They may be 10,000 kilometres apart but there are some intriguing connections between the small, island-packed European nation of Croatia and one of the Latin American giants, Mexico
They may be 10,000 kilometres apart but there are some intriguing connections between the small, island-packed European nation of Croatia and one of the Latin American giants, Mexico
Balance opens like a springtime morning, with “Coro del Amanecer” nudging the door ajar to let in the light of birdsong.
It moves gently to add layered beats, the coming or going of footsteps, the tinkle of water and Veronica Valerio’s echoing voice. By the time we get three minutes into the song, we are up to full strength, but this is a soft power which fades to end.
The record is El Búho’s first full-length offering and, going by this example, there will be many people chomping at the bit for even more.
El Búho (‘The Owl’) is Robin Perkins, a British producer who has become something of a sensation in the folktronica scene. He has now moved back to Europe after a productive spell in Mexico, where he explored the country’s indigenous music, traditional instruments and – especially through the rivers, forests and sounds of the deep south – the overwhelmingly natural beauty.
It is the integration of natural elements into his work that makes El Búho stands out. This is not any old hip-shaking and rum-swilling Latin music (as enticing as that can be): this is organic electronica.
It is borne from simple ingredrients: the wash of waves, the calls of birds, the sounds of sunshine glinting through a million trees.
On “Tlacotlan” we hear the chirps of songbirds and the croaks of crows whilst “Ynglingtal” calls to mind sand through your toes against spilling breakers on the beach.
He demonstrates his depth of skill on “Papan” with the layered keys, strings and beats clipping together with nods to glitch-notes here and there.
Three-quarters of the songs are collaborations and El Búho reaches far and wide for his featured artists, from the madness of Cairo, to the floating airs and hills of Bolivia, via Mexican poetry.
The warbling on “Madre Tierra” may not be for everybody and “Brigantes” doesn’t really feel as though it goes anywhere as a piece but overall this is a beautiful record.
Balance is his first album and it drops just as he completes his move from Mexico City to Paris. We spoke to him before he left Mexico and we spoke to him again to find out a little more about Balance and the effect of Mexico on his music.
What’s the next stage for your music? What can you learn from this album?
I have a hundred ideas floating around in my head, going back to music inspired by birds, to music inspired by the folklore of my own country (the UK), making some EPs inspired by the places I have lived, another album. The other thing I would love to do is release a “tapes” or “beats” album of all the many, many unreleased tracks I have sitting on my hard drive! I think I learnt that an album should represent a period in your music growth or in your life. So much time passes between actually making the tracks and releasing them that to you they sound old even though no-one else has heard them! You have to just get to the point of accepting it and being happy with it representing a period of your life but I really think as a music producer you never stop learning and challenging yourself to improve.
Now that you have come back to Europe, which countries are you hoping to take your tunes to next?
Well, I played in Berlin for the first time recently and it was one of the best gigs I have played in a long time. Such an incredible, open-minded, approachable, respectable crowd of beautiful people dancing the night away to 80BPM music! It doesn’t happen everywhere. I will be playing in Spain soon and hopefully the UK for the first time soon as well (kind of crazy!)
And what’s your sense reflecting on the influence that Mexico had on you?
I think it was quite profound actually, going back to Latin America and understanding the incredibly different, complex and diverse context of Mexico, musically but also socially and politically. For my music it definitely opened me up to new ideas, to new histories, to new styles and genres and showed me, yet again, just how diverse Latin America is.
There was a bunch of music I made there on the Tamoanchan and Chinampa EPs and I feel it is pretty different, you can’t put your finger on it. I also always forget that Cenotes, which I kind of see as my breakthrough EP, was written in Mexico as well as most of tracks on the album! I think the other thing was the incredible reception I received in Mexico at shows. I felt a bit like an adopted Mexican to be honest and I’d love to go back and play soon.
What does the future hold for Shika Shika, the collective you run with Argentinian producer Barrio Lindo?
We are astounded by the incredible music that surrounds us. We just put out three beautiful edits of South American folk by our friend, the Argentinian producer Barda, and in a few weeks we are going to release our third compilation to celebrate our two-year anniversary! It is called Eco and it has some absolutely beautiful, killer, slow, deep, textured global sounds on it.
