Me Voy A Puerto Rico


Tickets are in hand, and the bags are packed. I’m off with my girl friend and parents to spend Christmas and New Years in Puerto Rico. With this trip in mind naturally my ears have been tuning to the sounds of musica puertorriquena more and more, specifically christmas music from the pearl island. For most of my life I’ve hated Christmas music. But that was when I thought all Christmas music was either Christmas carols or sappy nostalgia records. I was overjoyed when I finally found Christmas music that was rich with all the ingredients for the pelanga we love to cook up. There is a wealth of Christmas cumbia, merengue and guaracha that goes perfectly with dancing, drinking and lechon. Here are some of my favorite jíbara records that I’ve I packed for the trip.

Fiesta Campesina—El Gran Trio

Fiesta Campesina

Cadenas NavideñasEl Chuito de Bayamon, an absolute legend of the jíbaro tradition and someone who we’ll feature more of soon.

Caneas Navidades

Consejo de NavidadDavilita

Despierta Ciriaco—Machuchal

Gozando la Navidad—Jose Santiago Vega con el Conjunto Los Sureños de Lajas y Coro

Gozando la Navidad

As a little present you can download all these songs plus few more here. ¡Feliz Navidad!

Adam Mansbach presents Perez Prado


Another guest Pelanguero gets in the mix: this time it’s novelist Adam Mansbach, aka Kodiak Brinks, author of The End of the Jews, winner of the California Book Award, and the bestselling Angry Black White Boy, one of the funniest, smartest, and most devastating satires about hip-hop and race in America you’ll ever read. In 2011, he will publish a children’s book called Go the Fuck to Sleep, (dedicated, I assume, to my goddaughter V) and a graphic novel, Nature of the Beast. He is the New Voices Professor of Fiction at Rutgers University, and his record game has been described as “bananas.” Take it away, Brinks:

You can always tell, at a record store, who’s a hip-hopper: a DJ, a producer, even a collector – if the record store has a listening station, anyway.  Not by the stack of records he’s listening to: hip-hop is built on the notion of intellectual democracy through collage, so the wax he’s auditioning will have been pulled from every section of the store.  You can tell by the way he moves the tone-arm, the way he “flips through” the record.

He’s “looking for drums.” By which he means drum breaks: those stripped-down rhythmic lacunaes in the music that b-boys at park jams in the Bronx saved their best moves for and DJs learned to extend, for the b-boys’ pleasure, by rocking double copies.

First, the hip-hopper will listen to the opening bars of the song. This is where many breaks are located. If the song rewards him, his brow will furrow and his head will begin to bob. He may even pass the headphones to a friend and say “yo, check this shit out,” giddy with the excitement of a new discovery.

If there is an intro break, the hip-hopper will listen until other instruments come in, then drop the needle two-thirds of the way into the song, hoping the break comes back, longer and more robust, during the bridge. If the song is a ballad, or garbage, the needle will come back up before the first bar is over: on to the next jam. If the tune is promising but nebulous – a spacey jazz joint, say, one that seems like it might resolve into a groove somewhere down the line – he’ll drop the needle every sixteenth of an inch. Watching all this, you might wonder how the hell anybody can decide whether to buy a record by listening to ten one-second portions of it.

I always stress to my graduate students, in that crucible we call a fiction workshop, the importance of meeting a story on its own terms. I tell them that to be good readers, and helpful classmates, they’ve got to seek to understand what the writer is trying to do, and figure out how to help her get there.

And as I stand at the listening station, flipping through rock and blues and salsa records, it often occurs to me that perhaps I’m doing the opposite.  I’m judging the music – or at least, it’s suitability to join my rarefied collection – based on criteria that may have nothing to do with the artist’s intentions. Certainly, some of hip-hop’s most celebrated breaks, if you play them in context, seem incidental, if not anomalous, to the songs in which they’re housed:

This question of “terms” is never more striking to me that when I’m checking out Latin records. I guess because it seems so wrong, somehow, to judge them based on a hip-hop-centric conception of funkiness.  “Boogaloo” (itself an Americanization of “bugalú”) is the style that a) is most likely to give me what I’m looking for, and b) was widely seen, when these records were coming out in the late sixties and early seventies, as a sellout move, a compromise; the Ray Barretto records hip-hoppers hunt for are not the ones salsa fans seek out.  So… I’m actively pursuing the tourist crap?  That can’t be good, right?

Meanwhile, everything on Fania from 1973 is great, and all of it is funky – just not in a 4/4, b-boys-hit-the-floor kind of way. And, of course, I’ve ended up buying plenty of those records, and I consider myself a salsa fan now, and I’m learning to appreciate the music on its own terms.  The same way chasing down hip-hop samples granted me entrée to jazzblues, and rock, only to make me a fan in ways that transcended the breakbeat mission.

And yet, every time I throw a Latin record on that listening station turntable, I’m hoping for the kind of drum break that would have made Afrika Bambaataa wet his pants.  Which is why this 1974 Perez Prado LP is one of the dopest albums I’ve come across in months. I don’t know what was on his mind when he made it – was this a nod to commercial concerns, an attempt at fusion or crossover?  Or was he just one of the funkiest motherfuckers in the world, a musical pioneer who didn’t mind laying down his crown as “El Rey del Mambo” in favor of pioneering the Latin-rock fusion known as “Patricia,” then moving on to what Now’s liner notes describe as “an equation combining rhythm and pleasure to arrive at free expression” and term “Escandolo”? (A name that might also describe the style’s reception among Prado’s longtime fans).

