La Danza Poetica #14 Poesía Frontera

Recorded on the weekend of el Día de los Muertos, raising honoured ghosts and calling on their descendents to speak the border ... la poesía y la música de la frontera, Mejicano, Americano, Chicano, the word and the silence.


Soneros del Tesechoacán - La Guacamaya
calaveras literarias
Óscar Sarmiento - El Oficio de Coyote
Mexican Institute of Sound - Cumbia Meguro
José Montoya - El sol y los de abajo
Cholita Sound - Inca Niñita
Bocafloja - Sopa De Letras
Bocafloja - Invisible (feat. Michelle Ricardo, Indee Styla & R.E.A.L.I.D.A.D)
Oscilador - La voz del cantante
Raúl Zurita - Desiertos 4
Reyes x DJ O-Zone - Lolita You May Cry Now
Perro Agradecido - Talisman
Elba Rosario Sánchez - Tepalcate A Tepalcate
Oscilador - Cubita`s Style
Tijuana Experimental - Alma (Yelram Selectah EDIT)
Subcomandante Marcos - The Word and the Silence
Electroteca-Electroteca - Oro en futbòl (Mariachi dub - despuès del fraude mix)
Los de Abajo - La Patriota
Jack Kerouac - Mexico City Blues (excerpts)
Lilo Gonzalez Y Los De La Mt. Pleasant - Ningún Ser Humano Es Ilegal
Mexican Institute of Sound - Ritmo Internacional
Charles Bowden - Excerpts from an Interview By Scott Carrier
Calaveras - Calaveras
Trago Amargo - Revolución
Rasquachi Performers - Blood Ain't Salsa
Eric Skye - Cowgirl Blue
Reyes x DJ O-Zone - We Are

Notes on the show

I started out this month with a completely different intention. I'd intended this time around to get playful with the idea of the honoured ghosts, calling them on the day that the spirit and the corporeal worlds are said to be closest. But as I started listening to the collection of Mexican and southwest USA poetry I've gathered, I realised there was still the Chicano story to tell on La Danza Poetica. The ghosts who appeared first were these ghosts ... The 'ghost' of Calaca Press, the fantastic Chicano publishing house that as far as I know, no longer exists .... The ghost of José Montoya, the Chicano poet who left our world only a month ago ... The ghost of Jack Kerouac, American suburban boy chasing a different kind of dream ... The ghost of Subcomandante Marcos, the elusive freedom fighter with a voice like honey ... So I followed them.

First, we invite in the honoured ghosts via some 'calaveras literarias' (the 'skull poems' traditionally recited on Día de los Muertos). These include one for the Mexican poet Octavio Paz. This is appropriate, as he was to be an influence on the Chicanismo movement in the '60s and '70s in America.

My purpose also changed this month once I came across the Border SongsCD project, a collection of songs, poetry and interviews released in 2012, from which all profits are donated to Tucson-based humanitarian group No More Deaths/No Mas Muertes. The more I read, and the more I listen, the deeper and more complicated the story becomes. Since 1994, more than 6,000 people have died while trying to cross the border between Mexico and the United States. This is because the US began to seal the border with walls across easily passable areas, in 1993. By closing off easy-to-cross areas, the walls funnel desperate migrants into dangerous desert. This, along with harsher law enforcement, particularly in Arizona, has caused a humanitarian crisis. Not only the danger of the crossing itself - the sealing of the border has in fact encouraged undocumented migrants to settle in the US rather than passing across seasonally. Apparently this had led to an increase in women and children attempting the crossing, to reunite with family. As usual, a militaristic response does not better the situation, instead creating more disconnect and more suffering. Stories of trauma, abuse from border guards and smugglers (coyotes), people lost in the desert or in the legal system.

The Border Songs project features songs, stories and recordings donated by artists and producers including Amos Lee, Calexico, Spearhead, and many more. No More Deaths / No Mas Muertesis a a humanitarian group that places water in the Arizona desert and provides migrants and deported people with food and medical assistance. NMD’s mission is "to end death and suffering on the US/Mexico border. For No More Deaths, it doesn’t matter whether one is documented or undocumented. Everyone has the right to water, food, medical care and dignity." On the Border Songs website you can read backgrounds and stories, as well as translations of the songs and poems on the CDs.

From the CD, we hear a few tracks, including Ningún Ser Humano Es Ilegal. Lilo Gonzalez y Los de la Mt. Pleasant take migrant narratives into the Salvadoran heartland of Washington, D.C. Born in Armenia, González crossed the border without papers in the early 1980s. His music mixes folk, cumbia, salsa, tango and reggae, songs about immigrant struggle from his personal experience, such as Ningún Ser Humano Es Ilegal. (No Human is Illegal). Also Love Without Papers, The Border Crossed My Land. Ningún Ser Humano Es Ilegal is taken from the Border Songs compilation.