This article first appeared on Sounds and Colours.
“The media in Mexico is tremendously sick but will not die”
The words of YouTuber Chumel Torres, who joined Honduran journalist Graco Pérez for this event at London’s Canning House, the UK-Iberia & UK-Latin America foundation.
Mr Pérez opened in a determined fashion: “a more informed press leads to a more informed population”. He acknowledged that Honduras was a developing country and admitted obstacles to progress.
He said that many reporters practise self-censorship over fears from organised crime, government interference and societal corruption.
He went into detail over the more serious issues facing journalists in Honduras as well, including an “alarming level of violence and lack of protective mechanisms”.
In spite of this, Mr Pérez insisted that press freedom as a whole has been managing to grow through social networks and the space they provide.
Chumel Torres declared early on that he had no journalism background but rather came circuitously into presenting what is his wildly successful online political and cultural satire show, ‘El Pulso de la Republica’.
Alongside what is rapidly becoming regularised violence against reporters, he laid out what he sees as the problems facing the media in Mexico.
Torres noted that “the public sees the press as government puppets” and that the media have “lost their strength”.
His prescribed medicine for the press was the need to “try to be reborn”.
During the question-and-answer session with the audience that followed, Torres touched on the role of the media in the run-up to next year’s general election in Mexico, lamenting threats made against radio, print and TV journalists but finding gold in the dust with a message of hope: “[there’s] a bright path just behind the curtain”.
Graco Pérez said that the media can build up wider networks of trust and influence but must do so whilst understanding the need for meticulous research and extreme caution. He admitted that the environment online, on mobile and in print is still volatile in many parts of Honduras when it comes to threats to reporters.
This blog pondered the rise of citizen journalism and the immediate coverage of breaking news offered by the public through their phones.
The room agreed with the notion that the “internet never forgets” and both speakers agreed that millennials are pushing the pace and breadth of news and the different platforms for consumption.
The two speakers didn’t think that traditional media should worry too much about the explosion in citizen journalism and that there would still be the need for questions, analysis and follow-up enquiries by ‘traditional’ journalists.
Chumel Torres had the last word, calling for a return to what he called “scorpion journalism” – achieved through: regaining trust; rethinking how you are working and what you are working on; and challenging yourself as well as challenging power.
A woman traipses through scrubland, brushing aside dusty bushes with a stick, looking for a piece of clothing, a shoe; anything that may give her a clue as to her son’s whereabouts.
Retratos de una búsqueda (Portraits of a Search) follows three mothers whose children’s names have sadly been added to the growing list of ‘disappeared’ in Mexico. The documentary tells a familiar story but tries to do so differently from similar films.
The director, Alicia Calderón, explained at a screening this blog attended that she wanted to shy away from a simple portrayal of the women as listless and unorganised mothers. Instead, she preferred to focus on their resilience and resolve; the lengths they will go to exhaust every avenue that could aid them in their search.
One of the mothers enlists the help of the FBI in sourcing DNA tests on the alleged body of her daughter. Another cradles a notepad full of names and numbers as she tries yet another call to yet another unhelpful person in the authorities.
Towards the end, we see all three women endure a seven-day hunger strike outside the local government offices.
Some of the scenes are heart-breaking. One of the mothers plays hide-and-seek with her grandson, who is happy in his innocence as he runs outside to feed the chickens. His missing parents have “gone to the United States”, he tells us, but his grandma worries over how and when to tell him the truth: they have disappeared and are likely dead.
A documentary like this, with the subject matter as it is, will always have parts that are particularly harrowing.
One of the women shows remarkable strength to recount the story of extreme violence and depravity that her daughter suffered. Detail by disturbing detail, she documents the violations of her child while she was alive and then the violations of her body after she had been killed. It is uncomfortable to watch and creates a confusing human picture: that this barbarity continues to plague Mexico; how the simple design of family life has been ruptured in so many complex ways.
So what can be done – what policy changes are needed?
