Tuesday, May 31, 2011

TUNES FOR TUESDAY - Salsa Con Estilo

We have been spending some time remembering the Salsa music stars of Fania Records. Since we are in no hurry to move on, I thought I'd spotlight another song by Rubén Blades, this one with a nostalgic connection to Colombia.

Not too long ago, when I was growing up in Colombia, television there was limited to two government owned channels --three, if you lived in the capital. This technological wonder broadcast in all the hues of the color spectrum from white to dark grey and only within the hours of 5 to 10 pm. With literally nothing to see on the tube, most pre-internet Colombians became addicted to radio.

On Saturday nights, all members of the Salsa cult, faithfully tuned in to a show named "Salsa con Estilo" (Salsa with Style) hosted by Jaime Ortiz Alvear. Jaime wasn't a DJ, he was one of the best sports commentators in the country, a possessor of encyclopedic knowledge about both sports and Salsa. At the beginning of the show, he would always recite: "Salsa, con estilo. . . el único show que no tiene cover" (Salsa with style, the only No Cover show), and between songs he would say "Con Ortíz para la Salsa, para la Salsa Ortíz" (With Ortíz for Salsa, for Salsa, Ortíz).

There was a song that he would allow to linger in the background as he repeated these words. That song was,

Juan Pachanga by Rubén Blades

Ortiz would play almost all of the first minute of the song before introducing the show, the instrumental intro of Juan Pachanga soaking his words.

Here's Rubén Blades with Fania in 1978.

After battling throat cancer, Jaime Ortiz Alvear passed away in January 2005. To honor his memory another radio station, La W, has revived Jaime's show. The new Salsa Con Estilo does not have a single host. Rather, a different host interviews and plays music from a single artist every week. The show can be heard Friday and Saturday nights, 8-10pm, and not only in Colombia, you can hear the webcast of the show from any where here:

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Niños Buscan Hogar -- Children Seeking their Home

Every weeknight on Colombian Institutional Television, there is a program that lasts just about 1 minute called Niños Buscan Hogar. This is a program where ICBF can publish the photograph and identifying information of children who are in Protective Custody. ICBF publicizes these pictures in hopes of finding family members somewhere in the country that might be able to assume responsibility for and the care of the child. Many of the children adopted by ICBF have appeared on the program. Here is an example of what the program is like:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Voces de Secuestro -- Radio Program

Though much of Colombia has been more stable over the last 9 years, the reality that there is still much violence and many social problems. One of those problems is that there are still many hundreds of people being held hostage somewhere in Colombia. There is a radio program on Sunday nights that allows families to transmit messages to their loved ones being held against their will. The program, Voces de Secuestro, airs on Caracol radio. Here is a new You tube video highlighting the program:

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Last week, I mentioned Rubén Blades once again, it must time to talk about him. This prolific artist has a remarkable story, which is closely tied to Fania records. Those who watched the PBS documentary (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/latinmusicusa/#/en/wat/02/01) might remember the story about Blades wanting to write and sing Salsa music so much that he begged Fania for a job. He eventually got the job-- as an orderly in the mail room. From there he rose to become one of Fania's main stars.

It is difficult to choose just one of his songs to spotlight here, but let's start with a well known one:

Pedro Navaja by Rubén Blades.

This song is to Salsa what Louis Armstrong's Mack the Knife is to jazz. In fact Blades drew inspiration from Louis Armstrong for the song, just watch the video. But the song also draws from Bertolt Brecht's Threepenny Opera, and is a narrative about Pedro, a quintessential New York thug who is outwitted by a street smart woman.

The song first appeared in Blades' 1978 Siembra, an album that sold over 25 million copies and which held the record for best selling salsa album for over 15 years.

"Eight million stories has the city of New York" he sings, "life gives you surprises, surprises gives you this life" goes the choir.

