Saturday, May 31, 2008

Can a Playboy do the Funk?

The last saturday, May 24th, Eu Amo Baile Funk - a monthly funk carioca-event in Circo Voador - celebrated it´s second birthday. The bigger stars like Tati Quebra Barraco, Menor do Chapa, Galo and Duda do Borel shared the stage with loads of up-and-coming artists: DJs, MCs, dancers and even VJs. In other words, something for everyone and something happening on the stage all the time.

The crowd of the event was curiously different from the one dancing to the funk in the community bailes. Girls from better neighbourhoods were drifting around on their high heels, clinging to Luis Vuitton-handbags, and playboys were playing it cool, carrying caipirinhas to their ladies, white Air Force Ones shining in the night. The scene was more reminiscent of the Sao Paulo Fashion Week than a saturday night in Rocinha. This is hardly surprising as the tickets to the event at the gate would set you back 40 reais, over 15 euros, something that a few favelados can afford.

But then again, who am I to complain - which would be completely besides the point of the whole event anyway. Funk for everyone: Forget the class borders and take consolation in the hope that certainly some of those 40 reais (20 for those who have a student card) we paid to get in would trickle down to the actual artists. Everyone did certainly enjoy the show and as the evening wore on, the patricinhas and marcelinhos were shaking their butts on the sweaty dancefloor like any favelado. Happy birthday, Eu Amo Baile Funk. Todo mundo ama baile funk.

Here are a few rather random tunes from the evening's artists. Tati Quebra Barraco, the big bad girl of funk carioca, was already featured in this blog. Menor do Chapa is, ironically enough, a prohibidão-artist singing the praise to the Commando Vermelho. Duda do Borel is the second half of the legendary duo William & Duda from the favela of Borel, more on whom later. Their tune Rap do Morena, below, is a somewhat classic song. Duda is one of the biggest and most charismatic stars on the scene, a proper old schooler, and has performed even in Finland - see for yourself.

Menor do Chapa: Eu tô Boladão (zShare)
Tati Quebra Barraco: Sequência do Entra e Sai (zShare)
William & Duda: Rap do Morena (zShare)

You can read more about Eu Amo Baile Funk from DJ Rideon´s fine report, and Finnish-speakers also enjoy this little clip they made. Or take a look at the event's page in

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Super Classics of Funk Carioca: Rap das Armas

All the guns of favela

Guns I encounter when I walk up the hill, through a maze of buildings hastily constructed of red brick, while dodging the moto-taxis wheeling past: pistols and revolvers are carried on belt even when not on guard duty. Uzis go past every now and then. The definitive weapon of choice is an assault rifle, typically an AK-47. Hand grenades don´t seem to be carried around on a regular basis but are used in combat situations. Sniper rifles are not visible either, they are positioned on the top of the favela, from where they can be used without being seen, in case of a police invasion or an attack by an enemy faction. I carry my groceries past the guns with down turned eyes, without daring to look at the traficantes guarding the close-by boca-de-fumo, leisurely leaning over their huge weapons. I wonder how long it will take to get used to the sight, and if I ever get used to it, is that a good or a bad thing?

Rap das Armas starts with Junior and Leonardo singing "My Brazil is a tropical country / The land of funk, the land of carnaval / My Rio de Janeiro is a postal card / But I´ll be talking about a national problem". In the background we can hear blasts of firearms. Then the duo goes on, "pa ra-pa pa-pa-paa-pa-paa", imitating the sound of a machine gun. The song continues:

"Metralhadora AR-15 e muito oitão / A Entratek com disposição / Vem super 12 de repetição / 45 que ´um pistolão / FMK, m-16 / A pisto UZI eu vou dizer para vocês / Que tem 765, 762 e o fuzil da de 2 em 2 ... vem pistola Glok, a HK / vema intratek Granada pra detonar / vem a caça-andróide e a famosa escopeta / vem a pistola magnum, a Uru e a Bereta / colt 45, um tiro so arrebenta e um fuzil automático com um pente de 90"

Selective misunderstandings

You don´t need to understand Portuguese to realize that it is a list of guns. The song also mentions the Commando Vermelho slogan "paz, justiça e liberdade". Back in the beginning of 90´s, all this made the media do the math: "a glorification of crime", the favourite slogan of all the witch-hunts against the certain genres of popular music in Brazil. "Written by Leonardo and Júnior, well-known brothers from the Valão area of Rocinha, the hit underwent a major process of vilification by the media in the mid-nineties connecting them to the drug underworld. As a result, the Rio police constantly harassed the brothers as they came in and out of the favela, despite the fact that their song was never intended to promote the drug gangs and that their own older brother is a police officer in the Polícia Militar", sums up Paul Sneed the controversy around the song in his often quoted Machine Gun Voices.

