Latest news

30/04/2017

I have closed my other website, tocarypensar.com. A complete archive of my El Sistema posts is now available here at geoffbakermusic.wordpress.com. See here.

15/01/2017

Here are details of my publications on El Sistema in 2016:

“Citizens or Subjects? El Sistema in Critical Perspective.” In D. Elliott, W. Bowman & M. Silverman, eds., Artistic Citizenship: Artistry, Social Responsibility, and Ethical Praxis. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.

“Editorial Introduction: El Sistema in critical perspective,” in guest-edited special issue of Action, Criticism & Theory for Music Education 15, no. 1 (2016), 10–32. – available here

“Antes de pasar página: conectando los mundos paralelos de El Sistema y la investigación crítica.” Revista Internacional de Educación Musical 4 (2016), 51-60. – available here

21/10/2015

Oh dear. Once upon a time, I had grand plans to keep adding my latest news to this section of my blog. I haven’t done so for 18 months. This doesn’t mean I haven’t been doing things – it means that I’ve been focusing my attention on my Sistema blog, http://tocarypensar.com. Please visit that site if you want to see some more up-to-date material!

02/02/2014

I’ve been remiss and failed to write a blog post for a long time. Unfortunately my job title of Reader doesn’t mean that I spend my whole time reading – it’s the quirky UK equivalent of an Associate Professor in the US, and teaching and administrative duties have been keeping me quiet. Still, I know from my good old WordPress stats (and from the occasional private communication) that my earlier efforts have been read around the world and there is a certain appetite for critical thinking on El Sistema, so I think it’s worth continuing where I left off.

30/11/2013

I’m off to Cuba on the 9th of December for two weeks. I’ll be attending the conference “Los impactos de las tecnologías digitales sobre la música en Cuba,” organized by Alexandrine Boudreault-Fournier, the National Electroacoustic Laboratory, and the Music, Digitisation, Mediation research project (which I’m part of). I’ll also be meeting up with many of the participants in my Growing into Music film project, handing over DVDs of the finished films, and hearing and filming some of the young musicians in action. With any luck, I’ll also catch up with a few old friends from back when I did research on hip hop in Havana, and even catch a glimpse of the sun for the only time between now and Easter.

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22/06/2013

Flyer photo

On 7 June we launched Growing into Music and Mali-Cuba: Music across Generations, film-based research projects on childhood musical learning funded by the AHRC’s Beyond Text scheme. I screened excerpts from my films on Cuba and Venezuela. See here for more information.

05/03/2013

I travelled to Virginia Tech last weekend for the First International Symposium on Latin American Music. John Walker, Catalina Andrango-Walker, and various members of the music and Spanish faculty gave me a royal welcome, taking me out for a succession of fine meals and stimulating conversations. They also kindly invited me to give the keynote. I focused on the transnational circulation of music to and from Latin America, taking examples from my work on colonial Mexico, Cuban hip hop, El Sistema, and digital cumbia in Argentina, hoping that at least some of it would resonate with most of the varied audience. As usual, it was the Sistema material that led to most discussion – it’s something that’s everywhere at the moment in (classical) music circles, yet most people haven’t heard any critical analysis before. Dick el Demasiado’s hoax festival of experimental cumbia in Honduras in 1996 got the biggest laugh.

There was a really good variety of papers, and I learnt a lot, but I was particularly interested by some of the younger scholars working on Latin American art music, like Alyson Payne, Eduardo Herrera, Chelsea Burns, Suham Bello, and Marysol Quevedo. This was all pretty new to me, and there’s some good work going on there. The concert by visiting musicians from Ecuador, Ensamble Quito 6, was another highlight.

06/01/2013

My documentary “Creciendo dentro de la música: En la sangre, en la casa, en la escuela, en la calle,” about children learning music in Cuba, was premiered at the Havana International Film Festival in December.

This film will be released online in early 2013, along with a number of other shorter films that I’ve been making on childhood music learning in Cuba and Venezuela– watch this space.

