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The dancers get most of the press, but the musicians are some of the unsung heroes of all the Guelaguetza performances.  And, I have to say, yesterday the Banda Oro Blanco at the Guelaguetza at “Las Peñitas” in Reyes Etla played a leading role.  And the view wasn’t bad either!

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What can I say about this clarinet player?  At one point he played off a fake book on a smart phone and he was on fire!!!

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The Guelaguetza 2017 delegations were announced late this morning.  While there will be four presentations of the Danza de la Pluma, this year Teotitlán del Valle will not be one of them and I’m disappointed —  this group of danzantes de promesa are SO good, they were such a hit last year, and I don’t know how much more “traditional” you can get.  In addition, social media tweets and comments in Oaxaca are flying fast and furious regarding the absence of Santiago Pinotepa Nacional and Juchitán de Zaragoza.  However, the good news is that there are some new groups this year, including Santiago Niltepec, Santo Domingo Chihuitán, Santa Catarina Ticua, and Santa María Huatulco — and their supporters are thrilled.

July 17 morning

July 17 evening

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Reserved seat tickets have been sold out for weeks.  However, if you don’t mind standing in line for hours, tickets for the “free” sections in the upper level of the Guelaguetza Auditorium are available before each of the four performances.  In addition, it will, no doubt, be shown on local TV and live-streamed on the internet.  I will post the link, when it becomes available.

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As the last couple of posts hinted, this year, instead of the city, I spent much of Semana Santa (Holy Week) in one of my favorite places — Teotitlán del Valle.

This was only the beginning.  It was a colorful, moving, and delicious experience!

 

 

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Sunday afternoon at Casa Colonial in Oaxaca:  Sun filtering through the trees of a lush tropical garden, the smell of hamburgers and hotdogs grilling on a barbecue, a friendly bartender, and a great jazz combo.  What more could anyone want?

Thank you to the Casa’s owner Jane Robison and manager Amado Bolaños.  It was a lovely way to spend a Sunday.

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The headline in the New York Times reads, She Showed Up Yearly to Meet Immigration Agents. Now They’ve Deported Her.

For eight years, Guadalupe García de Rayos had checked in at the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement office here, a requirement since she was caught using a fake Social Security number during a raid in 2008 at a water park where she worked.

Every year since then, she has walked in and out of the meetings after a brief review of her case and some questions.

But not this year.

Despite a night of protests and a legal appeal, this 35-year old mother of two, who has lived, worked, and played by the arbitrary U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) rules — and who hasn’t lived in Mexico since she was 14 — was separated from her husband and children and dropped off in Nogales, Mexico early this morning.

I’m so sad and angry at the mean-spirited and grand-standing senselessness of it all.  Right now, all I can do is cry and post this heartbreaking music video, Ice El Hielo by La Santa Cecilia.

Y’all feeling safer up there in el norte?

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It’s been a musical twenty-four hours.  Last night, under the stars in the courtyard of the Casa de la Ciudad, friends and I attended a lovely recital by four classical guitarists.  And, late this afternoon, I walked down to Casa Colonial for a performance by Paul Cohen and his jazz combo.  It was a fundraiser for the Libros Para Pueblos library in San Martín Tilcajete sponsored by the Casa’s owner, Jane Robison, in the name of her late husband, Thorny.

There was blue sky, sun, and standing room only as good vibes and jazz filled the garden venue.  A couple of tunes into the first set, Paul brought up his wife, multiple Grammy award winner and Oaxaca’s favorite daughter, Lila Downs to sing a few songs, including the closing song, “Keeper of the Flame” (first recorded by Nina Simone).  Lila, speaking to an audience overwhelmingly from the USA, noted it was a timely titled selection, given the current political climate.  And everyone knew exactly who and what she was referring to.