This is what the media chose to ignore: the brothers also sing "In this country everyone knows / The favela is dangerous, bad place to live in / and is much criticized for the whole society / But there is violence in every corner of the city / because of the lack of education, the lack of information" and the song ends in the sentence "Say no to violence and let the peace reign."

Ironically enough, the conscious content of the songs was also the duo's weakness, according to Silvio Essinger's book Batidão - Uma Historia do Funk (Record, 2005): "...after four years of struggle, Junior and Leonardo decided it wasn't possible anymore to live of music. Both bought a taxi... funk would stay as sporadic activity, in the circuit of few bailes in the city who were interested in conscious funk, based on lyrics, which, in the end, they knew how to write." And I suppose a little has changed today - still remeber Dança de Creu?

Laws of silence

Residents of favelas are not happy to talk about violence. There is one extreme of presenting violence in media, that of films like City of God. Here the media portrays just the flip-side of the coin, favelas packaged in an exiting, violent form and sold to the western markets. "Most people in the community did not see the film because they can't afford the cinema, and the ones that did see it didn't like the fact that it showed only the negative side of life. It suggested that everyone in the favelas is black, violent and ready to be judged", commented MV Bill on the film to The Guardian in the article already quoted in this blog. "After the film came out, people from City of God would go into town for their jobs as maids and cleaners as usual... Their bosses would sack them when they discovered that they were from somewhere so horrible." Despite City of God being one of the most important films in the history of Brazilian cinema both artistically and financially, MV Bill has a point.

But equally disturbing is the silence of favelas. In book Notícias da Favela (written by Christiane Ramalho, Aeroplano Editora, 2007), the story of Viva Favela-portal, Regina Novaes, the anthropologist behind the Favela Tem Memória, asks how can there be any social memory in a space ruled over by 'the law of silence'. She reminds how, according to the anthropologist Michel Pollack, the society only started constructing the history of nazism when the Jewish themselves were able to discuss their suffering. This is what makes it important that Junior and Leonardo are talking about the national problem.

Viva Favela, by the way, is a very interesting project well worth checking out if you can read Portuguese. Aim is to build an Internet-based media for favelas and so far Viva Favela has been very succesful, every now and then making waves also in the Brazilian mainstream media. While the stories are written under the guidance of professional journalists, all the stories in the portal are by "correspondents" living in favelas.

Pages of a history book

But back to our tune of the day. The extremely famous song was a great hit back in the day and is heard everywhere again after being included on the soundtrack of Tropa de Elite. Despite the controversy, along with the duo´s other hit Endreço de Bailes, Rap de Armas brought them chance to grab a full-lenght record with Sony Music, De Baile em Baile. Together with Cidinho & Doca (of whom we've talked earlier) and William & Duda, they were pioneers building the road of funk into the record industry.

Much has been written on it, but I still decided to post the song, as it is made here in Rocinha, catches a part of reality of favela so well, has a huge historical importance and finally, the guys who made it just happened to live right next to Fundação Dois Irmãos.

Junior e Leonardo: Rap das Armas (zShare)

And as a bonus, a track that is in many ways an opposite of Rap das Armas. The song is a prohibidão funk describing the change of power in Rocinha, when Amigos dos Amigos took over and Commando Vermelho lost the control of the favela. But in addition to being a forbidden gangster song, it is - as a friend who copied me the tune described it - a document of an important page in the history of Rocinha.

Unknown: Track 3 (zShare)

(Unfortunately, I cannot provide any information on the artist and sadly end up doing exactly the same thing as the guys behind the Sublime Frequencies´ much critized prohibidão-collection.)

Friday, May 16, 2008

50 Years of Bossa: Nara

This year Rio de Janeiro is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Bossa Nova. I am far from a specialist in the genre, but I do feel obliged to join the party by posting some of my favourite bossas. I already wrote a post on Onde Brilham os Olhos Seus by Fernanda Takai, a recent album of modern versions of the songs that made Nara Leão famous. Now let's take a very brief look on Nara herself - my favourite bossa artist.