Kevin 1

This website was chosen by the World Music Network as one of its five favourite podcasts and blogs in December. http://www.worldmusic.net/charts/blogs-podcasts/2012-12-01/dec-blog-podcast-chart-conference-of-the-birds-afropop-worldwide-geoff-baker-more/

12/11/2012

It’s been a busy few weeks. On the Sistema front, I gave three talks in the space of a week, two in the UK and one in the US. I had some distinguished visitors in the audiences, including someone from the Venezuelan embassy in the UK, and there were some lively debates. I’ve also received some lengthy and thought-provoking public responses on this site, and others (from more surprising sources) in private. I have come away from all of this flurry of discussion with a renewed sense that more debate is necessary but also that it will be welcomed by some on the inside of the Sistema sphere as well as outside observers. I think that most people agree on the importance of the topic of music education and social justice, but there are signs of concern over the widespread preference for adulation over sober analysis when it comes to El Sistema. An organization as large and influential as El Sistema should be robust enough to deal with a little critical scrutiny, and it is becoming clear that there is a certain appetite for analyses that go beyond the propagandistic tone of the majority of published accounts.

On the music and digitization front, I went to Womex in Thessaloniki, which provided the perfect combination of an attractive city, sun, good food, great music, and an intensive close-up glimpse of the world music industry in action. The SEM conference in New Orleans provided much of the same, just with a more academic twist. I would say I lucked out twice in two weeks with the weather, were I not writing these words while spending the night at JFK, waiting for a flight delayed by a snow storm and gale force winds.

I also took part in a stimulating one-day event in Oxford on the topic of technology and aesthetics, where I made my first attempt to analyze some of my material from Argentina and Colombia. I’ve been thinking about the concept of the post-digital with regard to the music that I’m studying: the idea that as digital technology becomes more and more commonplace, one can start to discern certain kinds of critiques of and shifts away from the digital, above all in upper-middle-class musical circles.

Finally, my documentary on children learning traditional and popular music in Cuba, which goes by the not-so-snappy title of “Growing into Music: In the Blood, In the Home, In the School, In the Street,” has been selected for the Havana International Film Festival in December (date tba).

09/09/2012

The fieldwork in Argentina is finished, I’m back in Oxford, and I’m now getting down to the reading and writing part of the two-year Music, Digitization, Mediation project that I’m working on. I’ll also be giving some seminars/papers on El Sistema in October and early November (see “Forthcoming events” for more info). My “Growing into Music” documentaries just need the final touches and we’re looking at an official launch event in February 2013, though there may be some screenings before then.

01/08/2012

Things kicked off on the eve of my birthday with a visit to Radio Génesis, the radio station of RKT nightclub on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. I went to interview the presenter, Maxi Gentile, during the gaps between his on-air spoken segments. Predictably enough, at one point he announced “and today we have an international visitor,” and there I was on air on a major cumbia programme on a Friday night.

The next surprise came later that night at a concert by La Yegros, one of ZZK’s artists. A little bird had had a word, and Mariana dedicated a song to me – a great honour from a great singer.

The next day (note to employer: double pay, please, for working on the weekend and on my birthday) I went to watch the making of “Pasión de Sábado,” a 5-hour cumbia programme that goes out live on TV every Saturday afternoon and is one of the most-watched programmes in Argentina. After a while hanging around backstage with the musicians and dancers, I decided I wanted to get a bit closer to the action, and after my friend DJ Krass had a word with a security guy, I was ushered into the VIP seats just off to the side of the stage. No sooner had I sat down than one of the presenters came over. Krass introduced us; the presenter’s eyes lit up; he asked, “do you speak Spanish?” I nodded. “Right, I’m going to interview you as soon as this song has finished.” He hauled me up to the front and there I was, with 30 seconds’ warning, in front of the cameras on a live programme watched by about half of Argentina. I will draw a veil over what happened next – actually, I don’t really remember what happened next, a case of post-traumatic stress disorder I think. I just remember scattered images… a transvestite presenter in an orange wig… an interview in Spanglish… scantily-clad dancers all around me… being made to dance… The horror. Make that triple pay please.