I wondered if there was any hope for answers from the highest level of government, with a presidential election due next year. Alicia Calderón replied that the “justice system has collapsed” and the only light at the end of the tunnel would come from the pressure groups established by members of the public.
Consecutive presidents have tried differing but unsuccessful methods to combat the kidnappings, extortions and killings. The day before this film was screened, the attorney-general in the state of Guerrero admitted that his office did not have the “capacity to confront organised crime”.
What Portraits of a Search shows us is that these mothers certainly do have the capacity to confront the disappearance of a loved-one with dignity, determination and a drive for answers.
Donald Trump and Enrique Peña Nieto were civil to begin with but their relationship has been breaking down slowly but surely over the possible border wall
Mexico has been unsure how to deal with both the wall and its proponent as Donald Trump has progressed from Republican Party primary candidate to president of the nation.
When Mr Trump first floated the idea of making Mexico pay for the construction of the wall, the former president, Vicente Fox, reacted furiously. After that, the current Mexican leader, Enrique Peña Nieto, thought that he might be able to apply some pressure to Mr Trump and the brash billionaire was invited down to Mexico City.
At first look, this seemed to be a smart move: to have Trump over for lunch to try to mollify his bombastic plans and force him to change them while he was in Mexico.
It could have been a major victory but the Mexican president was up against it from the start when it came to dealing with the swaggering reality TV star and all the meeting did was embarrass Peña Nieto.
Street protests erupted. The president’s approval ratings dropped still further. And Luis Videgaray, the then-finance secretary and close friend of Peña Nieto who suggested the meeting, was dismissed.
After his inauguration, Donald Trump reaffirmed his stance on the issue of the wall and his plan to claim back the cost for building it from Mexico, possibly through stopping the flow of remittances from Mexicans working in the United States.
Realising that his attempted soothing and smoothing of the relationship did not work, Peña Nieto tried to come out fighting with a firm statement that Mexico would not be paying for any such wall. The sentiment suggested that this was all incredible policy: why should Mexico pay for something that it neither wanted nor needed.
The Mexican leader had chosen confrontation and backed up his words by cancelling a meeting that was scheduled for today in Washington where he was due to meet President Trump on American soil for the first time.
These manoeuvres have given Peña Nieto’s terrible approval ratings some relief.
His figures had been forced down initially by an inability to deal with gang violence and a rise in consumer prices, especially an increase in petrol costs. His deference and ineffectiveness at the Mexico City meeting pushed the ratings even lower.
But a survey conducted by the polling firm BGC and the newspaper Excelsior showed a five per cent bump to 16 per cent as of yesterday, put down to the new direction of travel as regards the wall.
An exhibition displays the struggles and successes of Mexicans living in the UK
Part of the ‘Being Human’ festival, ‘Mexicans UK’ illustrates a mixed community of backgrounds both similar and distinct, of futures aimed and obscured. It explores concepts of blurred humanity and personal imagination among those Mexicans who came to the UK for work or study, for love or family.
It is a collaboration between the brother-sister act of Mexican-British photographers Roxana and Pablo Allison. It consists of 32 portraits: one person from all 31 Mexican states and also the federal district of Mexico City.
Here are some of the images that stood out for me:
Mariacarmen Cárdenas told a sad tale. After coming to the UK with her British husband, the marriage broke down and she went through family and workplace battles. She painted a sorrowful picture of life in the UK but was adamant she would not be returning to Mexico. She seemed to be facing her situation defiantly; a position of quiet strength emphasised in the picture above by her gaze and the political memorabilia of indigenous struggle.
Originating from Baja California Sur, Karla Mancilla’s story struck me as the narrative of water: migration and movement. Waves swell with force and becalm with stillness; they could carry Karla back home, or bar her way. She is from a Pacific state back home and is sitting in the picture here next to a British watercourse. She talks in detail about the oceanic fauna of her state, the whale sharks, dolphins and sea lions. Ms Mancilla lists shredded manta ray as her favourite dish.
