Amoeblog

Happy Discovery Day -- Real Geographic Discoveries of the Modern Age

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 13, 2014 04:42pm | Post a Comment

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. 





 
We all know now that Columbus wasn't the first European to visit the Americas either -- but neither was Leif Erikson. Europeans had been living in the North American territory of Greenland since sometime between 876 and 932 CE when Gunnbjorn Ulfsson was blown off course and sited the world's largest island. Around 978, Snæbjorn Galti was the probably first European to set food on Greenland but we rightly don't make a big deal out of that since there were already Inuits living there and before them, an earlier people who'd arrived and abandoned the country -- and that cultural exchange was by most measures, less impactful on the planet.


The Divine Comedy - "A Seafood Song"

Greenland, of course, is just as much a part of North America as are the Bahamas (where Columbus landed) as are the US and Canada -- or Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Bonaire, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Clipperton Island, Costa Rica, Cuba, Curaçao, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Martinique, Mexico, Montserrat, Navassa Island, Nicaragua, Panama, Puerto Rico, Saba, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Martin, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sint Eustatius, Sint Maarten, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands, and United States Virgin Islands, for that matter.



Crime & the City Solution - "The Bride Ship"
 

The fact is that people have been exploring for roughly 1.8 million since Homo erectus first caught that ramblin' fever years ago and identifying the first European to do something is a silly pursuit. Exploration and adventuring, on the other hand, is vital and something done by all good people (and plenty of bad). Most of the inhabitable world was discovered in antiquity but in the post-Classical age, new lands were still being discovered by humans around the planet -- especially Arab, Austronesian, and European seafarers. In the 15th Century, the more isolated islands of the Atlantic were still being added to maps with some regularity and discovery of islands in the Arctic and Southern Oceans continued into the 20th Century. Here then is a look at some of the real discoveries of the modern age -- previously uninhabited lands just waiting for humans to despoil them.





*****

MADEIRA

Madeira (image source: World for Travel)


Madeira was first claimed by Portuguese sailors in the service of Infante D. Henrique in 1419, who were driven by storm to an island harbor which they called Porto Santo. Settlement of the island began in 1420 and by 1433 it was known as Ilha da Madeira.



THE AZORES

Azorean chamaritta 

The Azores were known of in the 14th Century but humans didn't begin to colonize them until 1433. Before arriving, sheep were deposited to establish a food source for the colonists, who included Sephardic Jews, Moorish prisoners and African slaves, as well as Flemish, French, and Spanish colonists. Nowadays there are about a quarter of a million residents of the country.



CAPE VERDE

Morna performed in the documentary Dix petits grains de terre

The volcanic islands of the Cape Verde archipelago were discovered by Italian and Portuguese navigators around 1456. The first settlement, founded in 1462, was the first European settlement in the tropics. Located off the coast of West Africa, Cape Verde's economy was predictably built on the back of the slave trade but the African population was joined by Jewish refugees from the Inquisition, as well as Dutch, French, British, Arabs, Chinese, Indians, Indonesians, and other settlers.

New Latin Releases For February 2010

Posted by Gomez Comes Alive!, February 9, 2010 12:56am | Post a Comment

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.

Dia De Los Muertos

Posted by Gomez Comes Alive!, November 2, 2009 02:31pm | Post a Comment

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.

Joe Cuba (Puerto Rico)
His real name was Gilberto Miguel Calderón, and he was from Puerto Rico, not Cuba. He was known as the "Father of Latin Boogaloo," the marriage between Soul and Latin music. His many hits include “Sock It To Me Baby” “Bang Bang” and “El Pito (I’ll Never Go Back To Georgia)." As a bandleader, he helped start up the careers of such future legends of Salsa as Cheo Feliciano, Ruben Blades, Charlie Palmeri and Jimmy Sabater.

Manny Oquendo (USA)
Manny was a self-taught percussionist that went on to play with some of the biggest names in Latin Music. He played with Tito Puente, Eddie Palmeri, Johnny Pacheco and Tito Rodriguez, among many others. Manny was instrumental in bringing the complicated Cuban rhythm Mozambique to Latin Jazz and Salsa. He, along with Bassist Andy Gonzalez, formed Grupo Folklorico Y Experimental Nuevayorquino and recorded the classic Concepts In Unity, which is a must hear for any percussionist. Soon after, Manny and Andy formed Libre, a group that Manny played with until January of 2009.

Maria Trinidad Perez de Miravete Mille aka Mari Trini (Spain)
As a child, Mari Trini suffered from various kidney ailments. She was told that her condition was incurable, so instead of dwelling on it, she became of Spain’s most popular singers. She first went to France and recorded an album in French before returning to Spain in the late 60’s. While in France, she was influenced by Jaques Brel and Juliette Greco, and even went as far as saying that she wanted to become the “Spanish Juliette Greco.” The fiercely independent Trini found herself at odds the oppressive Franco –era conservatism and she was exactly what Spain needed. Her songs became feminist anthems and her attire (wearing pants rather than dresses) influenced women in Spain to do the same. Mari became popular for her romantic songs although she was quiet about her own romantic life. She hid the fact that she was a lesbian for many years, often having to answer questions why she didn’t have a boyfriend. Her popularity waned over the years but many of her songs are considered classics, such as “Acércate,” “Un Hombre Marchó,” “Yo No Soy Esa” and Una Estrella En Mi Jardín.” In 2001, she recorded a comeback album with Los Panchos, re-recording her greatest hits "Trios" style.