19/06/2012

Perhaps the exponent of dub cumbia who is best known outside Argentina is El Hijo de la Cumbia, but he has been away touring in Europe and India. This month I saw a rising name from the provincial city of Tucumán, Elbarba Dub, who has been attracting attention from people in the Buenos Aires scene and beyond. But the big event was going to Colombia Fest at RKT (Rescate) in San Martín. This gave me the chance to see a pioneer of the scene, the legendary DJ Taz; the established DJ Pirata; and the two younger figures who are the driving force behind the club night, DJs Negro Dub and Che Cumbé, all playing to a lively audience of some 2000. RKT was also quite an experience – just getting there and back was quite an experience. This is the side of digital cumbia that foreigners and middle-class capital dwellers rarely see – when I told a middle-class student that I’d been to RKT, he replied: “and you’re still alive?!” – but it is the one that moves the largest crowds. One of the fascinating things about Buenos Aires is that there are numerous cumbia scenes moving in parallel, sometimes musically similar but socially quite separate.

An illustration of the diversity of cumbia in Argentina came just the next night, with another Colombian-themed gig, this time by Sonora Marta la Reina. Bar the Colombia connection, things could hardly have been more different: from 2000 people in a large hanger on the urban periphery to 200 people stuffed into a converted former brothel in the placid suburb of Belgrano; from DJs and futuristic electronic sounds to a big band playing hits from the 1950s. I must admit I like intimate gigs like this. I also saw La Delio Valdez and Orkesta Popular San Bomba this month, both of which were excellent, playing to audiences of perhaps 800 and 1500 respectively, but Sonora edged it for me by virtue of the memorable setting.

15/05/2012

Back in Buenos Aires, back on the digital cumbia/folklore track. April was pretty quiet for one reason and another – mainly getting bronchitis – but I got back into the swing of things on the last day of the month with the launch party for Mati Zundel’s excellent album Amazónico Gravitante.

I met both El Chávez and El Mayonesa in early May and heard them both live. The former has been a stalwart of the Buenos Aires music scene since the 90s, while El Mayonesa is a real character who burst to stardom in… Estonia. He’s even got a song about the police in Estonian that he sings in Argentina (and everywhere else he goes). Apparently Estonian football fans sing it too…

I’ve also been tracking down several interesting non-digital bands that play all or some cumbia, like the retro, 50s-Colombia-style La Delio Valdez and Sonora Marta la Reina, and the huge (20+) Todopoderoso Popular Marcial and Orkesta Popular San Bomba. So it’s not all laptops. Todopoderoso is actually entirely unplugged, which allows them to play street parties and things.

I finally got round to hearing Pimentón, a band that shares some members with ZZK’s El Remolón y su Conjunto. This may be what the next wave after digital cumbia looks like… I hope so, anyway. One to watch.

09/04/2012

For me, the defining moment of our event in Havana took place on the minibus home after the final concert. We had spent 10 days putting on performances, screening films, organizing workshops, and talking about our research, but my personal highlight was totally unplanned and undirected: the Cuban children on the bus launched into a spontaneous rumba and the Malians started dancing and singing along with the chorus, and the youngest of the Malians – Daniel, aged 8 – stood up on the back seat and rapped out a drum solo with a broad grin on his face. At one point the chorus became “Mali-Cuba.” We were treated to a few minutes of sublime music making. It was one of those unforgettable moments when everything came together – the musical and the social – along with the sense that something unique was happening before our eyes. Of course, we had been trying to foster this kind of communication and camaraderie between children who had not a single word in common, but it was wonderful to see everything click into place on its own. Still, there was serious competition for top Mali-Cuba moment: another contender has to be when one of the Cuban children, Josué, aged 9, having seen how deeply attached Daniel had become to playing batá in our workshops, announced of his own accord that he wanted to give Daniel the batá that he had learnt on as a small child.

Thanks to the mediation of our linchpin in Havana, Cary Diez, we were able to put on shows at important venues like the Casa de Africa, the Hurón Azul at UNEAC, and the Instituto Superior de Artes. Along with Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, we took over a huge cinema theatre on the main plaza in Matanzas for an afternoon, and the Malians had a slot performing on the TV program “El Termómetro.” (I unexpectedly found myself making my debut on Cuban TV.) Our final concert was a marathon at the newly refurbished Teatro Miramar, thanks to an invitation from the Music Fund for Cuba that had financed the renovation and was inaugurating the building during our visit. It was exciting but scary to see my films on the big screen with proper cinema sound – everything is magnified, you can hear the audience reacting to the most striking moments, and you cringe at every tiny flaw in the sound or image. Still, the cheer in the cinema in Matanzas at the end of my film about Los Muñequitos will stay with me for a long time.