Paul Cohen and Lila Downs

Keeper Of the Flame
(Nina Simone version)

I’m the keeper of the flame
My torch of love lights his name
Ask no pity, beg my shame
I’m the keeper of the flame

Played with fire and I was burn
Gave a heart but I was spurn
All these time I have yearned
Just to have my love return

Years have passed by
The spark still remains
True love can’t die
It smoulders in flame
When the fire is burning off
And the angels call my name
Dying love will leave no doubt
I’m the keeper of the flame

Years have passed by
The spark still remains
True love can’t die
It smoulders in flame
When the fire is burning out
And the angels call my love
Dying love will leave no doubt
I’m the keeper of the flame

It’s a song not just about lost love.  As Lila alluded, we are all keepers of the flame.

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The dead don’t arrive in the valley of Oaxaca all at once.  The cosmic difunto air traffic controller has scheduled their arrival at different times on different days, from October 31 through November 3, to avoid celestial congestion.

Santa María Atzompa’s departed are among the first to return, arriving on the night of October 31.  Flower and food vendors line the walkway leading to the panteón as grandparents, parents, teens, and small children stream in with arms full of flowers, candles, buckets, and brooms.  Because is built on a slope and there are almost no paths, footing can be treacherous, especially in the dark when only candles on the graves light the way.  At one time, perhaps tombs were positioned on a grid, but no more and it seems to be filled to capacity.  I guess that’s why one side of the panteón has been opened up (one of the walls removed), the field beyond leveled, and a new wall around the field, connected to the old, constructed.  (You can click on images for a larger view.)

On November 1, in the early afternoon, it has become our custom to visit the cemetery in Tlacolula de Matamoros, before bringing pan de muerto and mezcal to the home of friends in Teotitlán del Valle.  In contrast to the higgledy-piggledy of Atzompa, the panteón in Tlacolula emanates a sense of order and serenity.  I wonder, could the tranquility comes from the 500 year old ahuehuete trees (hijos of el Tule, we were told) that reign over the tombs of the departed and make for an amazing play of light and shadow throughout?

On November 2, we returned to Teotitlán, but I will save that for another blog post.  However, that was not the end of the road.  In the category of, no rest for the living, the following day we drove south to San Antonino Castillo Velasco.  This is the village known for their beautiful flowers and exquisite floral embroidery.  And, it is said that because the living are so busy providing flowers to other parts of the valley, the departed wait until November 3 to return. (See the book, Day of the Dead: When Two Worlds Meet in Oaxaca by Shawn D. Haley and Curt Fukuda.)  I’m sure, like we, the difuntos are dazzled by the intricacy of floral designs that family members have created to decorate their tombs in welcome.

Octavio Paz writes in The Labyrinth of Solitude, “Life extended into death, and vice-versa.  Death was not the natural end of life but one phase of an infinite cycle.”

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As regular readers know, I have a huge soft spot in my heart for the people and cultural traditions of the Zapotec village, Teotitlán del Valle.  Blogger buddy Chris and I go out there often, especially for their major festivals where the Danza de la Pluma is performed.  Earlier this month, a new group of danzantes de promesa assumed the sacred 3-year commitment to perform the Danza de la Pluma and, for the first time in recent memory, they were selected to dance in this year’s official Guelaguetza.  As you can see from the Vive Oaxaca video below, their 17-minute performance Monday evening was spectacular!

¡Felicidades! to the band, Los Reformistas, led by Maestro Antonio Servando Bautista González; to the breathtaking dancing of Sergio Gutiérrez Bautista (Moctezuma), who was front and center and flawless during the entire performance; and to all the Danzantes, who impressively executed the complicated and visually stunning choreography of Maestro Javier Gutiérrez Hernandez.  While I may only be a (albeit, frequent) visitor to Teotitlán del Valle, I couldn’t help but feel incredibly proud of the dancers and the way they represented their strong, vibrant, and historic community.

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The program of delegations for Guelaguetza 2016 is out and, according to all reports, the show will go on!  And, at long last, this year the Danzantes de Promesa from Teotitlán del Valle have been invited to perform.  It was the talk of the village this past weekend; the pride in their history and traditions and in this new group of dancers was palpable.

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As you can see above, they will be performing on Monday evening, July 25.  Though I won’t be there in person, I will be rushing home from the Guelaguetza celebration in Reyes Etla to watch the live TV broadcast.  Hopefully, as in past years, both the morning and evening performances on both Mondays will be live-streamed.  I will post the link, once I know.

