Friday, April 18, 2014

Tomé Hill, Viernes Santo

Notes from Planet New Mexico
Good Friday, 2014

None of the pictures that follow are mine. I was too busy being careful not to loose my footing while climbing uphill carrying my toddler son on a backpack.

It was gorgeous. Powerful. Awe-inspiring. A bit spooky. Intriguing. Exactly what I needed.

I was hoping we might run into folks singing alabados. And we did! A group of about fifteen was doing a bilingual version of the stations of the cross. The (probably) eldest man, playing a small two-headed hand drum, sang with deep emotion and a haunting voice. He did one verse of "Madre de Dolores" (my favorite alabado). And that was so much more than enough.

* More on today's pilgrimage, according to local station KRQE.

* * Other details, so I won't forget: The elder (probably the Hermano Mayor) sang in the old style of alabados, with the quick up-and-down on notes. (I need to find out what that voice technique is called.) He was the only one singing like that. Everyone else had beautiful voices, but did not sing in that style. There was a young man (probably in his twenties) playing the matraca right before each station of the cross.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Death is so easy to forget

Fidel just harvested the first asparagus of the season and made the most delicious fried eggs and sauteed asparagus. The only seasoning needed was a tiny bit of salt.

As we sat eating at our sunny table my mind wandered off thinking how well Fidel's asparagus might travel to my family in Puerto Rico. Would I send them by FedEx? I could send a little package to my sister, brothers, Titi Ñeca, my dad...

Wait. My dad passed away a year and a half ago.

Coming back from lala land was painful. Then I had to smile. He's not really gone, is he?

Death is so easy to forget. At least for a second.

* Image borrowed from Garden of Eaden.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Dominicans and Puerto Ricans together at Festival Claridad

Dominicans in Puerto Rico, like most immigrants everywhere, don't get enough love or credit. This week's Festival Claridad is dedicated to Dominicans residing in PR... thus giving this community love and honor since love and honor are due.

I wrote about it in this week's 80 grados. You can find my article here. The article is in Spanish, so my apologies to my non-Spanish-speaking/reading readers!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Photos of Las Décimas del Amargue & Other Songs of Love

Our Ojos de Sofía December NYC concert and workshops Las Décimas del Amargue & Other Songs of Love went great! All events were lots of fun and well attended. And (modestia aparte, jaja) our band sounded great. Video coming soon.

Now... let's do it again! Stay tuned.

* Photos by Erika Morillo.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Why "Las Décimas del Amargue"? Reason #4

I already posted my Reason #1, Reason #2 and Reason #3. Here's Reason #4:

Because he taught us well. And he's no longer here.

Our dad, Jorge Rivera, aka El Gato 1948 - 2012

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Why "Las Décimas del Amargue"? Reason #3.

Why our upcoming December 8th concert "Las Décimas del Amargue & Other Songs of Love"?

I already posted my Reason #1 and Reason #2. Here's my Reason #3:

Because, like bolero and bachata singer André Veloz, I'm "so sick of love songs" too. I'm sick of the "I'll die without you" and "I'll hate you forever" songs. I'm sick of the "women are like this" and "men are like that" one-size-fits-all songs. I'm sick of the "that man is mine" snarkiness.

Not that there aren't plenty of wonderful and inspiring love songs that avoid those pitfalls. But I wish those songs were more common. And I especially wish more of those were more common in bachata and jíbaro music.

I wasn't thinking about that when I wrote the décimas del amargue that we will feature at our concert. Those songs were simply a purge and an exorcism that took place in décima poetic form.

So, for example, "Sin la soga y sin la cabra (a.k.a Qué bonito establo)" (which you can see here as an early punk duo version with güirera Sandra García Rivera... ummm... punk because I can hardly play 3 chords on the accordion) uses clichéd pastoral/folk/jíbaro images to weave together a humorous philosophical treatise-of-sorts on desire. Or so I think. Ha ha! You tell me if it works.

For the non-Spanish-speaking folks, here goes a rough translation of the first verse: "What a beautiful horse stable / Is the stable that you want / Natural and simple pleasures / How beautiful and picturesque / It all evoques in me a rustic or maybe boorish word / Since your other reddish-brown mare has been eating bitter stuff indeed / But she's feisty, running away and leaving you deep in the woods." Then the chorus, taken after a well-known saying, goes: "You are going to end up without the goat and without the rope."

