And that’s thanks to your truly! Yes, Howler has returned from the ashes in a web-only format for the time being and I was invited to write up a fun story about the most famous Welshman’s arrival to California.
[Imagine] Bale behind the steering wheel, his family in tow, checking his options on Google Maps as to whether he should take the 405 south to the 10 to the 5 or head further south on the 405 to the 91 to the 5.
As a historian I know that pointing to one thing as the ultimate source of something sounds silly and inaccurate, but I need you to believe me that this statement is probably more true than not.
Author, historian and professor Romeo Guzmán offers the above bit of wisdom as the second introductory line to his latest publication: Pocho Blues. The chapbook is a short reflection of his own life as a Mexican-American raised in the US and in Mexico.
The body of work in literature and pop culture about & by Mexican-Americans is plenty and filled with successful and (too many!) unsuccessful portrayals of this particular diasporic group within the US. Perhaps it’s a sign of my age but I have grown accustomed to being let down by simplistic fables that boil down to the same lament of ní de aquí, ní de alla. I have reached a point where I physically brace myself before consuming any media related to the matter.
Pocho Blues fits into the successful side thanks to Guzmán’s creative talent as a writer and to his critical eye as a historian. He begins with the “ultimate source” that served as the catalyst for this work: the death of his grandfather in 2011 and the death of his father two years after. As the member of the family gifted with creative and academic muscles, he was tasked with providing the eulogies at both funerals.
It was this experience that sparked a desire to write stories that needed to be told. I think Pocho Blues tries to make sense of what it means to be a child of Mexican migrants and to provide a glimpse into a universe of Mexicans making their way through life on and off the soccer pitch.
These stories are collected in three chapters that run up to a short 48 pages, yet there is much that is said, shared and to be learned from in such a relatively short length.
The first story, “My Father’s Charrería, My Rodeo: A Paisa Journey” is centered on a belt buckle that belonged to Guzmán’s late father. The author claimed it as his own in his teens and concocted a romantic story of how his father rode his first bull to earn it. The truth of how he actually earned it came as a total surprise to Guzmán and it is this revelation that serves as a MacGuffin into an investigation of his family’s multiculturality via migration, the bracero program, rodeos and charrería.
Guzmán draws a thoughtful throughline from the horseback-riding colonists of Nueva España to the separate, but parallel, evolutions of the cowboy in Mexico and in the US, as represented by Vicente Fernandez and Clint Eastwood, to his father’s belt buckle, which he wore in many a failed attempt to fit in at numerous paisa parties.
The buckle, a mundane everyday object designed with a single specific utility, thus becomes a symbol of a “complex and nuanced narrative” linking Guzmán, his father, and his father’s father and their relationships with Mexico and the US.
Soccer takes center stage in the second and third stories, “Team Zapata” and “Lobo”. The former finds Guzmán pondering on his days playing soccer as a teen with a neighborhood team called Team Zapata, before joining Chino Spirit in a different city. He tried to juggle playing at both, but ultimately elected to leave Zapata for Spirit. The anecdotes are humorous but the story ends on crushing terms.
While still at Zapata, the unnamed coach shared the terrible news that a teammate would no longer be joining them because he was fatally hurt defending himself after being assaulted. Some time after leaving Zapata, Guzmán learned that the son of his former coach, who also played on the team, was arrested and locked up in jail “for doing something he wasn’t supposed to.” The specific details of both events are never divulged.
With the death of his father, Guzmán’s connection to coach was also lost, leaving him with many unanswered questions.
A story like this typically draws insight from the actions on the field to provide a moral lesson off it, but Guzmán finds it difficult to do so. Perhaps, sometimes there are no larger lessons or deeper meanings in the stories of our lives; only “what-ifs” and a lifetime to consider what happened and what could have been otherwise.
The final story is named after Guzmán’s uncle Manuel who received the nickname Lobo for some unknown reason. Without revealing too much, suffice it to say that the man is quite a character. A cousin of Guzmán refers to him as Don Quixote at one point. Funnily enough, the oddball uncle ends up playing soccer at a park with his nephews who have just been challenged to play against a team of older paisas.
Guzmán and his cousins put up a good fight in their expensive cleats and modern jerseys emblazoned with the names of their favorite European clubs, but end up losing by a wide margin to older men dressed in “erzat jerseys” and “cheap rubber cleats.” The paisas had something he and his diasporic family members didn’t: the paisa hustle, which he recognized in his late father and other immigrant Mexican/Latino working-class men.