Williams Santis came to the UK for family. He met an Irish girl in Mexico and had a baby with her, then moved from Mexico to be with them in the UK. He now works in a car park and as an artist. Here, leaning against an open caravan door, is he pondering the racism that he says he suffers in the UK? Or his proud indigenous roots? Maybe he is thinking about the Irish woman and his child. For Mr Santis, love knew no bounds.
Troubling security and political instability are the main concerns for Michelle Dominguez, as she looks back to the land of her birth. I liked her pose here, caught between two rooms – two countries – casually hovering under one sky, one roof. She is leaning on the threshold against a pane of mottled glass, blurring the views back to where she has come from and blurring the future for those left behind.
The quietness, religiosity and burgeoning economic activity of Querétaro state are called to mind by Efrain Carpintero, who is in the UK researching for a PhD. I felt a positivity coming through this portrait, an academic ambition from a softly beautiful state.
Layered in Nature, staring straight ahead, perhaps Natalia Cervantes is combining her thoughts: a wooded mix of the dusty plants from her home state of Sinaloa and the wet verdancy of her adopted country. This image caught my eye for its natural setting and the fact the woman is Sinaloan, from an edgy corner of the country, and here is painting a picture of the people and the food, tinged with bloody streets of drugs violence, set against the mountains, plains and coastline.
Subsecretario de Relaciones Exteriores de Chile ante una mesa redonda en Londres
El viernes 9 de octubre oímos las posiciones de Edgardo Riveros ante unos temas. El asunto que discutió a un nivel más profundo fue la Alianza del Pacífico, un acuerdo de comercio libre entre Chile, Colombia, México y Perú.
Frente a unos embajadores en un cuarto de lujo en Canning House, dijo que el TPP es un chance de profundizar las relaciones exteriores, un paso importante para el subsecretario, que quiere que Chile aproveche las oportunidades globales.
Observó que el mundo funciona en bloques y redes de vínculos, notando que la Alianza del Pacífico es un “desafío especial”, diciendo que es un grupo que trae problemas para superar. Actualmente, Chile exporta más a los países de Mercosur (Argentina, Brasil, Paraguay, Uruguay y Venezuela) que a los otros tres estados miembros de la Alianza del Pacífico, algo que quiere cambiar el subsecretario.
Después de su discurso, Sr. Riveros aceptó unas preguntas: una sobre la posición de poder de Brasil en la región y la segunda que trata de la posibilidad para América Latina a transformarse y acercarse como la Unión Europea en términos de supranacionalidad.
Respondió que sí existe un parlamento de Unasur (la Union de cada país en América del Sur) pero Latinoamérica “corre un esprint, no un maratón como en el caso europeo”. Por el momento, él cree que hay muchos instrumentos internacionales que tiene que fortalecer, y el rumbo hacia una multinacional soberanía más cohesiva y de colaboración está algo para muchos años en el futuro.
La cuestión de Bolivia y el acceso al mar
Yo quise saber la visión u opinión política que nos pudo ofrecer el subsecretario sobre Bolivia y la cuestión del acceso al mar para el estado andino, que perdió su costa después de una guerra contra Chile en los finales del siglo XIX.
Cuando pregunté al político, unos gemidos y acogidas sonaron por el cuarto, pero claro que este tema trata de Chile y de las relaciones exteriores del gobierno en Santiago.
Sr. Riveros me dijo que su país está listo para discutir el tema, pero afirmó a este blog que “Chile y Bolivia tienen definidos los límites territoriales”. Nos dio una idea de la política que seguirán los diplomáticos chilenos en La Haya cuando dijo “no tiene obligación de negociar”.
Por el subsecretario, no vale mucho la idea de cuestionar acuerdos históricos – “no puede desafíar cada tratado”. Tiene razón que los mecanismos de diplomacia global quedarían paralizados si los acuerdos entre países fueron desafiadas todo el tiempo pero él no puede forzar que los bolivianos olviden sus sueños.
Es claro que Sr. Riveros cree que la posición chilena es una de poder: el territorio es reconocido internacionalmente como parte de su país. Pero a la vez Chile tiene una debilidad: Bolivia no tiene nada que perder y su postura como desamparado puede afectar a Chile, que corre el riesgo de parecer ser el bravucón en la disputa.
