Niña In the Game

Niña Dioz with French Montana and Raekwon at in New York City, 2013 Photo: Niña Dioz on IG
Niña Dioz with French Montana and Raekwon at in New York City, 2013
Photo: Niña Dioz on IG

When I wrote about this young woman in 2009 I had no idea she’d still be around to bask in the glory of fame and hip-hop. She’s stuck it out, and while I’m not an unabashed fan of her music, I kind of dig that she did a few things: come out the closet and continue to perform and make music. Truthfully, I don’t give a damn that she came out, but from what I’ve heard it’s the queer community that’s giving her heavy support back in Mexico. That’s one way to keep those concert dates hitting.

Here she is at some industry shin-dig with the flavor of the moment, French Montana and the  Wu-Tang Chef Raekwon.  She made a quick East Coast tour stop in May 2013, when she played shows in NYC and Philly.

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Mastering the science with lucha libre, ese

luchalibrenyc.com

To check out Lucha Libre NYC, go to http://www.luchalibrenyc.com

It all started in L.A. I was driving back to the Hollywood area, up along La Brea, North of the hood when I saw a sign written on a piece of box cardboard and pinned to a light pole: “Lucha Libre los Domingos”. Or something like that.

I was an archive librarian at the L.A. Times and all I wanted to do at that point was get my words up in them pages. Besides my moms (HI, MOM!), I’d been inspired and prodded by Samantha Bonar,  Daniel Hernandez and Chris Lee, folks I’ve worked with who have been hyper successful with the written word.

At the time, “Nacho Libre,” the Jack Black movie based on an actual wrestling priest had just come out and I knew I could sell a pitch based on the idea of lucha libre in the city.  The lucha libre event in an old warehouse in South Central Los Angeles was a regular venue in 2006. I walked in, flashed my press creds and took a seat near a small family who had bought a bunch of pig skins, beer and hotdogs.

I don’t remember every particular match. I remember there was a gay wrestler, a fat wrestler and someone with a costume on, either a panda or a pig or something strange. What I do remember is Mil Mascaras. The legend, the O.G. of a thousand masks. He was there. We spoke. I was a little skeptical, wondering if the guy under the mask was the legend. I looked at this arms, they were the wrinkled, aged arms of a man in his 60s. I glanced up at this chest. It had that barrel shape you only get from decades of pumping iron, his arms had the same sinewy look to them. The dude was old, but he was probably rock solid. I didn’t bother touching him. A Japanese looking man, who didn’t speak English thrust a mask in Mascaras’ face as he left the ring, “Please sign.” The legend obliged. I was shocked that this Japanese dude came all the way down to the hood just to fulfill his fandom.

As it goes the Japanese love professional wrestling. Outside of Mexico, Japan must be the biggest non-U.S. market for American wrestlers, and their Mexican lucha libre counterparts. I’m not a wrestling fiend, but I enjoy the choreographed ballet that ensues when two athletes get into a ring and do choreographed stuntage to the glee of kids and grandmas. It’s still a spectacle that in some parts of the country is less expensive than a night at a cineplex. And more enjoyable in my opinion.

I used my appreciation for wrestling to graduate journalism school. I haven’t graduated yet, but my Master’s Project got some good notice and that’s a major part of getting your Master of Science degree here at the “journalism school of eternal excellence,” a.k.a the House that Pulitzer built.

At a celebration in September, where all of New York City’s Mexican population gathered for the bicentennial of the countries independence I saw a postcard advertisement on the ground. Lucha libre it said in the style of promotion similar to what I saw in Mexico City when I was there. A full card, about 8 bouts. This had to be new stuff here in NYC. I’d never heard of such a thing.