Their effort on the pitch mirrored their daily life and everyday struggles. Our fathers, at one point, were migrants, and paisas, too. They’d played soccer and done their fair share of balling on Santa Barbara’s soccer fields. We inherited their skills, but on this occasion at least, we forgot to incorporate the paisa hustle.
Romero Guzmán, Pocho Blues
Guzmán ends the story unable to shake the thought that he and his cousins have “lost something along the way.” It is never revealed what that “something” is or could be and, as a diasporic Mexican-American myself, I would not be surprised if that something has remained elusive to this day.
Reading Pocho Blues reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from the late scholar Stuart Hall, who described himself as the product of two diasporas:
Cultural identity…is a matter of “becoming” as well as of “being.” It belongs to the future as much as of to the past. It is not something which already exists, transcending place, time, history and culture. Cultural identities come from somewhere, have histories. But like everything which is historical, they undergo constant transformation. Far from being eternally fixed in some essentialised past, they are subject to the continuous “‘play”‘ of history, culture and power. Far from being grounded in mere “‘recovery”‘ of the past, which is waiting to be found, and which when found, will secure our sense of ourselves into eternity, identities are the names we give to the different ways we are positioned by, and position ourselves within, the narratives of the past.
There is plenty of diasporic content that traps itself within an identity without a sense of becoming. Rigid notions of identity have consistently plagued Mexican-Americanness within a struggle of seemingly eternal displacement voiced in the aforementioned aphorism of ní de aquí, ní de alla (admittedly, something I’m guilty of repeating in the past). Within this trap, a diasporic Mexican is doomed to never be their whole self, doomed to be split, 50/50, between two nationalities, cultures and countries, or, worse, doomed to be shunned by both, forcing the subject into a life of eternal cultural exile.
It would be a mistake to ignore the events and conditions that led to this specific identity formation. There was, and still is, a constant “othering” based on class, ethnicity and race that brought us to this point and there is no lack of literature and content on this subject. But it’s also a mistake to remain mired in the swamp of conflict at the heart of this particular duality. To do so would be to ignore the complex and nuanced narratives that provide said identity with its past and disconnect it from the multiple positions of the present that can provide shape to its future.
Guzmán’s Pocho Blues is refreshing to read because it isn’t a conflict between here or there. It is an understanding of here and there. It is a reconciliation between and acceptance of both as simply “being.”
I have another story up at the California Healthcare Foundation’s blog! In this article, I spoke with a few representatives at AltaMed about their latest campaign, ¡Ándale! ¿Qué Esperas?, to vaccinate Latin Americans in California to protect them from Covid-19.
But vaccination events are just one of many elements of the public education campaign. Another consists of testimonials from people who survived serious cases of symptomatic COVID-19 and now advise unvaccinated people to get their shots. In one of the online video clips, Gloria Torres pleads, “If you love your family and want to continue living in this world, get vaccinated.”
Torres describes how she saw immediately that her son was sick with COVID-19, and that soon she was sick too — then her husband, then more family members. While they all recovered, Torres said that she has not yet regained her sense of smell.
AltaMed is targeting its educational efforts at eight California counties with significant Latinx populations: Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego in the southern part of the state; Merced and Stanislaus in the Central Valley; and Alameda, Contra Costa, and Solano in the Bay Area.
It’s the last music roundup of the year! And, ironically, my first post of the new year too! Maybe it’s “late” by conventional standards but it’s not as if I suddenly stopped listening to all this music as soon as the clock marked the end of 2021.
Anyway, this isn’t my version of a “Best Of” list; it’s a continuation of the posts I’ve worked on in recent years to write about and share some sweet, sweet music I’ve listened/am listening to at the moment.
This album was originally released in 2018 but exclusively on Amazon. It’s now available on all streaming platforms. Thank goodness for that because it’s an amazing collection of Texan soul tunes produced by Adrian Quesada of Black Pumas and features a who’s-who of soul artists including Aaron Frazer of Durand Jones & The Indications, Brownout, David Hidalgo and Steve Berlin from Los Lobos, and Tejano legends including Ruben Ramos, Johnny Hernandez and David Marez.
Texas soul to me is a unique Texas take on what we know as soul music, in a way that could have only happened in this state. You had this melting pot of black, brown, white; and you had proximity to the Mexican border adding influence…what has been exciting to me about making this record has been the process of working with some of these living legends – getting them in the studio, hearing and documenting their lifetime of stories…and honor the fact that these people opened the door for us to do what we do now.
A disembodied voice introduces the listener to this latest work by this experimental rock group from Ciudad México that takes its name from the famous opening line & title of the story by Juan Rulfo.