During the workshops, the Malian girls learnt a song for the Afro-Cuban orisha Yemayá and the boys learnt some basic Cuban percussion, while the Cuban participants accompanied a traditional Malian song using Cuban percussion. But with all the children and instruments together in the same space, things did not stop there, and soon the Malian girls were playing percussion and little Daniel singing along (both of which are unheard of in Mali). As the event wore on, the formal activities were increasingly accompanied by the Malian and Cuban children scurrying around the sidelines, playing games, teaching each other drum and dance moves, and communicating fluently in invented sign language.

I don’t think I’ve ever been involved in a project that has generated so much positive energy and enthusiastic response, and everyone involved was keen to extent the life of the project, whether simply by organizing more film screenings, or doing longer-term research on children from musical families, or working towards more ambitious exchange programmes like “Mali-Cuba: Music across Generations.” I would love to be able to continue studying young talents like Kevin Dedeu, the 6-year-old son of the director of Clave y Guaguancó, or Kevin Pérez Álvarez, the 7-year-old grandson of Adalberto Álvarez. Or follow the progress of the new generation of the Ramos and Pérez families that are at the heart of Los Muñequitos de Matanzas. Now I need to find a way to do it.

19/03/2012

I’ve got the blogger’s curse: when you have a lot to write about, you don’t have time to write it. I’ve been constantly on the move for the last month. I spent another ten days in Bogotá, meeting up with all sorts of people from the fusion scene, including big names like Bomba Estéreo, Sergent García, Quantic, and Pernett, but also musicians with a slightly lower profile but tremendous experience of alternative music and a lot to say about it, like percussionist Pedro Ojeda and guitarist Eblis Alvarez. I visited the Internet radio station www.mixticius.net, which is a great place to keep tabs on the Bogotá scene – they are building up an impressive library of podcasts. They have interviews with local musicians and knowledgeable visitors like New York’s Geko Jones, and they also have a lot of live concert recordings available. On my last night I caught Systema Solar live at the Teatro Metro – a great live act, and the place was packed (so packed that someone nicked my phone out of my pocket without me noticing…).

The next morning I was off at the crack of dawn to New York City, where I had the chance to meet and hang out with stalwarts of the Global Bass scene like Uproot Andy, Geko Jones and Myk Tummolo, all of them big fans and promoters of Colombian music who travel down there regularly and bring Colombian artists back up to NYC. A last-minute change of plans meant an unexpected dash across the Atlantic and back to the UK, and having made it back to NYC last night, I’m already thinking about Havana the day after tomorrow…

02/03/2012 

Perhaps the most exciting thing for me was all the music and arts schools in the poor neighbourhoods known as comunas. I need to go back to see them properly, but my visit to the Crew Peligrosos hip hop school in Barrio Aranjuez, run by Henry Arteaga, seriously whetted my appetite. I had a great chat with a group of kids at the school and watched some of the classes in action. I also had very interesting conversations with Jeihhco, another important hip hop figure and community leader who also runs a school, and Marta Arango, the director of the city’s network of music schools, who gave me some food for thought for my research on Venezuela’s El Sistema.

Crew Peligrosos hip hop school

Medellín has redefined itself as a “digital city” and many of the new projects, whether stemming from the city government or from grassroots initiatives, have digital technology at their heart. One of the high points of my trip was a visit to a digital urban cartography project in a barrio library. This project is literally mapping the barrios that do not appear in detail on any official map, since historically the state has ignored such marginal zones. The day I visited, they were attempting to make their own aerial photography equipment to aid this process. This was a perfect example of education as problem solving: they started with a goal – to photograph their barrio from the air – and then built, scrounged, and hacked the necessary equipment. I was struck by the discussion of where things had been going wrong technically and what needed to improve: this was a self-critical project, and the “teacher” included himself in the criticism. It was not the case that the students were going wrong and he was benevolently observing them, waiting to see if they worked it out, while keeping back the answers; it was a problem that they all had to solve together. How could a music education project strive to offer a comparable learning experience, I wondered?

