Fieldwork Diary #2: Marimba Linda Xelajú at Catholic University

 

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The end of March was approaching, and Marimba Linda Xelajú performed in Washington D.C. as part of the lineup for “Rhythms of Latin America” at Catholic University of AmericaThe walls were decorated with Latin American flags and the hosts offered pupusas and agua de jamaica to the guests that awaited the various groups that represented North, Central, and South America. 

The concert began with a performance by Marimba Linda Xelajú, with cumbias and some folkloric songs. In between performances by the guests, the dance group choreographed by Junior Girón danced to salsa, merengue, and bachata.

Mariachi Águila performed songs including “Las Mañanitas” for the birthday girls in the audience. If you listen closely, you can hear something a little bit unexpected – an accordion. When I asked the mariachis why they included the instrument, they told me that many audiences ask them to perform corridos.

Lastly, Grupo Etnia performed various songs including “El Condor Pasa”, “El Torito Pinto”, and even “Despacito”. This audio is a small section of their performance of “El Torito Pinto”, which they described as a Salvadoran song.

Son Jarocho at Haydee’s with Son La Lucha

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Celebrating “La Paloma at the Wall” at Haydee’s with Son La Lucha

Haydee’s Restaurant features images of musicians such as Juan Gabriel and Selena. However, it’s their relationship with the local music scene that has made this restaurant a place of encounter in the Mount Pleasant, a historically Latino neighborhood in the nation’s capital.

On March 16, the theater production “La Paloma at the Wall” was celebrated through a workshop and fandango with Son La Lucha. The group is described as: “a space to learn and share El Son and other traditions, to organize and resist as a group, to strengthen ourselves, our youth and our community, to learn skills from volunteers and support social justice efforts.”

Referring to Son Jarocho, a musical tradition from Veracruz, Mexico, this event brought a workshop of the jarana and the requinto. After learning about these instruments (both beginners and more experienced musicians are welcome), we walked downstairs where the fandango was about to take place – a participatory gathering where the performers improvise. In addition, dancers are invited to dance on the wooden stage in the middle called the tarima

The participatory nature of the tradition lends itself very well for the context. According to Alfredo, “In the past 8 years the son jarocho movement in Washington D.C. has activated the fandango as a way to create community for progressive politics and community resistance throughout the US, but most importantly to keep the torch of the son jarocho tradition alive for future generations.” 

Fieldwork Diary #1: Marimba Linda Xelajú at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart

 

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The Maryland-based marimba group Marimba Linda Xelajú performed on March 20th after a service that honored the Salvadoran Saint Óscar Arnulfo Romero. Located in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood in Washington D.C., this service took place in the Shrine of the Sacred Heart and was accompanied by a children’s choir that sang a repertoire that included the Misa Salvadoreña. 

Following the live music and the pupusas, the attendants followed the crowd to the adjacent community hall. There, the smell of Salvadoran food and the group Marimba Linda Xelajú were awaiting for the students and other attendants. As soon as the first song was heard, the middle school students began dancing to the cumbias and other traditional songs from Guatemala.

#8A in San José, Costa Rica

Joining the other protestors in front of the Presidential House of Costa Rica, I wore a purple bandana around my neck that featured a design of a purple orchid and a raised fist. We gathered on August 8th in solidarity with our Argentinian sisters, who wore green bandanas and fought for the legalization of abortion in the South American nation. It did not matter whether the bandanas were purple or green, they were a symbol of the movement that was echoed in multiple cities of the continent and beyond. 

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The sign reads “To be able to choose so we don’t die”. Photo by Alejandra Rojas, via Aborto Legal Costa Rica: https://www.facebook.com/abortolegalcostarica

Although it is legal to have an abortion in Argentina under certain circumstances, half-a-million underground abortions take place each year. This prompted the Argentine Chamber of Deputies to approve a law to make abortions legal on request. However, with 38 votes against, 31 in favor, and 2 abstained, the Argentinian senate rejected the proposed law after sixteen hours of debate that finalized at midnight, on August 9th. 

