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



A small tribute to Rafael Puyana

This is a bit of a departure from our usual programming, but maybe some of you will enjoy it.

A few years ago, passing time in a heavy metal record store in Providence while my ride arrived, I found a record of duets by John Williams (not the one who wrote the Star Wars soundtrack; the other one) and Rafael Puyana. (Jordi Savall sits in on a few tracks.) You never know what you’ll find.

In one of those strange coincidences (?), I put this record on two days ago for the first time in many months; the next day I woke up to the news that Rafael Puyana had passed away. This is a small tribute to him.


Puyana was Colombia’s best known classical musician. Being Colombians, Colombians like to say that he was the best harpsichord player in the world. I don’t know what that means, but I do like his music. Here’s a nice short piece by Mexican composer Miguel Ponce:

Here’s a heavier, more adventurous piece – Stephen Dodgson’s “Due Concertante”. I can’t say I liked it right away but it grew on me, and anyone shopping at a metal record store would appreciate the ending.


Alejo Durán on Black History Month


This is as good a month as any to invite Alejo Durán, el Rey Negro Vallenato, to tell us a bit of American history. This is “Los Hermanos Negros”, from the album I posted a few weeks ago

That reminds me of “El Indio Sinuano”, a strong, proud track on Zenú history written by David Sánchez Juliao. It’s a simple thing, but the break at 3:20 is one of my favorites in vallenato. I don’t think I have the energy to translate the lyrics to the English speakers, but I’m sure the internet does. You can find them here


Alejo Durán – El legendario caballero del canto vallenato


Este post va para Carlos Mendoza — el joven inquieto de 51 años que está tratando de redefinir el sonido de la música chilena de Oaxaca desde el Valle Central de California — y para las cumbiamberas Marië y Julie, que cuentan un poquito de la historia de Carlos en el radiodocumental Squeezebox Stories (When are you writing a guest post for us?)

Pajarito by Alejo Durán

I’ve met several accordionists from all over the world (and Carlos is one of them) who, when they find out I am from Colombia, won’t stop raving about the virtuoso accordionists in vallenato. And yes, no doubt I agree, and I love listening to them, but I keep coming back to the down-home vallenateros who leave the fancy tricks aside, who keep it simple and honest and deep. Not many do that better than Alejo Durán.

Anything I try to write about Alejo Durán is outdone by a beautiful chronicle written by Alberto Salcedo in the book “Diez juglares en su patio”, where Alejo talks about his love for accordion, women, and his sombrero vueltiao, his  disinterest in alcohol and new vallenato, and his encounters with Gabriel García Márquez. (Muy recomendado este libro, si lo consiguen! El último libro de Salcedo también está buenísimo.) So maybe I’ll just let them talk, and hope my translation doesn’t get too much in the way:

Alejo: “When someone talks to me about fingering, it is as if they talk to a deaf man. I have nothing to do with fingering. I am an accordionist of style. […] I don’t crack my fingers trying to make the notes run fast, but I assure you that I have my style, and if you hear me from far away you will now that it is me who is playing. You’ll mix up the other accordion players. Not me.”

If you want style, check out his accordion work in this song, especially towards the end; I never heard anything quite like this.

Nazira by Alejo Durán

Alejo, father of 24 children, “all with the same one but with many different women” says “…I had to be in love to keep composing. Or heartbroken. Because, really, there are two topics to compose about: love and sorrow. Everything else is make-believe, and I don’t like to make things up. […] If some guy can get excited singing about lies, things that haven’t happened, let him do that. We, the old guys, prefer to sing about what happens to us.”

Cuerpo Cobarde by Alejo Durán

Salcedo: “Durán’s main merit is that he understood that the accordion has its voice, and it’s important to let it speak. Not like most of today’s interpreters, for whom the accordion is simply an instrument; as if it wasn’t an extension of our feelings.”

Durán: “My life, my trusted friend, and part of my soul is the accordion. I tell my secrets to him.”

Son Pesares by Alejo Durán



Happy New Year – Super Sweet Talks

I just got back from a wonderful December in Colombia with my lady, my family, a few dear friends, and the obsessively knowledgeable DJs, dancers, musicians, organizers, record collectors, and cowbell-in-the-back-pocket melómanos at the Feria de Cali. (We’ve got plenty of music to share from that trip. Stay tuned!)

It’s never easy to leave Colombia, and especially not this time, on Dec. 31st. So we were incredibly grateful for a warm welcome to the Bay, and especially for welcoming 2013 with the Pelanga family — sharing a delicious meal, a few good records, a bottle of arrechón, and stories of our growing families. We even got to witness DJ Djumi’s first gig at age 3 (weeks)!

Adjoa - Super Sweet Talks

Adjoa – Super Sweet Talks

I woke up the next day with mixed feelings, a bit of a hangover, and a desperate craving for a nice, strong cup of coffee. Wait. Shit! Did I leave some coffee in the kitchen when I left weeks ago? Where am I gonna find a coffee on New Year’s morning?

For no good reason I checked our mailbox downstairs, and we had just received a package from our dear-friend-whom-we’ve-never-met Adjoa, sending good New Year’s vibes, a killer Ghanaian compilation, and — you’re not gonna believe it — a fresh bag of sweet coffee.



Adjoa, I have to return the favor, hermanita. I don’t imagine you’re opposed to starting the year with an elegant Lord’s Prayer:

The Lord’s Prayer

You might also enjoy the title track, Adjoa.  🙂

Adjoa by Super Sweet Talks


Happy 2013, everybody! Here’s to another year of enjoying music, building community, and dancing our asses off. Much love to you all,