How new it was, I’m still now sure. People other than Lucha Va Voom have tried before to stake a claim in NYC even if it was for a show that was passing through. My aim was to tell the story of a guy who was trying to get this off the ground and the wrestlers he was bringing along for the ride. I think I succeeded in getting this noticed by a few folks around the world, but the project luchalibrenyc.com is still a work in progress. My L.A. homie @thebrianpark is a huge part of this project and I couldn’t have done it without him. His fearless shooting style and dedication to helping to round out this story really produced some solid work, with more to come. So, if you’re a fan of lucha libre, or just like to see shirtless men through each other around, come back often because I’ll be updated luchalibrenyc.com and posting link on this blog.

False Imprisonment

I can’t remember now who started making “Free” t-shirts. They weren’t always the thing to do when someone famous got locked up. If you aren’t stuck on the Spanish language tabloids, then maybe you didn’t hear about how Mexican authorities went on a questionable manhunt for  pop singer Kalimba a little while ago. He was accused of raping an under age girl. Well, he’s free now and grinning an O.J. grin, only he probably really didn’t do it.

Kalimba first came to my attention sometime in 2009 when I was at a mega pop concert in Mexico City all the way in the nosebleed seats of Azteca Stadium. I could hear the crowd roar for this guy with his guitar hanging from his neck a mile up. He had that recognizable popstar quality that adolescents go crazy for. He’s plied his trade of singing and acting since childhood and is a regular on the Mexico City fashion scene.

I met him briefly during the Mercedes-Benz fashion event later that year. He was cordial, spoke good English and made a point to tell me that he was only 1/4 Cuban. Either way, skin color is always at the forefront when you’re in the public eye in a place like Mexico.

KALIMBA ART BY DANIEL ALVA.

Recordando D.F.

 

As I sit here working procrastinating on my thesis project, memories of Mexico snap on my brain like pop rocks. First thing that always hits me is the memory of one of my best friends on my old Roma Norte block, Beba, above. By some odd measure of Google technology, you can actually see Beba in her favorite spot if you map my old address.

 

Next up is the Mexican appreciation for street art. In all its vandalistic forms.

 

 

 

Mexican BeatBox Battle

 

Hip-hop is either really innovative nowadays, or returning to its pre-80’s roots. The elements that’ve grounded hip-hop culture for the past three decades  fell out of vogue on the home turf some time ago. Rappers over 40 see more paper by going to Europe than during a Rock the Bells tour. (Dave told me something to that effect.)

In Mexico, where hip-hop culture is trapped in a kind of pre-mainstream fabric that used to house it here in the U.S., the second installment of a beatbox contest will have its second competition. Beat boxing isn’t something you see a lot of rappers doing these days. It’s relegated to a Justin Timberlake gimmick. But for all you 80s babies, you know how often you’d hear someone beat boxing on the subway or on TV:

Beatbox Battle Mexico is the brainchild of Berlin b-boy, beat boxer Dj Mesia. He’s an ambassador for American-style hip-hop, and travels the world doing workshops and competitions. Two years ago, I traveled to the middle of nowhere in the state of Mexico to a bar where Mesia was holding the first beatbox battle. It was an impressive presentation with highly practiced Mexico kids and a grown-ass man here and there, spitting rhythms into a mic and trying to belittle their competitors. I remember a Michael Jackson impersonator with a mean routine out beat-boxed the competitors. Mesia told me that trips to Mexico to meet up with a girlfriend inspired him to start a beat box competition there. While German ties with Mexico are a couple centuries old, it’s interesting to see this transnational effort to keep hip-hop culture alive in the world.

This event is seriously in the middle of nowhere in the state of Mexico. Good for the local kids and a hallmark of hip-hop’s travelling powers, but hard as heck to find if you’re unfamiliar with travelling outside of Mexico City. Luckily, someone made a map for this event.

If you live in Mexico and want to enter the contest, e-mail producer Speedy speedysrecords@hotmail.com.

That BK to El Chapo Connect

I didn’t get a chance to publish this book review over on the BK Ink. I got the credit for the assignment, though. Thanks for asking…

This book came out in September 2010

Inside the Hunt For El Chapo, The World’s Most Wanted Drug Lord

By Malcolm Beith
Illustrated. 288 pp. New York:
Grove Press. $24.

