I remember listening to popular music as a teenager. Sometimes the way lyrics were sung gave much leeway to misinterpretations. Some of the most famous misinterpretations have become almost legendary and many can be found on the website www.kissthisguy.com. The site is named after the popular Jimi Hendrix song Purple Haze in which the lyrics “’Scuse me while I kiss the sky” have often been misinterpreted as “’Scuse me while I kiss this guy”. Kind of funny. What happens, though, when the layer of a second language defines how an individual interprets the letras of a song? The results can be amusing, if not somewhat clever.
While visiting Chicago over the Memorial Day weekend, I had the good fortune of seeing Puerto Rican jazz musician and alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón. Being a big fan of jazz and a musician myself, I have followed Zenón’s music for some time. I was interested to hear selections from his last CD Esta Plena, an exciting romp of original tunes that incorporated rhythms of African inspired plena. Instead, I was privileged to hear two rousing sets of brand new music for a recording to be released later this fall. Zenón’s new project will be a selection of songs by well-known composers in Puerto Rican history reinterpreted for a jazz quartet. As Zenón impressed the audience that night in the Windy City, it was obvious he was fulfilling his role as a cultural ambassador.
West Michigan attorney Michael Gardiner shakes hands with a family from Guanajuato, Mexico and then invites them into his office for a consultation meeting. Before delving into business, he spends a few minutes asking about the family’s hometown and shares his experiences of living in Mexico. Although Michael speaks fluent Spanish, a connection is made with the new clients that transcends language.
People like Robert and Michael represent what I refer to as “honorary Latinos”. They are individuals that live or work and have earned significant credibility within Hispanic communities even though they are both… well… non-Latino Caucasians. While their situations may not seem all that unique, some may find it unusual considering the perception of a cultural disconnect between Caucasians and populations that are commonly referred to as “people of color”. Earning credibility, I believe, is only a part of their stories.
In light of February being Black History Month, I was inspired to write a post about African heritage in Latin America. Although many are familiar with the strong African presence in areas like the Caribbean, there are other regions that also have influential Afro Latino histories, communities, and heroes. The following examples reflect a few of these perspectives that may not be as well known.
This month, members of Colombian hip-hop group ChocQuibTown were interviewed by Univision anchor man Jorge Ramos on the popular television program Al Punto. The group spoke about the challenges of being Latinos of African descent, racism, and how they use music as an expression of their heritage and pride. The lyrics from their award winning song, “De Donde Vengo Yo (Where I Come From), reflect the sentiment of the group’s home province of Choco, part of Columbia’s predominately Afro Pacific Coast. Seventy percent of Choco’s residents live on less than one dollar a day.