Charles Bowden, journalist and co-writer of the incredible Dreamland - a graphic novel with drawings by Alice Leora Briggs, chronicling the disintegration of society in Ciudad Juárez, on the US-Mexico border. From the Border Songs CD, Charles' description of the flight through the desert is visceral, clear and frightening. I chose to close the show with this, from an interview by Scott Carrier, because it's one of those moments that could not, you would think, fail to raise compassion in any heart that heard it. I did some searching and found a great profile on Bowden by Scott Carrier on Hearing Voices It's a fascinating study and makes me want to read more of his work.

The poets:

Beginning with Óscar Sarmiento, in the office of the coyote, the smuggler. Then we hear from José Montoya, Sacramento's poet laureate who crossed over to the other side in September at the age of 81. Co-founder of the Royal Chicano Air Force (Rebel Chicano Art Front), a collection of artist activists fighting for justice and equality for farm workers and other marginalized Americans, Montoya was a force in the Chicano movement of the 1960s and '70s. His poetry mixes English, Spanish and barrio slang, encapsulating the uncomfortable straddling of cultures in the Latino experience. This "code switching" is a mark of his work, and in particular his use of Chicano slang marks his work as being for his people, not for the world as a whole. This means some of the meaning is lost on us hearing or reading from the outside - but his purpose as an artist, activist and educator is to raise his people, and that's beautiful. A lovely tribute from his son, filmmaker Richard Montoya, is here. This poem, El Sol Y Los De Abajo (from 1972) speaks of the lost potential in those who are oppressed by class and racism, who lose connection to their original folklore and sensibility. "Search for the splendor, De los templos del sol." This video shows Montoya reading his famous poem El Louie - an elegy for Louie Rodriguez, an everyday man, a rejection of the western world's tendency towards celebrity over everyday heroism.

Raúl Zurita's Desiertos 4 - included on the Border Songs CD project and in here for his rendering of the desert scape. The Chilean poet is the man who had inscribed, by bulldozer, the poem "ni pena ni miedo" in the Atacama desert - more than three kilometres long.

Raúl Zurita Atacama Desert poem
Raúl Zurita Atacama Desert poem


And Jack Kerouac's Mexico City Blues - excerpts, taken from Beat Generation Poetry - The Ultimate Collection.This is the dream-Mexico, viewed from the American seeker, a place of self-discovery and debauch. Damien Cave puts it nicely in this New York Times piece: "Kerouac came to Mexico a half-dozen times in the ’50s and ’60s to experience greater freedom with drugs, drinking, writing and sex, in roughly that order." Kerouac is, of course, a myth-maker. Any suburban kid who's dreamed of getting on the road and becoming some kind of transcendent Homer-figure writing all the truths of the world, and just woken up with a mouth full of cigarettes and beer, knows that. The view from the other side of the border; the literate myth of Mexico.

Bocafloja, the social political force of rap, spoken word, poetry and art. Starting out with groups Lifestyle and Microphonk, Bocafloja released his first solo album in 2003 and since has become a great voice in Mexican hip hop, as well as in the States (he's based in NYC). Growing into political awareness through his career, he is now a voice for social and political awareness. Patologías del Invisible Incómodo, (2012) narrates the "experience of the body of the oppressed" - in the show, the track Invisible features Michelle Ricardo, Indee Styla and R.E.A.L.I.D.A.D. This album is a 'concept album', "where the interconnection and interdependence of each track signifies and globalizes a musical and discursive experience." A series of videos tell the stories of each track (with English subtitles) This is Alphabet soup (spoken word) and Caleidoscopio (Kaleidoscope):

Bocafloja is an artist who gets to the heart of what hip hop is, and can be. Exploring the poetic, oral storytelling aspects, as well as using the form as an educational and empowerment tool - in this it's one of the best transformative tools around. In 2005 he founded Quilombo, Arte en Resistencia, an organisation producing cultural events, promoting and boosting movements towards social justice both in the USA and in Latin America. The Quilombo is a community in resistance - coming from the maroons, or cimarrones, communities of Indigenous people and fugitive slaves rejecting the colonial society. Bocafloja has also worked on the literary side of the spoken word, with publications including ImaRginación: La poetica del hip hip como desmesura de lo político. And he's about to launch a new publication, Prognosis - written in collaboration with Sidony O'Neal, the book features poetry, short stories, "genres that intersect, interact, and reinterpret each other ... decolonial narrative, auto-cartography and self-determination ... unlearning oppression through the body." In both Spanish and English created through the process of trans-creation, which is a collaborative form of translation between poets. You can watch this short film about the book here:

Chicano poet, MC, actor, playwright and educator Michael Reyes has been performing with Bocafloja, as well as the great poet La Bruja (Def Poetry alumni), this November in the States to raise funds for his play Crime Against Humanity. Reyes is a leading voice in progressive and radical music, combining cultural stories of resistance, raw hip-hop and inspiring poems, to reach youth and elders alike. His work challenges and confronts the many social ills faced by communities of colour.

