Shortly after I got to Mexico City, just two years ago, besides hip-hop heads I was looking to connect with Colombians. Not for that. But just to connect with some good folk on the transnational paisano tip. For reasons artistic, political, economic and illegal there are lots of Colombians living in Mexico.
It wasn’t before long that I was invited to a cruddy apartment on the edges of the usually fancy La Condesa neighborhood. Inside the apartment was the toxic smell of fresh spray paint. It was the home of graffiti crew APC (ANIMAL POWER CREW), a bunch of Colombians and several Mexicans who travelled around doing art, street art. Above, an animated short by one of the crew members I got to know best, Chirrete Golden. The piece is called “Sin pérdida” (without loss). Pure poetry, in words and visually. On his blog he details how he made it using Final Cut Pro and After Effects. Check out this video of APC at an art show they did over the summer in D.F. The turnout, as I remember was bananas.
One of the more recognized members of the crew, because of praises he’s won on hipster blogs and magazines is another Colombiano called stinkfish. Here’s his blog. Below, cuts from his flickr stream.
As far as “news” this is pushing on two years. So, this post is really just to educate myself. Bear with me. As I’m continuing my focus on regional Mexican music here in N.Y. (which I know is nothing new, it’s just that the live venues and clubs that offer it are multiplying) there are a couple of songs I keep hearing again and again. Club bangers. Dancefloor anthems. You know those songs where your girl is like “Oh, that’s my song!,” and either the entire group of girls starts to dance in a circle, or the girl goes and grabs the nearest dude to get loose with on the floor? Well, these are those songs for folks in cowboy hats and boots.
Ayala Ben-Yehuda wrote about these hits when they started making noise in the U.S. and rising up the Billboard Latin charts in a Feb. 2009 piece “Looney Tunes.” It pointed out how the two groups Hechizeros Band and Banda MS had huge hits that were basically novelty dance tracks. As the writer explains:
The danceable material, besides being easier to promote at some corrido-shy stations in Mexico, is especially popular on the morning radio shows.
I was strolling along 4th Ave. in Sunset Park, in unforgivable cold weather, and saw this sign in the storefront of a tiendita that had a straight-up Arabic name above the awning. The sign says:
“Tamales Oxaqueños…$2.00 Calientitos”
Though it’s probably spelled “Oaxaqueños”, it reminded me of the recording you always hear in D.F. The tamale guys and girls that all the expats think is so cute. They come out at night on makeshift bikes with a small soundsystem attached that plays the same looped announcement calling people to come out of their homes and grab a bite.
Take a listen:
You can probably read about this in a ton of travel guides and gringo expat experience novels and blogs.
Larry Hernandez at Club Luna in the Bronx last month.
This guy brought his narco corrido flavor to East Coast in late November. I heard this one, from a different group, on Saturday night filming some video footage in Washington Heights with Manny Wheels. It was for our updated digital media piece that I mentioned in a previous post.
We’re looking at narco corridos and their increased presence on the local Mexican off-the-radar dance circuit here in N.Y.
Not to give too much away right now, but the party ended before its expected 3:30 a.m. time, because some knuckleheads sprayed the front of the party location with bullets, hitting one kid in the leg. Someone got jumped and the response was to spray half a block with lead. No one else was hurt.
While a sonidero was playing (they rocked everything at that party from bachatta to ranchera to groupero to tropical), I saw a kid walk up to him and send some shouts to Sureño 13. I don’t know if it was him or his click who participated in the shooting. It really messed up a good night, though. I’m not trying to draw any real parallels between narco corridos and the shooting, although it’s possible gang bangers were at the party to hear some. The fact is that part of Uptown is really hot right now, hot in the sense of crime and gangs and drugs…the stuff of poor not-yet-fully-gentrified areas.
**UPDATE: I just got a call back from one of the security guards who works these types of events (allegedly, the Ecuadorian and Mexican public and private party circuit in N.Y. has a high demand for security). He confirmed that a young guy was shot in the leg Saturday night, and said it stemmed from a beef between local Mexican gangs whose turf is divided along 155th St.
Los Traviesos were set tripping on a guy who rolls with Los Cholos. Neither had anything to do with the party (they like to wait outside for family, friends, rivals or girls I’m told. But maybe they were causing trouble because they couldn’t afford the $6 Modelos, or $5 waters that were being sold. Oops, I forgot to mention the ridiculous markup at this and many local events like this. I have to say I’m a little critical. Just because there’s a monopoly on these “authentic” spaces for Mexican regional music culture in N.Y., promoters don’t have to engañar la gente.
