Transit Dream

Photo courtesy of The Figurehead

It was sometime in the future, I had recently returned to Los Angeles after a long absence. I was pleased to discover not only had the Gold Line been finished but I was told the subway to the sea was also completed. I entered the Gold Line station at Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights hoping to get to the ocean. Around me the station teemed with thousands of Brown folks. I followed the masses down escalators, assuming they were headed to the platform where I could catch the train to the beach. The escalators kept going down, down, down and then I ended up wandering through a complicated Escher-esque maze of escalators and tunnels. Finally I could see this intense bright, light coming from the floor I was heading to. As the view became clearer, I see the ocean, so brilliant blue, the sand, the palm trees swaying and I can feel the ocean breeze. At a railing, Latino families stand admiring the vista and smiling. As I get closer, I make a shocking discovery. It’s not the ocean at all but a giant hologram, an extremely realistic simulation of the beach. No one around me seems to notice and I feel like that character in the Twilight Zone episode where a woman is yelling to the humans boarding a spaceship to another planet that the alien book titled “To Serve Man” is a cookbook not a manual for the betterment of humankind. I feel incredibly disappointed and let down. Worse yet, I look over and notice in between the teeming tunnels and escalators are stands for every fast food chain and long lines of people waiting to order.
Keep dreaming Los Angeles.

I know it’s totally self-indulgent to share dreams but I was reminded of this one after reading a subway to the sea discussion on LA Eastside.

Favorite Video of the Week: Dolores Vargas

Se Va Covadonga-Dolores Vargas

As much as I appreciate the intensity and complexity of Cante Jondo and other Flamenco, there is a special place in my heart for Rumba Flamenca. In particular, I find 60s/70s rumbas irresistible! I should be sleeping and prepare myself for a long day of work tomorrow and yet, I’m up late listening to rumbas and watching awesome clips like Dolores Vargas’ “Se Va Covadonga.” Despite the impending day of work and the miserable anticipation that goes with it, this video made me cheery for at least a few minutes. Happy holidays!
Another great rumba by Dolores Vargas here.


Villancicos from the film Flamenco

During this holiday season I do my best to avoid shopping malls and other places Christmas music is played. The treacly-ness of Christmas standards makes my skin crawl. However, there is a kind of Christmas music I do find enjoyable and that is Villancicos Flamencos. I first heard this kind of villancicos in the Carlos Saura film Flamenco and was struck by it’s percussive elements, in particular, the pulsing bass. In the above clip the sound is produced by an instrument called a zambomba – a barrel or jug covered by an animal hide through which the player moves a cane in rhythm with the song. In the clip below, the bass sound is made by passing a hand over a large clay jug. Other instruments commonly used in villancicos are guitars, panderetas (a kind of tambourine), castanets and of course palmas (hand clapping)

History of villancicos from the Latin American Folk Institute:

The villancico was a poetic and musical form indigenous and unique to Iberia, which developed a recognizably distinct identity by the middle of the fifteenth century. It flourished between the 15th and 18th centuries, especially during the Baroque period, both in Spain and in Spanish America. The villancico was as significant a feature in the musical landscape of New Spain (modern Mexico and Guatemala) as in the Iberian peninsula, and its development in the colonies constitutes one of the first truly American musical contributions.
According to Jaime Gonzáles Quiñones, in his scholarly publication Villancicos y cantatas del siglo XVIII, the poetic villancico derives from two related sources: most anterior was the Arabic zéjel, which he describes as a poem “written entirely in vulgar Arabic [whose] first strophe was preceded by a short poem (refrain) of two lines. The last line in each strophe followed the rhyme of the refrain.” From the zéjel descended a type of vernacular Spanish (and Galician-Portuguese) poetic form known as the cantiga de estribillo (or cantiga de refram). Gonzáles finds that the zéjel and the cantiga de estribillo, common in the fifteenth century, were most apparently similar in the occurrence of refrains (estribillo) and strophes (mudanza) which included a second part, turns (vuelta). The estribillo was especially important to the villancico style; Gilbert Chase, author of The Music of Spain, indicates that it was emblematic of the villancico that its “basic pattern rested on the device of the initial refrain” and that otherwise there could be found much latitude in the construction of its verse.

Here’s a bit on Jerez style villancicos called Zambombas (named after the instrument):

La zambomba es el lugar donde puede verse y oír cantar a aficionados anónimos que el resto del año difícilmente se pueden ver. El espíritu alegre, anárquico y desenfadado de la celebración hace que cualquiera pueda arrancarse y dejar ver su vena más flamenca.

This article also states that the participatory, communal performance of zambombas distinguishes it from other festive Flamenco songs in which there is usually a separation between the artists and the audience. In zambombas, the instrument is passed around and everyone is encouraged to join in the chorus of singers.

Villancico Sevillano-Abre La Puerta Maria

A beautiful public performance of villancicos, watch through for the aflamencado solo of one of the choral singers.

How I wish I was in Spain or Mexico tonight! I much prefer villancicos, Posadas or even this bit of silliness over the stripped-of-festivity Christmas we get here. Oh, well!

Best wishes to everyone for a Feliz Navidad!

Favorite Video of the Week: Quebradita

Over at LA Eastside there’s been a long discussion on 90s culture in Los Angeles. Commenter Metro Vaquero linked to the awesome video above of a parking lot turned dance floor in the Valley. Quebradita was crazy popular in Los Angeles during the early 90s. It was the first time in my life where listening to your parent’s music was acceptable and dressing like a Mexican was something to be proud of. The tejanas and botas are still in fashion today. And I still dream of one day dancing Quebradita…