Some film makers succumbed to the temptation of Pedro Navaja's story and made the movie without Blades' authorization. As the film was released, life gave the filmakers another surprise: Blades released the second part of Pedro Navaja, a song appropriately titled, "Sorpresas" (in the album Escenas, 1985). The song effectively changed the end of Pedro Navaja's story thereby rendering the movie obsolete. However, "Sorpresas" was never a hit or even a popular song.

Some final notes about Ruben Blades: he ran for president of Panama, he has been Panama's Tourism Minister, he holds a Master's in International Law from Harvard, he has his own Podcast, he still writes and sings his very own style of Salsa, and if it had not been for Teddy Roosevelt, he would have been Colombian!

Ok, again just for fun:

Monday, May 23, 2011

Myths for Monday -- Nukak Makú and Idn Kamni

Today's myth takes us to the department of Guaviare. There, between the Guaviare and Inírida rivers live a small group of Indigenous people called the Nukak Makú. This group of nomadic hunter-gatherers had been "uncontacted" by white man until 1988. However, since their discovery, their population has been decimated by disease and the armed conflict in Colombia, having lost approximately half of their population. In 1993, Colombia set apart land as a Nukak Makú reservation and expanded it in 1997. Approximately 1/2 of the now living Nukak Makú live on the reservation, where they have been victims of FARC violence. The other 1/2 wishing to flee that violence have moved to the department's capital -- San José de Guaviare -- where the government has established small settlements -- think refugee camps. (See a photo essay of those camps here: http://www.jansochor.com/photo-essay/nukak-maku.html )

Here is the Nukak Makú origin myth:

Idn Kamni

According to the Nukak Makú, the story of the origin of the world was on this wise. The world was made by Idn Kamni, who used his spit and mixed with dirt to make the soil. Then, he made the night by stopping the sun and holding it until he could cut down a tree and make the river. The first people came into the world travelling the river in a snake canoe, which as it passed through the river made the rapids in the River now called Leche, then continued on into the River called Venado, which provides water for all of the rivers in the world.

Unfortunately, the jaguars ate some of that first human clan created by Idn Kamni. In response, Idn Kamni created lightning.

Then, he created the first snake and with her he had children, and those children were the pests of the world.

Then, dancing and joyful, he returned to the sky.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The African Roots and Meaning of Bunde

When Colombians hear the word BUNDE, most will think of the music familiar to Tolima. There is also a musical tradition called Bunde, also called Chigualo, found on the Pacific Coast. It's origins are believed to be from the Wunde of Sierra Leone, in Africa.

On the Pacific Coast, the term BUNDE has come to refer to a type of song used at the wake for dead Afrocolombian children, yet it is typically not sad, but festive. (The word Chigualo is used when the song is for a deceased adult.) The Bunde is a funerary right in which the pain over the loss of a loved one is transformed into joy. The happiness is caused by the belief that the the soul of the child has entered into the Spirit World. The Bunde is sung while accompanying the the decorated casket in a processional march. The march moves three steps forward and two back. The song is followed by a brief poem:

Yo soy la primer madrina (I am the first godmother)
que me vengo a presentar. (I am coming to introduce myself)
Y sí el niño está dormido, (If the child is sleeping)
yo lo vengo a despertar. (I come to wake him up)

There are also Bundes of religious exaltation. These are called ALABAOS. These are dedicated to Saints and are typically sung a capella, though in Chocó, these can be accompanied by drums. The most famous Alabao is San Antonio. Here are two versions for your listening enjoyment.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

First Afrocolombian President

Long before the United States elected their first black President, Colombia had one. His name was Juan José Nieto Gil. But, if you ask most Colombians, they will have no idea who this guy is. The truth is that for reasons that historians can only attribute to racism, Colombia's only black president has been almost erased from history -- in fact, when his portrait was restored in the 1970's they changed his skin tone to white.

Nieto Gil was born in what is now the department of Atlántico, on June 24, 1805. He was the son of a 1/2 black 1/2 Indian mother (a Zamba) and a Spanish father. Early on, he taught himself to read, and he became fascinated by political philosophy.

