Beat Diaspora: Beats, Buses, Bricks

an omnivorous take on music of the beat-based variety and the urban spaces that nurture it

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Cumbia Is Not a Crime

"Vos tiene de reggaeton?"
"No, disculpa, y na verdad, no hablo español."

An inauspicious start. You mean they want reggaeton here? Oh, right, I'm in that other part of Latin America, the one that speaks Spanish. I've been living off the fat of the DRCLAS, even hoping to append a certificate that I know a thing or two about Latin America to my diploma, but damn if I don't know any español. It's been a quirky point of pride not to speak it, a very Brazilian attitude, really, that one can be immersed in Latin America and have nothing to do with what the rest of the world considers its lingua franca (the number of times I've been asked how my Spanish is when I tell people I'm going to Brazil . . .). Goes right up there with the plucky Brazilian claim that indigenous peoples are not "pre-Columbian civilizations" but "pré-Cabralino", which is in the same vein as theories that the Portuguese discovered the New World.

But I'm not about to arbitrate partisan claims about what's really Latin America, so it was with simple linguistic confusion that I portunhol-ed my way through Buenos Aires. After observing some castellano, at least the Argentine variety, it just took a little foresight to switch my eu for yo, my é for es, my um for uno, and anything ending in -ção for -ión. Which worked surprisingly well when it came to ordering food, asking for directions, and taking cabs. But it meant there wasn't a lick of reggaeton in the digital crates, because what good is it if you don't speak the lingo, gringo (via /rupture). A bit of concern, then, on last Wednesday night, showtime at Zizek, supposedly the hottest party –– at least the hottest billing itself as an "urban beats club" –– in la ciudad federal.

Fortunately, Villa Diamante had my back on that front. And the all-Portuguese funk set went over surprisingly well. I'm glad, however, that Refusenik, a recent Boston-Buenos Aires transplant who set me up with the gig, gave me a heads up on the porteño style. Namely, they'll start swingin' hips as soon as they arrive to just about anything (even experimental breakcore, he claims), but they nurse a couple cervezas all night long and rarely go wild. So it wasn't my fault if rowdy Baltimore club and tamborzão didn't have popuzadas dropping to the floor. They all liked it enough, I was told afterwards, and over the night I got many inquisitive/incredulous questions about the Rocinha t-shirt. Gotta rep the hood, knamean? Generally, the party held true to Refusenik's description as a "clubbier Beat Research." NIM opened with a lot of dubstep, grime, and his latest fave, instrumental grime. In turn, I was followed up by a couple hours of jungle and d'n'b c/o Loder, supposedly the city's hottest junglist. Then Villa D closed it down en español.

The real attraction of the night for me after I stepped out of the DJ role and retreated into the audience, was ¡cumbia! Once the telltale shaker began that ch-ch-ch-ch rattle, I know the DJ had slipped some of Buenos Aires' trademark onto the decks. Of course, I'm out of my league on permutations of pan-Latino music, but I'll hone it down: Zizek is into cumbia villeira, or cumbia coming from Argentina's rough equivalent of favelas, the villas miserias. They mix acoustic (flute & shaker on blast) and electronic production, drop rhymes about typical gangster business, are generally the bane of the middle- and upper-classes.

It's like funk's long-lost cousin from the other side of the Rio de la Plata, if you wanna set-up sketchy analogies like samba:tango::funk:cumbia. But there you have it, another major Latin American city that plays up its image on the back of one music (I swear you can't go two blocks without seeing a tango souvenir), while down on the streets they're swaying to a different beat (of course this isn't a perfect comparison, since samba is just as much favela music as funk is, even if they don't have funk MCs performing for tourists on the train up Corcovado to see Cristo Redentor).

Granted, Zizek was in chic-ish Palermo, a far cry from the villas. And no, I didn't make it to any villas, other than peering out from the overpass onto a cluster of shacks as I headed to the airport, the scene unfortunately reminiscent of passing by the Complexo da Maré on the way in/out of Galeão in Rio. That's the rub on vacation vs. vocation, passing through vs. putting down a few roots. But Zizek isn't just using a cumbia bandwagon to success; rather, it seems to be a nexus of DJs and producers who wanna slice it into the global mess of dubs and steps and dancehalls and grime. I already mentioned Villa D (whose latest album is available for free download off that site), but don't sleep on Oro11 and El Remolón too.

For more información en inglês: Mad Decent is on to something (or at least the comments are) and Ruptureradio had a recent showcase. There's also a little cumbia on the español summer soundtrack of '07: La Ola de Calor, by the incomparable (& original) big bad jugglin' machine. And focusing on the Colombian roots, this comp looks pretty good.

I was also able to stock up on some music despite the short stay in BsAs. Zizek has it all laid out: dude selling CDs in the back, replete with charming touches like track lists skipping some numbers and the actual having way more songs than it claims. It's got that pirate feel, but the mp3 quality is thankfully much better.

So in honor of my inability to habla español, here's a little morsel whose title is self-evident enough and goes well with what I had for breakfast.

Sidestepper - Mas Papaya
(from Bosquiman vs. Vampiros -- "Dinamita batatera")

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