Monthly Archives: April 2009

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Beyond the uber-famous, internationally-known Shakira and Juanes, Colombian music is a thick stew of flavors and spices ladled in from the three founding cultures of the country: Euro, indigenous, and, most potently, Afro. And, as in most post-colonial societies, it is the music of Colombian artists that speaks most loudly against injustice and in homage to marginalized groups, all the while urging feet to tap and booties to shake. Check these:

CHOC QUIB TOWN, a powerful triumvirate of lyricists from Quibdó, the impoverished capital of the mostly-black, oft-maligned, and federally-neglected department of Chocó, on the Pacific coast. In what is virtually the Mississippi of Colombia, the scant resources sent to the region are stolen by corrupt officials and starvation, illiteracy, and narco-trafficking are rampant. Out of this struggle, of course, comes amazing creativity, manifested in Colombia’s world-class entry into the realm of hip-hop.

Cabas, a son of the Colombian Caribbean, infuses his pop-rock melodies with the syncopated rhythms of his native region. Raised by a musician around musicians, Cabas’ youthful voice and style add a playful air to his aural flirtations. The video below caught my eye when it rotated heavily on MTV, but his most recent hit also makes me smile (the refrain is “spend the night with me, gorgeous, and stay all day tomorrow”).

Living world music icon, Totó La Momposina (NOT pronounced like Dorothy’s dog), represents the epitome of traditional Afro-Colombian and indigenous folk music. Born in Mompox, a colonial river port deep in the swamps of the Caribbean interior, Totó chants and sings over the drumbeats of cumbia and mapalé with the soulful mix of Southern church lady and Yoruba griot.

The “niche” (pronounced NEE-chay) in Grupo Niche refers to a hip, stylish, fly black male—I’ve been called it a few times by people who thought I was from the Colombian capital of salsa, Cali, where this salacious musical combo is based. In fact, no where else in Colombia is salsa danced or played with as much boompangfwap as in the country’s third largest city, very much like Atlanta with its black middle class, its history as the seat of a slave-based agricultural economy, and its present as the seat of a black music movement. Also check out their cousins, Orquesta Guayacán.

Lastly, Bogotá-based La Mojarra Eléctrica mixes traditional Afro-Colombian beats with reggae, funk, jazz, and electronica. The group is named for a traditional and plentiful fish eaten on the Caribbean coast, only electrified like their music. The video below, Calle 19, was filmed on the major commercial strip near my old crib in Downtown Bogotá, so when I watch it, I get a li’l nostalgic for the street vendors, juice bars, cheap lunch counters, car exhaust, noise, and gritty Ande-urban flavor.

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Recently screened at the Havana Film Festival New York, the 12-minute short film, Hispaniola, tackles Haitian-Dominican relations on the Caribbean’s second-largest island.

Director Freddy Vargas shows us how childhood friendships can be marred by issues of race, class, and nationality as we watch a rich, light-skinned Dominican kid befriend the son of Haitian migrant workers living illegally across the street. The opening sequence underscores the misinformation taught to Dominicans about their historical ties with Haiti (the Haitians freed the entire island from European colonial rule and liberated the slaves on both the French and Spanish sides), and alludes to the legacy of former U.S.-backed Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, who ensured that education in the country minimized any references to African heritage.

My only criticism of the film would be that the obvious phenotypic differences between the characters in the movie don’t speak to the complexities that arise when Dominicans of my own skin color (or darker) behave with the same rancor and hatred toward Haitians (or even very dark-skinned Dominicans). And believe me, I love my Dominicanos, but when it comes to the race issue, sometimes I be havin to let ’em know.

Best line comes from the little rich kid when he goes over to see his friend in spite of his jackass dad and tells him, “We’re still friends and we’re going to play baseball, okay?” with all the verve of a knowing Caribbean uncle. A mi mencant’el acento’minicano, sabeh?

HISPANIOLA from Freddy Vargas on Vimeo.