Following songs from the debut album Nara take us on an emotional rollercoaster ride. "When launched in March 1964, the fabulous first disc of Nara seemed distant from Bossa Nova. But the time erased this distance", writes Ruy Castro in the linear notes of the album´s remasterized edition. Perhaps it is this originality and unpredictability - the album not sticking to proven formats of bossa, but bravely including songs by sambistas like Zé Kéti and Cartola and back-then up-and-coming composers like Edu Lobo and Baden Powell - that makes Nara so enduring and interesting.

The first song - "March of Ash Wednesday" - is about the Brazilians' favourite subject of mourning: the end of the carnaval. Diz que moves to a more playful mood and finally Maria Moita is a melancholic classic about two generation of repressed females. The first and the last are also notable for the beautiful lyrics of the Bossa Nova's greatest poet Vinicius de Moraes. Moraes is nothing short of a national hero in Rio, right up there in the pantheon with the likes of Antonio Carlos Jobim and João Gilberto.

Nara Leão: Marcha da quarta-feira de cinzas (zShare)
Nara Leão: Diz que vou por ai (zShare)
Nara Leão: Maria Moita (zShare)

And because right now I am feeling very, very sad, the following song catches the moment perfectly. "Always alone / I live searching for someone / who too suffers like me / but I cannot find no-one / Always alone / and life will go on like this / I have nobody to pity on me / I am arriving to the end" - well, maybe I´m not quite that sad.

Nara Leão: Luz Negra (zShare)

Monday, May 12, 2008

Fresh Funk: the Bad, the Good, and the Ugly

Sunday Night Fever

Sunday night´s program at the club Emoções in Rocinha: the sound system Espião Shock de Monstro and the devastatingly popular MC Creu, the man behind the most annoying song in the history of funk carioca.

I arrive early and the club is still pitch black and half empty, but it wont stay long that way. Lighting equipment I didn´t even know existed wakes up one by one to brighten up room. Bondes - trains of dancers, crews who go to bailes together - snake through the audience and stop once in a while to perform a sequence of well-practiced, synchronized dance moves. It is an impressive sight. There is a gangster with a ton of bling-bling weighing down his neck, a young man drinking beer through a straw, girls in smallest mini-skirts that still hide most of their underpants and a kid hardly reaching my waist, all sweating it on the dancefloor. Tamborzão-beat sounds incredible when played through an enormous wall of speakers. It forces you to dance. The sensation is physical; you cannot keep still when the bass waves make your flesh tremble.

But let´s leave Emoções for a moment and enjoy funk on our humble little home sounds. Funk carioca is more available to western audiences than ever: two noteworthy compilations have hit the stores in the world outside Brazil in recent months, both subjects of a lot of talk in the blogosphere. Prohibidão C.V. from Sublime Frequencies and Pancadão do Morro: O Funk do Flamin Hotz, Já É? from Flamin Hotz couldn't differ more from each other.

The Bad

Prohibidão C.V. is a collection of prohibidão-songs, forbidden drug faction-promoting funks, recorded on field and presented without any information on artists. Collection is either a documentation of an important aspect of the funk phenomenon, or, depending on how you look at it, a shameless, misinformed attempt to cash on the appeal of violence and danger in the western market. A lot has been written on the subject, so I wont add anything, but instead I let DJ Rideon lead you forward. Or you can just take a look at Gregzinho's paper on it, clever, insightful and highly critical as always. I woudn't be that hard on the album, but he´s got a point.

The Good

Pancadão do Morro, on the other hand, is a sort of "fair trade funk collection", as aforementioned Greg, the man behind the disk, calls it in his blog. It looks like a perfect package in every way, unless you count the fact that it is only published on CD (though there is a vinyl EP available). The collection boasts great artists, biographies of them all, photos, the lyrics to each song in Portuguese and English and all this is packaged neatly in wonderful cover art. Images are painted by Tony Minister, a funk legend and a cover illustrator since the beginning. I've been in the process of digitalizing some of the fascinating cover art of the old funk LPs I've bought in Rio and Tony is the man behind all the coolest illustrations, so more on this subject once I get the cover art show on-line.