This was just the start: I also spent time with video- and film-maker Jorge “El Gato” Roldán, who has worked a lot with hip hop and talked me through some of the dynamics of the rap, reggaetón and reggae scenes in Medellín. Jeff Guerra and Sara Melguizo, magazine editors and culture gurus, gave me concise overviews of music in the city and lots of ideas, while Federico López gave me an alternative vision from a hacker/free software perspective. Juancho Valencia and the guys at Merlín Producciones put me in the picture about the independent music scene and I caught a few minutes of a rehearsal by one of their salsa bands, led by Dutch trumpeter Maité Hontelé.

The long and the short of it is… I want to go back. I just scratched the surface of the city’s music and education scenes, but what I saw left me wanting more. And with so much education going on through the arts, there is a lot for me to study on future visits.

15/02/2012

One of the best things about my job is getting to spend time with really interesting musicians more or less wherever I go. My ten days in Bogotá were no exception. I spent a good part of last Sunday with Richard Blair, the man behind Sidestepper and widely recognized as the godfather of the fusion scene – he’s a fascinating individual with a lot to say and some good stories going back to his apprenticeship with Peter Gabriel at Real World studios and his introduction to Colombian music with Totó la Momposina. I can’t wait for his new album to come out later this year, as I think it’s going to sound quite different to what we’ve heard up to now.

I also spent an afternoon with a close associate of his, Teto Ocampo, who is one of the country’s finest guitarists and the brains behind the indigenist-activist musical project Mucho Indio. I’m going to have to go back to talk to him about music, since we spent the whole afternoon on philosophy – though I don’t think he sees the two as in any way separate topics.

There were many more: Andrés of La Monareta, who could not have been more convivial or informative company; Cero39, an autodidact with a huge store of musical knowledge and an intriguing album on the way; Mario of Frente Cumbiero, one of the most active groups in the cumbia revival today and one that will be playing in the UK in the summer as part of the build up to the Olympics; Felipe Alvarez of Polen Records, the label that has done most to support this musical movement; Lucas Silva, the polymath behind the amazing Palenque Records who has done a ton of research on Afro-Colombian music; Sebastián of El Freaky, whose day job is teaching art history at university; and digital activist Martín Giraldo, who set me up with all sorts of ideas and contacts for Medellín.

If I had one complaint, it would be that I didn’t get to hear very much live music, though a gig by Los Corraleros de Majagual with Mario DJing was a notable exception. Still, this is going to change, not least when I get to Barranquilla for carnival…

26/01/2012

We got back from the first leg of Mali-Cuba: Music across Generations last week. Having arrived on New Year’s Eve and let our hair down a bit at a concert by Habib Koité – including an impromptu solo spot by Lucy Durán – we spent the first week in Bamako on project business, and then had 10 days’ long awaited holiday in Segou, a lovely provincial town a bit further down the Niger River. Bamako was a musical feast. The main course was a wonderful concert at the National Museum involving many of the children that Lucy has been working with on Growing into Music. With lots of family members and general public also in attendance, it was a lively, colourful affair with plenty of audience participation.

We also got to see a lot more of the kids at the general rehearsal a few days before, and during visits to the houses of several of the families.

I premiered my film “In the Blood…” (about childhood musical learning in Cuba) at Bamako’s conservatoire, where there are a number of Cuban teachers, and we also had a very cordial meeting with the Cuban ambassador to Mali as part of our efforts to lay the groundwork for the second part of the project, to take place in Havana from March 21-April 1. That will involve taking four Malian children to Cuba – no easy undertaking from a bureaucratic perspective, but an exciting prospect nonetheless.

Before we hung up our work boots, we made a road trip to Garana, a small village an hour from Segou, where we visited the family of Bassekou Kouyaté. We toured the village, met the extended family, and were regaled with food and music – an unforgettable experience. And then it was time to slow down by the banks of the Niger for a few days…

29/12/2011

The first stage of our Mali-Cuba: Music across Generations project takes place at the start of January, when we are going to be in Bamako, Mali, and surrounding towns for a week of film screenings, presentations, musical performances, and informal meetings with families of musicians. My first trip to Africa – and going with a real expert on Malian music, Lucy Durán. I’ll be showing – in fact premiering – “In the Blood…,” my film on childhood musical learning in Cuba, one of the results of my participation in the research project Growing into Music.