“Hoy es un día cualquiera pero yo ya no soy yo” mumbles the vocalist. “Today is a day like any other but I am no longer me.” Like other artists, Diles turned to their art to make sense of the pandemic and quarantine while also treading new territory with their new bassist. The result is a sonic treasure that veers away from the post punk malaise of their previous work and towards fusions of krautrock, spoken word, and jazz. It’s also an aural roadmap of Mexico City told through the senses of a young group navigating the new normal, or “neonormal,” as they put it, of their lives with millions of others.
I saw these guys live at Viva Pomona in 2014 and am happy to see them expanding their psych rock creations. Producer Hugo Quezada brought out the best in the band on their sophomore full-length outing, following a debut album that was impressive though marred by moments of psych pomp and excess.
Lost among the praise for last year’s “Patria Y Vida,” produced and created by a half-dozen of his Cuban peers, was the release of No Me Mientan (EP) by Cuban rapper El Individuo. Produced by Los Angeles’ own Chief Boima, the title track bounces alongside his lyrical wordplay on verdades y mentiras (truth and lies). He also dropped a handful of singles worth checking out.
Evan Mast, aka the other half of Ratatat alongside Mike Stroud, dropped this solo record this year. There are parts of it that sound similar to Ratatat but their trademark, shiny wah and/or distinctly tremolo’d guitar aesthetic soon takes a backseat and disappears for more of Mast’s unique production skills. You may have heard these skills gracing & supporting the vocals of artists such as Despot, Kid Cudi, Kanye West, and Nas.
Their name makes them a bit difficult to find online but they’re worth the time! Their latest is a self-titled EP that finds the band laser-focused on heavy doses of melodic & progressive rock, which is a far cry from the more chaotic, experimental phase that initiated the early stages of their career, as represented in Kair, their 2016 full-length debut album.
It’s two for two for Idles with this follow-up to last year’s Ultra Mono. Where UM was non-stop rage with a brief spell for a respite, this latest work is a slow, burning growl of an album with a brief spell for all-out rage.
INFINITY is the artist name for Jose Antonio Bravo’s latest musical offering. Many may also recognize him under his longtime creative moniker of DJ Bitman/Latin Bitman. Bravo’s latest project was born from his desire to learn meditation. After starting mindfulness techniques, he realized he needed music to assist him in his meditation. Thus, he created INFINITY.
Heal is the third album in this series of music designed specifically for meditation and follows the same pattern as its predecessors Breath and Relax: 10 tracks each at 10 minutes in length. Each album provides music that fit the mood of the album’s title, which I’ve found very helpful and soothing during this millionth year of the pandeimc. The fourth and final album, Gratitude, is also available now.
Isidro Cuevas y Willy Cabañas – Producciones Miramar
Cumbias rebajadas de las mas chingonas. This cocktail of slowed-down cumbias is the second collection of cumbias rebajadas by the duo of Cuevas & Cabañas (aka G-Flux and Amantes del Futuro) in as many years. The cumbias don’t bump faster than 80bpm and are loaded with trippy space effects while sounding incredibly romantic. It’s my second favorite album of the year (scroll a bit further to see my #1 favorite).
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Butterfly 3000 and L.W.
What better way to prove that you’re a musician than by doing nothing else with your life other than creating music every single second of every single day? Australia’s KG&TLW live by that motto. The band have a whopping 18 studio albums since 2010.
KG&TLW unveiled two albums last year. First is L.W., the follow-up to 2020’s K.G., which continued the band’s foray into microtonal music structures. It’s a psychedelic trip through funk, jazz, and rock fused with a backbone of, let me say it again, microtone structures influenced by “Eastern” music (re: Arabic, Middle Eastern, & other regions/cultures).
The second album is Butterfly 3000. It’s a concept album of sorts stemming from the life of the Blue Morpho butterfly. Stu Mackenzie explained it all in an interview with Stereogum, if you’re interested in the context. Unlike its two predecessors, this one is heavy on the synthesizers and trippy love!
Massive shoutout to this trio from Guadalajara! This is the group’s debut album and it makes quite the statement. I can say without a doubt that it’s my personal favorite album of the year thanks to their wall of sound that gallops through waves of shoegaze, post-punk and psych rock.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who loves live renditions of theme songs from classic video games. The covers by Mariachi Entertainment System blew me away from the first note to the last note. Their latest release is a collection of covers from The Legend of Zelda series of games. Can someone get Miyamoto on the phone. We need a full mariachi remix of A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time!
Pronounced “menyers”, as in Karl Menger of Menger’s theorem. I don’t know what means for the band in any context other than proper pronunciation and for the fact that there’s some fun use of geometrical grids and such in the embedded video below, but they’re on this list for a reason!