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To whet your appetite, here is my short video of the Guelaguetza 2014 performance I attended at the Guelaguetza Auditorium on Cerro del Fortín.

If this tempts you to come, please do!  Hotels have experienced a 32% cancellation rate, so you should have no trouble reserving a room.  And, the restaurants and artisans could really use your support.  While there are only a few reserved seats available through Ticketmaster at the performances up on Cerro del Fortín, local communities in the valley host their own Guelaguezas that are small, free, and provide an up-close and personal view.  In addition, the delegations dance their way through the streets of Oaxaca on the two Saturdays prior the performances, there are artisan ferias and food festivals in the city and surrounding villages to experience and enjoy.

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What can one say about a country that celebrates a poet/essayist/philosopher/journalist as a national hero?  Granted, José Martí was also a fierce fighter for Cuban independence from Spain and died in battle on May 19, 1895, shot by Spanish troops in Dos Ríos, Cuba.

However, it is his writings that appear to be his most powerful and lasting legacy.  Exiled from Cuba due to his political activity against Spain, he spent many years in the United States and while there, he wrote a passionate report following the 1886 execution by hanging in Chicago of the Haymarket martyrs.  And so, let’s commemorate this May Day with words from José Martí…


Every human being has within him an ideal man, just as every piece of marble contains in a rough state a statue as beautiful as the one that Praxiteles the Greek made of the god Apollo.  — José Martí

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Memorial José Martí, Plaza de la Revolución, Havana

To educate is to give man the keys to the world, which are independence and love, and to give him strength to journey on his own, light of step, a spontaneous and free being.  — José Martí

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Biblioteca Nacional José Martí, Havana

Men are like the stars; some generate their own light while others reflect the brilliance they receive.  —José Martí

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Display at the Biblioteca Nacional José Martí, Havana

Man can never be more perfect than the sun. The sun burns us with the same light that warms us. The sun has spots (stains).  The ungrateful only talk about the spots (stains). The grateful talk about the light.  — José Martí, La edad de oro

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Courtyard of El Sitial Moncada, Havana

In a time of crisis, the peoples of the world must rush to get to know each other.  — José Martí

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Bookseller stall in the Plaza de Armas, Havana


I have a white rose to tend
In July as in January;
I give it to the true friend
Who offers his frank hand to me.  — José Martí

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Dagoberto, our waiter at a bar on the grounds of Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro, Havana — the white rose he made and presented to me

If translated back into Spanish, those last words may sound familiar to you…

Cultivo una rosa blanca,
En julio como en enero,
Para el amigo sincero
Que me da su mano franca.

This Playing for Change YouTube video may refresh your memory, then there is Pete Seeger.  The above is one of four stanzas from Martí’s Versos Sencillos that are often used as lyrics to Guantanamera.

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I’m still in el norte, now on the west coast in the San Francisco Bay Area and it’s grey, raining, and cold.  The rain is a much needed gift in drought stricken California, but the ground has rapidly become supersaturated and this morning’s news reported a giant ficus falling across Mission St. in San Francisco, taking down streetcar lines.  I immediately flashed on Oaxaca’s ubiquitous, often topiaried, ficus trees.

However, I headed out into the storm and tuned into a Spanish language music station (I must be missing the soundtrack of my Mexican life) and was reminded today, January 6, is El Día De Los Reyes Magos (aka, Epiphany), when the Three Kings bring gifts to the children of Mexico.

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My (grown) children received their gifts on December 25, not January 6, and last year each received a tapete woven by the talented Sergio Ruiz Gonzalez — brother of Antonio, who wove my new rug.  In the photo, that’s Sergio, his beautiful wife Virginia, and his lovely mother Emilia (of Lila Downs’ El Palomo del Comalito video fame).

However, I did receive an (unexpected) gift today — my former piano teacher (and forever friend) Greg Johnson stopped by to catch up.  And, besides his always upbeat and delightful company, he brought me his new CD, Crystalline Thrilled.  The guys of Glass Brick Boulevard are fabulous (as always) and guest artist Carlos Reyes shreds it on violin.  Check out Carlos playing  with Glass Brick Boulevard at the CD release party.  What a great regalo I received!