Carnaval de Barranquilla, February 2009

One of the traditions of Carnival here in Colombia is the throwing of corn starch and water on unsuspecting revelers. This is the first time in three years that someone has succeeded in tagging me. Leave it to three intrepid Colombianas down from New Jersey…they had been plotting from the moment they saw me.

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Today, I informed my job that I will not be returning next academic year.

In two months, I will be going home to Florida.

In four months, I will be going home to Brazil.

Stay tuned.

Photo by Antonio Carlos Castejón

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While I did grow up with one or two local black news personalities (plus Oprah) in the 80s, the ratio of colored folks reading about crime stories to the colored folks participating in those same stories was always a little skewed. And it’s always a relief to see a brown face on a news show without hearing “bad boys, bad boys…whatcha gonna do?” in your head. Living overseas, I get my occasional news fix from CNN International, which often diverges from its US counterpart in style and content (they broadcast The Daily Show, admittedly as satire, but solidly left-leaning programming). Also, with the BBC as its main competitor, the vast majority of CNN International’s anchors have haute-couture British accents. And while 99% of the males on air are older white guys (reflecting the largest business-traveling demographic, I presume), the casting department seems to have a talent for selecting attractive women of color to present wars, famines, political intrigue, plane crashes, etc. to the viewing public. Yes, we know inquisitive drive and spot-on wit are (or should be) requirements for international journalism; we also know that a pretty face always captures an audience. Here are a few of my favorites:

Isha Sesay, of British birth and Sierra Leonean descent, toggles between serious, impactful news stories and light, fun interviews as an anchor on several of CNN’s main news programs, as well as host of the weekly regional round-up, Inside Africa. She shows great versatility as a journalist and she just as cute as she wanna be.

CNN recently stole Manisha Tank from the BBC, and I’m glad they did. To me, the square Sophia Loren-like jawline and full features make for a striking assemblage on-screen. I’d be mesmerized watching her read a Wendy’s Super Value Menu. Right now, she sub-anchors the CNN Today news program, but I say give the lady her own show.

One of the few black Americans on CNN International, Sara Sidner represents for the sisters as the network’s correspondent in New Delhi. Not only does she handle tough situations with style and aplomb, like this testy mob following the Mumbai bombings, she also scores points for having a little size on her and still being gorgeous.

Hong Kong-born Anjali Rao, World News Asia anchor and host of the Talk Asia interview show, is always enjoyable to watch. Her interest in the people she interviews is palpable and she mixes in-depth knowledge of the interviewee with humor and warm laughs, as seen in this one-on-one with Kobe Bryant during last year’s Beijing Olympics.

On the weather front, meteorologist Jennifer Delgado (above right, obviously) keeps the folks informed about sun and rain from Caracas to Karachi. I’m interested to know what her cultural background is, considering she’s a member of both the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (like Soledad). Either way, she’s got a lil twang that be slippin out sometimes. I hear ya, gul.

Unfortunately for the overseas ladies, they only give you Errol Barnett, a young, good-looking English brother who got his start on the Channel One high school news network and hosts I-Report for CNN. I guess he’s being groomed to be the next TJ Holmes, but cain’t nobody do TJ’s down-home drawl. Hell, I wanna know how Errol kept his British accent while studying in LA.

Some of my other CNNI peeps: Zain Verjee, Kristie Lu Stout, and Naamua Delaney.

In other news, two interesting faces that I’ve seen on foreign networks are Mabel Lara of Caracol Noticias, the only black news anchor in Colombia (in a country with at least 40% of its people having some African ancestry and where too many black women still have to sell fruit for a living):

And this brother, whose name I don’t know and who used to be the sports anchor on the English-speaking version of this Chinese network (that I first saw in Brazil):

You guys know of any other TV anchors of color out there on the global scene? 