 

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera ranks 937 on Forbes magazine’s list of billionaires, and he has a net worth of $1 billion. The magazine calls him a symbol of Mexico’s drug war, a war that’s claimed the lives of journalists, soldiers, police officers, as well as the rank and file of rival drug cartels. This is one of the most violent periods in the country’s modern history with 12,500 lives lost this year to narco violence. With Guzman Loera celebrated, as a tycoon of sorts, what he actually comes to symbolize isn’t just Mexico’s out-of-control drug trafficking problem, but modern narco-culture. Guzman Loera, although only 5 foot 6 inches tall is a giant in his mountain village where poverty reigns.

 

“El Chapo,” as he’s known is the head of the Sinaloa Cartel, one of the top six Mexican drug trafficking organizations working with cocaine suppliers in Colombia and battling for dominance from within the so-called Golden Triangle of narco states: Chihuahua, Durango, and Sinaloa. Since 2006 Guzman Loera has been working against, and according to many, working with the government in a drug war that was initiated in 2006 under President Felipe Calderon. According to the Mexican government, this drug war has killed over 30,000 people in the last four years.

 

While this level of drug cartel violence hasn’t reached the U.S., the world’s largest market for illegal drugs, Guzman Loera’s product is widely distributed. The Brooklyn federal court unsealed indictments in July 2009, naming several high-level Mexican drug cartel capos including “El Chapo”, or “Shorty” Guzman Loera, in an “international cocaine distribution” conspiracy with ties to New York. Specifically mentioned in the Brooklyn indictment, which seeks a criminal forfeiture of over $4 billion, are members of the drug trafficking alliance called “La Federacion,” or “the Federation,” which included brothers Arturo and Hector Beltran-Levya (the Beltran-Leyva Organization) and Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia (a strong ally of Guzman Loera), among others. A separate indictment unsealed by the Brooklyn federal court that summer leveled similar drug trafficking charges against Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, the head of the Juarez Cartel.

 

All of these deadly characters appear in Malcolm Beith’s “The Last Narco,” which spends a lot of time discussing the mythology of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, one of the mavericks of modern day Mexican narcotics trafficking. The son of an opium poppy farmer, he was raised in the hills of Badiraguato, Sinaloa. Guzman Loera moved up the ladder with a lethal hand and a personality for the type of narco-politics that helps drug cartels run smoothly, as least for a short while. Beith spends the largest chunk of his book’s16 chapters writing about Guzman Loera’s infamous escape from a maximum security prison, which caused a nationwide manhunt that, like narco violence and drug smuggling, continues to this day.

 

In 1993 the Mexican government on drug trafficking and murder charges arrested Guzman Loera, and in 1995 he was sent to Puente Grande prison in the state of Jalisco. Beith details the bribing, the mishaps and the loves the narco experienced while incarcerated. Through interviews and court documents the writer is able to piece together an image of vulnerability and introspection while the drug king pin was participating in 63 psychological counseling sessions at the prison. Guzman Loera starts to come off as a gangster with a heart of gold. Beith writes, “He was also extremely gushing for a man believed to be so emotionally detached… ‘I send you a kiss of honey and a hug that makes you shake from emotion,’ he wrote in October 2000.”

 

As Beith points out, Mexico is the Western hemisphere’s 5th largest nation. The allure of the money that comes from drug trafficking in Mexico is understandable in some ways due to the odds of survival under typical circumstances. The country has a population of over one-hundred-and-twelve-million people. The divide between rich and poor is sharp and according to government data nearly 50 percent of Mexicans are living in poverty. “Drugs are the only way to get ahead in Sinaloa.” Collectively, cartels have imported 200 metric tons of cocaine, according to federal documents.

 

Beith writes with detail about some of the methods the drug dealers, including Chapo, who has become most famous for financing elaborate tunnel systems under the U.S./Mexico border. “Smuggling was simple: the cocaine was placed in the false bottom of two trailers, which would deliver the drugs to a warehouse in Tucson, Ariz. From there, the goods would be distributed to U.S. counterparts.”

