MARTA GÓMEZ / “Cielito Lindo”

I'm continuing the Marta Gomez thread from last week. I listen to a lot of music, a wide variety of styles and genres. Always tasting; when I find something I like, I delve in deeper. I like Marta Gomez's music. A lot. But initially I couldn't put my finger on what it was I dug about her sound. When I did a little research on Marta—a Colombian native who currently lives in New York—I came across an interview in which she put into words the feeling I'd been having about her music. marta gomez 01.jpg

Almost everything inspires me. The main thing is the nostalgia of being so far away from my country, from the people I love, the food I love, the music I love. Almost all of my songs have that feeling, that homesickness. Generally, music and words come to me at the same time. I am not very patient, so basically the time it takes me to compose a song is the actual time of the song — almost as if someone is telling me the words and the music. It is a very strange and beautiful moment. I have to be alone to compose. I like to make a nice space, light some candles and listen to music that inspires me. Then I take my guitar, and usually I compose right there. —Marta Gomez
In Cape Verde, which we featured a couple of weeks ago, it’s call Sodade. In Brazil, which we frequently feature, it’s called Saudade. That certain sadness at the core of our stuff, a longing for a wholeness, a reassembling of the broken calabash that is us, is our history, our essence; a search for something that is impossible to totally recapture because what we are looking for is not the reality of our past but a romanticization of our historic past. Our missing is a bluesy nostalgia. It is a longing for innocence, an innocence that never actually existed, and yet, the feeling is real. We want to be better than we are. We "believe" we "know" we were better before the colonialists came into our lives even as we sometimes reluctantly recognize that it is equally true that this pre-colonial better had its own contradictions and imperfections. As rational adults and astute students of history we know that utopia does not exist, never has and never will. Regardless, our nostalgic dreams, our hopeful dreams still surface in our music. It’s not self-pity. It’s not woe-is-me. It’s an almost indefinable sense that we who have been/are oppressed and exploited can be better, have been better. However one defines this intimate emotion, whatever it actually is, it’s all up in our music and we feel it and react to it even when it’s sung in languages we don’t understand. Regardless of language, we get the message because we feel the feeling. Marta Gómez sings that emotion. marta gomez 02.jpg Marta’s music also has a strong undergirding of attractive Afro-Latin rhythms that infuse her music with a black heartbeat, tender but firm percussion, drum sounds and handclap sounds. She doesn't look "black," doesn't look like the stereotype of an oppressed person of color, so where do I get off circling the wagons around her and claiming that I hear Africa in her voice? Marta is from Colombia—that's a South American country to the left of Venezuela and Brazil, with Ecuador and Peru to its south and connected to Central America by Panama. Colombia is widely known as the major source of the U.S. cocaine trade. The U.S.A. is all up in Colombia with military aid. There's an active guerilla war going down. Death squads are rampant. Colombia is not a leading tourist destination these days. While Marta's music generally does not directly speak about the contemporary politics, the sadness of being forced into exile suffuses every note. Add to that her espousal of Afro-Latin rhythms and her particular interest in the folk songs of South and Central America, and what you get is a music reflecting the historic struggles of rural peasants and urban poor. In much the same way it is for black music in the USA, the music that Marta sings is political precisely because it springs from a specific social context. Just like us, for the peasants and poor of South America the major available means of political expression is the music even when the overt politics of the lyrics is masked in seeming innocuous romantic sentiments and/or nonsense rhymes. One other aspect to highlight: Marta is sophisticated and educated, a student of Boston's Berklee School of Music. She is also well versed in jazz. She sings the way she sings not simply because that's all she knows how to do, but rather because music is her chosen path of advocacy. She studies her musical heritage. She promotes and proclaims musical forms produced by those who never saw the inside of a school house. Her repretoire and stylistic approach is a political and aesthetic statement. Marta Gomez radiates confidence and comfort with the choices she has made. In