Charles Mingus, 1951

1951 was the year Charles Mingus arrived in New York, where jazz musicians went to make their reputations. He got right to it. Soon he was leading the Jazz Workshop, also known as the “Jazz Sweatshop” to some of his overworked sidemen. With a rotating cast of players, Mingus pioneered a collaborative style of co-creation that would serve as a template for many groups that followed. He sang out the parts to each musician, teaching them the song phrase by phrase in long, grueling rehearsals. He refused to let the musicians work from a score. In many cases, of course, the written music didn’t exist: it had all been worked out on piano, but only Mingus knew the piece completely. A soloist was usually given a set of scales from which to craft his improvisation, but he had to be aware of the shifting rhythms behind him. Performances were simply extensions of rehearsals, as fluid and unpredictable: arrangements were constantly mutating, songs might be rehearsed one way and performed another, all according to the unique and changeable vision of the band leader. As trumpeter Lew Solof put it: “He liked the sound of the struggle.”

Of course, not all musicians enjoyed working under these unpredictable conditions, and the tensions within these Workshop bands became the foundation of many myths that surround Mingus even today: Mingus chasing his trumpet player angrily off the bandstand and out into the street; Mingus smashing the piano at the Five Spot; Mingus stopping his aggravated band once and again, to the dismay of the audience, who might get a lecture on their own uncivilized listening habits should anyone dare object too loudly. He once had the children of his band mates play from behind the stage curtain, mocking the so-called avant-garde and free jazz sounds that were just starting to be heard in New York then.

He was protective of his music, sensitive to any perceived slight, and was always willing to defend himself with violence, if necessary. But he got results, and this is indisputable. Few composers demanded as much from their players, and fewer still were capable of eliciting such brilliant performances from them. His players, even those who had their disagreements with him, mostly credit Mingus with pushing them further than they’d imagined possible. He sometimes refused to let a sideman solo, might deliberately antagonize him, stoke him, insult him, only to finally let him blow, drawing a spark of genius from the frustrated and angry musician. Reedman Yusef Lateef, who played with Mingus in the early 1960s, recalls asking for guidance on a certain solo, and being given, in lieu of a set chords or scales, a line drawing of a coffin.

Many great albums came out of this period, including historic collaborations with drummer Max Roach (with whom he also founded Debut Records, jazz’s first artist-owned label), but Mingus’s first masterpiece was Pithecanthropus Erectus, an eerie, haunting album recorded in January 1956, starring an inspired Jackie McLean. The title track tells the story of the rise and decline of man, something easy enough to pick out in the McLean’s tense and freakish horn work. It is an album of brilliantly orchestrated chaos, a true milestone.

You’ve probably heard the title track before, but it’s so beautiful, why not listen to it again?

–franz tunda

Álvaro el Bálbaro: La champeta del Pato Donald


El Vacile Del Pato by Alvaro “El Barbaro”

El Vacile del Pato

You might have heard the story already. All kinds of African and Caribbean records started arriving to Barranquilla and Cartagena in the early 70s, and people went crazy over them. The picoteros (DJs / travelling sound system owners) promptly decided to rip the labels off their records and throw the covers away to get an “eeeeexxxcluussiivooo” – they would be the only ones to own and play a particular song for a decade, easily. Many classic highlife and soukous songs (under fake names) became *huge* hits and had a massive influence on what was to come.

Fast forward a few decades, bring along a bit of American pop culture and a Yamaha DD55:


and this is what you get. ¡Puro vacile efectivo!


Leandro Díaz


Leandro Díaz is best known as one of the *classic* vallenato songwriters. Here’s “Matilde Lina” sung by his son Ivo Díaz in the Smithsonian Folkways’s incredible, compilation Ayombe – fresh, elegant, and faithful to tradition.