Producer Hugo Quezada makes another appearance in this roundup, this time as the maestro working behind the scenes on Mengers’ second full-length album in as many years. I’ve read a few articles describe them as noise rock but that suggests that there isn’t a method to their musical madness. Not so! Their method within the madness is to give that madness a shape and form so as to understand and, most importantly, confront that madness.
Santiago Motorizado – Canciones Sobre una Casa, Cuatro Amigos y un Perro
Santiago Motorizado, aka Santiago Ariel Barrionuevo, aka the singer & bassist of El Mato A Un Policia Motorizado, returns with another soundtrack-as-solo-album. Diehard fans will recall 2019’s La Muerte No Existe y el Amor Tampoco, which is an original film score written by Santiago. This time, he’s put together 18 songs for the Netflix series Okupas.
In an interview with dod magazine, Santiago explains that the re-release of the show on Netflix required new music as director Bruno Stagnaro was unable to renew the rights to the original music used in the series during its original run 22 years ago. Stagnaro sought out El Mato who provided a new song and a few remasters, released last year as Unas Vacaciones Raras, and eventually also hired Santiago to create new songs as well.
The album also serves as a lesson in ethnomusicology as each song jumps into a different genre from Argentina’s storied music history. There are also collaborations with other musicians from Argentina including his father Felipe and his brother Facundo on “Un Día No Vas A Estar”.
The band’s name translates to unstable systems and this 2021 release certainly lives up to that name. It features only two songs, “Signum” and “Praedatum,” that clock in 30 seconds shy of a quarter of an hour long…but that’s all the trio need to show off their incredible talent as multinstrumentalists with live instruments, synthesizers, and drum machines.
The album is also the first of three EPs to be released before their second LP.
There’s definitely something about life in Mexico City during this pandemic. These guys are also from Mexico City and, like Diles Que No Me Maten and Mengers before them, they have turned to the heavier, distorted side of rock music to make sense out of the senselessness of the 21st century.
Una nación profundamente racista, misógina, violenta y llena de oscuridad. La gente idolatra monumentos mientras desprecia a las mujeres, las voces de sus habitantes son ignoradas constantemente y la desesperanza se ha convertido en nuestro estado colectivo natural. /// A deeply racist, misogynistic, violent and dark nation. People idolize monuments while despising women, the voices of their inhabitants are constantly ignored, and hopelessness has become our natural collective state of mind.
Various Artists – Sonideras Peruanas: Cumbias & Guarachas Limpias
In 1971, Alberto Maraví launched INFOPESA, a record label in Lima, Peru that signed some of the most legendary artists from the region. Los Mirlos, Juaneco y su Combo, Los Hijos del Sol, and others graced the roster at any given point.
Alberto passed away last year and his son, Juan Ricardo took over operations. JR and the team at INFOPESA spent the pandemic pouring over the label’s archive of recordings, alongside his Alberto before his death, to restore and relabel numerous recordings popularized in sonideras, a type of block party unique to Mexico City.
The end result is this album packed with 17 songs heard at many sonideras since the 70s, digitized, remastered and compiled for the first time on one disc.
I find it hard to believe that this is only the band’s seventh studio album considering the fact that they’re celebrating their 25th anniversary as a band this year. Quality, not quantity, perhaps!
Speaking of which, I don’t know how these guys do it, but they manage to make each album sound like its own epic work of art without going overboard. Their most recent offering is no different.
Maybe there are folks out there who could make a good argument claiming that the band is mostly treading comfortable waters since 2008’s Reptilectric. That album, in my mind, is the high-water mark for alternative rock music from Mexico of that era and certainly the one that defines that era for me. I’m sure some folks will disagree and have plenty of other bands to namedrop that could fill that role; that’s fine, however, it won’t sway my mind otherwise. Of course, that also means I believe the band peaked in 2008. That said, they continue to offer amazing albums, like this recent offering, to listen to and I welcome each one they have to offer!
My latest article is an interview with a few people from El Sol, a community health advocacy group based in San Bernardino county. The non-profit group has devoted resources to share information about Covid-19, vaccines, and more in the county’s Hispanic/Latin American population.
“We have lost everything — people, jobs, hope, and we have not had time to reflect on it,” Fajardo said. “Everything now is about the ending the pandemic and, as soon as we get this done, I’m pretty sure we’ll be having a lot of mental health–related issues. When we were doing ‘Time to Heal,’ I tried to get testimonials from people I know who have suffered a loss. People are not ready in terms of how to talk or how to heal. These discussions were painful for them, so I think it’s a good opportunity to bring awareness of it and how to talk about it.”