In Costa Rica, it’s a complicated issue. Abortions are permitted when the life of the mother is at risk. However this procedure, known as a therapeutic abortion, is not regulated which makes it difficult for it to be implemented. The manifestation on August 8th focused on pushing the government of the newly-elected president Carlos Alvarado to sign the Norma Técnica de Aborto Impune, or the technical norm of therapeutic abortion, which would help medical institutions know when to implement this procedure. Regarding this issue, the president declared that the topic of abortion is used to distract from topics that need to be prioritized, while members of evangelical and conservative parties are encouraging the penalization of women. In the following audio clip, you can hear a chant that points at president Carlos Alvarado:

Us women raise our voices today
Sign it now, sign it now, sign it now now now!
The decriminalization of abortion protocol 
It is of course a priority

Hoy las mujeres la voz alzamos
Firma ya, firma ya, firma ya ya ya!
El protocolo de aborto impune
Claro que sí es prioridad

Abortion legislation in Latin America ranges from its complete banning in countries including El Salvador, to its allowance on request in Cuba and Uruguay. Singing among other women, I was surrounded by the energetic dancing and loud drumming that flooded the street on this gloomy afternoon. Regardless of the decisions made by the Argentinian senate and the politicians of Costa Rica, there was a particular chant that encouraged us as part of a transnational movement of organized women who will continue fighting for their rights:

Liiisten up!
Listen, listen, listen up because it’s moving
The feminist movement through Latin America

¡Aleeerta!
Alerta, alerta, alerta que camina
La lucha feminista por América Latina

 

 

Natalia Lafourcade and her Bolero Revival

Recovering from a winter that went on for to long, the cheerful audience that visited the Warner Theater exclaimed “¡Viva México!”, as Natalia Lafourcade got on stage with her now iconic milkmaid braids and a guitar. Together with her band, the Mexican singer-songwriter brought an atmosphere full of joy to the District on a warm Sunday evening, joy that goes back decades and which performs a shared Latinidad.

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Natalia Lafourcade performing at the Warner Theater. Washington D.C., May 2018.

I remember watching Natalia’s videos on MTV Latin America for Mi Casa and of course, the unforgettable En el 2000. However, besides these songs from the Natalia and La Forquetina era, in more recent years, Natalia performs a repertoire that reminds her fans of Latin American artists whose careers peaked many decades ago – with traditional songs such as La Llorona or their own compositions.

For instance, in 2012, Natalia released a tribute album to Agustín Lara, under the name “Mujer Divina”. Agustín Lara (1897-1970) was a Mexican singer and composer, who is recognized as one of the most popular bolero performers. He was born in Veracruz, the same city where Natalia grew up and paid tribute to in her song Mi Tierra Veracruzana.

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Agustín Lara and his (then) wife María Félix (1914-2002), a famous singer and actress from the Golden Age of Mexica cinema. Agustín composed María Bonita during their honeymoon.

Despite their popularity in Mexico with Agustín Lara, boleros originated in Cuba in the late 19th century. From there, they travelled to Puerto Rico and the rest of Latin America, where they became an iconic music genre shared across borders. Arguably, the Golden Age of Mexican cinema (1933-1964) played a major role in their popularity. Music was a central aspect of the films, with artists such as Toña la Negra and Los Panchos who brought this genre to broader audiences.

It’s feasible that our generation is celebrating this nostalgia through artists such as Natalia Lafourcade. Reminding us of the afternoons spent with our grandparents, in my case, listening to Radio Sinfonola in their house, or watching Pedro Infante movies with my grandma. For some of us, the bolero in itself evokes feelings of longing and love, not only through its lyrics but also through its instrumentation. It makes me wonder, what will nostalgia sound like for Latin Americans fifty years from now?