Matilde Lina by Estrellas Del Vallenato

12 Matilde Lina (Paseo) 1

A few years ago I picked up Ocora’s Le Vallenato and was *floored* when I got to hear Leandro Díaz sing for the first time. These guys prefer it stripped bare, and “A Mí No Me Consuela Nadie” (“Noone can console me”) is one of the most powerful recordings I know…

A Mí No Me Consuela Nadie by Leandro Diaz

6AM No Me Consuela Nadie

This track reminds me of a great interview where Leandro Díaz explains that he has this great weapon to impress the audiences during a show: he’ll just start crying in the middle of a song. It works, I’m sure, though I have to wonder how much control he has over this “weapon”.


I’ve been trying to find old recordings of Leandro Díaz for years with no luck. So I was really excited to find this compilation. (Not a promising cover, but if it has the name of Egberto Bermúdez on it, I buy it). This has a historical recording of Leandro Díaz on voice and guacharaca, el viejo Emiliano Zuleta on accordion, and Pablito Flórez on caja. They’re playing “La diosa coronada”, a surreal account of a heartbreak that Gabriel García Márquez chose as the opening to “Love in the time of cholera”.

Diosa Coronada by Leandro Díaz, Emiliano Zuleta, Pablo Flórez

Diosa Coronada

This compilation is just amazing, I might have to post some more tracks from it later.





“Belle Femm’ Pas Ka Ta Ou” – Georges Plonquitte


Here we have another incredible record from Guadeloupe. This time from Georges Plonquitte & Cie. Belle Femm’ Pas Ka Ta Ou is a song that I never get tired of hearing and it always puts me in a great mood.

Georges Plonquitte was most famous for writing the song Rosalie and for being the lead singer of another amazing cadance group from Martinque called Typical Combo (I will definitely have to post something from them later). Sadly he passed while waiting for a heart transplant in 2006. Though he was not widely known outside the Antilles he left behind incredible music like this for us outsiders to fall in love with. Enjoy!

Belle Femm’ Pas Ka Ta Ou by Georges Plonquitte

Belle Femm’


“Compe Dimba” – Super Combo


Those that know me can attest that I have a bit of obsessive streak. In terms of music it usually happens like this—I come across one record that I know nothing about, but looks interesting. I take that record home and upon first listening I fall in love with it. With that one record a whole new world that I never realized was there is now calling on me to come explore and I’m helpless to resist. Since this past Spring my obsession has been with music from the French Antilles (Guadeloupe, Martinique and Dominica), specifically during the 1970s, which happens to piggyback perfectly on my previous obsession, Haitian kompa. At the time I posted some incredible carnival music by Les Chanteurs des Isles du Vent, but the record that started it all for me was this rather ordinary looking 7″ by Super Combo. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find much info on this group or even the style of music other than what I’ve read about the producer/label owner, Henri Debs. I know there is a strong similarity to konpa, but it is definitely different. I’m not sure if it’s the music is referred to as Biguine Kombass, Cadance, or just early Zouk.  Take a listen to this song called Compe Dimba, let me know what you think and if you’d like to hear more of this music. Of course if you have any info on music from the French Antilles (70s-early 80s), I would be grateful to hear it. Enjoy!

Compe Dimba by Super Combo

Compe Dimba


Introducing Vassil Boyanov, aka: Azis!

Editor’s note: Today La Pelanga inaugurates what we hope will be an occasional series of special guest pelangueros. Our first is Bulgarian poet and journalist Dimiter Kenarov. His work has appeared in EsquireThe Nation, Boston Review, and VQRHe is also the author of two collections of poetry, Patuvane kum kuhniata [A Journey to the Kitchen] and Apokrifni zhivotni [Apocryphal Animals]. 

“Azis is what every man fears to be and what every woman dreams of becoming. Something in between Marilyn Monroe and Marilyn Manson. Azis is an institution, Azis is a factor, Azis is the most interesting personality in this country,” said the Bulgarian singer Azis in 2007 before he entered the second season of VIP Brother, a reality TV show featuring local celebrities. According to polls, slightly more than two million Bulgarians, or about a quarter of the entire population, watched the opening night of the show.