And the Ugly

To get the ugly one too in the mix, here's a little song from Neo funk, a compilation by Porto Alegre´s DJ Chernobyl, released just in Brazil. The disk consentrates on more poppy hipster acts like Bonde do Role and Edu K, features a few rather unbearable songs and lots of guitar samples. This tune has pretty nasty ones, in a positive way.

Miami Bros: Umbanda Larga (zShare)

The ugliness, like beauty, is in the eye of beholder. Thus I don´t comment on Creu in this aspect, though personally I would put him in that category out of the three available. So let´s return to the Emoções. The secret of Creu is finally dawning to me: interaction.

Creu has perhaps around three songs, all of them based on him talking sexually-oriented nonsense over a pretty basic tamborzão-beat. The hit Dança do Créu - which consists of repeating the word "créu" at an increasing speed - is streched live into a 15-minute performance: how fast can a well-trained popozuda shake her big, round butt? The next song involves the whole audience taking three steps to right at same time and so forth, "Jack says", we all played this at kindergarden. And then back to the grande finale of booty shaking performance. The answer to the previous question: lightning fast. Looks kinda idiotic on YouTube but is amusing in it's own stupid way when you are actually there.

So the Dança do Créu, if you´ve missed it. You were warned.

MC Creu: Dança do Créu (zShare)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Preacherman

MV Bill - or Alexandre Barreto - is something of a KRS One of the Brazilian hip-hop, a self-made preacherman who started out as an MC and has since widened his scope to span pretty much every possible medium of expression and informing. Despite the consious hip-hop usually being more of a paulista cup of tea, MV Bill hails from the infamous Cidade de Deus in Rio de Janeiro.

The young Alexandre initially got into hip-hop when Miami Bass arrived to Rio, the very same sound that gave the birth to today´s funk carioca. "MV" humbly stands for Mensageiro de Verdade, "Messenger of Truth", a nickname given to the young rapper by his fellow residents of CDD after noticing Bill's penchant for preaching the message of the favelas. In 1998 he released his first album, CDD Mandando Fechado, a collection of true stories from his favela that was later re-released as Traficando Informação. Declaração de Guerra (2002) followed some years later and the most recent album, Falcão - O Bagulho é Doido (2006), is actually a sound track for Bill's documentary film.

Bill has published a pile of books - Cabeça do Porco (with Celso Athayde and the former security secretary Luiz Eduardo Soares), Falcão - Meninos do trafico (with Celso Athayde) and Falcão - Mulheres e o trafico (with Celso Athayde). His documentary film Falcão - Meninos do trafico, based on the book of the same name, made headlines and shocked the Brazil. Bill is also a community activist and one of the founders of Central Uníca das Favelas (CUFA). CUFA has spread all over the country from Rio Grande do Sul to Pernambuco and the community centers of the organization have seen guest lectures by people like Ronaldo and Ceatano Veloso.

The strength of Bill's journalistic work is in his position in favelas. As a highly respected resident he can go to places that are beyond the reach of normal reporters. "When I go to the shantytowns to speak to the kids, I'm one of them, so they are completely honest with me. What struck me most was the hope that they all had. I had barely got back to Rio when I started receiving calls from the mothers of the teenagers to tell me that their children had been killed. My next project was to film all of the funerals. How can I be just another rapper going 'yo yo yo' after that?", he told to The Guardian ( 'Only hip-hop can save us', 13.1.2006). The newspaper was interviewing him about the book Cabeça do Porco that collected the stories of 16 teenagers from favela, all of them already dead.

This friday MV Bill had invited a couple of friends from Sao Paulo - DJ King and MC Mister Bomba of SP Funk - on stage of Circo Voador to celebrate the first 365 days of A Voz das Periferias, his radio show on Roquette Pinto (94,1 FM for those around Rio, also available on-line for streaming). Rainy weather slowed down the party a bit and the paulista guests didn´t quite seem to set the carioca audience on fire. But the time MV Bill got on stage - backed up by a horn section, a few violins, a DJ and two drummers - the party finally got started. Bill gave his best performances when rapping together with the female MC Kmila and the chemistry between the two was a delight to watch.

The video for the song Só Deus pode me julgar (Only God can judge me) from MV Bill's second album is largely shot in the capital city Brasilia, with Niemayer's architecture providing impressive ready-to-film sets, and includes some very slimy scenes of giving a birth.