In 1839, he was elected to the Provincial Chamber in Cartagena. In 1840, he participated in the War of Los Supremos (a topic for another blog), and was taken prisoner. In 1849, he started a newspaper called, La Democracia. He became governor of what was then called the Province of Cartagena in 1851. One year later, on January 1, 1852, at a gathering of multitudes of blacks and mulattos, he emotionally announced the end to slavery.

Nieto Gil's Colombia, was unlike it is today. First, it was called the United States of New Granada, and it consisted of various small, semi-independent countries. Nieto Gil became the President of one of those countries, then called the State of Bolivar. Frustrated with the conservative leadership of the central government of New Granada in Bogotá, he started a campaign to unite with other states and bring down the presidency of Mariano Ospina Rodríguez. He was able to get the states of Magdalena, Santander, and later, Cauca to join him.
While Cauca's president, general Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera, had control of the South, and with his armies was working his way to Bogotá, Nieto Gil had control of the entire Atlantic Coast with its critically important ports.

As the Presidency of Ospina disintegrated, and feeling himself in control of the most vital spot of Colombia, Nieto Gil declared himself President of the United States of New Granada, he also stated that he would hold the title of President until Mosquera reached Bogotá and could take over the leadership of the country himself. Thus, he served as President from January 25, 1861, until July 18, 1861. Despite this, he is rarely included in any history book of Colombia.

Therefore, in reality, Juan Manuel Santos is not the 85th president of Colombia, but the 86th.


TUNES FOR TUESDAY -- Si Dios Fuera Negro

It is Afro-Colombian week, and when it comes to music (especially Afro-Caribbean music), not being able to claim a little bit of African ancestry could be a real let down. My geneticist friends will advise me not to fret: deep inside and way in the past, we are all Africans. And they are right. I am short a few pieces of evidence, (besides the thick, black, everywhere body hair), to be able to prove that my ancestors are North Africans. Yep, the Moors who invaded Southern Spain centuries ago. But, claiming Sub-Saharan roots would be close to impossible.

As I have said here before, Colombian music owes a great deal to African immigrants. The most popular rhythms that unite Colombians are sprinkled with African music -- Black African music. Some of Colombia's greatest musical artists are also black - from Joe Arroyo, Wilson Manyoma, and Piper Pimienta, to Choc Quib Town and Profetas. Their accomplishments in Colombia are remarkable especially considering that even in the high plateaus of the Andes mountains, people with little in common with the Afro-Caribbean cultures, play and dance to this music at any celebration.

Unfortunately, in Colombia as in many other places, admiration hasn't always been the most widespread feeling towards Afro-descendants. Which brings us to today's song:

Si Dios Fuera Negro by Roberto Angleró.


Angleró was born in Puerto Rico. During the late 60s and early 70s, he composed Salsa music including many songs for the famous Gran Combo de Puerto Rico. I am not sure who sings this particular version. Some attribute this performance to Ruben Blades, and it does sound like him. But others think it is Angleró singing himself.

Either way, the song is a tongue in cheek riddle about how different the world would be if every one -the President, the Governor, the Lawyer, the Doctor, Snow White, the Mona Lisa, the Pope, the Angels, the flowers, and even Cotton- were black. The question posed in the song's title, is answered by ". . .it would be our race who would be in charge!"

A great commentary on race relations in the Carribbean world during the 60s and 70s -- and well, today.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

That time Again -- Myths for Monday -ANANCY

Over the last two years, I have dedicated this week in May to the celebration of Afrocolombian heritage. WHY? Because May 21st is the Día de la Afrocolombianidad. The day Colombia celebrates the end of slavery there in 1851. If you are interested in seeing my collection of previous posts, click here:


Otherwise, enjoy this week's focus on AFROCOLOMBIANOS. Starting with an AFROCOLOMBIAN myth, from San Andrés and Santa Catalina.