It’s hard to pick one track here; “Tommy,” “El Campesino,” “Que Es Lo Que Pasa,” “Escandolo #1,” “Smack,” “Cangrejo,” and, yes, even “Tequila” are straight bangers.

Sadly, and perhaps revealingly, only “Tequila” is available on Youtube:

– Adam Mansbach

Peruanos en Alabama


Peruanos en Alabama, circa 1993

Ever since I left the South—as I’ve wandered from New York, across the Midwest, to the Southwest, eventually landing in Califas (interspersed with long stints in Lima)—no matter where I go, I’ve always been confronted by incredulous looks when I tell folks where I spent my childhood: Alabama!? That’s right. Perhaps it doesn’t seem that random to me because we weren’t the only Peruvian family around. In the golden age of the 1980s, peruanos in Birmingham could field two full soccer teams (see photo above) and collectively cook up an enormous buffet table every July 28th, for Independence Day parties. There were lots of us, or at least that’s how I remember it.

(Of course, now, there are many, many more Peruanos and all sorts of Latinos around Bama… Don’t believe me? Check this out.)

Still, part of me has always wondered too. Why there? How? Recently, on a trip back, I had the chance to chat with my uncle Hubert and my aunt Mercedes. They were raised in Arequipa, and Hubert and my father were childhood friends. Like my old man, Hubert also studied medicine at the local university. When my father transferred to Lima, they lost touch, and found one another, quite by accident, a decade later in Alabama. When I asked Hubert and Mercedes how this came about, my uncle began with an observation about the university in those days: the old, fusty, boring teachers had all studied in Europe, whereas the good, young, dynamic teachers had studied in the US. Naturally, Hubert began thinking he should come north. Like any good student, he went to the library, where the university kept a green reference book containing the addresses of American universities and a listing of scholarship possibilities in the US open to Peruvians, alphabetized by state.

He turned to the first page: Alabama. And that was it. The whole story.

At that point in the interview, my aunt started laughing: if only he’d turned a few more pages, she said, we could have moved to California!

With the International Day of the Migrant coming up this Saturday, I thought I’d share this little story with the extended Pelanga fam. Here’s an audio clip from the interview:

Interview with Tio Herbet

And here’s “El Jet”, a song from Los Compadres del Ande that makes me think of my parents’ generation, the ones that left Peru for all those random places that beckoned. It goes out with much love to my folks, to Hubert and Mercedes, and all the peruanos in Alabama.
El Jet – Los Compadres Del Ande

El Jet

– tunda

Timbiquí, Pacífico

Last week, Caracol Radio reported that FARC guerrillas opened fire in the middle of Timbiquí and left explosive devices around the town on their way out, forcing more than 150 families to evacuate. We join the community of Timbiquí in rejecting this, the latest in a series of violent episodes in a conflict that the Timbiquireños have no interest in being a part of.

This post is our humble tribute to a region of proud, strong, peaceful people that has a very special place in our hearts.

Ethnomusicologist David Lewiston went to the town of Guapi in 1968:


“The heavy rain in the region forms myriad rivers, which flow down to the Pacific […] there were so many rivers that there were few bridges or roads between coastal communities. The only forms of transport were boat and light plane. […] This community of a few thousand people was entirely black except for three mestizos – two of the doctors […] and the priest.


Because of the town’s isolation, its music had been conserved with remarkable purity.”


Lewiston did some of the earliest recordings of currulao. He didn’t keep track of who the musicians were in each song, but attributes this one to “the Torres family”. We think it might be the family of Gualajo, an influential fourth-generation musician who claims that when he was born, his umbilical chord was cut on top of a marimba.


Currulao Cantado by Familia Torres

Currulao Cantado

This tradition is alive and well. Two years ago, Tunda and we had the sweet joy of attending the Festival Petronio Alvarez, the annual gathering for musicians and friends from the towns up and down the Colombian Afro-Pacifico. Thousands of people make the journey by whatever means necessary, even if it involves hauling drums and marimbas on a canoe. We’ve never seen a crowd that is that lively, and yet is so positive and peaceful. It was among these throngs that we decided to start La Pelanga.

The last night of the festival, we got stuck way in the back, but were thrilled to find ourselves smack in the middle of what seemed like the whole town of Timbiquí – jam-packed in, two people per seat, gas canisters of home-brewed viche and arrechón being generously passed around.

Nidia Góngora and the Grupo Canalón from Timbiquí won the prize for Best New Marimba Song with Una Sola Raza:

Una Sola Raza by Grupo Canalon

Una Sola Raza

We haven’t told too many people about the Petronio, because it felt like a huge family reunion that one feels honoured and blessed to be a guest of. For better or for worse, the word is getting out. We are very happy to see this incredible music slowly get the recognition it deserves – we just hope that as the festival’s popularity increases, its role as a community event stays strong.

Naturally, the region is no longer as remote as it used to be. While the Colombian government continues to show little interest in it, the public is starting to discover the region’s immense cultural treasures. Some great new music is coming out of the Pacífico and receiving acclaim – from the work of Grupo Bahía Trio, to ChocQuibTown‘s “hip hop that smiles”, to Quantic’s collaboration with Nidia Góngora. No doubt, this is just the beginning…

With all our respect and solidarity with Timbiquí and the Colombian Pacífic Coast,

DJ China Tu Madre and Papicultor

PS – Shoutouts to Luis and Ale of Lulacruza (you can support their latest project here), a Franz Tunda, Dimamusa, Pablo, and Meche – let’s do it again! Also to Mariacecita, who loves and shares la música del pacífico, and to our friend Karent, puro talento timbiquireño; if you haven’t watched her movie, El Vuelco del Cangrejo, you’re in for a treat!