somethin' different

Got home from work with a few random notions of what I would post today, but then found a fix of calm and delight in listening to some handheld tape-recordings of Guatemalan street musicians, as compiled by my friend Bryan Preston (with a mic-cord up his sleeve, as ever) during a brief stay in 2002. Obviously these were made for his own enjoyment and to share with a few interested/expectant friends, and certainly not as any sort of serious ethnomusicalogical whatever undertaking. That said, I find that Bryan's insightful-in-earnest accompanying notes (as will follow this here blather) and the open-air panorama of comfortably unaffected sounds make this as transportative and engrossing to me as anything found smouldering on the shelves of the meticulously annotated and everneglected field recordings at yer local library (if you're lucky, that is).

Street Musicians of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

I recorded these preformers in Guatemala in February and March, 2002. I used a handheld tape recorder which i concealed in my jacket; I ran the microphone cord through my sleeve and held the thimble-size mic between my fingers. I was too embarrassed to approach the performers with my faulty Spanish, but I regret that I did not even try. And the performers I saw in Quetzaltenango may not have spoken Spanish as their first language anyway, as they appeared to have been visiting the city from the countryside. Just a scant generation ago, government death squads roamed this same countryside.

The Sound quality is criminally low.

These are devoted musicians, they played for hours.

Compania J. Sanches Alonzo, Tracks 1-3

1 or 2 marimba players
2 tenor saxaphones
snare, cymbal (bass and toms were not played)
rec. 3 March 2002
These fellows played all day long during a Sunday market at Parque Central, Quetzaltenango; the group was 3 younger guys, 2 middle aged. the sax players sound as if they haven't matched pitch in years. Perhaps the reeds they were using were inherited from their grandparents. The instruments were ragtag & battle-worn, as was the music. In fact, the whole situation seemed to be crumbling, but long ago they had accepted this condition as they did their lack of matching intonation. Only thusly could they so comfortably sound so alien.

family, tracks 4-10

2-stringed guitarron
rec. 4 March 2002
They played and sang all afternoon at Parque Central, Quetzaltenango. They appeared to be a family: father on guitar, 7(?) year-old son on guitarron, young teen daughter on maracas, all sang intermittently; the bystander mother occasionally sang while holding a young baby. Traffic sounds accompany this recording; observe how carhorn beeps provide a coincidental syncopated counterpoint to the music near the beginning of track 4. Birds and passersby provide atmosphere throughout. For me, this recording is a portrait of a musical family, essentially hillbillies in the eyes of the cityfolk, surrounded by encroaching and obnoxious urban life. Perhaps the hymns are derived from the activities of white missionaries, but re-interpreted, re-contextualized, etc. The strings of the guitarron looked as if they could have been shoelaces.

Alma Antiguena, track 11

5 guys on 1 marimba
string bass
trap set
rec. 10 Feb 2002
This track is the sound of a tourist marimba group playing outside a restaurant on a sidestreet off the main square of Antigua, Guatemala. They were all older men. A radio station in Quetzaltenango plays traditional-type marimba music for one hour every afternoon (music perhaps typified by Alma Antiguena, tidy, catchy and repetitive). The elder woman of the house in which I was staying seemed to enjoy it, But the younger people I talked to thought it was hokey. They listened to Pink Floyd, "More Than Words" by Extreme, and commercial rap.

Listen (new link)

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