The Myth of ANANSI the spider originated in Ghana, Ivory Coast and Togo among the Ashante people, and it was people of this area that brought the story to the Americas. It is actually many different stories and there are many similarities between the Africa stories and their Colombian counterparts.

Here is a Colombian version of "Tiger Stories"

Once upon a time, all the the animals of the jungle gathered together to tell each other their stories of adventure. Each one would take his turn to tell what amazing thing he had dome that day. Unfortunately, poor Anancy had nothing to tell. Crestfallen, she asked, "Why do they call this storytelling, 'Tiger stories?' I think they should call this event after me. Wouldn't it sound better -- Anancy stories!"

Upon hearing this all of the animals began to laugh. The Tiger laughed so hard that the trees shook. The parrot laughed so hard that the branch he was sitting on broke. But, suddenly, all of the animals turned to the tiger and said, "Give Anancy a chance. Let's call them Anancy's Stories."

Tiger responded, "Nothing in this life is given for free, Anancy. If you want them to be called Anacy's stories, then bring me brother Serpent trapped on a stick. And from that moment on, this event will be called Anancy's Stories."

Despite all the animals predictions of failure, Anancy, through a series of events, returns victorious.

"Look, look everyone. Here comes Anancy with the snake tied to a stick." And, from that day forward, the Tiger -- good to his word-- called it Anancy's Stories.

The amazing thing is that despite at least 200 years, thousands of miles, and a change of language, the story is remarkably similar to the African version of the same story. So, go out to your local library and get an Ananzi story book this week. Then, read it to your Colombianito/a/os/as in celebration of Afrocolombian week in Colombia.

There is a group that tells the stories on stage. You can see their You tube page here (in Spanish):

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Newest ICBF Wait List May 10, 2011

This most recent Wait List was published by ICBF on May 10, 2011. Once again, there has been a lot of movement. Great news for adoptive parents and for Colombian Children!!

Remember, the ICBF Wait List applies to adoptions through ICBF only -- not through CASAS PRIVADAS. It also ONLY APPLIES TO NON-COLOMBIAN FAMILIES. It DOES NOT reflect special needs children. The definition of special needs are children with disabilities, children over 8 years of age, and sibling groups of 3 or more.

Several dates have advanced again this time!!! YEAH!!!

The dates that have moved are in BLUE.

Also, this list only reflects that there are no more dossiers at the national office prior to the date shown. Dossiers from before July 2007 in the 0-23 months category, for example, may still need a referral, but they have already been sent to a region and are no longer waiting at the national office.

Age of Child ------- Date of Application Approval by ICBF

Child 0-12 months ------ Aug - 2007
Child 13 - 23 months ---- Aug - 2007
Child 2 years ----------- Oct - 2006

Child 2 - 3 years -------- Mar - 2007
Child 3 years ----------- Aug - 2006
Child 3 - 4 years -------- Nov - 2006
Child 4 years ----------- Jun - 2007
Child 4 -5 years -------- Aug - 2007
Child 5 years ----------- Sep - 2009
Child 5 - 6 years ------- Nov - 2008
Child 6 years ----------- NOT LISTED ON NEW FORM
Child 7 years ----------- Feb - 2011

2 Siblings 0 - 4 years --- Dec - 2007
2 Siblings 0 - 5 years --- Dec - 2007
2 Siblings 0 - 6 years --- Jan - 2009
2 Siblings 0 - 7 years --- Oct - 2009
2 Siblings 0 - 8 years --- Dec - 2010

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

How Many Families are Waiting

Yesterday, ICBF published its latest Adoption Statistics Report. Today, I want to focus on the number of families on the waiting list. Unfortunately, the report does not divide those waiting into the age group they are waiting for, but it does show how many families are left in each year.

According to the report, there are 151 COLOMBIAN families waiting for referrals. While there are 2,984 foreign families who are also waiting. Below is the graph that shows how many foreign families are left on the waiting list for each of the last 5 years.


