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Review: Narrating Narcos: Culiacán and Medellín – by Gabriela Polit Dueñas

The author is exploring the impact of local culture on the artistic output of Narcoculture in the form of literature and art in two specific par excellence Narco cities in Latin America. We are introduced to the Culichis of Culiacán in Mexicos Sinaloa and they can be contrasted with the paisas of Medellín in Colombia. There are unique linguistic characteristics to each area and each city produces distinct styles in terms of its experience of drug war and wide scale narco-trafficking. Culiacán is the capital of El Chapo’s Sinaloa Cartel territory and faced the brunt of the President Calderon Mexican Government War on Drugs. Medellín was home to Pablo Escobar’s capo rule during the 1980s when he declared war on the State and ran a brutal campaign akin to terrorism, brutalising many of the local population in the crossfire. The rough nature of macho Culichi campesinos, raised in the surrounding rural mountains is portrayed in the natural acceptance of violence and the local landscape is scarred with the memories of narco killings and warfare. Post Escobar paisas are dealing with the world where they had to face paramilitary suppression and the middle classes have been integrated with fast money immigrants from the shantytowns, the home of sicaresca (cultural works about sicario hitmen). Authors may use local dialects such as Medellin’s urban poor parlache in order to express their work. Most of the artists and authors have either suffered directly from the violence or know people killed in the wars. The underlying tone for cultural content from both areas is one of ultraviolence that is socially accepted and ingrained in the conscience and collective memory. The popularity of narconovelas is rising globally. The author of this study does some great work in exposing some perhaps lesser known creators and does a relatively in depth analysis of their works, often drawing on external cultural ideas and philosophies in order to justify her analyses. I found this text to be very enlightening and it opened many doors to this area for future critical study. The often dark subjects prove to be very adept at dealing with their work, often under extreme circumstances that fellow artists across the world do not have to endure. The culture of Medellín and Culiacán is opened to the world by Gabriela Polit Dueñas and I highly recommend her work.

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Review: Narcocorrido: A Journey into the Music of Drugs, Guns, and Guerrillas – by Elijah Wald

Whilst planning to do a university translation dissertation on some aspect of narcoculture I was drawn to this work (in English – also simultaneously released bilingually with a Spanish version) by American author and folk musician, Elijah Wald. Having been introduced and hooked on the sounds of Los Tigres Del Norte for years, the Narcocorrido is a music form that particularly interests me. The Spanish word ‘Correr’ = to run, gives way to the Corrido form of music, a Mexican musical ballad, originally historically done as the spoken word, but more recently with Mexican folk music of accordions, guitars and harps added. It is a form of Norteño / Ranchera / Mariachi music, very spicy in rhythm, with neatly rhyming lyrics, telling a popular story. A lively, popular music artform, where masculinity and hyper-masculinity can flourish. The traditional Corrido has been superseded by the Narcocorrido, which tells the stories of Mexican and Latin American drug lords and their conquests – their crossborder trafficking, their grisly assassinations, their lovelife, their organisations. The Corrido is an alternative form of news and corridistas may cover any political event, with some controversial writers documenting political scandals and guerrilla uprisings. Elijah Wald takes us on an interesting personal journey as he hitchhikes and buses across every conceivable region in Mexico and also dips into the Corrido communities of North America. We meet the stars of the genre, the well known celebrity figures, from Los Tigres Del Norte themselves and their most famous writers such as Jefe del Jefes, Teodoro Bello. The issues of assassinated star Chalino Sánchez were particularly interesting and displayed the true dangerous nature of these musicians and their controversial cultural work. We head from the Sinaloan narcocorrido heartland, up to Texas and onto rural Michoacan. Not only do we learn more of the drug trafficking inspirations and the gruesome Mexican drug war, but also we learn of other areas of Mexican culture, history and politics. Wald is a man of the people and the rural campesinos are never far from his heart. He is equally at home listening to corridista buskers on the bus aswell as being able to snort cocaine whilst partying with the stars. For me, the translations done by the author about the often unknown corridos are a true revelation and, being an apprentice translator, I particularly found this aspect of the book exciting. The book is a real…

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Review: Fiesta en la Madriguera – by Juan Pablo Villalobos