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Photo by Colombian soul

The week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday in all Catholic-leaning societies is called Holy Week, Semana Santa in Spanish. The end of the sacrificial season of Lent, the start of which is commemorated lustily with Carnival, offers the faithful their chance to celebrate with pageantry, color, and prayer, Christ’s resurrection from the dead. In Colombia, as in most Latin American countries, it is in the small towns where Christian beliefs hold tightest, and where the most elaborate expressions of devotion are displayed by front-pew matrons and back-door backsliders alike.

The two largest celebrations are in Mompox, the steamy river station upstream from the Caribbean seaport at Cartagena, and Popayán, the white-washed grande dame of colonial cities in the southwest of the country. Both events are marked by daily masses, processions involving robed participants, and re-enactments of the Last Supper, Crucifixion, and Resurrection, witnessed by thousands of pilgrims from all over.

I, being the heathen my mother hoped I wouldn’t turn out to be, will be celebrating this work-free week solemnly reading, writing, watching DVDs, and hitting the gym.

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Fly Brother is one of the latest recipients of the Lemonade Stand Award!

Adrianne at Black Women in Europe awarded it to me.

The Lemonade Stand Award recognizes sites that show great attitude and/or gratitude. I am proud to be a recipient of this award. Thanks Adrianne!

Now it is my turn to share some lemonade. Here’s how it works:

1. Put the logo on your blog or post.
2. Nominate at least 10 blogs that show great attitude and/or gratitude.
3. Link to your nominees within your post.
4. Let them know that they have received this award by commenting on their blog.
5. Nominate your favorites, and link to this post.

In my opinion these blogs show great attitude and/or gratitude:

A Brother in Sweden

A Cuban in London

American Black Chick in London

Chris Guillebeau – The Art of Non-Conformity

Cool Travel Guide

Farsighted Fly Girl

Nomads and Housewives

Out and About Africa

Style Noir

This Time Now


Congratulations! Now share!

Originally published in the Orlando Sentinel, May 2007.

The Middle of the World is a dusty place. And actually, there are three Middles of the World in Ecuador.

The sun beats down ferociously on the equatorial line less than an hour north of this country’s capital, Quito. A bus from the city dropped me off at a rough-and-tumble traffic circle near a couple of very off-priced eateries and the entrance to the official middle-of-the-world attraction, Mitad del Mundo.

For two U.S. dollars, I entered the site, which straddles the line charted as the equator beginning in 1736. At the center of the complex sits a stone tower topped, cherry-style, by a metal globe. Inside the tower, I found the comprehensive Ethnological Museum, highlighting Ecuador’s many indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian communities with traditionally dressed wax figures and reproductions of houses and fishing vessels.

A pilgrimage to the top grants a panoramic view of exhibition pavilions and souvenir shops surrounding the tower on either side of the red stripe that indicates the equator. I took a picture behind the yellow sign that read “Equator,” each sneaker planted in a different hemisphere.

The second, less official Middle of the World is a few hundred yards to the north along the rough-and-tumble roadway. Entering involves traipsing up a dry, gravel driveway with the hope that no cars pass by and coat you in chalky powder.

At the Inti Ñan Solar Museum, where the equator is “calculated by GPS,” I saw traditional indigenous living quarters, shrunken heads and plastic life-sized natives. There was a seemingly-convincing water test in which water spiraled out of a basin in opposite directions in the different hemispheres, which were marked by a red stripe. I took a picture behind a yellow-and-white sign that read “Greetings From the Middle of the World — Calculated by GPS,” each of my tennis shoes on a different half of the Earth.

The third Middle of the World, according to Google Earth, crosses an empty gravel lot, the same rough-and-tumble roadway and a warehouse a few hundred feet north of the Inti Ñan Solar Museum. I wasn’t able to take a picture on this equator. I found it after I had returned home — while trying to figure out which of the first two was the real Middle of the World.

Please don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @FlyBrother, and “like” me on Facebook! You can subscribe, too! ;-)