We were all set to check out the Grupo Illegales, which is an outfit that was supposed to play a song called “500 balazos”. Instead we got a hyper-authentic Norteño group called Conjunto Dinamico. Some cats from Chihuahua.
They opened their set with speedy Norteño jams before moving into the narco corridos, which really started to get the dance floor (gym floor!) packed.
Their youtube presence gives you an idea of how they get down:
Though they play a variety of music, they say the narco corridos are a must to please the crowd. Even though this is mostly music that tells stories of drug cartel life, it’s been a boon to the career of newer singers such as Larry Hernandez from Culiacan. One of his earliest albums was explicitly called “16 Narco Corridos”. He was recently in Neuva York. He played club Luna in the Bronx (check out a snippet, here). He puts some pretty revealing things on his Twitter feed:
While doing research for the piece I came across the always pretty grisly Blog del Narco.
If you look in the top, right corner of the site you’ll see a link to youtube video. It’s not a video of chopped-off heads like you’ll find in the blog’s forum, but a group music video. What I know is the future of narco corrido as envisioned in this track “C A R T E L E S U N I D O S”
It’s gangster music, but with accordions and the smell of a promoter who knows violence sells. (Download a mixtape, here)
One thing I hate about having a Jersey accent is that when I speak face-to-face with one of the more WASPY-looking editors, and tell them I have a couple pitches to send them, they usually tell me they don’t edit photos.
Mid-Atlantic accents aside, there’s this growing frustration with just getting a pitch accepted by folks up in here. Someone turned up the “son of a pitch” dial on the J school toughness meter or something. The photo above is a show flyer for one of the many, many Mexi-inspired noches de baile, or dance hall events, that are similar to the ones that pop up around the 5 boroughs on a nearly weekly basis. Great story I thought! I’m from Jerz man, I know how “new” this is, compared with L.A. or Arizona. We’ll go to a show or two and knock this out tight little video for DM.
The first in the barrage or questions: How “new” is this scene?
Huh? It’s new to Sally down the street, I’m sure. She follows me on Twitter, she’ll watch the video if it’s good. New?
Little did I know this fuselage was coming:
How many concerts has [been] held? Where? What kinds of crowds? How big?
What are you planning to shoot?
Have you developed a pre-script?
What access do you have to bands, concerts, the venues?
What about the talent?
Hold it, hold it, hold it…..I’m just talking about shooting cats as they pick guitars, sing in Spanish and wear matching uniforms with cowboy boots. What’s really good with the 20 Qs? But they kept coming…
This will all make more sense in a like 8 months, when I finish my Master’s project. Trust me, I’m not going freak-show on you for no reason. This type of stuff is fairly standard in the world of lucha libre. You can’t really have an authentic Mexican wrestling show without crossing this line. What does it really mean anyway? Muy macho?
Judith Torrea cuts a striking and elegant figure. She’s at around 6 feet tall, model-like beauty. She’s got a nervous, thick Spanish accent when she speaks English. And she’s not really scared of any narcos. Tough lady.
She’s a former entertainment writer who says that she saw too many people putting the Bolivian Marching Powder up their noses at ritzy NYC events, and decided to spend some time reporting about the consequences of supporting the drug trade from the great passageway to U.S. drug decadence: la frontera.
Man, this audio class is a real kick in the head! I think I cried today in class. My piece was way poor. Not the flat-out sad cry, but the cry that sounds like you’re laughing. You see it in the movies all the time. An exact example escapes me at the moment.
Above, Bushwick. It was the second choice for my beat. Probably because it has the 2nd highest concentration of Mexicans in BK, according to Daniel D. Arreola’s 2004 “Hispanic Spaces, Latino Places: Community and Cultural Diversity in Contemporary America.”
I stepped foot in Bushwick (the first time in my life), and walked around the projects, something I probably couldn’t do without losing my shoes and shorts several years ago. I chatted up a guy working a bodega across the street. My investigation tactic of the day was “Hay una taqueria cerca?” As dumb as that sounds, it led me to pockets of Mexicans throughout Brooklyn. But, for some reason, this time, the mans directions didn’t yield any secret Mexicanized boulevard. Instead, my journey led me into an industrialized hipster zone. Fittingly, I bumped into Pharoahe Monch, on his way to a micro brewery.
Didn’t surprise me.
I kept walking and finally got to what I thought was the purest example of Mexican culture you could ever find anywhere in the world. Not just a taco stand, but ….