This is a narconovela, a Spanish language work of fiction set in the narco world of drug trafficking. The young Mexican author, Juan Pablo Villalobos presents ‘ Party in the Rabbit Burrow’, a short, fast-moving look at life behind the palace facade of a Mexican drug kingpin, Yolcaut, through the eyes of his young son. Tochtli is shut up in this rabbit warren, living a deluded life of extreme wealth. He only knows fifteen people through his contact with the outside world. He has private tuition at home, where he learns a few relevant facts about the real world. Tochtli is fascinated by sombreros and is proud of his worldwide hat collection. He is fond of the French people due to their penchant for the guillotine. The Liberian dwarf hippos they have obtained from Africa for the palace’s private zoo demonstrate the levels of extreme wealth that Yolcaut has. The violence of his father’s lifestyle and the Mexican drug war reflects upon Tochtli in his craving for Japanese Samurais and obsession with death. He has witnessed some killings at his home and when he guns down some exotic lovebirds it is no surprise. Tochtli exhibits his anger and loneliness through electing muteness, his way of rebelling against the system that he knows. The book is narrated by Tochtli in a childlike flow with plenty of rhythm and decent use of Spanish language meter. There is a lot of repetition of ideas and key phrases and words that enhance the literary beauty of this narconovela. Chapter 1 focuses on an introduction to Tochtli’s world. Chapter 2 is about their trip to Monrovia., the capital of Liberia, in order to hunt down some dwarf hippopotamuses. Chapter 3 returns to the palace. They are betrayed by Tochtli’s tutor, inside details of the King’s life revealed to the media, irritating the kingpin and provoking his mortal anger. There is a clever use of character’s names – the Liberian guides being former US presidents (JFK) and social heroes (Martin Luther King). The hippos are Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. We see the nastiness of Mexican’s über violent social conflict, in a bizarre and extreme mirror, that is never far from violence but has the safety and protection of a secluded fairytale princess life of the ‘Rey’s child. A very good start to me for authentic narconovela subgenre fiction.

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Review: Catalonia Since The Spanish Civil War – Reconstructing the Nation – by Andrew Dowling

This book focuses on the study of the important Spanish region of Catalonia in the modern age. Catalonia has a strong claim to being an independent state, dating back to its time as the Kingdom of Aragon. There is a unique Catalan language and the region has a culture of its own, independent to that of the main Castilian Spanish national one. In wake of recent events in Catalonia, that occurred after this book was released, this book becomes ever more important to study in order for us to fully understand the political processes that are now occurring in Catalonia and their causes. Catalonia was a key thorn in the foot of Franco and the Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War and during the ensuing Franco dictatorship, he never forgot the Catalan betrayal. Inherent to Francoism was oppression of regionalist identities within Spain. Under Franco, Catalanism went underground. There was suppression of the language and I found it strange how the main thrust of survival of Catalanism was to found within the Catholic church, an institution that, in particular, during the Spanish Civil War, encountered a fierce enemy in the Catalan people and experienced one of the most excessive repressions of the church by any area during its history, with many churches burnt and priests killed. Catalan liturgies and church literature ensured the survival of the language and the culture was empowered by Vatican support. Montserrat and its role in society in terms of Catalan national identity became intertwined. In the post-Franco era, there has been a resurgence in Catalanism. A degree of autonomy has been granted and widespread recovery of culture has developed, with Catalan being taught again and used in schools and an alternative centre of power to the central Madrid government has emerged in the Generalitat, its key figure in its foundation being long term president, Jordi Pujol. In the modern age, immigration of initially non-Catalan speakers from other areas of Spain, and then non-Spaniards, has created issues for integration within wider Catalan society. Catalonia is a powerful and wealthy industrial region that gives away about 10% of its GDP to Madrid with no return. Politically it tends to lean towards bourgeois values although working class organisation and unionisation has played an important role. There has been an ongoing rally for votes within Catalan politics between middle-right Nationalists and Socialists / Communists. The book’s epilogue explores the…

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The Cultural Politics of the ‘War on Drugs’ in Latin America: Prohibition and Beyond? – By Dr Joey Whitfield, Cardiff University, 22.11.17

