Allez Les Éléphants!


Two of the teams I had huge hopes for in World Cup 2014 were Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana; sadly things didn’t work out as well for them as many of us hoped.

But that’s why I’m super excited for this superclásico tomorrow, the final of the African Cup of Nations 2015!!!
Judging from the record cover, back in 1984 Côte d’Ivoire must have not had the  team that they have today; “La victoire est possible” is even more hesitant than the Mexicans’ “Sí se puede”; when you have to explain to your team that they *could* win, things might not be looking so good for you.
But things are very different today, and I’m really hoping to see this golden generation finally get the big win. Plus, I’ve waited years for the right moment to share this record with you, this better be it!
Allez Les Éléphants!!!

Zia-Zia (La Cote d’Ivoire Gagnera)


Victoria Santa Cruz

I was listening to last week’s Pelanga En La Sala, where we shared a few tracks that we picked up at Oakland’s record swap in November, and there is one more track I’d really like to share.

Trying to stay within a budget, you have to limit yourself to just a few pricier records, and then go take some risks off of the dollar bins. During the podcast we gave the best-one-dollar-record award to Jacobo, for a cosmic trip of a track: “Sagitario” by Chico Che y La Crisis. Very well deserved, no doubt, but can I show you my contender?

I’ve long been a fan of Afro-Peruvian music, and I didn’t think twice when I saw a compilation of marineras, festejos, landós, and zamacuecas in Adam‘s bargain bin. The record featured some of the usual suspects, but also several musicians I never heard of — just what I look for in a $1 gamble. It turned out to be a great record all around, and the last track, a zamacueca by the incredible Victoria Santa Cruz, was the surprise treat for me.


(foto: El Comercio)

Victoria Santa Cruz has been called the mother of Afro-Peruvian culture; I knew her as a dancer / scholar / performer / folklorista / badass. But I didn’t know she recorded some albums too, and there’s a track of hers on this compilation. And I don’t know what it is, but this song just fucking kills me!

Every now and then I’ll find what I think are the best five seconds of music in history (the Miles Davis Quintet handing “‘Round Midnight” to Coltrane for his solo, the entrance to “Quitate De Mi Escalera” by Grupo Socavón, Jorge Millet’s filthy piano solo on Orquesta Mundo’s “Mamacita”, Andrés Landero’s bassist trying to sound like a turkey on “La Pava Congona”…). DJ China Tu Madre will tell you that I exaggerate all the time, but I don’t. At least not at those times. And right now, that’s how I feel about the moment when Victoria Santa Cruz gathers everyone together to close this track.


This song is the soundtrack to a straight-up dance battle, and our only regret should be not being able to watch it. Instead, I’ll leave you with this:



Victoria Santa Cruz passed away in August, at age 91. Que descanse en paz. If you’re in the Bay Area, you may be interested in a tribute that the Mission Cultural Center will host next Monday:



Abdullah Ibrahim – Soweto (for Nelson Mandela)

This morning I woke up humming Abdullah Ibrahim’s “Soweto”. May-Li, who reads minds, nonchalantly put on some of his music for us to listen to while we got the day started. Then I went over to the kitchen, fixed an arepa de choclo and some coffee, and played this beautiful record over breakfast. I’ve been humming it all day.


This couldn’t be more fitting.


“Abdullah tells a remarkable story about two tunes that he performed in Cape Town in 1976. These became the anthems of children in the streets of the city. They were the tunes Mannenberg (named after a township in Cape Town that is parallel in significance to Soweto in Johannesburg) and Soweto. The saxophone solos were being sung to words all over the country, as anthems of anger and resistance to the apartheid regime. Just a few months after the recordings of these tunes were released, the Soweto uprising occurred. This was the turning point in South African history, when the South African security forces gunned down schoolchildren, who were protesting against [Afrikaans] language instruction in schools.” (Carol Ann Muller, in Kalamu ya Salaam’s great post on Mannenberg – highly recommended.)


Abdullah Ibrahim humbly tells that in the mid 70s, Nelson Mandela’s lawyer snuck in some of Ibrahim’s music into his prison in Robin Island; when he heard it, he said “Liberation is near”.

Thank you, Nelson Mandela. Rest in power.

Con los campesinos colombianos

(English below)


Durante las últimas semanas, miles de campesinos declararon un paro agrario en protesta a las políticas económicas del gobierno de Colombia. No es la primera vez que sus reclamos fueron ignorados. El presidente Santos anunció que “el tal paro agrario nacional” no existe, y la policía recurrió a muestras de violencia innecesaria para controlar las manifestaciones. En un gesto descaradamente oportunista, el expresidente Uribe — responsable de muchas de estas políticas — ahora busca aprovechar la situación en su agenda de oposición a Santos.

Los gobiernos de Uribe y Santos recientemente firmaron el Tratado de Libre Comercio (TLC) con los Estados Unidos, entre otros. Mientras algunos colombianos se sintieron honrados y optimistas de que Estados Unidos quisiera negociar con nosotros, el Presidente Obama se refirió al TLC en su discurso del Estado de la Unión, diciendo: “Iré a cualquier lugar del mundo a abrir nuevos mercados a los productos americanos […] en igualdad de condiciones, les prometo que América siempre ganará.”

