Wednesday, January 31, 2007

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MusicaHumana Blues(MHB) at La Pena in Berkeley, California or Demanding Non-Decorative Culture

Tonight we took East Oakland on the instruments of musicaHumana~Blues to La Pena in Berkeley to open for the Chiapas Support Committee's reportback from the recent New Year Encuentro in Chiapas convened by the beloved Zapatistas.

MHB is a self-made trio of Andrew Kong Knight (violin), Jose Palafox (percussion, cajon peruano), and Arnoldo Garcia (new blogger, guitar and other stringed instruments) performing covers with our own arrangments and original music and songs in the vein of Latin American rhythms, traditions and with liberation lyrics and dreams. MusicaHumana Blues along with headRush crew stalwarts Rosa Gonzalez and Xago, composing el Teatro del FEO, with Daniel Camacho at the canvas, Mari Rose Taruc were the heart of La Carpa del FEO: Fandango in East Oakland tour during March through May l;ast year. We had poets, dancers, Fuga!, Los Nadie, jaraneros from east San Jose (Son del Oriente, now I believe called El Colectivo) play jazz and son jarocho during different points in El FEO tour.

MusicaHumana Blues performed three songs. The program started late. The auditorium was relatively empty at 7:30 pm and they were having technical problems with the projector -- until they went close by to borrow one from a nearby Chiapas Support Committee family. One of the emcees, a woman whose name I don't know, beautifully changed our name to Blues Humana, which I like. Our music as MHB flowers out of blues, rancheras, cumbias, huapangos, son jarocho and huasteco, rumba, huaynos, rock-n-roll, jazz-tinged or jazz-crazed -- in order words a mixtery, a mestizaje, of musics.

We performed "Un hombre se levanta" by the renown Cuban nueva trova composer and singer extraordinaire, Silvio Rodriguez; "Corazan Maldito" by Violeta Parra, who was responsible for giving impetus to the New Song Movement of Latin America after she went into the countryside to record and rescue (literally) music played by Indigenous and farm worker communities, many of these musics ancient in root and the heart of Andean and Chilean cultures; and a rallying song from the 1936 Spanish Civil War, "A la huelga" done in our own inimitable style of rock/cumbia/rumba punked up.

As I was introducing "A la huelga" -- as the last song of our meager set -- describing its context and relevance for the ongoing organizing and discussions in the immigrant rights movement's preparations for the May 1 mobilizations, a proposed economic boycott, someone (an emcee/member of the Chiapas Support Committee) said loudly enough that this was the last song. Unfortunately, I did not hear him (he was stage right), I am deaf on my right side. But everybody else heard him. Not only that but while we were performing they were tryin to fix the glitches that came with setting up the new projector.

This brings us to the title of "demanding non-decorative culture" -- that we were spoken loudly like during our performance (and I can understand the technical problem fixing, even if it meant turning on and off the projector -- I was unaware of all the commotion) was rude and an example of the longstanding attitude of organizers and activists towards cultural work. Both are cultural, except that which we call "cultural work" means the arts, music, painting, poetry, singing, etc. The purveyors of culture are there to entertain, while the serious work of politics is serious, organizing, not flowery, but concrete, etc.

The challenge is how both cultural work and organizing culture can meet with respect and mutual understanding at the middle and in the middle of poltiical and community struggle, that one without the other means certain debilitating and oft-times mortal weaknesses.

We have to learn to pay attention to a song, a poem or a painting with the same intensity as we listen to a speaker, view a film, dialogue. We cannot expect comprehensive social transformations, progressive, democratic, human rights, radical, community based if we cannot be whole.

You cannot make human revolutions with politics and bread alone. A poem lasts longer than a speech; a painting, a mural (look at the front of La Pena, with Victor Jara's truncated hands, his song unfinished but unending) lasts longer than a politically charged sign or banner, than the resistance movement that gave birth to the mural in the first place. A song can teach more about human conditions and inspire energy, struggle and dreaming than reading a book. This does not mean we do not want to hear speechs, learn how to speak in public and in private, that we shouldn't make signs with slogans and demands, organize movement-building, or that we should not read books with in-depth analyses and broad and deep perspectives. However, we cannot afford to do one without the other.

What we want and struggle for is access to sustainable, socially just, community based cultures and transformations that benefit the poor, the landless, the homeless, working class bums, migrant farmworkers, Indian peoples, women, children, the elderly, the non-English speaking non-U.S.- citizen who can't vote day laborer, and restoring the natural world to its rightful power. We can organize for the type of country we want but only by using both strategies, separate, equal, mushed together, mixted in equal and generous portions. To be healthy and to be sustainable, we have to be whole as individuals, as organizations, institutions and movements, as workers, as non-workers, as communities. This means having politics with culture and culture with politics that listens, is respectful, takes its time, does not go faster than the slowest member of the movement or neighborhood, stays close to the land, the community and thrives in collective dreaming with song, words, with political and non-political analyses, not by bread alone.

When we perform we bring years and years of practice, of investment in quality intruments, practice, listening to ourselves what we're saying with our music. Musicians from the movement usually practice more what they will do in front of an audience or at a mobilization, a march, than most speakers. A song packs metaphors, energy, wisdom, inspiration and fun into three minutes; very rarely can speakers at forums, at events like last night at La Pena, at marches, accomplish such impact in the same amount of time. Speakers usually create impressions, impacts; a good song leaves behind a crater. We want both to be the same but different; not separate, not alone, but in constant conversation, dialogue and cross-fertilization.

The Chiapas Support Committee has to be commended for always inviting MusicaHumana Blues and other performers, musicians to their events. They use film, video, they put the artisan craft of Mayan communities at our reach and bring together people who are community in spite of sometimes feeling like we are not part of a community. sharing a dream, supporting the Zapatistas. expressing solidarity, giving support to Indigenous communities across borders -- which makes as more of a community than less. These aspects of community are strengthened by the mutual interaction of politics and culture. We want a different world, a world where all worlds fit -- as the Zapatistas declared. These means that we have to put culture in front. What lasts longer, what cannot be erased is human community, human culture, human memory. This takes a lot of words, a lot of talking and listening to each other. Songs and poems, paintings expand and deepen the potential of our political movements' desires and demands. We have to start somewhere, respect and listening is a good place to begin the great human revolution needed to save humanity from inhumanity, from itself!

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