Soldado do Morro (Soldier of the hill) features an impressive arsenal of weapons in the hands of young men hardly on their twenties. Unfortunately, these are not gangster fantasies of main-stream rap. Instead, Soldado do Morro is actually a controversial documentary clip about kids working for drug-dealers. Clip was accused of being "a glorification of crime", despite it rather just depicts the sad reality. Trafficantes toting huge assault rifles are an everyday sight in many favelas: I walk past a number of them each time I go down the hill to the grocery store.

And to conclude, here´s a selection of tracks from the most recent album:

MV Bill: Falcão (zShare)
MV Bill: Nao Acredito (zShare)
MV Bill: Aqui Tem Voz (zShare)

MV Bill in Internet
Home page (in Portuguese and English)
MySpace (in Portuguese and English)
blog (in Portuguese)

Friday, May 9, 2008

A Street Corner in South

There is a very special place for street corners in the collective heart of Buenos Aires. They are the mythical scenery of tango songs, places for lovers to meet and depart, places for enemies to engage with knifes and places for heroes to bleed to death.

There is a street corner in Boedo district of the city, the most famours street corner of them all. The intersection of streets San Juan and Boedo. The location of the legendary Bar Sur. Immortalized in countless legends and the famous tango Sur - "South". South refers here to the working class neighbourhoods of the southern Buenos Aires, where tango originally was born and where most of it's lyrical dramas are acted out.

The famous tango was composed by the legendary bandoneonist Aníbal Troilo, also known as El Gordo ("The Fatso"). The lyrics are penned by the equally legendary poet Homero Manci. It's a nostalgic, desparate lament of lost love and downfall of the beloved barrio:

paredón y después...
una luz de almacén...
Ya nunca me verás como me vieras,
recostado en la vidriera
y esperándote.
Ya nunca me alumbraré con las estrellas
nuestra marcha sin querellas
por las noches de Pompeya...
Las calles y las lunas suburbanas,
y mi amor y tu ventana
todo ha muerto, ya lo sé.

San Juan y Boedo antiguo, cielo perdido,
Pompeya y al llegar al terraplén,
tus veinte años temblando de cariño
bajo el beso que entonces te robé.
Nostalgias de las cosas que han pasado,
arena que la vida se llevó
pesadumbre de barrios que han cambiado
y amargura del sueño que murió.

A rather crude translation would be something like this:

The South,
a wall and after...
The South,
a light of corner-store...
Never will you look at me like you looked then
leaning in the window
and waiting.
Never will I light with the stars
our march without disputes
for the nights of Pompeya...
The streets and the suburban moons,
and my love and your window
everything dead, I know.

San Juan and ancient Boedo, lost sky,
Pompeya and arriving to the embankment,
your twenty years trembling with tenderness
under the kiss that I stole.
Nostalgies of the things that have passed,
sand the life swept away
sadness of the barrios that have changed
and bitterness of the dream that died.

It's probably my famourite tango song, one that still send cold waves running down my spine. Here's three versions for your enjoyment. A fatal, bone-chilling, merciless version performed by the great contemporary tango-diva Adriana Varela - think of Diamanda Galas singing tangos. One by the famous Argentinian rock artist Andrés Calamaro. And a classic version with the composer Aníbal Troillo on bandoneon and, speaking of legends, sung by the mighty Roberto Goyeneche.

Adriana Varela: Sur (zShare)
Andrés Calamaro: Sur (zShare)
Aníbal Troilo, Roberto Goyeneche y Su Orquesta Tipica: Sur (zShare)

The myth of South was also traced in the movie El Sur, from 1983, directed and written by Fernando E. Solanas. Here´s a clip from the beginning of the film, with Goyeneche performing the song.

All that remains now in the famous corner are a few rather cheesy tango joints, and a rumour has it that barrio might indeed be on a verge of a change: Some people think that it will become the next Palermo Soho, a trendy barrio of bars, clubs and fashion boutiques. Boedo definitely has it's own rundown charm, and at least it's still cheap enough for artists and such to live in. Whether the change would be for good or bad is a matter of opinion.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Sky Above Bogotá

The Sky Above Bogotá is a photo essay about Bogotá. It's a story about wind-beaten walls, asphalt shining in the rain and a grey sky. It´s a story about soldiers and old men, metal-fans and teenage-girls, criples and homeless people and many, many others. It's a story about pigeons, books and angels.