Well, feel free to let me know if you think it works or not. (Still, I assure it will sound much better with the full band.) But in any case, I'm so excited to share love songs that hopefully will inspire even those who, like me, are sick of love songs.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Why "Las Décimas del Amargue"? Reason #2

Why our upcoming December 8th concert "Las Décimas del Amargue & Other Songs of Love"?

I posted my Reason #1 a few weeks back. Here's my Reason #2:

Because we want to celebrate the inspiration that the early bachateros of the 1960s drew from Puerto Rican bolero singers and musicians.

Back in the 1960s, what we know today as bachata was simply called boleros. As bachata great Edilio Paredes told me in a recent interview: "Del bolero nació la bachata. Le pusieron bachata a nuestro bolero." (Bachata was born from bolero. They started calling our bolero bachata.)

Some of the artists that were most influential in the early development of bachata were Puerto Rican bolero singers (many of whom were jíbaro singers as well): Odilio González, Tommy Figueroa, Blanca Iris Villafañe, El Gallito de Manatí, Ramito and La Calandria, among them. This information comes not only from historians and aficionados of the genres, but also from bachata foundational artists like Paredes and Ramón Cordero.

Keep in mind that, according to many, the first person to record (Dominican) bachata was Juan Manuel Calderón in 1962 (or perhaps 61) with "Borracho de Amor" and "Condena."

So check what these Puerto Rican artists were doing bolero-wise around the same time:

* La Calandria 

"Ese hombre," included in the 1962 album she recorded with Ramito titled Los dos gigantes, is a particularly wonderful example, since it features what later became the standard rhythmic way of playing the guitar in bachata. You can listen to it on iTunes here.

* Odilio González

"Celos sin motivos" is one of Odilio González's greatest hits and was recorded in an LP in 1963. (I have yet to determine if/when it came out earlier as a single.)

* Tommy Figueroa

Here's "Sonámbulo" included in Figueroa's 1962 album of the same name.

Here's Figueroa singing the classic bolero by Puerto Rican composer Don Felo titled "Madrigal." I had never heard this rendition by Figueroa until a few months back. It struck me how much like bachata it sounded. Yet the guitar style is not precisely what we have come to associate as bachata-esque. So why did it sound to me so much like bachata? Ahhhh... the plaintive and melodramatic way of singing! (Compare his style of singing to the much more subdued style of Quique and Tomás performing the same song.)

Ramón Cordero, who is one of my favorite bachateros in great part because he sings in that plaintive and melodramatic style, recently told me: "Mi artista favorito de esa epoca es Tommy Figueroa. Yo encontraba que sus melodías eran muy bonitas." Well no big surprise there, that Figueroa was a big influence for Cordero. But it was wonderful getting that confirmation straight from the legendary bachatero's mouth.

* Blanca Iris Villafañe

* Ramito

Mind you, I AM NOT making the argument, as some have, that "bachata really started in Puerto Rico." (These discussions get pretty heated and ridiculous. Check for example the comments below one of Odilio González's YouTube videos here and also this Univisión Forum conversation. Incidentally, my take on this all: these shrill and disrespectful debates intent on establishing strict "origins" and "authenticity" are TIRED.) I am simply pointing out and celebrating the influence that Puerto Rican bolero and jíbaro music artists had on the development of bachata. After all, that Puerto Rican influence is only one strand among many. Bolero singers from elsewhere in Latin America, such as Ecuador's Julio Jaramillo and Olimpo Cárdenas, had an enormous impact on early bachata as well. (Same goes for Puerto Rican jíbaro music's influence on bachata. It was influential, but so were Mexican rancheras and Colombian vallenatos, among other genres.)

So here's to celebrating the connections between bolero, bachata and música jíbara! Here's to celebrating the fluidity and borderlessness of music!


At the concert, I'll be leading the jíbaro/bachata vocals department. My magnificent sister Anabellie Rivera will be in charge of the bolero vocals department. Come through and... enjoy!