an industry over-run with "hot bloodied Latina" stereotypes, Marta raises the flag of authentic social identity rather than commercialized sex-ploitation. Here are six songs, two each from Marta’s last three albums. “Chicharra” and are from Solo Es Vivir, which is my favorite of Marta’s albums. Throughout she overdubs her voice and uses it not just as a backup chorus but also to provide percussive effects. Here, she is clearly investigating the diverse rhythms of the regions both North and South of Colombia. Even though this is a rhythm-rich recording, it is also a quiet and quite calming recording. It invites you to sway to the sounds. “Bolero” and “Eso Pido Yo” (which is one of Marta’s personal favorites) are from Cantos De Agua Dulce. These songs, and indeed the whole album, highlight melody and lighter percussion touches. Gone are the over-dubbed backing vocals, now it's just the softly-soaring glide of Marta's subtle soprano and alto voicings. “Lucia” and “Cielito Lindo” (whose popular melody is recognizable even to non-Spanish-speaking music lovers) are from her latest release, Entre Cada Palabra. Now other instruments, especially accordion, accompany Marta's languid phrasing. Moreover, even moreso than in previous releases, the engineering is impeccable. Every instrument has its own space and there is an airy, wide open ambiance that makes the quietness of the approach even more impessive—we have a beach all to ourselves, just us and nature; we feel both free and private. All we hear is Marta's music and our imaginations. Marta Gómez’s music has the beautiful shimmer of moonlit water, the inviting hush of the waves ebbing and flowing on a sandy tropical shore—it's what I imagine it sounds like as we float in womb water during our pre-birth months, cacooned in the soothing wonderfulness of our mother’s uterus. Yes, that is what this is. Marta’s music has a lullaby quality, and perhaps that is what we truly miss—the most loving, secure and supportive environment any of us has ever known, the paradise of when we were housed inside our mothers: mother-home. —Kalamu ya Salaam 
         Lando, cumbia and the slave trade         
When I dropped that Marta Gómez cut ("La Ronda") last week, I didn't know much about Marta's music. Actually, "La Ronda" was the only one of her tunes I'd ever heard. Funny that it turned out Kalamu was a fan and had all four of her albums. I like Marta's voice a lot and I'll be holding on to all of these tunes. "Eso Pido Yo" is my favorite, probably because it's the one that sounds the most nostalgic. It's the one that has the most of the sad, hypnotic feling we call saudade. (Interesting that Colombians feel saudade too, huh?) Although I like all of these songs, what I really, really like is when Marta cuts loose with the drums. I've always loved the dry, yet improbably warm thump of South American drumming. There is something our sudamericano cousins do with drums and rhythm that is more spartan than you'll commonly hear in African music from Africa, and yet, the South American styles are no less effective even if they are considerably less ornate. For those who are interested, here's a little more detail about these rhythm styles. Last week's feature Contemporary cut, "La Ronda," is based on an Afro-Peruvian rhythm called lando. Marta Gómez's "Chicharra" has a similar sound, but it's based on a different rhythm called cumbia. Here's what wikipedia has to say about the latter rhythm.
Cumbia is a variant of the African Guinean cumbe music. Cumbia started in the northern region of Colombia, mainly in or around Cartagena during the period of Spanish colonization. ... Cumbia is the net intersection of two cultures that settled in the region of what is now northern Colombia at different times; the Amerindians and African slaves. Cumbia began as a courtship dance practiced among the slave population that was later mixed with the European instruments and influence.
So that's cumbia. Like lando, it's the result of African people and African ways of musicking coming into contact with European and Native American peoples and materials. It's amazing that today in 2008, the international slave trade still has to be an integral and relevant part of a conversation about music. But how could it not be? Without discussing these issues, how could or would we explain African drumming coming from Colombia and Peru? It's an unintended outcome, certainly. The original coloniasts were looking only for cheap labor. Certainly, there intent wasn't to spread beauty, but I submit that's exactly what they, despite themselves, ended up doing. —Mtume ya Salaam

This entry was posted on Monday, March 3rd, 2008 at 1:44 am and is filed under Contemporary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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