 

 

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Monday, I returned to Oaxaca following a mini-vacation to the state of Jalisco to visit mi amiga J in Ajijic and to attend the annual Feria Maestros del Arte in Chapala.  It’s a nice place to visit, but I must admit, its appeal escapes me.  I guess I’m spoiled by Oaxaca’s countless charms, like today’s “music to shop by” at Mercado Sánchez Pascuas.

Muzak, it most definitely is not!

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As I’d discussed in a previous post, August 9 was International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.  That day, on my way to the mercado, a youth band had me stopping at the city’s cultural celebration on the Alameda de León.

This young girl, without accompaniment, brought tears to the eyes as she sang, “Canción Mixteca” by Oaxacan composer José López Alavez.  He wrote the melody in 1912 and the lyrics in 1915, expressing his homesickness for Oaxaca after moving to Mexico City.  It has since become an anthem for not only Oaxaqueños, but all Mexicano expats yearning for their homeland.

Yaa Savi (Mixtec language)
NDA XIKA NAKAI
NOO ÑO’O NOO NI KAKUI,
NDIKANO KUNDAVI INI
XI’IN MIA NTOONI.

TA XANDEI’MI TA ITOI
TA NDAVI NDEI NDAA NOO TACHI,
NDI KUNI KUAKUI
NDIKUNI KUI’VI XAA NDOI’ INI.

(Bis)
NOO ÑO’O ÑAA ÑU’U
XAKA INI KANDEI’YOO
TA VITI NA XIKA
YEE YOI NI ÑO’O, NI ÑAA MANI.

TA XANDEI’ MI TA ITOI
TA NDAVI NDEI NDAA NOO TACHI
NDIKUNI KUAKUI
NDIKUNI KUI’VI XAA NDO’INI

Canción Mixteca (en español)
Que lejos estoy del suelo
Donde he nacido.
Inmensa nostalgia
Invade mi pensamiento.
Y al verme tan solo y triste
Cual hoja el viento.
Quisiera llorar,Quisiera morir
De sentimiento.

Oh! tierra del sol
Suspiro por verte.
Ahora que lejos
Yo vivo sin luz.
Sin amor.
Y al verme
Tan solo y triste
Cual hoja el viento
Quisiera llorar,Quisiera morir
De sentimiento.

Canción Mixteca (English translation)
How far I am from the land where I was born!
Immense nostalgia invades my heart;
And seeing myself so lonely and sad like a leaf in the wind,
I want to cry, I want to die from this feeling.

Oh Land of Sun! I yearn to see you!
Now that I’m so far from you, I live without light and love;
And seeing myself so lonely and sad like a leaf in the wind,
I want to cry, I want to die from this feeling.

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To watch or listen to this year’s Guelaguetza performances live from Cerro Fortín today (July 20), and next Monday (July 27), at 10 AM and 5 PM (Central Daylight Time):  http://www.viveoaxaca.org/2015/07/Guelaguetza2015EnVivo.html

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Enjoy!

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Last Sunday, Oaxaca bid adiós to the 10º Nacional Festival de Danzón, the stately dance from Cuba that has captivated Oaxaca.  Alas, I only managed to catch the very end.  But, as always, I was charmed by the formality and style and intensity and joy — a tradition kept alive by those in their latter years…

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… and by the young.

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Several well-known danzones were composed Amador Pérez Dimas from Villa de Zaachila, ten miles southwest of Oaxaca city.

For a taste of danzón, here is brief snippet from the close of the festival.  By the way, the band is Banda Santa Cecilia from Teotitlán del Valle, a band we will be hearing several times next week during the the multi-day fiesta honoring Preciosa Sangre de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo.

If you are in Oaxaca, you can experience Danzón for yourself on Wednesdays at 6:30 PM, either under the laurels on the Zócalo or on the Alcalá near Santo Domingo, depending on the state of the Zócalo — occupied or not occupied.

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