Okay, it’s coming on Cinco de Mayo, so it’s only logical to do a blog post about something Mexican. But the truth is, I really like the music of Rana Santacruz on its own terms, which are solidly Pan-American. As you will see and hear, Rana is a man who loves loud acoustic instruments like the banjo and the accordion. His tastes are eclectic and he wants his mostly USA-born band members to contribute their ideas as well as their chops. The result is something that is a hybrid in the best sense, cohesive and all-embracing—a marriage of the USA’s and Mexico’s musical traditions with healthy injections of contemporary songwriting. The songs are ear candy too. They feel like classics although they have been recently written, and I am a sucker for brass lines that soar like wind currents against a sail. (“Cajita de Barro,” featured here, makes me glaze over. In a good way.)
With all the brouhaha stirred up by the recent Arizona immigration law, resentments are flaring on all sides. But when I caught Rana at Joe’s Pub a few months ago, where he was joined by two members of a New York-based mariachi band in full regalia, I felt good about people, optimistic about the immigrant values this country was built on and I felt a warm link to Mexico. (Me, a non Spanish-speaking New Yorker!) How many musicians, whether intentionally or not, can make us feel that way? So take a break from the politics, and just enjoy the music. And another thing—when you listen to “Cajita de Barro” invite your sweetheart to join you in a waltz. It may not be “hot” or “edgy” but it’s romantic as hell without ever being maudlin.
....If you don't have a sweetheart, this song might just get you one.
Here are the translated lyrics to "Cajita de Barro" (Little Clay Box)
In a little clay box you left a piece of your heart
In a little clay box tied up with cloth and thread
And every now and then I tie it close to my soul and it takes away my pain
And every now and then I grab it and say “I’m sorry”
And when the clouds turn off the lights of the sky
and rain starts falling down
In that little clay box I want to take shelter
And I can’t hide it any longer, and I must accept
That without that little clay box I don’t know what to do
I don’t know what to do
And when my eyes shrink and shrink for crying so much
In that little clay box I start looking for something
And when I miss you and think of you in the middle of the night
In that little clay box I find you again
I find you again
On the latest Global Pulse episode, host Erin Coker reviews world coverage of how the cross-border drug war is affecting the United States and Mexico. Watch the episode below and share your thoughts!
Growing up I never lived more than an hour and a half’s driving distance away from Mexico. I’ve never been there. Although the geographical distance was short, Mexico felt a million miles away. I suspect I’m not the only American who feels this way.
That’s not to say I don’t know anything about Mexican culture. I grew up in Moreno Valley, a far-flung suburb of Los Angeles where nearly half of the population is of Hispanic heritage. Yet my brushes with Mexican culture turned out to be…well, more American than anything else. I vividly remember the tragic death of Tejana singer Selena being a huge news event where I lived. Selena sang in Spanish phonetically, because she didn’t speak it until she learned it much later in her career. Her primary fame was here in the US: immortalized in an English language film starring the Puerto Rican-American Jennifer Lopez.
Mexico in the American imagination is either a play land or warzone, not a place where people live and work. Americans who visit Mexico on cruise ships and spring break also get an incomplete picture. Outside of the resorts and beaches, many real Mexicans live in conditions unseen by casual tourists. If we don’t try to understand Mexico beyond Taco Bell and Cancun, and the only exposure we have to Mexicans and Mexico is through our stereotypes, we’ll continue to treat our southern neighbor as an offensive caricature.
With drug related violence crossing the border, and the never ending debate about immigration, we really need to know what were talking about when we deal with Mexico. It’s not just that America owes it to Mexico to better understand it (we do), it’s also that we owe it to ourselves.
Rupa, who fronts the April Fishes is certainly a multi faceted creature. A doctor, a musician, a painter, a linguist, she is someone who doesn't just sing about life, she plunges in with both feet. She spent quite a bit of time talking to me in New York about the various bandmembers and singing their praises (sorry Fishes, I didn't use that stuff --and readers, it IS an excellent band!) but eventually we got down to some of the subjects that drive her.
A documentary about the band's trip along the border between Mexico and the USA is in production.
On another note, there is a very moving video that while as commercial as it gets, cuts to the heart. It is an homage to Neda, and all the young people who have demonstrated and suffered during the recent government crackdown in Iran. The majority of people living in that country are now below the age of 30-- Possibly the largest demographic on earth of educated young people to be held back by their own government. These days we all know we are watching history when we watch Iran.
The ripples continue to spread outward.