In LDP 014 we hear the great track Lolita You May Cry Now and Reyes also closes the hour with We Are. Both are taken from the We Are album, produced by DJ O-Zone. Here's the video for the title track.

Calaca Press. I wrote much about the Chicano poets in my post for my Dialectic Radio set back in 2011. That's here. You'll forgive me, then, for repeating myself, but since then I've found no updates on the label, so I can't enlighten us any more about where they got to. 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. In this show we hear from Elba Rosario Sánchez briefly - California-based writer, teacher and educator. Also Trago Amargo's searing poem Revolución, and towards the end of the show, The Rasquachi Performers with their multi-voice poetic drama, Blood Ain't Salsa. The Rasquachi Performers were Juan Carrillo, José Centeno, Karla Díaz, Olga Angelina García Echeverría, and Ana Rosa Ramos.

That's all I've got. El misterio continúa. These ghosts remain hidden.

The music:

Instituto Mexicano del Sonido - the Mexican Institute of Sound. From the album Politico, two tracks,Cumbia Meguro and Ritmo Internacional. IMS is huge these days, and for good reason. Camilo Lara knows exactly how to play on the border between electronic and organic, new-vogue and traditional. Infused with humour and frustration in equal measure Politico is an album that challenged even my idea of what IMS itself is...

Garage-cumbia-surf-ska from Mexico City - more cowbell! Talisman is a track from Perro Agradecido's EP, released on the Grenada-based Caballito net label. It's good stuff and unique.

Latin Bass Mexico - two huge compilations of Latin Bass music, mostly out of Mexico but bringing in artists right down the peninsula into South America. In the show, from Vol I (2012) we hear Cholita Sound, a fusion of cumbia, Andean and Latin pop rhythms from Caterina Purdy. From Vol II (out just a couple of months ago) new experimental, vibrant cumbia mashup Cubita's Style from Oscilador. Both compilations are free!

Also from Oscilador in this podcast, the spoken/sound mixup La Voz del cantata from his Original Sound release back in 2011. "Original sound is a sound odyssey directed by a robot that came to earth from a place called cumbia, the story begins when the supreme being on a journey of recognition throughout the land where you realize that humanity is full of problems and differences, and decide to create a sound that will bring delight to all mankind, with drums, trumpets and accordions sound carries the flavor inugualable every corner of your new crossing mundo.dentro this robot was collecting all the sounds of world in order to understand and transmit them to your next generation of musical explorers­.” OK!

Y, Electroteca - electronic folkloric beats from Tlaquepaque Jalisco, Mexico - Caballito released Mexican Curious Beats earlier this year, ten tracks reinterpreting guaracha, banda, corrido norteño ò son the accordion-driven dance music, and cumbia - all filtered through the electronic sensibilities of something like Kraftwerk, the vocoder and filter, house and trance moods, subjects from sex to football to aliens ... the subjects of life, essentially!

Out of Mexico City, Los de Abajo - described by David Byrne (whose label Luaka Bop released their breakout album in '98) as "punk salsa", the band has branched out and expanded over the years. In this incarnation, a ten-piece mixing up styles from traditional Mexican banda music to hip hop, ska, cumbia. This track is from their 2010 album Actitud Calle. The band is a strong supporter of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation ... which leads us to ...

Subcomandante Marcos, elusive spokesman for the Zapatistas, Since they first erupted onto the world scene declaring war on the Mexican government in the early 1990s, Marcos has been the somewhat of a post-modern revolutionary hero. In his communiqués to the Mexican people, he often related folktales and stories that reflect the culture and wisdom of the indigenous peoples of Chiapas. Hi eloquence is undeniable. The piece mixed in here, The Word and the Silence, is still a great pronouncement of the power of the word, of speaking and sharing, and the power of silence, of listening and hearing. You can find it on the collection Our Word is Our Weapon, published by Seven Stories Press.

For me, this is one of those pieces that express perfectly the most simple thing - how we tell, and how we listen. How words and silence can be used to empower, how words and silence can be used to crush. The importance then, of awareness of the power of both. So I'll give the last word to this living ghost, to the spirit of freedom.

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. Speaking and listening is how true men and women learn to walk. It is the word that gives form to that walk that goes on inside us. It is the word that is the bridge to cross to the other side. Silence is what Power offers our pain in order to make us small. 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 touch one another, to know one another. 
This is the weapon, brothers and sisters. We say, the word remains. We speak the word. We shout the word. We raise the word and with it break the silence of our people. We kill the silence by living the word. Let us leave Power alone in what the lie speaks and hushes. Let us join together in the word and the silence which liberate.