When Harry Met Nancy

September 29, 2007

Jena 6 defendant released on bail

September 29, 2007

Jena 6 defendant released on bail
The Associated Press

JENA, La. (AP) — Mychal Bell exited the courthouse, free for the first time in 10 months. He was cheered by a crowd that included the Rev. Al Sharpton.

But Bell’s case is far from over: he’s due back in court next week.

The prosecution of Bell, one of the black teenagers known as the Jena Six, led to a massive civil rights demonstration last week, bringing activists Sharpton, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King III to this tiny central Louisiana town.

Full Article

Fania Newsletter – September 2007

September 29, 2007

September Newsletter 2007


Cool news and hot happenings for all the FANIA lovers out there!

What’s Hot For September!

Last month’s Héctor Lavoe career retrospective – Man and His Music-La Voz became a resounding success—topping the Latin charts and connecting a new generation of Fania fans to the rich legacy of the legendary “King of Salsa.”

Now it’s time for our “Queen of Salsa,” the one and only—Celia Cruz. The new compilation, A Lady and Her Music-Azúcar!. features 30 tracks by one of the most influential singers in the history of Latin music.

The incomparable Celia dominated the glamorous Havana cabaret era of the 1950’s, she then went on to record a series of classics albums with the legendary bandleader Tito Puente in New York City. During the seventies Celia reinvented herself as the “Queen of Salsa” when she signed to Fania Records.

Her work in albums such as Larry Harlow’s Hommy, and Willie Colón’s Only They Could Have Made This Album are gems of the hard-boiled NYC salsa experience and now, for the first time, all the greatest songs that made Celia Cruz a legend are packaged in a digitally re-mastered collection for the ages.

We move and shake along to Celia’s Azúcar and forward into the present with the Fania Live DJ Series. This time around the world-renowned DJ Le Spam (a.k.a. Andrew Yeomanson) takes over the wheels of steel for a rousing journey of the groove-laden Fania vaults. The new mix takes an alternative route, exploring 16 of the lesser-known treasures of the Fania catalog.

For Le Spam the Fania Live 02-DJ Le Spam represented a rare opportunity to bolster his love for the Fania sound. “I collect funk 45’s, all kinds of Latin music, classic Jamaican sounds, jazz of all types, blues, gospel, hip hop, electro bass….The thing I tend to pay most attention to in our music (and to an extent in others) is the groove, said DJ LeSpam to Fania. “It’s really an honor for me to go into the Fania catalogue of music, and select from these tracks. I could have done five CDs. In the end, I went straight for those songs that found their way into my stuff over the years.”

History of Fania

Celia Cruz signs With Fania and Becomes the Queen Of Salsa!

In 1965 after leaving the legendary afro-Cuban orchestra the Sonora Matancera, the vivacious Celia Cruz sought to reinvent her career. After working with Tito Puente in a series of now-classic recordings, Celia became involved in the Fania salsa version of the rock opera Tommy (by the British act The Who.)

Conceived by Fania co-founder Johnny Pacheco and the great pianist Larry Harlow, the salsa version of Tommy—named Hommy—adapted the celebrated rock opera into an out salsa extravaganza. As for Celia, her participation in the song “Gracia Divina” (Divine Grace) marked her full baptism into the salsa whirlwind of New York City. As the new female voice for Fania, Celia made debut at the prestigious Carnegie Hall on March 29th 1973.

The rest as they say is history, and Celia immersed herself with the sounds of the Fania family. Albums such as 1974’s Celia y Johnny produced classic hits such as “Químbara,” “Toro Mata,” and “Lo Tuyo es Mental.” By the end of the seventies, Celia star status was more than assured and she was touring the world with the Fania All Stars.

Featured Artists

Larry Harlow

Fania was always a multicultural label—giving the best artists from around the world a chance to collaborate under one roof. After Johnny Pacheco, Fania’s co-founder, the second artist signed to the label was the American-Jewish pianist known as Larry Harlow.

Stylish, talented and spirited, the Brooklyn born Harlow always had a deep love for the afro-Cuban sounds of the old Havana. With that mind, Fania co-founder Jerry Massuci gave Harlow a golden chance, and in 1966 the album Heavy Smoking was released to great fanfare form the New York City public.