En septiembre, la Corte Internacional de Justicia dio a conocer la decisión que sí estaría en una posición de oír el caso sobre el acceso al mar, un paso que fue entendido extensamente a señalar que Bolivia ha marcado el primer gol de partido.
Lo que espera La Paz es que logrará la devolución de acceso al mar, probablemente por el uso mutual de un puerto chileno.
Este resultado ofrecería al país naval un regreso a las olas: Bolivia ha mantenido una marina a pesar de que el país ha sido un estado sin costa desde 1904 – el año de la cesión de la región litoral a Chile.
Opening in a menacing jungle darkness, hissing acid and eyes among the trees, hooded men cook methamphetamine.
The scrubland chemicals fizz as they chew over their occupation: “we know what we do causes harm in the United States”. A thousand miles to the north, peering through night-vision goggles, a weather-bitten man mutters about the influence of the Mexican drug gangs spilling over the border “this is no longer the USA… we are David and they are Goliath”.
These are the opening scenes of Cartel Land, the latest film from American producer and director Matthew Heineman. At its shivering, gristly core, this is a film that tries to put its finger on the pulse of two groups of vigilantes (one in south-west Mexico, one in southern Arizona) who are challenging the bloody philosophy of the gangs.
Both start-up defence movements are led by tall, striking men, who see themselves as proactive spearheads filling a vacuum created by inefficient law enforcement and a terrifying cartel-created chaos. The Knights Templars are the first villains we come across in the lawless Mexican state of Michoacán. There we are among wailing mourners shuffling on grey dirt grave mounds, burying their relatives. A farmer has not coughed up his extortion fee demanded by the Templars. They have punished him by slaughtering all his farm workers and their children, smashing infants on rocks and throwing their bodies in a well.
This sets the stage for the Autodefensas, the Mexican group with whom Heineman embeds himself and his tiny team. He develops a rapport with the vigilantes as they build support, community by community. The men are guided spiritually and physically by a local doctor, José Manuel Mireles. He speaks in town squares as his team fend off the gangsters and replace the army in the forgotten villages of Michoacán.
In Arizona, we meet Tim ‘Nailer’ Foley and his small band of men. Sharp in camouflage, working his weapons, he stares out across the Altar Valley. We come back to the American self-defence team throughout, but Heineman spends more time developing and laying out the Mexican story. That despite the fact that he only originally planned to tell the account of the so-called ‘Arizona Border Recon’ of ‘Nailer’ and his lieutenants. It was when the director came across news of Dr Mireles in Michoacán that he chose to balance the documentary with both sides of the border story.
There is no narrator and we are guided through the parallel narrative by events, be that the moralising of the vigilantes or the crackle-moans of men being electrocuted. There are chilling scenes with the Autodefensas, and the director bounces in and out of cars, capturing the vigilantes’ shoot-outs with cartel members. In one scene, as the men close in on two leading gangsters, Heineman is understandably running around corners and in the film he has left in shots where he loses focus on his camera, the lens jolting and whitening in the sun. This means the action is not sanitised; we undergo the visceral shock of being in a gun-fight. The two gangsters are captured, reported to have tortured and dismembered relatives of the vigilantes. Cartel Land is raw, it is unfettered, the viewer is wincingly enmeshed in the violence, as one man punches the gangster known as ‘El Cheneque’, hollering and demanding to know where his uncles’ bodies are buried.
The director himself admits he is not a traditional war reporter; his embedding is of a different sort, with groups operating in a blurry, semi-legal world. They assure the locals that they are the good guys, but where vigilantes build up a following they can take on a cult hero presence and with growing sway they risk challenge and downfall. As the narrative develops, we spend more time south of the border and Dr Mireles begins to lose control. His mutinous understudies join a government-sponsored ‘Rural Defence Force’, he is frozen out and forced to flee, his civic leader status is undercut by an unnerving audio recording of a sexual encounter with a mistress. His life is collapsing and he ends the film behind bars, suspiciously incarcerated amid claims of official silencing.