Part 2 of Mali-Cuba will take place in Havana in March – for more info and details to follow, go to http://www.mali-cuba.com

* * *

The first review of my book Buena Vista in the Club appeared in The Wire (August 2011). I skimmed through it: “oh no, a crap review!” My heart sank. I read it through again, properly this time. “Ah, a crap review,” I said to myself with relief. The review was crap, not the book.

Things get off to a bad start, since it becomes immediately clear that the reviewer, Derek Walmsley, doesn’t like academic books about popular music. “The cold, dead hand of academic writing… a soothing smear of sociology… academic kit-house… academic dissection of grassroots culture…” – yes, yes, Derek, we get the point. Walmsley finds “something slightly desperate” in the subtitle: “Rap, Reggaetón, and Revolution.” Huh? Can anyone else see desperation lurking in those four words?

Not only does Walmsley know nothing at all about Cuba or its music, it’s quite clear that he doesn’t actually understand what an academic book is. “The foundations are provided by theories and terminology” – and this is a problem, apparently, judging by the sneering tone. He takes exception to my references to previous academic studies, a pretty good sign that he’s never actually read any academic studies before himself. Note to Walmsley: that’s what academic books do. A lot of academic references might look silly in a Wire book review; a lack of academic references would definitely look silly in a scholarly book published by a university press (indeed, the book almost certainly would not be published). Academics, unlike journalists, are required to reveal their sources.

The book “is virtually useless as a route into a once-vibrant music.” And Walmsley’s review is utterly useless as a teapot, but guess what? That’s not what it’s designed to do. Had he read the book, he might have grasped the point that I made explicitly: that with more than 25 documentaries and countless articles available on Cuban hip hop, what was needed was not yet another a route into this music but rather an analytical examination of Cuban hip hop culture – these documentaries and articles included.

But then Walmsley doesn’t believe in analytical examination. He objects that I try to seek “order and understanding where it might be more accurate (and enlightening) to appreciate chaos.” Silly me, fancy trying to achieve order and understanding! “It’s something you see repeated time and again with scholars writing on street music,” apparently, though I doubt very much that the Walmsley has actually read scholarship on street music time and again, judging from the evidence above: “frameworks are imposed from the outside and the state of flux which made it worth a damn in the first place is missed.” I think it’s pretty clear by now that the reviewer has his knickers in a twist about “scholars writing on street music” rather than my actual book, which he appears not to have read after realizing that it had, y’know, references and theories and terminology and stuff in it.

And on he goes, building up his arguments “slowly, repetitively, like row after row of bricks in a wall” – oh no, that’s me, sorry. “Try to pin it down to particular messages or ideologies and you’re telling a story that’s already dead.” Yes, you already made that point: you want chaos. “This kind of academic dissection of grassroots culture is a top-down pronouncement on subject matter that deserves to be approached from the street.” Yes, you already made that point about eight times: you can’t stand academics writing about popular music. But what do you mean, “approached from the street”? Only rappers are allowed to write about rap? And The Wire is supposed to be the intelligent end of music journalism?

However, the nub of the problem is more than just the massive chip on Walmsley’s shoulder about academia. It’s that he, erm, doesn’t have a very large vocabulary. He has problems understanding my phrase “spatial practices of hip-hop.” I imagine that even he gets “practices,” “of” and “hip-hop,” so I can only assume that it’s the word “spatial” that gets him all confused. Oh dear… Murray Forman has written a useful book on the topic of space and hip hop, if you want to… bugger, there I go again, mentioning academic studies! I forgot that’s not allowed.

If Walmsley can’t get his head round words that even a poor first-year undergraduate could understand, then I would suggest that he isn’t qualified to write a review on an academic book. It would be like me writing a bad review of a Jamaican dancehall song because I can’t understand the lyrics.

Exhibit A: “The semiotic blur created by punk’s tendency to toy with political imagery, whether in earnest or in provocative jest, is a visual echo of the ambivalences of punk’s relation (or non-relation) to politics in general, and seen from a certain angle, punk cannot but be a microcosmic hothouse for broader social questions.” Where does this come from? Yet another “inert and lifeless” academic text on popular music? Er, no – from a book review in The Wire (Nov 2011). My prose isn’t complex even in comparison to The Wire’s own book reviews, let alone to academic literature.