A lover of Jazz, Harlow was not afraid to mix that old Cuban music with the new sounds of New York City—and thus the mix that today we call salsa was conceived. It was because of the successes of the seminal Heavy Smoking that Fania was able to recruit other newcomers such as Ray Barretto and Willie Colón.

Featured Review

Ray Barretto: Rhythm of Life

Barretto was arguably the world greatest conga player. His talent knew no bounds: from salsa to Latin jazz, to R&B and even rock & roll—Ray Barretto’s hard hands gave rhythm to many of the great classics in the Fania catalog.

His music has been sampled by hip-hop artists, appeared in films and commercials and continues influence modern artists such as Miami’s famed DJ Le Spam. The album Rhythm of Life finds Barretto still deep into his salsa but also showing off his Jazz credentials.

Stand out tracks like the immortal “Manos Duras” showcase his dexterity as a conga player. Yet “Amor Artificial” (Artificial Love) demonstrates that Ray was always interested in moving the genre forward—this time with romantic salsa tune. As always, Barretto urged Latinos to be proud of their roots and the Puerto Rico tribute of “Mi Dedicacion” (Mi Dedication) shows us where his heart was at the time.

A fantastic mix of pure salsa with multipart splashes of Jazz, this album is a perfect place to discover the genius of the great Ray Barretto.

New Releases From Fania:

A Lady And Her Music – Celia Cruz

Christian Salsa – Various

The Original Gangster – Willie Colon

Sugar Daddy – Eddie Palmieri’s La Perfecta Orchestra

La Herencia – Tito Rodriguez

La Herencia – Papo Lucca

Latin Soul Man – Ray Barretto

Lo Que Pide La Gente – Fania All Stars

La Herencia – Cheo Feliciano

La Herencia – Richie Ray/Bobby Cruz

Fania Live 02:Miami/DJ LeSpam – Various

La Parranda Fania – Various

Rumbon Navideno – Various

Leyendas De La Fania Vol. 5 – Various

Azucar – Celia Cruz

Greatest Hits – Hector Lavoe

Greatest Hits – Ray Barretto

Asalto Navideno – Deluxe Edition – Willie Colon & Hector Lavoe

Sabu’s Jazz Espagnole – Sabu Martinez

Gato/Bahia – Gato Barbieri


Trujillo meets Tolkien on Junot Diaz’s long-awaited first novel

September 29, 2007


Trujilo meets Tolkien on Junot Diaz’s long-awaited first novel


Junot Díaz’s 1996 literary debut, “Drown,” turned him into the “it” writer of the New York literary scene — Latino or not.

But the short-story collection that made the name of the Dominican-American writer came out over a decade ago, an eternity in the dog years of publishing. How could he possibly follow it up?

His long-awaited debut novel, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” (Riverhead, $24.95) is an ambitious family saga paved with political violence, historic curses, comic books and unrequited love.

“I wanted to play with the conventions of the multigenerational family novel,” said Díaz. “I’m looking to entertain myself. A mí me gusta joder.”

“Oscar Wao,” released Thursday, has fans and the publishing industry salivating. The novel leads the “BEA Buzzometer” for fall releases in the industry Web site Publishers Marketplace.

Does the novel live up to the hype? Yes. Absolutely.

Anti-hero Oscar de León (no relation to the salsero of the same name) is what Díaz has dubbed a “ghetto-nerd,” a bookish, comics-loving, obese teen hopelessly in love with one alluring Latina after another. His nickname “Wao” comes from the Dominican pronunciation of “Oscar Wilde.”

His sister Lola, a rebellious punk rocker and athlete, gives him some harsh, but needed advice: “Oscar … you’re going to die a virgin unless you start changing.”

But as compelling as Oscar’s plight is, his is not the only story we follow. There is their fierce mother, Belicia de León, and their grandmother living in the Dominican Republic, known as La Inca.

“A book about love, heterosexual love, about a male tragic figure, lives or dies by its women characters,” said Díaz. “I was, as a kid, un enamorao. I’m comfortable being around women on their terms.”

The story swings back and forth between Paterson, N.J., and the Dominican Republic, the two places where Díaz grew up.

“I wanted to create a book that encompassed a particular family’s post-WWII moment in the Dominican diaspora,” he said.

