|Dialectic Radio 184: Sonidos Mexicanos|
555 and Lapkat in Mexico … 555 first up with ‘mex y amigos’, a free form practice mix done at Las Palmas studios Costa Central in preparation for playing the opening night of the Hola Mexico Film Festival in Sydney 2011. Then, ‘poésia chicano’ – Lapkat taking a trip through the social-political, the militant, the revolucionario, poetry and music of Mexico, Peru and Argentina, with the chicano poets of the Calaca Press label as our guides.
So it’s time to talk about some of my most treasured spoken word poetry recordings. Qué alegría! Here is the ‘poésia chicano’ mix in full:
(full tracklisting for this mix is on the soundcloud page)
This set (originating in a performance for Señor BBQ in November and reworked for this Dialectic episode) takes its inspiration from the activist poets and artists of the Calaca Press label. I’ve wanted to feature these poets properly for a long time, and it’s nice now to be able to play them, and think and write about their work, many years after first hearing it.
Calaca was begun by San Diego community activists Brent Beltrán and Consuelo Manríquez de Beltrán, along with poet Manuel J. Vélez, in the mid ’90s, to create avenues for bilingual artists and performers, particularly poets who identify as chicano/chicana.
Chicano, most basically, refers to US citizens of Mexican, Native American descent; chicanismo being the cultural movement of the 1960s during the Mexican civil rights movement, as activists in the southern US cities asserted their unique ethnic identity and political consciousness. Chicano poetry is impassioned, politically aware and intensely personal. Chicana, the women, (eg Elba Rosario Sánchez and Olga Angelina García Echeverría) write strong feminist poetry from a real-world, eye-level, and again personal, point of view.
Calaca Press put out around seven CDs across the ’90s and ’00s featuring chicano/a poets from San Diego, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area. The productions contain a mixture of English and Spanish, the focus of Calaca (and their poets) being a celebration of their bilingual culture. They also published books of poetry by Vélez and others, and produced live events and community actions. I have these recordings from my early days of radio broadcast, when I was in touch with Brent and Consuelo, and they sent me a big package of CDs and books.
These days Calaca seems to be over … I have been trying to connect with them again for a long time now but so far no luck. CDs can sometimes be found online by searching titles … Some titles to hunt for: “Raza Spoken Here (Vol 1 and 2)” featuring the at-the-time emerging poets of the southern American underground; Elba Rosario Sánchez and Olga Angelina García Echeverría’s chicana poetry on “When Skin Peels”; “Word Descarga” from the San Francisco Bay Area’s Los Delicados; Simón Silva’s “Small-Town Browny” – a double CD of poignant short stories about rural campesino life; and anything by the Taco Shop Poets – particularly “Chorizo Tonguefire” … ¡buena suerte!
Also in this set, another recording I have had for many years … Subcomandante Marcos, the spokesman for the Zapatista rebel movement, reading his works in English. Produced by the NYC publisher Seven Stories Press, a publisher of voices of conscience (still operating, well worth checking out) “Our Word is Our Weapon” was released in 2005. This ‘communique’ “The Word and the Silence” is I think one of the most beautiful pronouncements ever made of the power of the word, of speaking, and the power of silence, of listening. From ’95, signed “The Clandestine Indigenous Revolutionary Committee General Command of the Zapatista National Liberation Army.” Subcomandante Marcos reads:“What matters is our eldest elders who received the word and the silence as a gift in order to know themselves and to touch the heart of the other…When we are silenced we remain very much alone. Speaking, we heal the pain. Speaking, we accompany one another. Power uses the word to impose his empire of silence. We use the word to renew ourselves. Power uses silence to hide his crimes. We use silence to listen to one another, to know one another…”
To the other end of the political spectrum (from the underground to the podium!) we close this set with the Argentinean president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s bicentennial speech made music by Basel-based, Buenos Airies-born Franco Bianco. An orator of the Perón variety - whether or not you like her politics, Cristina is a powerful voice.
Así! It feels good to shine the spotlight on these great poets. In closing, to open the doors to more discovery – San Francisco chicano spoken word poet Paul Flores (he is the founding artistic director of Chicano Messengers of Spoken Word - their album “This is not a fake poem” from 2009 can be got at that link). A really powerful voice - Flores here on Def Poetry Jam: