America(s)

On (Invisible) Emergencies

Most emergencies in the U.S. nightly news are conceptual in nature. Ed Snowden dumped (invisible) data from government servers. Healthcare.gov has (invisible) back-end problems.  Food stamp recipients risk their names being unrecognized or credit frozen within an (invisible) government database, depending on budget outcomes. Obama's administration placed (invisible) bugs on Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff's phones. In other regions, such as Latin America or other parts of the Global South, emergencies are often much more visible. Buildings fall. Parts of ceilings collapse.

Cars crash, and one catches fire. Bad rainstorms flood towns up to knee level, and dynamite downs whole shopping centers.

These are not 21st century problems. This is physical infrastructure, collapsing on purpose or by accident.

When I was in the Sao Paulo area a couple days ago, the nighty news ran a story about a neighbor who, in a heated fight with another neighbor, arsoned that person’s house and in the process lit their entire 90-house complex on fire. Let me repeat:an entire block, engulfed in wild orange flames. Watching the story, I found myself (in a sardonic SNL voice), asking, Did that just happen?

It serves as a reminder – beyond our #firstworldproblems like raising the debt ceiling and administering the knowledge economy – human beings live physical existences, and an emergency is an emergency. Whether you can see it or not.

Blessed Are the Brief

This past week, Pope St. Francis conducted a not-so-brief interview with La Civilta Cattolica, an Italian Jesuit journal. Ranging over 11,000 words in length, the Pope divulged his preference in music and film as well as his real thoughts on where to take the Catholic church. He stated, “We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”  He went on to say, "We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible … We have to talk about them in a context." For progressive young religious people like me, hearing the Pope say that religion should be about compassion, and mercy, and creative connection is falls on welcome ears. But judging from the (very brief) sermon I heard this morning at mass, I'm not sure the rest of the U.S. clergy thinks so. It's as if they gave the "Blessed are the meek" idea a taciturn spin: blessed are the brief.

The sermon was not more than five minutes long, and consisted of the rhetorically stunning offering that - get ready -  the Pope's comments were in line with the Church's long-held positions on sexual politics.

That was the beginning. And the end.

I was stunned. These are some of the most interesting statements, any major religious leader has made in decades, yet many priests kept it inaudible. According to the Boston Globe, the US bishops and Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, Boston’s archbishop declined to comment about the statements the Pope made in his interview.

If the Catholic church is going to at least try to give the semblance that it is a hierarchical, matrixed, top-down institution, it has to act like one. When a CEO of a major corporation releases a statement, his or her PR people fall in line. That didn't happen today in the Catholic church, and it looked horrible. The sort of silent mutiny said droves in itself, and it was disappointing.

In today's hypervocal world, the brief are blessed on Twitter. Or Tumblr.

Not the pulpit.

Generation Coca-Cola

Want to a new rock tip? Listen to the music of Legião Urbana.

The new film Somos Tão Jovens (We Are So Young) tells the story of Renato Russo, famed singer  of Brazilian punk/rock band Legião Urbana. Russo's music chronicled the angst of bourgeois Brasilia right before the Brazilian dictatorship fell in the mid 80's. Russo sang about the upper middle class working for the feds, and wrote about conformity, consumerism, and silence.  He wrote songs like Tedio - Com Um T Bem Grande Pra Voce (Tedium - with a Big T for You).

The high-waisted jeans and the wide-framed boho glasses look like something out an American Apparel ad:

Here's the trailer:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xa3izIueaE4]
Somos Tao Jovens is generally surprising. For starters, it's been the best-selling movie in Brazil this year, and its subject is a bisexual emo-hero who died, tragically, of AIDS. To top that, the Brazilian government is the film's top financier. Russo is a rock hero, the identity politics curiously notwithstanding. And that's because his music is so incredible. Russo's music has the lush, larger-than-life belts of Queen, Depeche Mode, Los Hombres G, or maybe even Jaguares. That late 80's love letter yell, with a very natively Brazilian, home-spun punk feel.

Check out the lyrics from one of his most famous songs, Generation Coca-Cola:

"Somos os filhos da revolução
We are the sons of the revolution
Somos burgueses sem religião
We are bourgeois without religion
Somos o futuro da nação
We are the future of the nation
Geração Coca-Cola
Generation Coca-Cola"

Great art transcends borders, and Renato's coca-cola generation is also ours. Certo? 

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uv9lOIHUG4Y]

The Kids of St. Paul

"'Pera!!"
Fernanda stopped to tie her shoe
while Miguel sauntered over to a Leaf Near You
Tomas turned around, on solid ground,
while Julieta went to go ride the pike

The kids of St. Paul are
short, thin, fat, and tall
black, brown, white, and small

Giggly-face peeps
screaming relief

that the parks
spray
spray-mist in the summertime

The kids of St. Paul aren't greedy at all
they are polite, without respite, and
really are a delight

The kids of St. Paul: God loves them, one and all

Mos Doido

In this week's analogy series, American rapper Mos Def is to Brazilian rapper Criolo, or, in his full name, Criolo Doido/Dumb Creole.

Just as Mos Def used to set the standard for independent American hip hop, Criolo is now setting the standard for independent Brazilian hip hop.

Here's Mos Def:


And here's Criolo:

And here's their sounds.

Mos Def's classic song Umi Says:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mcxLFXbECsY]
And of one Criolo's trademark songs, Subirusdoistiozin:
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jlXXmeTOMSM]



There's a reason why Criolo has that uniquely Mos Def and NY "Lions of Hip Hop" aesthetic - urban, smart, and aggravated. Criolo was abjectly inspired by the OG rappers of yesteryear; in fact, in one of his songs, he fondly remembers dancing to Ol' Dirty Bastard's "Shimmy Shimmy Ya." Much of Criolo's early work had that mid-90's hard-core rap sound, and it had the same concerns. Criolo grew up in the Sao Paolo equivalent of Brooklyn - more BedStuy than Brooklyn Heights -  and at the time found only American musicians willing to talk about ghetto life.

Rap was Criolo's, and Mos Def's, entree into their art. But it's not their end point. They're both the baddest - the most doidao - in their fields, and mostly because they're unafraid of their own evolution as artists. Mos Def has swam in more lyrical directions with newer songs like No Hay Nada Mas, and Criolo is now really embracing his voice as a singer, and not just a rapper. He sings beautifully, in fact. Here's a project he did with National Geographic; like Mos Def's newer stuff, his poetry is front and center: 

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bi2sUze9568]

So, who's more doido - Mos Def or Criolo? Well, that's up to the listener. It's not a question of talent, just question of which language you're listening in.

Bill and Aloe

In honor of Memorial Day, this week's cultural analogy stays within the borders of the USA. 
Contemporary soul singer Aloe Blacc is to __________ (legendary soul singer Bill Withers).
The two men have similar stories - living and recording in LA, the City of Angels - and beyond that, their sounds are strikingly similar. 
Listen below - isn't Aloe Blacc the new Bill Withers?

Here's Aloe Blacc's song I Need A Dollar: 
  [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nFZP8zQ5kzk]

 And here's Bill Withers's song Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone:
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jPK9kr4_imM]