The narrator of the story, Yuniol, is suspiciously similar to a character by the same name in the “Drown” stories. And in some ways, Yuniol resembles Díaz himself. But the author is quick to point out that he is not Yuniol. “Yuniol and Oscar are ‘almost-me’s,’ ” he said.

A self-described ghettonerd, Díaz said that the two characters are flip sides of the same coin. Like Yuniol, he could have gotten into trouble with his more “hoodlum” friends, or “I could have turned into Oscar in two seconds.”

The structure of the novel also strays from the typical family melodrama. Interruptions, sidebars and footnotes abound.

The Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo — who ruled the country with an iron fist from 1930 until his assassination in 1961 — is compared with science-fiction and fantasy villains such as Sauron from the “Lord of the Rings” novels. And the “fukú,” a curse supposedly brought into the New World by Columbus, hangs over all the characters, especially Oscar.

This sense of playing with convention is what Díaz finds missing from much of contemporary Latino literature. He believes many writers merely adopt literary clichés rather than challenging them.

“I never understood how you could have a multigenerational family drama and be so un-nutritious,” he said.

Even popular forms like the telenovela are more willing to mess with their formulas, he said. “Novela [soap opera] writers don’t seem to have a problem playing.”

To the inevitable question of why did it take so long for the followup, Díaz said that he has been writing at least three different projects that hit dead ends.

But he said he will take up one of those novels, a science-fiction project, during a year-long fellowship in Rome from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which he will start after the book tour ends.

For the year, he will take a leave of absence as a writing professor at MIT in Cambridge, Mass., a job he will surely miss. When he’s not teaching, he lives in East Harlem.

“As an activist and human being I think it’s a sacred function to mentor and teach,” he said. “It’s one of the ways I give back.”

US prison population at all time high

September 29, 2007


US prison population at all time high
By Naomi Spencer
29 September 2007

The “war on terror” is endlessly peddled by the American political establishment as a crusade for freedom and liberty around the world. Yet, as the latest prison figures again demonstrate, far from representing freedom, justice and democracy, the United States is notorious for its propensity to jail its own population.

The US incarcerates a far higher percentage of its population than any other country, with its prison population accounting for fully a quarter of the world’s prisoners. In 2006, newly released Census Bureau data indicate, the US incarcerated population stood at 2.1 million. According to separate figures put out by the Justice Department, by June 30, 2006, the prison population stood at well over 2.2 million.

No other country in the world comes close to these numbers. The far more populous China ranks second, with a prison population of approximately 1.5 million. The number of incarcerated persons in the US now exceeds the population of all but three cities in the country, and is equivalent to the combined populations of Seattle, Boston, Atlanta and Washington, D.C.

The number of inmates held in US state and federal prisons in 2006 was more than double the 1990 prison population, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The research and advocacy group The Sentencing Project estimates that in 2006, one in every 133 Americans was in prison or jail. Excluding the child population from the total brings this ratio close to one in every 100 adults behind bars.

Minorities continue to make up an enormously disproportionate percentage of the incarcerated. Approximately 41 percent of the adult correctional population were black in 2006, and 19 percent were Hispanic. One in every nine black men between the ages of 25 and 29 were incarcerated in 2006, as were one in 26 Hispanic and one in 59 white men of the same age group. According to the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, black men have a one in three chance of serving time in prison at some point in their lives; Hispanic men have a 17 percent chance; white men have a 6 percent chance.

The Census survey also found an increase of the female incarcerated population. As a percentage of the total prison population, women increased from 8 percent in 1990 to 10 percent in 2006.

Since the late 1970s, the prison population has increased sixfold, and the number of people on probation or parole has also skyrocketed. The overall correctional population (either in prison or on parole) has grown during this time from 1.8 million to well over 7 million people. Another 4.3 million ex-convicts live in the US. The total population of the United States is approximately 300 million.

The figures from the Justice Department and Census measure the number of prisoners at any given time. However, during the course of one year, a far larger number of people spend at least some time behind bars. According to the 2007 Public Safety Performance review by the Pew Charitable Trusts, more than 600,000 people are admitted to state and federal prisons, and more than 10 million spend time in local jails, over the course of any given year.