Orlando “Cachaito” Lopez (Cuba)
Mainstream audiences knew Chachaito as the bassist for The Buena Vista Social Club. However, like the other musicians involved with BVSC, he had a long career before that. He came from a musical family. His father was Cuban composer Orestes Lopez and his uncle was the legendary bassist Israel “Cachao” Lopez. As a teenager he started to play in many of Cuba’s big bands. At seventeen, he replaced his uncle in the group Arcana y sus Maravillas and soon after started playing with Orchestra Riverside. He played classical music during the day and with Cuban dance bands at night. At one point, he was part of the Cuban experimental group Irakere along with Chucho Valdés, Arturo Sandoval, and Paquito D'Rivera. His only solo album, the excellent Cachaito, came out in 2001. It is a blend of Cuban Music with Dub Reggae, Jazz and African music. Unfortunately, due to the Buena Vista Social Club hype, the album got lost in the shuffle. Revisiting it recently, it was years ahead of its time.

Honorable mention:
Ralph Mercado (Puerto Rico)-Salsa promoter and once head of RMM Records.
Quintin Cabrera (Uruguay)-Nueva Cancionero, wrote “Senor Presidente.”
Suma Paz (Argentina)-Folk singer who introduced the compositions of fellow Argentine Atahualpa Yupanqui to the rest of the world.
Ramón Piñon (Tejano)- He was the leader of his own conjunto for many years and is known for helping give Freddy Fender his start in the music business.
Edgardo Miranda (Puerto Rico) guitarist, played with Tito Puente and Cortijo.
Ricardo Abreu (Cuba) one of the infamous members of Los Papines, known as “the Harlem Globetrotters of Cuban percussion.”
Antonio Vega (Spain) Former lead singer of Nacha Pop, wrote the Spanish Rock anthem “La Chica De Ayer.”
Rafael Escalona (Colombia)- Vallenato songwriter, co-founder of the Vallenato Legend Festival.
Jesus Alfonso Miro (Cuba)- Musical director of Los Muñequitos De Mantanza.
Otilio Galíndez (Venezuela) - A songwriter and composer who wrote many Christmas related songs. His songs were covered by the likes of Mercedes Sosa, Pablo Milanes and Silvio Rodriguez.


Che The Movie

Posted by Gomez Comes Alive!, March 2, 2009 08:30am | Post a Comment

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:

Benicio Del Toro is magnetic and haunting as Che, but he has the difficult task of communicating to us through subtitles, as most of the film is told in Spanish. It lends an authentic ring to the story, but distracts our attention somewhat in the manner of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. If a film is truly a foreign film it's one thing, but this is a huge motion picture starring an American actor and directed by an American, and there's no reason why this story couldn't have been told in English.

Other reviews really put their political slant to the mix. I wondered if Mick LaSalle from the SF Chronicle came from a Cuban exiled family:

If Soderbergh made as idol worshiping an epic about George Washington or Abraham Lincoln -- actual heroes with tangible, positive legacies -- people would gag at the naive treatment. Perhaps with Che, the hope is that audiences might be confused or browbeaten into reverence, into just assuming they're missing something.

He went on to say:

This is a pro-Castro, anti-CIA film made by a mainstream American director, and it will be shown in art houses throughout the country. Try making an anti-Fidel, pro-American film in Cuba, and see how that works out for you.

Foreign investment companies funded Che’s 58 million dollar budget once U.S. movie studios bailed when it was known that the movie would be mostly in Spanish. Perhaps knowing that worldwide sales would be better than in fickle North America, it seems to have been a wise investment. Perhaps seeing the movie’s potential elsewhere, Andrew O'Hehir from Salon.com wrote this:

[Che] is something that people will be eager to see and eager to talk about all over the world, something that feels strangely urgent, something messy and unfinished and amazing.

One of the best things about movies is talking about them afterwards. There are so many disposable movies that leave my brain just as soon as they enter it. I have had great conversations about Che with different people. Some I agree with and some I don’t, but it has made enough of an impact that I’ve actually had conversations with people that went beyond, “Did you see it?” and “Did It suck?”.

In any biopic, you are never going to get the full story. People are too complex for that. I imagine as a filmmaker at one point you have to stop listening to everyone’s opinion about a person and just make film the way you see fit. If anything, I think Soderbergh took a tremendous risk by including the less celebrated Bolivian chapter in Che's life. He could have easily made the first triumphant part longer and made a “pop” version of Cuba’s revolution, but didn’t. The long, drawn out scenes of nothing happening in the Bolivian forest are painful to watch, knowing the inevitable will eventually happen. It’s much like the movie The Thin Red Line -- lots of long shots and few battle scenes focusing on the psychology of war over actual fighting. The second part of the movie amost parallels the first part, mainly to show that what worked in Cuba did not work in Boliva.

There are some scenes that are a bit over the top (the scene where Che is on a horse in Bolivia suffering from an asthma attack looks straight out of a western…way over the top!), but overall I thought they did a great job with the acting and the cinematography is pretty amazing. I also think there is a poetry to the movie that is lost in subtitles, not just in dialogue but in accents. The different accents between people from the city and country, from different providences and, in Che's case, another country altogether.

Is it good movie? Yes. Is it a great movie? Perhaps. I’ll let you know when I see it again.

Hot New Compilation - Si Para Usted: Funky Beats of Revolutionary Cuba Vol. 1

Posted by Gomez Comes Alive!, April 8, 2007 01:07am | Post a Comment

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.