View The Sky Above Bogotá as a slideshow.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Some Mellow Sounds of Salsa

A long, long time ago I posted the song Llora, Llora by Tego Calderon. It features Venezuelan salsa-legend Oscar D'Leon - also known as El Leon de la Salsa, that is nothing less than The Lion of Salsa - singing parts from the classic salsa song Lloralás.

Here´s a live version of Lloralás, just to celebrate the fact that I am back in Rio, almost settled in my new little home in Rocinha and almost ready to start my work at Instituto Dois Irmãos - and I am finally able to go through all the photos and music and notes collected along the way through Amazon, Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador. This song came on the huge pile of records that - I yesterday found out to my shock and amazement - had in some mysterious manner made their way into my backpack.

Oscar D'Leon: Lloralás (zShare)

And as a bonus track, almost fresh out of studio, a mellow salsa tune Te Lo Voy a Devolver from La-33, coming from Calle 33, Bogotá, Colombia. Originally envisioned by two brothers in 2001, La-33 quickly grew into a collective than a mere group - with members ranging from musicians to graphic designers - and released it's second album Gózalo in 2007.

La-33: Te Lo Voy a Devolver (zShare)

Friday, May 2, 2008

El Cielo Sobre Bogotá

The sky above Bogotá is lead-grey and alive in a furious tempest. Heavy clouds race across the sky and cloak the surrounding mountains in soft darkness. Vast highways cut the city into pieces and skyscrapers of blackened concrete loom, merciless, above. Huge, grim graffiti decorate the dirty walls. It´s raining, like it´s raining everyday. The businessmen walk over you, in their black trenchcoats, and the beggars limp after you up and down the mountain slopes, begging for una moneda.

Indeed, Bogotá is a hell - in the books of Mario Mendoza, that is. Mendoza is one of the most prominent young Latin American writers. Born in Bogotá in 1968, he studied literature, worked in Spain and Israel and published his first novel, La Ciudad de los Umbrellas, in 1992. Following novels, Scorpio City (1998) and Relato de un asesino (2001) kept buiding Mendoza´s fame and in 2002 the book Satanás brought him the Premio Biblioteca Breve de Seix Barral-award. Mendoza writes gloomy tales of survival in a hostile environment that is the capital of Colombia; violent tales of murderers, robbers, whores, police officers - and often, artists - all those walking on the shadier streets of life. In Mendoza´s Bogotá, the sky is always gray and rain is always falling.

Forgive me for for rushing into this somewhat exaggerated statement: what a huge positive impact García Márquez made in this country! Colombia seems to be full of exiting authors, both struggling to get out of the huge shadow of the nobelist and at the same time embracing his ideas. The young generation has developed an own voice, a dark realism that still carries a spark of something magical.

A collection of short stories Una Escalera al Cielo (Stairway to Heaven), published in 2004, is one of the Mendoza´s more recent works. It starts with a tale of a desperate young man committing his first robbery and failing miserably, a gloomy story with a mood of escalating terror that ends like a splash of sulphuric acid over the reader´s face. After the shocking start, the reader will learn about a coma-patient finding love (in a fashion disturbingly similar to Pedro Almodovar´s Hable Con Ella), a secret that destroys the possessor´s soul, a young man overcoming a lost love through facing the death and an old guerilla bombman´s long wait together with a man who believes in a revolution of mind - among others. The collection ends like it started, with a tale of robbery. But this time, rather than the end, the robbery is a start of a new life: a depressed dancer, after being dumped by a taxist in a deadly sidestreet, gets mugged, nearly killed, and suddendly learns the value of life.

Below is an extremely short story by Mendoza. I chose it obviously because it is only one page in length, but also because it sums up in a few paragraphs a number of Mendoza´s main themes and one of the most surprising aspects of his writing: The strange, bittersweetly optimistic undercurrent of Mendoza´s stories. Saying that as long as there is life there is hope might be exaggeration, but still, every day lived is better than nothing. And this in itself, to me, is an boldly optimistic claim. Despite the hellish environment of Mendoza´s tales, they are often also accounts of human warmth and empathy. Characters of the stories find tender caring exactly where there should be none, from murderers, prostitutes and drug addicts.