Driving this increase in prisoners has been a shift from rehabilitative to punitive “tough on crime” policies. The incarceration rate increased dramatically beginning in the early 1990s, in tandem with a drastic growth in inequality and the dismantling of social programs. While the rich amass ever-higher concentrations of wealth, social infrastructure and economic opportunities have deteriorated.

The crumbling of industry, education, healthcare and drug rehabilitation programs in America finds its consequences in all the social ills plaguing society’s poorest layers—unemployment, debt, despair, addiction, homelessness—and gives rise to domestic disturbances, theft, and property and drug crimes. The response of the ruling elite to these problems is more prisons.

Another unsurprising consequence of this economic polarization has been an increasingly aggressive policing of minor crimes. State legislatures have enacted laws that have removed much of the judicial system’s ability to make independent decisions outside of severe sentencing laws. Drug possession, child support non-payment, shoplifting, and other various minor offenses catch more of the poor in “three-strikes laws,” which mandate long sentences for repeat offenders.

At the same time, funding has been redirected away from public defense and rehabilitation programs and toward prosecution and punishment. Even as violent crime has dropped over the past decade, longer and more rigid mandatory sentences for non-violent offenses have resulted in the huge growth in incarceration.

As Allen Beck, deputy director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, told the Washington Post, “The growth wasn’t really about increasing crime but how we chose to respond to crime. When you increase the likelihood of a person going to prison for a conviction, and then you increase how long you keep them there, it has a profound effect.”

According to a new report from The Sentencing Project, drug arrests have more than tripled in the last 25 years, to a record 1.8 million arrests in 2005. The so-called war on drugs has pushed the number of incarcerated drug offenders up by 1,100 percent since 1980. During this same period, rates of drug use declined by half.

The overwhelming majority of drug arrests are for possession of marijuana, and most persons in prison for a drug offense have no history of violence or high-level drug selling activity.

The racial disparity is enormous in drug sentencing as well. The Sentencing Project reports that while blacks constitute 14 percent of regular drug users in the US, they make up 37 percent of those arrested for drug offenses and 56 percent of those held in state prison for drugs.

The number of prisoners held without being sentenced is also on the rise, according to the Justice Department figures. In 2006, 62 percent of jail inmates were awaiting trial, up from 51 percent in 1990 and 56 percent in 2000. Most were arrested on drug offenses.

The number of prisoners held in private, for-profit facilities rose by more than 10 percent in one year. This represents a dramatic leap in the growth of the for-profit prison industry that dovetails with the growth of police state measures at large. The prison industry—the network of private companies that operate the prison system—now has annual revenues of approximately $40 billion a year.

Virtually all of these prisons are horrifically overcrowded. State prisons were operating at 99 to 113 percent of capacity, and the federal prison system was operating at 134 percent of capacity. This compounds the dangers and brutality of prison life. Inmates are exposed to physical and sexual assault, and put at risk for diseases such as HIV/AIDS or developing mental illness.

The Klan

September 29, 2007

The Klan

Countryside was cold and still
There were three crosses on the hill
Each one wore a burning hood
To hide its rotten core of wood
And I say father, father I hear an iron sound
Hoof beats on the frozen ground
And downhill the riders came
Lord it was a cryin’ shame
To see the blood upon their whips
To hear the snarlin’ from their lips
And I cried mother, mother I feel a stabbing pain
Blood runs down like summers rain
And each one wore a mask of white
To hide his cruel face from sight
And each one sucked a hungry breath
Out of the empty lungs of death
And I say sister, sister, I need you to take my hand
It’s always lonely when it’s time to stand
He who rides with the klan
Is a devil and not a man
For underneath his white disguise
I have looked into his eyes
And I say brother, brother, stand by me
It’s not so easy to be free
Father, mother, sister, brother, stand by me
It’s not so easy to be free
It’s not so easy to be free
It’s not so easy to be free
Nobody ever said it would be easy
Nobody ever said it would be easy
It’s not so easy, no it’s not so easy

– Gil Scott-Heron

Music Video of the Week

September 29, 2007

Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros – Redemption Song

4 Years

September 29, 2007

Jerry Rivera Sings Carlos Gardel Tangos With a Salsa Beat

September 29, 2007

There probably aren’t too many Salsa singers that would even attempt such an endeavor. Jerry Rivera deserves kudos for going forward with this big artistic challenge and for introducing Carlos Gardel and the beauty and brilliance of Tango to a new audience. At the same time he’s definitely leaving himself wide open for all kinds of criticism but that is always the case with artists who choose to follow their creative vision above anything else. Isn’t it?