I assume that Walmsley’s difficulty with words of more than three syllables is behind his inability to actually read the book and therefore his bizarre claims, such as that connections between music and the Cuban Revolution “are hinted at” (when there’s a 30,000-word chapter devoted exclusively to the topic), or that “the revolutionary rhetoric of Cuban rap is taken at face value, as if rappers and politicians were singing from the same hymn sheet” (if he’d read that 30,000-word chapter and understood even half of it, he couldn’t possibly have written that).

So Derek Walmsley, if you don’t like (and don’t understand) academic books on popular music, then just don’t read them. Give the job to someone else. Note to the editors of The Wire: you wouldn’t ask someone who hated electronic music to write a review of an electronic music CD, so why ask someone who hates academic books to write a review of an academic book? The punk review that I quoted from above is evidence that you have some reviewers on your books who are literate, so why not give the next such assignment to one of them? I’m not sure what Walmsley is doing writing reviews for a magazine like The Wire that prides itself on its eclecticism, but he’s clearly out of his depth.

13/12/2011

On December 6, my film “Matanzas: Creciendo dentro de la música” premiered at the Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano in Havana. There were nearly 40 of the film’s protagonists from Matanzas present in the audience, including several members of the renowned Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, one of the film’s focal points.

26/11/2011

On December 3 at 11.15, my short film Kevin Dedeu: Growing into Music will be shown at the Latin America 2011 conference in London, introduced by Lucy Durán. Kevin Dedeu, aged 5, is the youngest member of the famed rumba group Clave y Guaguancó. This short film, shot in Havana in 2010 and 2011 when Kevin was 4-5 years old, is a window onto the early formation of a musical virtuoso – and of a virtuoso character.

Next on the agenda: my documentary film Matanzas: Creciendo dentro de la música (Growing into Music) is premiering at the Havana Film Festival on Tuesday 6 December. This film explores two families at the heart of traditional music in the Cuban city of Matanzas and its emblematic ensemble, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, focusing on the new generation that is starting to come through and the way that the children learn their skills. For more on the Growing into Music project, click on the sidebar on the right.

Double-header tonight – Bomba Estéreo followed by Zizek Club vs. Santera – lots of new sounds from Colombia, Argentina and beyond. I’m going with my own simian wingman, fresh off the plane from London.

I was in Monterrey, Mexico, from Nov. 15-20 for Norte Sonoro. Chancha via Circuito from Buenos Aires, Algodón Egipcio from Caracas, DJ Rupture and Helado Negro from New York, White Rainbow from Portland, and Mumdance from the UK came together to work at the studio of Toy Selectah (Toy Hernández), remixing traditional sounds from northern Mexico including the amazing three-voice a cappella canto cardenche. They transformed these into everything from digital cumbia to grime-tinged tribal guarachero, frenzied improvisation to barely moving soundscape, and performed live at a marathon final concert alongside local cumbia band Enlace Vallenato – a real musical feast, thanks to the efforts of the guys from Norte Sonoro and Nrmal.

11/11/2011

I’m off to Mexico on Monday for a week to go to Norte Sonoro in Monterrey. I’ll be going with Chancha via Circuito from Buenos Aires and watching him at work alongside five other producers from the Americas and the UK as they create new tracks from scratch out of traditional musical materials from northern Mexico. Curating the event will be Toy Selectah, a legendary figure in Latin American urban music. The new tracks will be played live at a final fiesta on Saturday. 

11/11/11 

Last night I went to hear La Yegros, King Coya and El Remolón y Su Conjunto at Vuela el Pez in Buenos Aires. La Yegros is ZZK Records’ newest signing and a classy performer with really catchy songs and a great band – definitely one to watch. El Remolón has been with ZZK for longer, but he is moving in a new direction, adding two musicians and a singer and going for a more uptempo feel. His performance was a highlight of the ZZK 5th anniversary party at the end of October. Last night he signed off with a cheeky cumbia cover of Britney Spears’ “Hit me baby one more time.”

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