Program Notes and Text written by Boss Witch Productions Chair Laura Gutiérrez in conversation with Carmina Escobar
About this Piece
Maestro Estanislao Maqueos, who founded the first Oaxacan youth philharmonic band in the United States, Maqueos Music, accepted experimental vocalist Carmina Escobar’s invitation to be part of this project, making them long-standing collaborators. The first time they joined forces was during Fiesta Perpetua! A Communitas Ritual of Manifestation, a durational performance that spread over time and space in Echo Park Lake on two occasions, 2017 and 2018. AL SUR DE LA FRONTERA is both a wink at that communitas ritual and an expansion of the same, as it centers music from the Zapotec region of Oaxaca, but brings in experimental and electronic music into a sonic dialogue. This is as much a conversation about musical styles and genres as it is a brief interchange about our collective diasporic identities. And while we highlight how music shapes us as much as we shape music, we don’t strive to invent anything new, we simply want to co-create as we experiment with and in our differences. Moreover, in this shared experience we temporarily step out of everyday life and, in this liminal space, and the joy and euphoria occasioned by the music we create, we build communitas. We welcome you tonight to this space where we center traditional music and build around its contours to give you a sense of how it feels (how it resonates) in proximity to more experimental, improvised and technologically infused sounds.
The sounds that inspired us and from which we draw for tonight’s program have embedded stories, each piece unraveling salient narratives about the cycle of life, human relations to nature, otherworldly connections, precariousness of everyday living, among other things. Imagining tonight as a shell (“caracol”), its multiple uses (to build, to color), its use as a wind instrument, and its Mesoamerican symbolism, we envision tonight’s container as a shell, moving through it in multiple directions and being carried by wind, inserting us into different temporalities at once.
How music flows and helps create spaces of belonging is illustrated by the opening and, with a slight variation, the closing number for tonight's event, “Al Sur de la Frontera,” gestured movement here is a spiral, we return to the same and not-quite-the-same place. It also gives the name to tonight’s event. Al sur de la frontera is derived from a piece that has been part of the Maqueos band’s repertoire, yet few may know it’s a translation into Spanish of a 1930’s song, “South of the Border,” made popular by Gene Autry in the early Hollywood film South of the Border (Down Mexico Way) (1941). There is something poetic about this song’s travels coming back to Los Angeles through the embodied performances of Oaxacan youth who are shaping the identity of this city.
The snake, “Koatl” in Nahuatl, most beautifully exemplifies the idea of regeneration and the cycles of life, an apt name for the piece that helps clear the path towards celebration, where we call on our ancestors to join us in. In this ritualized performance featuring the virtuous and otherworldly voices of Carmina Escobar and Dorian Wood, we insist on the survival of people from the diaspora. And even when life is hard and feel ache in our hearts, as “La Martiniana” gestures, gathering to sing is a life-affirming instance: “No me llores, no / No me llores, no / Porque si lloras yo peno / En cambio si tú me cantas / Yo siempre vivo y nunca muero.” (No, don’t cry for me, no / Because if you cry, I suffer / In turn, if you sing to me / I live and will never die). Maria Elena Altany, accompanied by the Maqueos band, brings her operatic voice in this rendition of the traditional son from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Cadences carry us, and we are swayed to dance. But movement happens across boundaries too and we put the spotlight on how we gather and build despite the diaspora's insistence on dispersion. “La Putlequita” embodies this polyvalence of the concept of movement, a piece that was created to gather and dance, but its creation is the story of diaspora. A result of transculturation, this piece is in the style of a “Chilena,” engendered by the movement of Chileans through the coastal towns of Oaxaca on their way Northward, movement propelled by the promises of gold in California. Again California comes into view, and through this embodied location, we insist on a dialogue, where “tradition” meets electronic music through the artistry of Baseck. In an event that highlights the traditional music of Oaxaca, we hold on to and hold close those sounds that connect us to a place, imagined or otherwise. Sandunga is such a piece, an anthem of sorts for the people of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, played by the Maqueos band, featuring a solo played here masterfully by the Erre Maqueos, continuing his father’s legacy of traditional music-making in Los Angeles. Before moving to another anthem of sorts, we offer a brief visual and sonic experiment between Dorian Wood and Baseck through “Caracol Púrpura Eléctrico,” their first ever collaboration where the “purple snail” dye, so characteristic of Oaxacan textiles, is here taken to a new electrifying level. This build-up is to segue into Oaxaca’s non-official anthem, “Dios Nunca Muere,” a song that continues to live in the collective imaginary and the Oaxacan repertoire 150 years after it was composed (Macedonio Alcalá) as it speaks life’s continual forces. Here sung by the inimitable Dorian Wood with the rawness of her voice is the vehicle to approximate our idea of God, nature, and our place of origin and through which we feel a sense of longing for home. And Carmina Escobar leads the band in undulating rhythms that carry us off into intermission with a piece called Lu Nisado’, we meet the ocean’s water through this improvised structured play.