 

Of the top cartels operating in Mexico, there’s the Sinaloa Cartel, part of the Federation, the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas who want to kill Guzman Loera and take his turf. Other cartels with extensive operations in Mexico, the U.S. and further into Latin America include the Tijuana Cartel, the Beltran-Leyva Organization, La Familia Michoacan and the Juarez Cartel, which runs the coveted Ciudad Juarez drug smuggling route.

 

The movement of such large quantities of drugs requires greasing some palms, as corruption of police and government is another powerful force in the drug war. Guzman Loera’s escape from prison cost $2.5 million in bribes according to sources Beith interviewed. The cartel leader also had to turn on another drug organization, and he give up the Arrellano Felix Brothers who ran the Tijuana Cartel. In the end, it was as easy as jumping into a laundry basket and heading for the door. A friendly prison guard helped him escape.

 

In 2005, while the manhunt for Guzman was still underway, he made inroads into a new area of drug sales, methamphetamine distribution.  One of the strengths of the reporting is Beith’s precision with the numbers. Items he likely got from his DEA sources. “From $10,000 in chemicals, they could make $100,000 worth of meth,” he writes referring to Guzman’s overhead.

 

On of he main points in Beith’s biography on  “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, is the cycle of political corruption that facilitates the fugitive’s freedom. A few thousand dollars in the right hands and people with power look the other way. Narco politics goes hand-in-hand with police and military corruption and helps shape the future of the drug war. “I’m convinced that to stop crime, we first have to get it out of our house,” Beith quotes Mexico’s Calderon.

 

In 2006, President Felipe Calderon took office amid allegations of electoral fraud and focused his attention on stemming the growth of narco-trafficking. Last month, when WikiLeaks released U.S. diplomatic cables, several mentioned the fear of  “ ‘losing’ certain regions,” to the drug cartels, according to one document, and that the Merida Initiative, a $1.3 billion anti-drug trafficking plan backed by President Obama’s administration was lackluster.

 

The drug war has inspired a body of work that includes abstract art and movies such as this year’s successful Mexican dark comedy, “El Infierno,” about the effects of narcotics smuggling on a small town. Earlier in the book, Beith gives better context for how his own work should be viewed. “There’s a whole world connected to the narco, and it’s not just the songs and the clothing.”

 

“The Last Narco,” isn’t an assessment of who will lead the next great Mexican cartel, nor is it purely about the manhunt for Joaquin Guzman Loera. This is a piece of narco-literature. There are a couple of sincere disclaimers in the postscript:  The writer, a former Newsweek staffer, says he lied to sources to get information about El Chapo. “This book is not really meant to be an investigation,” he writes, “I have no desire to wind up dead.”

-30-

 

 

Corridos Found in Translation

 

 

So the homeboy Manny Wheels was looking for the transcription to the corrido we used in our previous video together. He’s crafting a long-form report on the corrido situation in Nueva York, look out for that in a few months. I think he can get it up in the Voice, but we’ll see. Biters everywhere. Best of luck to you Mano.

This is probably not that newsworthy to some, but when a group of this stature (like K-Paz de la Sierra, above) comes to Brooklyn, that’s a rare occasion. If you’re looking for something to say about K-Paz, there’s always the story about how their former lead singer was found hanged with cigarette burns on his body. A narco-style kidnaping/murder for sure.  Not that Brooklyn or NYC is a stranger to narco-style murders.

Navidad Retro I

This is special Christmas beer that’s available in Mexico from around November until about February. It’s called Noche Buena, good stuff.

Unlike here in Gringolandia, most people in Latina America celebrated the traditional Christmas last night. Any NYCers hit up a posada?You can get a nice breakdown right here. With that in mind gimme a late pass for this post, it’s for those Americanized Latinos who are putting more into their Dec. 25th celebrations. This post over at NPR had the same thing in mind.

Continue reading “Navidad Retro I”