on that night and people in Juarez like to party," he explained a few days ago.
"They put us with our hands against the wall, made us close our eyes, they said they were going to rape the girls. We thought, 'This is it, they are going to break us.' "
I paused and asked for an explanation. Quebrar -- to break -- is slang used to signify killing someone in Ciudad Juarez, one of the most violent cities in the world and a sad symbol for Mexico's brutal drug war.
In the end, the kids were let go and the party was over. Santana shrugged and added: "There have always been soldiers in Juarez."
Santana just turned 18 in August. Troops were first sent to Ciudad Juarez in early 2008. Put another way, Santana has lived in a city with armed federal forces on the streets for most of his teen years.
Known by his DJ name Mock The Zuma, Santana is part of a loose generation of electronic musicians and producers based predominantly in Mexico's northern region that are attracting attention among tastemakers in the capital and in Latino-heavy cities north of the border.
Their cutting-edge sounds draw on diverse Latin American rhythms -- such as cumbia and son -- filtered through easy-to-access editing software that allows the music-makers to mix, scratch, and cut it all up with spacey and aggressive electronic beats.
To call them very young is apt; most are still teenagers.
Salem dispenses with the over-produced dancers and the studded shoulderpads and sensibly employs footage of what appear to be U.S. combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to illustrate their themes. Yay.
True role models, as far as I'm concerned. I know that headache. Are we need of an a la chingada with it all, pan-Latino-style work revolt? Play it!
* Previously, "No voy a trabajar."
That was fast. Within hours of a shootout near the Torreón football stadium that caused pandemonium among thousands of fans, a group calling itself Los Gallos Alterados uploaded on Youtube a corrido documenting the incident.
Really, the song gives about as much if not better detail on what happened than your average news story. He sings that the cause of the shooting was a checkpoint set up by the "gobierno militar," then calls for safety at sporting venues for the sake of the children.
Mexico, no matter what, I love you.
This is Eyaculacion Post Mortem, from Barcelona, on Friday night at Club Atlantico in downtown Mexico DF. Like death-punk? They're synthy and hardcore. Live, one of the best shows of any kind I've been to in a long while.
People were dressed in their darky punk best. I was busy in the slam. Everyone's sweat. Bodies. "Gente guapa aqui en México," said a voice from behind the masks.
You know I'm down this girl, but this just takes it to another level.
During a recent concert in Puerto Vallarta, Jenni Rivera apparently had a beer thrown at her on stage. The rancherita asked that the girl who threw the beer brought up to confront her face-to-face. Next is a humiliation-fest that only a royal bad-ass like Jenni Rivera could come up with.
"Who do you think has more balls," the singer asks the girl standing meekly before her, "You or me?"
Jenni then dumps a beer on the girl's head, yanks at her hair, and dispatches the unfortunate fan off-stage and presumably to the curb. After asking for respect from the audience -- "I could be in the hotel, making a baby" -- Jenni gets in one last shot, shaking her fingers and going: "Ayy, I caught some lice!"
Yeah, that's pretty clear by now, homegirl, thanks. * Via DListed. ** Thanks, Octavia!
Above, the documentary short "Barrios, Beats, and Blood," on the hip-hop scene in Ciudad Juarez, now on YouTube in its entirety. (I covered the premiere of the film last year at the Morelia Film Festival for La Plaza; see here.)
Directed and produced by journalists Ioan Grillo and John Dickie, "Barrios, Beats, and Blood" offers a direct window into the worldview of youth in a U.S.-Mexico border city that is drowning in death. The voices here direct their protest MCing at the cartels and the government alike: "Queremos que se jode y ya que se quede un puto cartel."
I bet Gil Scott-Heron would be nodding his head right now.