The second half opens with an original piece written and performed by the young Erre Maqueos. Here “Yejh Chiaa,” which can be translated to Spanish as “Mi flor” or English as “My Flower,” can be appreciated through Erre’s remarkable trumpet playing. Emerging artists are highlighted in the following piece, a sound art experiment where the prerecorded poem “Ntuku’un In” by Nadia López García is activated onsite via live poetry readings in English by Yulissa Maqueos and electronics by Baseck. Experimenting with different registers and sound structures, and to experience them in conversation, is at the heart of Al sur de la frontera. And so is play, joy, and celebration and, led by our fabulous director Carmina Escobar, Fiesta Perpetúa! beautifully highlights this. We bring matracas (traditional Mexican toys used to make noise), bells, whistles, maracas, balloons to whoa and delight you, as we strive to create a vortex in time where a sense of celebration permeates the air. The astounding trilingual Mixteco rapper Una Isu reminisces growing up in San Miguel Cuevas, known in language as “Ñuu Nùù Yukù” (Face of the Mountain Town). Here, in his own words: “I talk about the place where I was born, where I grew up with my siblings, mother, and grandparents. I reminisce about growing up with huarache sandals, playing with dirt, eating traditional food like mole, corn tortillas with salt, and beans. Today people in my town still plant corn and take care of goats, sheep, and bulls. I pay tribute to the natural landscape of my town, such as the lakes, caves, and hills. Everything I talk about here is part of who I am, the connection to my identity and language.” These memories and this sense of yearning for his town of San Miguel Cuevas / Ñuu Nùù Yukù that Una Isu speaks about, is at the heart of Canción Mixteca, what we may refer to as the unofficial anthem of the Oaxacan diaspora. A song that speaks of the experience of leaving one’s place of origin and the nostalgia that ensues, is as current now as it was a hundred years ago when it was written and composed. Our extraordinary vocalists, Carmina Escobar, Dorian Wood, and Maria Elena Altany will guide us in this deep well of feelings of our desire to return. At the moment where we have opened all the portals for our return, we move towards a collective co-performance in Portales and our incomparable director Carmina Escobar creates bridges of collaboration and communication where the lines between performers and audience are further blurred. This comes at the end of the program but indicates the beginning of the connection that we have collectively created in time and space and in communitas. And a cumbiafied version of “Al Sur de la Frontera” by the extraordinary Maqueos band is our outro.
Ntuku’un In (Memory)
Nadia López García
paa, ta sa´a tutsi ana.
¿Ñantaka’i savi Íín?
ta suku kaxi
in tutsi ña nii.
Miki so’ó chaku tu´un
yo’oku in, paa ntsa’ùn ichi
koo kákaku, saa koi tu´un,
ntuku´un in nikiku Kàkà.
ra yu´u chi’i yu’ú,
koo ní’i, koo tu´un.
What does death smell like?
while you were sad, father.
What color will the rain be?
while it crunched in your throat
an old rage.
The voice never echoed in your ears
from your first root, because you were
path not taken, bird without voice,
memory made lime.
Because they cut your word
and under your tongue they sowed fear,
Ñuu Nùù Yukù (Face of the Mountain Town)
In this portion of my lyrics, dedicated to my town San Miguel Cuevas, also known in my language as Ñuu Nùù Yukù (Face of the Mountain Town). I talk about the place where I was born, where I grew up with my siblings, mother and grandparents. I reminisce about growing up with huarache sandals, playing with dirt, eating traditional food like mole, corn tortillas with salt, and beans. Today my town still plants corn, and still takes care of goats, sheeps and bulls. I pay tribute to the natural landscape of my town, such as lakes, caves, and hills. Everything I talk about here is part of who I am, the connection to my identity and language. — Miguel Villegas Ventura
Ñuu-i, nee i kakui, nee ixa’anu-i, xi’ in ña xá’anu-i
Xi’in tá xa’anu-i, xi’in ndyi’i na ve’e-i, ñani-i,
Ku’uva-i, xi’in nana-i, kòò ndadoso-i xa’a,
kei ixikanu-i, nee isasiki-i, vityi nduku’un ini
x’a sa’ma ixindyixi-i, xi’in ndyixaan ña ixiyi’i
Nduku’un ini tá isasik-i, xi’in ñu’ù
Tsa ikumatyu va’a-ii, kòo ndadoso-i ña ixei
Tá ixanu-i, yuva, ndutyi, ndyei, xita níní
xi’in nìì, asin ndya’a, ixixain
Vityi, xa’an yii va na ñuu-i yuku, xa’an na
kundya na, sindyiki, ndyikatyi á tsixu’u
Xa’an na tyi’i na ítu, xa’an na, kuu ki’in na tutún
Ñuu Nùù Yukù, nee ndatun va’a kuuí, inii kúú va
nee iya ki’in va mini, iya ta’an kavà, Yúkú Isú á yutsa
My town, where I was born, where I grew up, with my grandmother,
With my grandfather, with all my family, my brother
Sister and my mom, I don't forget
The streets where I walked, where I played, now I remember
The clothes I wore, the huaraches I wore
I remember when I played with dust
And I got dirty, I don't forget what I ate
When I grew up, quelite, beans, mole, warm tortilla
With salt, very tasty meal
Until now my people still go to the mountains
They are going to take care of the bulls, sheep or goats
They still go to plant corn, they still go to collect firewood.
Face of the Mountain (San Miguel Cuevas)
Where it is very green, Everywhere
Where there are several lakes, there is also a cave, Hill of the Deer or Infiernillo
Mi pueblo, donde nací, donde crecí, con mi abuela,
Con mi abuelo, con toda mi familia, mi hermano.
Hermana y mi mamá, no lo olvido.
Las calles por donde camino, donde jugué, ahora las recuerdo
La ropa que usé, los huaraches que usé.
Recuerdo cuando jugaba con polvo.
Y me ensucie, no olvido lo que comí
De grande, quelite, frijoles, mole, tortilla calientita
Con sal, comida muy rica
Hasta ahora mi gente sigue yendo a la montaña
Van a cuidar los toros, ovejas o cabras.
Todavía van a sembrar maíz, todavía van a recoger leña.
Cara de la Montaña (San Miguel Cuevas)
Donde es muy verde, En todas partes
Donde hay varios lagos, también hay una cueva, Cerro de los Venados o Infiernillo.