I will not make the argument that Columbus's arrival in the New World was insignificant merely because he was an absolutely awful person or because he didn't actually discover anything (which he himself maintained, claiming until his death that he'd merely found a different route to Asia). But think about this before you dismiss -- before Columbus, avocado, bell peppers, blueberries, cashews, cassava root, chili peppers, chocolate, cocaine, gourds, maize, peanuts, pecans pineapples, pumpkins, squash, tobacco, tomatoes, and vanilla were all unknown in the Old World and alcohol, apples, bananas, barley, cheese, coffee, mango, onions, rice, tea, and turnips, and wheat were unknown in the Americas. Imagine an existence without any of those and you can hopefully begin to get a taste of the importance of the Columbian Exchange. Imagine Italian cuisine without tomato sauce or gnocchi and you can't help but wonder if this is why Columbus is so dear to many Italians. Imagine, on the other hand, genocide, slavery, and old world diseases and you'll understand why he's even more hated by many others.
Nacional Records seems to be the only choice these days for any Latin Alternative music these days. While releases by artists such as Mexican Institute Of Sound, The Nortec Collective and the Zizek crew show the electronic future of the genre, Banda De Turistas reaches back to 60’s era Kinks for inspiration. Magical Radiophonic Heart contains fifteen songs of garage/psyche/pop bliss that would please the kids discovering a past that they never knew. Those kids that look retro yet weren’t born when The Dukes Of Stratosphere first came out, let alone The Kinks! Banda De Turistas is available on CD only.
Speaking of retro, Vampi Soul just released a couple of reissues. Spiteri, a band of Venezuelan brothers (Charles & Jorge) who moved to England, hung out with the likes of Traffic, The Animals and Osibisa and, in 1973, released a gem of a debut album. Spiteri, or as it was known in Venezuela, Disco De La Culebra (The Snake Record…because the band logo was a cobra), which was their only proper album. They were supposed to be Venezuela’s answer to Santana. But like the band’s original press release stated, “Santana is a rock band influenced by Latin music…Spiteri are Latin musicians influenced by rock.” Within the heavy 70’s rock and onslaught of percussion, one can hear Spiteri’s Venezuelan roots. As Jorge Spiteri put it, the band played “With The Beatles and Traffic in our minds and Joe Cuba in our hearts.” Sadly, due to immigration problems, most of the band started to leave England and the brothers were left with a line-up that consisted of them with English musicians. The band soon broke up but not before recording a killer funk version of The Spencer Davis Group’s “I’m A Man” that sounds like something Mandrill would have done. This release is available on CD and limited edition vinyl.
The other reissue Vampi Soul released this week is from El Gran Fellove, a totally underrated Cuban singer that made most of his career in Mexico. Born and raised in Cuba, he was a contemporary of the likes of Cachao, Perez Prado, Celia Cruz and Chano Pozo. He was known for his scatting, a style that he later dubbed the “Chua Chua.” El Gran Fellove could have been much bigger if it wasn’t for his loyalties. He was asked to play in both Machito and Tito Puente’s groups while performing in New York in the late fifties, but turned them down because he didn’t want to cause friction with the singers that those groups already had. On top of that, he had a career in Mexico. There, he starred in a few movies and released recordings on the RCA label. Vampi Soul's collection, Mango Mangue, focuses on the work he did in the 60’s on RCA, including the song “El Jamaiquino,” a Ska/Mambo fusion that has been the desires of deejays for many years. This release is available on CD and LP.
Every year I look forward to building my altar for Dia De Los Muertos. It’s become more important to me than Christmas or New Year's, and most certainly more than Thanksgiving. It's time for me to take time out and think of those who have left this world and look forward to their spiritual return via memories, stories and offerings. Besides images of family and friends that have passed on, I like to include musicians and artists who have inspired me in some way. This year, many great musicians from Latin America and Spain have passed. So this is my ofrenda to them. Pan De Muerto, Chocolate and Tequila for all spirits who visit. I hope you can include the souls listed below in your altar or in your thoughts today.
Mercedes Sosa (Argentina)
Argentine folk sing and outspoken activist. Along with Silvio Rodriguez, Victor Jara, Violeta Parra and many others, was part of the Nueva Canción movement. Nueva Cancion was the mixture of Latin American folk music and rock with progressive and politicized lyrics. Mercedes Sosa is not only respected in her native country, but around the world. Her most recent album, Cantora, contains collaborations with the likes of Shakira, Caetano Veloso and Luis Alberto Spinetta.
Jorge Reyes (Mexico)
Jorge Reyes started one of Mexico’s first progressive rock bands, Choc Mool, in the late 70’s/early 80’s. He played both guitar and flute while incorporating many indigenous instruments of Mexico. In 1985, Jorge went solo and released a series of new age albums based upon indigenous Mexican culture. He performed legendary concerts at famous Mexican archeological sites such Teotihuacan and Chichen Itza and his music was used for movies and television shows around the world. Coincidentally, he had an annual Dia De Los Muertos show at The Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City that was widely popular.
I had many thoughts after I watched the four hour, seventeen minute Che biopic. I enjoyed the movie very much, but because I felt I’m somewhat biased, I wanted to know what people thought about it. Would people's opinions be based on what they thought of the movie or what they thought of Che (or, for that matter, Steven Soderbergh and Benicio Del Toro)?
Did people who proclaimed it great do so because it’s a great story or a great film? Did the people who hate it have their own ulterior motives? I also wondered if I would like it myself if I saw it again.
Che, like Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, was probably a very hard movie to make. Movies about political icons seem to bring out the worst in people. People are overly passionate on both sides of the fence and on top of that, there's a multitude of critics who are quick to knock down any iconic figure of the far left. Serial killers get better treatment by the press. A journalist from PBS interviewed me during the intermission of the movie when I went to see the film. Most of his questions were asked in a condescending tone: “What do you know about Che other than the image we see on the t-shirt?” and "Is Che relevant today?" Duh…I don’t know, is oppression relevant today?
The reviews of the movies weren’t too glowing. Most of them were of the garden variety. I loved the reviewers who stated that the film was both "too long" and “didn’t give enough of Che was really about.” Really, did we want to sit through a ten-hour movie next time?
The other complaint was that it was mostly in Spanish. Along with the length of the film(s), this really turned off many of the Academy, who didn’t even give the film a blink during the Oscars. Made me wonder how well Slumdog Millionaire, which is a great fim, would have done if the actors spoke in Marathi, Urdu or Hindi. Michael Russnow from Huffington Post summed that mentality best:
Si Para Usted is a well put together compilation of Cuban artists from 1970-1980. The now legendary artists such as Irakere, Los Van Van and Juan Pablo Torres were the new wave of Cuban music that broke away from the traditional Cuban sound and started their own thing. Influenced by the sounds that were prominent at that time (Jazz, Afro-Beat, Rock, Funk and Brazilian Tropicalia), this compilation shows a hip side of Cuba that may not be known to many people, especially those who think Cuban music is played strictly by little old men dressed in Guayaberas. (Thanks, Wim Wenders & Ry Cooder!)
Here is a video of Irakere playing a red-hot version of “Bacalao Con Pan,” which is the second track on Si Para Usted. The thing that strikes me about the video is that although the Puertorriqueños were already doing this sort of music in New York for many years, Irakere style had an Afro-Beat feel to it. Most of the funkier tracks on this compilation have that same African vibe as well. Also, the drummer is playing on a trap set, which was pretty rare for the time.