Vassil Boyanov, a.k.a. Azis, is a thirty-two year old Bulgarian Romany turned superstar, a performer of chalga – a hybrid pop-folk genre that blends oriental maqams and occidental dance-beats – and a flamboyant showman with transvestite tendencies. His concerts sell out the largest venues, including stadiums, within hours. He tours the Bulgarian communities in Europe and the US like a messiah, sowing mass hysteria and mayhem along the way. Tabloids and serious publications alike vie for his interviews. In a recently conducted poll on the most important Bulgarians of all time he ranked 21st—the only other contemporary Bulgarian that high on the list was soccer legend Hristo Stoichkov. Azis even dabbled with politics as an honorary head of the Euroroma party and ran for parliament in 2005, though conceding a narrow defeat.

To know Azis is an epistemological impossibility. Aside from his heavily-penciled, mesmerizing blue-lensed eyes and platinum-bleached goatee and mustache, his identity shifts from song to song, video to video. Now he is dressed in leather, sporting curly blond locks; now he wears lingerie; now his widow’s black veil billows in the wind, while all around him – and this requires a leap of the imagination – brawny, depilated construction workers with picks and sledgehammers are busily tearing down an old abandoned house. “My entire life,” Azis said in an interview, “I’ve wanted to have the breasts of a Victoria Secret girl. In any case, I have great legs and it’s a crime to keep them to myself.” Azis may as well be the only person in Bulgaria whose simulations of male-on-male fellatio boost his popularity. He thrives on scandal, wallows in it, tracking down like a hound the time-proven “no publicity is bad publicity” maxim.

What has been really difficult to explain is his rise to prominence in a Balkan country historically rife with homophobia and racism against the Roma minority. Azis is far from secretive about his sexuality and ethnic origin, oftentimes referring to himself in the female. In the capital city Sofia, a centrally located billboard advertising one of his albums, in which he exposed a fair part of his buttocks, caused a major uproar and was the food of TV and radio commentators for several weeks, until the macho-oriented mayor of the city, Boyko Borissov, ordered it removed. Undaunted, in 2006 Azis issued his autobiography Az, Azis – Bulgarian for I, Azis – and in October of the same year, in a heavily publicized symbolic ceremony, married his burly boyfriend Nikolai Parvanov, a.k.a. the Chinese. (Bulgaria does not officially sanction same-sex marriages.) That same evening, almost every news channel broadcasted what the country had never seen before: two men exchanging wedding vows and a kiss.

In case his gay marriage was deemed too old-fashioned, Azis also announced plans to adopt a child together with his new partner. When Veneta Raykova, the celebrity gossip hostess of the Bulgarian TV show “Hot,” asked him about the adoption, he replied, “It’s absolutely normal. We are, or appear to be, in the European Union now, and we should accept certain things more calmly.”

Calm is, of course, the last thing Azis is looking for, and his talent for controversy has won him a number of foes as dedicated as his fans. In a country where the pop-folk genre is generally stigmatized as low-culture, the kitsch territory of saccharine, sexually suggestive lyrics performed by well-endowed peroxide blondes in tacky clothing, Azis holds a special place in the minds of his compatriots. He has been accused of almost every sin imaginable. Some believe that Azis is exploiting the transvestite/gay/transsexual persona simply for commercial purposes, while avidly practicing heterosexuality; others bewail the downfall of contemporary culture and blame him for moral degradation of the young. Whatever the truth, Azis maintains the equanimity, if not exactly the opinions, of a Socrates: “I’ve not become a superstar to teach people morality. I’ve become a star to entertain them, to make them laugh, but not to teach them anything. What did Madonna teach people? Everybody’s falling at her feet. What was Michael Jackson’s teaching? People are crazy for him. It’s quite strange why Bulgarians want a singer to be a math teacher and lecture them on fractions.”

— Dimiter Kenarov