(Please note that I am far from a professional translator and neither Spanish nor English is my native language. Thus, this is a quick and somewhat free translation. Forgive me and go get the original.)

- - -

Mario Mendoza:
Christmas Tale
from Una Escalera al Cielo (2004)

It is a few minutes before the midnight. The place could be an abandoned warehouse, a few shops out of service or an antique railway station, since from afar one can hear the characteristic noise of a cargo train. A man is tied to a chair. His face is broken in panic: his skin is yellow, eyes injected with blood, a days old beard covers his cheeks, dark rings under his eyes give him a bad look, a corner of his lips trembles nervously. To his side, a young man in loose pants and a wool cap has the role of a guardian, with a revolver in hand.

The door opens in the back and another young male enters. He says quickly, rushing the words:

- Ready, we gotta do it.

- They gave the order? - asks the first one.

- Yes, let´s get this over quickly.

The prisoner pleas, cries, begs, offers money to his murderers. The men throw a coin to choose the executioner, heads or tails. The guardian loses, he checks the bullets in the barrel of his revolver and brings the gun to the temple of the prisoner. When he is about to push the trigger they hear artificial blasts and the place is quickly illuminated with multicolored, phantasmagoric lights. The hitman turns to look and his eyes are lost afar, beyond the window. He lets the gun go down and says:

- We´ll do it tomorrow. Today is the chrismas.

- - -

The sky above Bogotá is light grey with a slightest promise, but the sun is too weak to struggle through the clouds and rain drizzles down on the streets. Bogotá might not seem like a welcoming place, but give it a chance and it soon reveals itself as one of the more exciting cities in the South America. It is a highly cultural city, a thriving center of modern art with innumerable galleries and top-quality museums, and possibly the most well-read and book-loving place on the continent north of Buenos Aires (of course, there is no beating Bs.As. in this respect, with all the hundreds of labyrinthine bookstores lining the Corrientes). It is not as dangerous as you might think, as areas where a foreigner walks are heavily guarded by the police. And in the end, beneath their dark coats, people are hospitable and friendly - like in the stories of Mendoza.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

It´s Ugly and Doesn´t Like the Cursor

The museum hub consisting of Museo de Arte del Banco de la República, Donación Botero and temporary location of Museo del Oro in Bogotá is one of the finest art museum complexes in the South America. Museo del Oro exhibits a shining collection of pre-Colombian art, Donación Botero includes works from all the central modern artists from Monet to Picasso - in addition to a huge collection of Fernando Botero´s work, for those interested - and finally El Banco´s museum features quality exhibitions of international contemporary art and permanent collections of Colombian art.

One of the El Banco´s recent innovations is the exhibition Net Art Colombia: Es Feo y No Gusta el Cursor, exhibited on an internet site opened in september 2007. It´s a selection of 25 Colombian artists whose projects use Internet as their primary medium.

The name of the exhibition - "It´s ugly and doesn´t like the cursor" - comes from El Neme: es feo y no gusta el cursor, one of the first works of a Bogotá-based mathematician and artist Santiago Ortiz, from year 2000. El Neme is a very simple digital mascot, an animated bird that is both curious about the cursor moving on the screen and afraid of it. It´s a rather simple piece of software, but according to the curator Juan Devis, this paradox of curiosity and scepticism is very typical to the practise and consumption of net art in Colombia.

Without commenting further on the individual works, the show in itself is an important and brave venture. The website proves that the artists in South America are at least equally able to absorb new technology as their northern counterparts. Despite the Finnish being highly technologically-oriented people and Helsinki supporting a strong media art scene (including a number of schools, organizations and festivals - for an example - time for a word from our sponsors - see Media Lab of University of Art and Design Helsinki, now sadly dormant and the yearly festivals Avanto and PixelACHE), I cannot recall similar net art-exhibition with a such a powerful institutional backing happening in Finland.

The website is arranged in well-chosen thematical categories, ranging from the open source to the play. Categories manage to keep a local focus, for an example upload death concentrates on works addressing the ever-present theme of violence in Colombia. The site offers a wealth of information on the works, curator´s comments plus biographies and interviews of each of the artists. Unfortunately - and rather strangely, considering the inherently global nature of the Internet-based art - the website is only available in Spanish.

But without further blabbing from my part, see it - and interact with it - for yourself.