Jerry Rivera Sings Carlos Gardel Tangos With a Salsa Beat

By Jorge J. Muniz Ortiz — EFE

Puerto Rican salsa singer Jerry Rivera, whose new album “Caribe Gardel” (Caribbean Gardel) went on sale this week, told Efe he would like to be known as a “unique” artist for having met the challenge of blending lyrics and tunes from different genres.

In his latest production, dedicated to the late Argentine musical icon, Rivera melds some of Carlos Gardel’s tango classics and best known ballads including “Volver” (Return), “Cuesta Abajo (Downhill), “Yira Yira,” and “El Dia que Me Quieras” (The Day You Love Me), with salsa, bachata, cha-cha-cha and danzon rhythms.

Full Article

Latin Music Picks of the Month

September 29, 2007




Paquito D’Rivera & Chano Domínguez

Quartier Latin

Opus Arte

It’s rare to have two musical masters collaborate for a full concert. Rarer still is that performance captured by cameras. Lucky for music fans, last April at the Teatro Real de Madrid, two of Latin jazz’s most talented fusionists, veteran Cuban saxophonist/clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera and “New Flamenco Sound” creator, Spanish pianist Chano Domínguez, united for the first time. The concert, now available on DVD, turns out to be one of the most enjoyable live jazz recordings ever.

With the set of Puccini’s “La Bohéme” as the backdrop, the D’Rivera’s and Domínguez’s exciting blend of jazz, Latin, flamenco, African and Caribbean sound made it feel as if it were an outdoor performance.

The musical interaction between the two is breathtaking. Domínguez picks up D’Rivera’s finishing notes, creating masterful solos by caressing and punishing the ivory. Meanwhile, D’Rivera joyfully dances with his saxophone and clarinet belting out long, beautiful solos.

With every note they play and from their natural and playful interaction, it’s obvious that D’Rivera and Domínguez have a profound respect for each other.

“Selena: 10th anniversary special edition”

Warner Home Video

To watch Jennifer Lopez play fallen Tejano star Selena all over again is a reminder of how much the life and story of the slain singer would inspire the Bronx bombshell. This is Lopez before Puffy, Chris Judd and Bennifer. The film is proof that Lopez can act. And now with this new offering – a re-mastered 10th Anniversary Special Edition DVD with never before released footage – Selena and J.Lo fans will be in heaven.

For the price of one, you’ll get two gems. Besides the original film, directed by Oscar nominated filmmaker Gregory Nava, the disc includes a new and re-mastered cut by Nava which is 45-minutes longer.

In one new scene it’s revealed that the Quintanilla family was briefly on welfare. Nava also included more footage of a young Selena – before the Grammy’s and before the success.

The bonus, a featurette of the making of the movie with interviews with the entire cast and the Quintanilla Perez family, is alone worth the price of admission. It’s in English with Spanish subtitles.

“The Roots of Chicha: Psychedelic Cumbia from Peru”

Barbès Records

Various artists

Pour the pisca sours and pop in “The Roots of Chicha: Psychedelic Cumbia from Peru.” This vibrant and trippy collection of Andean cumbias or chichas – 17 in all – seems like a romp in a dusty outpost of any Peruvian town. The genre was inspired by the traditional music of Colombia but when they hit Peru, these cumbias transformed into something unique.

The sounds are layered with Andean folktales, melodies and instruments – pentatonic scales, synthesizers, organs, “wah wah” pedals and surf guitars – and the result is like a scorching chupe de camarones. The sound is at once gritty and sophisticated.

Chicha is named after a corn-based liquor believed to be the drink of choice of the Incas. But when it spread to Lima, it took hold of urban dwellers and continued its transformation with bits of rock and Cuban guajiras.

Olivier Conan, a French musician and co-owner of Barbès (a Park Slope bar that plays about any kind of music in world), was so bewitched by these sounds on a visit to Peru, he tracked down the masters and brought this collection up north.