Desde que el TLC entró en vigencia, las exportaciones de Colombia a Estados Unidos han *disminuido* en un 13 por ciento, mientras que las importaciones han aumentado en un 15 por ciento. Y la última vez que paré en la carretera con ganas de una buena mazorca, de granos grandotes, con harta mantequilla y sal, resultó que el campesino estaba vendiendo maíz dulce gringo, sacado de una bolsa plástica, nada merecedor de ser llamado *mazorca*. Me aguanté el hambre. Esto no es progreso.

Yo no soy papicultor ni economista, y no pretendo decir que entiendo todos los factores que entran en juego. Pero me solidarizo completamente con la frustración de los campesinos, quienes siempre han sido una de las últimas prioridades de nuestros gobiernos.

A veces la música ayuda a entender un poquito mejor. En la costa ya lo dijo Juancho Polo, muy bien dicho, hace 36 años:


Campesino Desamparado


También lo dijo Oscar Humberto Gómez en Santander:

Campesino Embejucao

Unimos nuestras voces al fuerte coro en apoyo a los campesinos en Colombia. Muchos sentimos la impotencia de estar lejos y no saber qué hacer. Hablarlo ayuda. Y también voy a tratar de cumplir una humilde promesa: darle las gracias a un campesino todos los días, por lo menos tres veces al día. Es algo pequeño; pero en grandes cantidades, puede llegar lejos.

. . . . . . . . . .


Over the last few weeks, thousands of farmers have been on strike to protest the economic policies of the Colombian government. Not for the first time, their pleads were ignored. President Santos claimed that there was no such national strike, and the police resorted to unnecessary violence in controlling the protests. Shamelessly opportunistic, former president Uribe — who is responsible for many of these policies — now uses the protests to push his political agenda in opposition of Santos.

The Uribe and Santos governments recently signed a Free Trade Agreement (TLC) with the United States, among others. While some Colombians were flattered and optimistic that Americans wanted to partner with us, President Obama referred to the TLC in his State of the Union, saying: “I will go anywhere in the world to open new markets for American products […] if the playing field is level I promise you America will always win.”

Since the TLC started, Colombia-to-US exports have *decreased* by 13 percent and US-to-Colombia imports have increased by 15 percent. And the last time I stopped at a roadside food stand in Colombia craving some corn, *that* corn, with kernels so big that they seem to be fighting each other for space on the cob, covered in lots of salt and butter, I found that the campesino was selling American sweet corn, straight-out-of-a-plastic-bag, completely undeserving of the name *mazorca*. I did not buy it. This is not progress.

I am neither a papicultor (potato grower) nor an economist, and I do not claim to understand the many factors at play. But I completely sympathize with the frustration of the campesinos, who have always been one of the last priorities of our governments.

Often, to try to understand things a bit better, I turn to music. In the north coast, Juancho Polo already said it, beautifully, 36 years ago:

Campesino Desamparado

So did Oscar Humberto Gómez in Santander.

Campesino Embejucao

We join the strong chorus of voices in support of the Colombian campesinos. Many of us are frustrated and don’t know what to do from far away. Talking about it helps. I’m also going to try to keep the humble promise to thank a farmer everyday, at least three times a day. It’s a small thing, but in big numbers it could go a long way.


Emahoy Tsegué Mariam Gebru

My friend Feven pointed me to this incredibly beautiful short film on the Ethiopian classical pianist Emahoy Tsegué Mariam Gebru. Thank you, Feven! You can click on the CC for English subtitles, but, really, the film speaks for itself.


It’s been a bit of a crazy summer over here, and I guess you shouldn’t be surprised when a 90 year old nun knows exactly what you need. I’ve been playing her music all day long. After watching this, I’m pretty sure many of you will, too.




Joachim Boya et l’orchestre Black Santiago, Yedenou Adjahoui

The life of a mathematician may not be the most glamorous one, but I do get to travel all over, and I always budget an extra day to hide from my hosts in some little basement full of records. I just returned home after several months of travelling, conferences, even a new theorem or two, time with old and new friends, and a great stack of records that I’m slowly catching up to. There’s so much music I want to share with you all that I don’t even know where to start!

So to start somewhere, I’m going to follow Smokestack’s lead. I loved his Polyrhythmo post, and one of my favorite parts of any Pelanga is when he goes and busts out some incredible Beninese salsa track from the deep end of his crate. Following his lead, I also managed to get a hold of a few great records from Benin over the last month. I might save my favorites for our upcoming Pelanga in a couple of weeks, but of course Joachim Boya + l’orchestre Black Santiago has to be pretty close to favorite:


“Alphabetisation” has a spot reserved in our Educator’s Special mix (years in the making). It’s got that groove, that keyboard, and that killer break towards the end that leaves you with a melody which you’re not about to find on this side of the Atlantic.



Then in “Rendez-vous a l’etoile” they redefine call-and-response. So nice.



La ñapa:


For those of you who like the traditional sound, here is Yedenou Adjahoui. Eighteen minutes of this is definitely not enough.

Hode Nad mite