Colombian Daddy has been a bit busy this week, he suggested that I post the following message on his behalf:

"There is another classic, more alternative kind of salsa, from Willie Colón -- Gitana."

Monday, May 09, 2011

Myths for Monday -- El Burrito y La Tuna -- The Donkey and the Prickly Pear

Last week, I posted about los Wayuú (or Guajiros), the Indigenous people of La Guajira (today's Department of Focus). Today, I want to share one of their myths. But first, it would be important to explain that in the native religion, the Wayuú believe in many Gods. Maleiwa is the beneficient God. While Wanulu is the the evil God, the enemy of mankind. And now, without further ado.....

El Burrito y La Tuna

One day, a Wayuú man was travelling the countryside of La Guajira atop his donkey. After many long hours of walking in the hot sun, the two stopped to rest for the evening. The man hung his hammock in the trees, and quickly fell asleep. However, in the middle of the night, he awoke to the hair-raising sound of the whistle of Wanulu. Terrified, he jumped from his hammock and ran behind the trees. His donkey, however, did not move. It was as if he had not heard the Wanulu.

Then, the Wanulu appeared before him. "Where is your rider?" he demanded.
"I do not have a rider," responded the donkey.

A discussion ensued about the various things that the donkey was wearing that made it look like he had a rider, but each time the donkey insisted that the items did not belong to a rider.

Frustrated, the Wanulu threatened the donkey with death, "Where is your rider? If you do not tell me I will kill you."

As the Wanulu approached the donkey carrying a large bone as a weapon, the donkey thrust out his legs and sent the Wanulu flying. Unfortunately, the Wanulu was unharmed. Thus, began a fierce battle between burro and Wanulu. On and on it raged, until finally, the Wanulu, seeing that the burro was near death, left.

After the Wanulu had vanished from sight, the man came out of hiding. He ran to his donkey and said, "Wow, I didn't know you could talk like me!" He didn't congratulate the donkey. He didn't thank the donkey. NOTHING. He just tried to climb on the donkey and ride him again. But the weakened donkey couldn't carry his master, rather he fell to the ground.

The man, unwilling to help his donkey, left him alone to die and continued on his journey. When he arrived home from his journey he began to brag of his experience. Yet, in his version, he had defeated the Wanulu and no mention of the donkey was ever made.

Meanwhile, the donkey died, and where he lay there grew a large cactus. On it grew large red fruits called TUNAS (prickly pears). This fruit never was picked at by birds. It never dried in the sun. In addition to growing fruit, the cactus became a refuge for large hornets (about 2 inches long) called the MATAJEY. These hornets build hives full of delicious honey.

One day, the man returned to the place where he had left his donkey and found the cactus tree. He began to eat the fruit and the honey, when suddenly he turned green and grew into a plant called the JUMACHE'E. This plant grew large TUNAS also. However, they are wild and covered with thorns.

Now, throughout the Guajira, these two plants grow together. The sweet with the bitter, eternally linked together.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Los Wayuú of La Guajira

The Department of La Guajira, with its capital Rioahcha, is located on the Northern most peninsula of Colombia. It is an arid, desert region. It is hot and dry! The area is home to several indigenous groups among them are the Wayuú (also sometimes referred to as the Guajiro).

The approximately 144,000 Wayuú are divided into matriarchal clans -- each clan consisting of several families, all with a common ancestor. These clans often fight with each other. They live in small groupings of huts -- called Caseríos -- which are located far from each other to avoid the mixing of animal herds.

The Wayuú believe that there is life after death. This life is somehow related to the bones of the deceased. Therefore, great care and ceremony accompany the burial. After 2 years, the bones of the deceased are exhumed and placed in a pot which is then reburied.

In Manaure, the Wayuú mine salt, which they have done since before the coming of the Spanish.
Here is an interesting look into the Guajiros -- from a Time Magazine Article in 1951. It talks about their tradition of paying recompense for wrong doing in sheep -- definitely worth a read.


