Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Dominican Heritage Month, Day 7

Every memory I have in Brooklyn or in Santo Domingo revolves around music. As a kid I had loads of instruments: Mami was hard-pressed to turn me into a Latin jazz artist but I had zero aptitude for the wind instruments and zero patience for the strings. The bongos and congas, however, I fell in love with from jump. And I didn't ever make a coherent danceable rhythm emit from the skin of my drums, but I enjoyed numbing my hands in an attempt to do so. Oh, our poor neighbors!

Even today, if the music is percussion-based I love it to bits and pieces. It's a spiritual awakening. I lose myself in the beats and rhythms. There's no real way to describe it except to say I understand the term out-of-body-experience after having grown up around Island music. It's in my blood, as is the worshiping of saints that many of the musical genres represent. Listen, you can't just take a people from their home and expect them to assimilate 100 percent. Life will always find a way to survive (as we learned in "Jurassic Park").

From the Wiki page on Music of the Dominican Republic:

With roots in the Congo region of central-west Africa, palo shares much the same pantheon of deities/saints as the Afro-American religious traditions of Cuba, Brazil, Haiti and elsewhere in Latin America.

(There's also good [although poorly written] information and videos on the Colonial Zone DR website.)

Besides the music, a lot of my life revolved around some sort of religious ritual. So I was Dominican and Catholic, but more, as I found out when I started kindergarten. None of the other kids at Our Lady of Bedford-Stuyvesant School (yes, that was its real name. Shut up.) had two sets of godparents, and they didn’t promote two baptisms in religion class, either. No one else had a tiny statue of Maria Lionza, brought to them all the way from Venezuela, whom my sister was supposedly named after many years after it came to my house, on the bookshelf with a fresh glass of holy water and fresh flowers every week in their house. They didn’t even know who she was.

I'm not saying we were santeros, but we did santeria-ish things. And the music tied it all in together in a nice neat bow.

Visit your local botanica and play a few songs by Carlito El Palero or some of the Fania All-Stars (I'll discuss them later this month) of the 70s and 80s, and it might give you a small taste of what it was like to have grown up like me.

Wonderful, beautiful, Dominican me.

*besos...lighting candles in a drum circle*
ay, a little extra help never hurt anyone