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Behind the Music Pt. 2

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The last time I visited La Isla Bonita I paid a visit to my favorite bookstore, Librería Laberinto in Old San in Juan. Among the treasures I discovered, was Errol L. Montes Pizarro’s MAS RAMAS QUE RAICES – DIALOGOS MUSICALES ENTRE EL CARIBE Y EL CONTINENTE AFRICANO (MORE BRANCHES THAN ROOTS: MUSICAL DIALOGUES BETWEEN THE CARIBBEAN AND THE AFRICAN CONTINENT).

HERE’S AN EXCERPT “At some point in 1982 the LP, “Sound D’ Afrique” (Mango Records, 1981) came to me. It was the first of two anthological albums that included thirteen songs by African musicians. 

The impact the music had on me was so significant I learned the songs phonetically—especially those played by Pablo Lubadika Porthos’ band from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Afterward, I made several cassettes, and to my friend’s chagrin, it’s all I played in my car. 

Since childhood, I’ve always had a taste for “weird” music, but what amazed me about African music was how familiar it sounded, even though I didn’t understand the lyrics.  

At some point, I attributed the similarities to the fact that Puerto Rican music and African music share common roots. However, I wasn’t satisfied with the rationale. On some songs, the phrasing of the electric guitars resembled the Puerto Rican cuatro and the Cuban tres. Also, songs such as “Massoua Mo” by Iba Ika Jerome Ivorian reminded me of Puerto Rican Jibaro music. And the accompaniment sounded like a mixture of Puerto Rican Seis Chorreao and the Dominican merengue. 

I suspected the history of Afro-descendant music is more complicated. My passion and curiosity led me to learn more about contemporary music production on the African continent. Over time, after acquiring more albums, I began to realize; indeed, the history of the relations between Afro-descendant music on this side of the world and the popular music of many African countries was – and is – more complicated than a history of parallel developments from common roots.

My intention is not to describe the many and complex cultural ties between Africa and the Caribbean nor the creation of the African diaspora. Instead, to provide the reader with multiple examples, the history of Afro-descendant music is a history of mutual influences and round-trips.

Here, two noted experts in Afro-Caribbean music offer their impressions of the book.

ANGEL “CHUCHO” QUINTERO

“More Branches Than Roots is a fundamental contribution to contemporary cultural and musical studies. It’s the product of an enthusiastic and passionate study of the dialogues (coming and going) between African and African-Latin American music. Also, it demonstrates the limitations of the predominant American vision of African music and reflects the importance of knowing the musical developments of both continents from a more dialogic perspective. It’s enjoyable reading for the specialist and the general public.”

CRISTOBAL DIAZ AYALA

“As Pizarro says in the prologue, the story began in 1982, the first time he listened to African music. At the time, he did not know he didn’t realize he had “enrolled” in a free course of the musical continent, which continues today. The book is the result of that dedication. Also, it is the product of 35 years of listening, researching, sharing, and through the radio program, Rumba Africana, discussing the musical dialogues between the Caribbean and Africa.

Within the pages of this fascinating book, the reader learns many essential things, such as the immediate presence – from “the discovery” of America to today – the constant dialogue between African music and the Caribbean, and the exchange of reciprocal influences.

A few years ago, Puerto Rico celebrated a festival titled “The Third Root,” which was (supposedly) dedicated to the African presence in the Caribbean. I was struck by the term “Third Root” because chronologically, the title assumes the first root is indigenous, the second Hispanic, and the third root is African. At the time of “the discovery,” the Hispanic culture was in the process of formation. It was inhabited by several cultures, including Phoenicians, Romans, Greeks, etc., and for eight centuries, by the Moors, Arabs living in the north of Spain for eight centuries. But, let’s return to this much-needed book, which is essential to speaking and writing about the subject. Subtly, the author shows us that more important than talking about roots is talking about branches.”

Errol L. Montes Pizarro is a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Puerto Rico. Also, he is the host of the radio show RUMBA AFRICANA (Radio Universidad de Puerto Rico) and the author of the book,  (Spanish, Ediciones Callejon).

Currently, MORE BRANCHES THAN ROOTS is only available in Spanish; however, an English translation is in the works.

FURTHER READING, EXPLORATION VISIThttps://masramasqueraices.com/

* Article is based “Mas Ramas Que Raices … Errol Montes Pizarro,” which originally appeared on the website 80 Grados (PrensainPrisa) in May 2018. Also, the Spanish to English translation is mine. 

 

A graduate of Empire State College with a dual major in journalism and Latin American studies, Editor-in-Chief Tomas Peña has spent years applying his knowledge and writing skills to the promotion of great musicians. A specialist in the crossroads between jazz and Latin music, Peña has written extensively on the subject. His writing appears on Latin Jazz Network; Chamber Music America magazine and numerous other publications.

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