Dr Joey Whitfield is a Research Fellow and member of the Spanish department at Cardiff University. He has a forthcoming book (available on Amazon) titled Prison Writing of Latin America https://www.amazon.co.uk/Prison-Writing-Latin-America-Whitfield/dp/150133462X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1512133181&sr=8-1&keywords=prison+writing+of+latin+america The book details his study of prison writing from the 1910s to the present day. His interest in the War on Drugs springs from this extensive research where he has explored the creative output of prisoners. His work leads him to conclude that there is not so clear a distinction in Latin American jails between political prisoners and criminal prisoners.. Similarly in Latin America, politically, there is not a great deal of difference between democracies and dictatorships. One of the groups he has investigated is the Red Command – from Rio De Janeiro – who are a trafficking gang. There has been a decline if the role of the Urban Guerrilla in Latin America. There have been repressive regimes that are dictatorial. Eg. The government of Brazil during the 1980s The same repressive apparatus that has been used against urban guerrillas is now being used on drug cartels. As the Cold War ended across Latin America the political conflicts gave way to the ‘War on Drugs’. A new class of political prisoner has emerged. US President Ronald Reagan followed on from Nixon’s 1971 declaration of the ‘War on Drugs’. Aid payments to Latin American governments required a certification procedure that these governments were fighting this war appropriately. Often this led to high-profile arrests of cartel leaders in an attempt to justify the aid payments. Also, often there would be swoops upon the easiest people to arrest in the industry. The ‘War on Drugs’ has been completely lost. It is, in essence, impossible to win. It can be dealt with through legislation. The myth that drugs only involve hippies is incorrect. There are global groups that specialize in narco-policy. Leading figures such as Carlo Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa and Kofi Annan, Nick Clegg and former Latin American presidents, César Gaviria (Colombia) and Vicente Fox (underwent a terrible phase of presidency in Mexico during the War on Drugs), all of these figures are advocates of legalisation of drugs as being the key solution to the global crisis. However, all of the important political figures in this list are no longer in power. It is a matter of Realpolitik. It is impossible to countenance wide scale legalisation in order to end violence…

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Estereotipos en ‘Ocho Apellidos Vascos’

En la película Ocho apellidos vascos, Rafa, de origen andaluz, se enamora de Amaia, vasca, y decide dejar su Sevilla natal para ir a buscarla a Euskadi. Después de unos días en Argoitia decide escribir un correo electrónico a sus amigos para explicarles las razones por las que no aguanta más en el País Vasco y quiere volver a Andalucía. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LP1hhPCAfR4     Queridos Joaquín y Curro, Os escribo como mis queridos amigos andaluces. Soy un extraño en un país extranjero. Quiero volver al calor de las playas andaluzas. Quiero beber finos en el chiringuito y comer pescado frito. Deseo volver al sonido constante de las guitarras y bailar hermosas Sevillanas. He viajado por todo el país para estar con esta loca chica vasca con un flequillo. Pero Amaia vive en una tierra salvaje que es tan extraña para un sureño con estilo como yo. Nunca más me pongo el jersey al cuello. Ahora he adquirido una identidad vasca para que yo pueda encajar correctamente aquí. Soy un hombre con pendientes. Me visto con una chaqueta grande y también uso un pañuelo palestino. Disfrazo mi pronunciación para hablar en esta áspera lengua del norte y oye, nunca creerías cómo ahora estoy pronunciando la letra R, con toda la fuerza de un verdadero vasco. Ha sido lo suficientemente convincente para que los jóvenes locales crean que, de hecho, soy un importante líder terrorista emergente y hasta he sido invitado a la plaza local para participar en una manifestación. Ellos realmente creen que estoy preparado para liderar los kale borroka. Mi Alma! Creo que demasiados años en el sol andaluz me han ablandado el corazón. Había imaginado que estaría haciendo el amor con mi bella y oscura princesa vasca, Amaia, todas las tardes durante una siesta romántica, pero ¡ay !, ¡no! En su lugar, parezco estar pasando cada hora del día con su rudo barbudo y arquetípico padre pescador vasco, Koldo. Me da la Inquisición para probar mi identidad vasca, para verificar si soy lo suficientemente puro como para ser su futuro yerno. Por mucho que ame Amaia, su forma de vivir aquí es demasiado complicada para un simple hombre andaluz como yo y ¡guau! ella tiene un temperamento vicioso! Adiós mis queridos hermanos de flamenco. Rezo para que no pase mucho tiempo antes de que pueda escapar de este infierno y regresar a nuestra hermosa tierra soleada. “Me cago en la leche”…

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