Wednesday, May 04, 2011

2011 Webby Nominee = Colombia: Deadly Threats

The following clip from Human Rights Watch is nominated for a 2011 Webby Award. It exposes the continuing threat to those who expose and prosecute the violence and its makers in Colombia.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011


Let's talk about Willie Colón. Why? Because as it says on his website (www.williecolon.com), "He has created more than 40 productions that have sold more than 30 million records worldwide." He is an accomplished musician, producer, actor, politician, and activist. Not bad for a New Yorker who became famous for being "El Malo" (the Bad Guy). El Malo is also the name of one of Colón's production businesses, and in 2008 he released the album El Malo Volume 2.

But, the original El Malo album was released in 1967, when Colón was only 17 years old. His work from 1969 to 1975 included: The Hustler, La Gran Fuga (The Big Break), Asalto Navideño (Christmas Assault), La Cosa Nuestra (akin to Cosa Nostra), El Juicio (The Trial), Lo Mato Si no Compra este LP (I'll Kill you if you don't buy this LP), and The Good, The Bad, The Ugly.

Yes, there is a pattern here. He cultivated this image of a bad guy mostly as a parody and as a critique of current events in pop culture back then. In reality, the music was just raw, unpolished, great, sweet Salsa. Both Hector Lavoe and Ruben Blades appeared as vocalists, but eventually Willie got tired of them and decided to sing his own songs.

For now here is,

El Malo by Willie Colón

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Myths for Monday -- How Death Came to Earth

Curripaco (aslo called Kuripaco, Kurripaco, Koripako, Waquenia, Karrupaku) is an Arawakan language spoken by 7,830 people (in 2001) in the departments of GUAINIA (today's department), Vaupes, & Vichada, Colombia. The are approximately 5,000 other Curripaco Indians in Brazil and Venezuela. Their culture has been largely lost as they have been taught by Evangelical Christains. However, one of their myths has been recorded and preserved. It tells of how DEATH was brought to the world.

Ñapiríkuli was walking over the hills of Guainía, when he ran into a woman with her child. The child's name was Kuwai. Unfortunately, soon after, the child died. But Ñapiríkuli did not want to let death enter the world. So, he placed Kuwai in a room and told the mother to be at peace. "Nothing will happen to your son, in 3 days he will walk out of this room alive." Ñapiríkuli then told the woman that the door to the room needed to remain closed for the duration of the three days. She was told not to enter the room, open the door, or even call to her son on the other side of the door.

Bitterly, the mother wept for her lost son. "Kuwai, not my son Kuwai!" she wailed. For two days, she cried non stop. But before dawn on the third day, she thought, "Ñapiríkuli is not here. I will merely go to the door and call to my son to see if he is alive." Quietly, the woman approached the door, and disobediently, she called to her son.

" Kuwai…?"
" Ahhh… !" Responded a weak voice.
" My son, are you alright?"
"Yes," he replied.

At first, she remained outside. Not wishing to open the door. But, after a few minutes, she could not control herself. She simply had to see her son. She entered to see Kuwai standing in the middle of the room. He was pale, very pale. His hair was missing and he had mud on his forehead. At the sight of her standing son, the mother let the tears flow from her eyes. Unfortunately, the tears fell on Kuwai -- who, upon becoming wet, melted away -- leaving nothing remaining but his bones.

Furiously, Ñapiríkuli entered the room. "This should not have happened. You are to blame. It was your tears that caused this death to enter the world. Now, you will cry forever."

Then, Ñapiríkuli took out tobacco and began to smoke. The smoke gradually ascended skyward, creating a dark house called Yarudati. It is there that the Spirits of deceased men go to dwell. He then made a door for the house out of macanilla. Next, taking the bones of Kuwai, he threw them through the open door declaring, "Kuwai, here you will live forever." With the bones inside, the door to the dark house closed with a moan.

It is said that even today, when there is a death among the Curripaco, you can hear the moan as the door to Yarudati closes behind the Spirit of the departed.