The Mexican heart of darkness has been documented before. In Cartel Land the audience gets a fresh view of the horribly regular themes of torture and extortion through the two counterpoints to a transnational problem. The drugs and guns come and go on both sides of the border and the director shows the community resistance building in the grassroots in both countries.
This is most stunningly illustrated in the cinematography in the two main theatres of action: the Arizonans patrolling the wild wastes of the Sonoran Desert; or the blood-red sunset scenery over Mexican towns, with the hunched shoulders of some young rifleman silhouetted against a empty dusk. It is at turns a darkly comic and distressingly graphic film, and deservedly took home two awards at the Sundance festival earlier this year.
Heineman was at the same sold-out screening of the film, at the Frontline Club in London, as I was, taking questions afterwards. I asked him about the cyclical role the meth lab scenes play, used at the beginning and the end. He explained the tense relationship-building that went into working with the cooks and debunks the Breaking Bad-style glorification. Heineman said he wanted to present the drug manufacturing process as it was, in the half-light, lost in the backwoods.
The deceitful tendrils of policemen, politicians, gangsters and vigilantes are exposed then by one of the cooks, who we see at the end sporting a ‘Rural Defence Force’ polo shirt. The incorruptibility of the Autodefensas is never certain and the group’s strategies and members change as the movement grows. The corrupt but, ultimately, unsurprising cycle is complete in this final scene, the drug-running phoenix rising from the tarnished flames of a movement that is turning into the very danger it was formed to confront.
Cartel Land is showing at cinemas across the UK. See cartellandmovie.co.uk for more details.
This review first appeared in Sounds and Colours on 7 September
Cars, skis and crocodiles.
They’re all in this 60-second round-up of some of the stories you may have missed from North America today, on Monday 30 March. Hit the link below to listen.
On Monday 22 September the British Mexican Society held its annual ‘Two Ambassadors’ event to celebrate and promote the countries’ bilateral relations
Once more this fixture in the society’s calendar was fully booked, with a brimming audience anticipating the latest high-level update from both diplomats, held in the Mexican ambassador’s residence in London. It is a congratulatory type of occasion, and those in attendance looked not for discord but rather a chance to cherish the joint ambitions for the future and successes of the past. The two nations have deep links that stem from the birth of the modern Mexico, as the United Kingdom was the first country to recognise informally the new country after independence from Spain and the second (after the US) to notify the Mexican government officially. The two countries have a long and shared literary, artistic, sporting, scientific and industrial history.
The Mexican ambassador to the UK, Diego Gómez Pickering, spoke first, softly to start with as he warmed up by praising the UK’s “solid economic recovery” and “business-oriented strategy” and confirming that he thought that Great Britain was “destined to remain a world leader in the eyes of Mexicans”. He divided his presentation into four sections that roughly broke into: current economic situation/UK recovery; uniqueness of the countries’ relationship; Mexican structural reforms; and the future untapped economic partnerships.
After that, the diplomat went on to look at the upcoming, if rather ungainly-titled ‘2015: The Year of Mexico in the UK and the UK in Mexico’. This ‘dual year’ will “foster better understanding…/renew projects and initiatives”. It appears that culture and education will be the bases of the twelve months of intended mutual positivity, with the nations focusing their ‘year’ on universities, the arts and society as a whole.
Mr Gómez Pickering also looked forward to the visit next month of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall and there was an added regal element to this year’s event in London, as the society’s patron, the Duke of Gloucester, was there.
The British ambassador to Mexico, Duncan Taylor, spoke at length in praiseworthy terms about the “remarkable and palpable goodwill towards Britain [from Mexico]”. He said he was “encouraged by the warmth of feelings” and commented that the two nations thought “very much alike”. He spoke about shared values and outlooks and lauded Enrique Peña Nieto’s structural reforms as an “extraordinary series of measures”. He was on more uncertain ground when talking about joint development projects in Belize. He recognised the “different histories and different perspectives” when describing the British-Mexican togetherness: one a previously colonising country and the other a nation that was colonised.
There were questions from the audience that followed up on three themes: the coming bilateral cultural year mentioned above; science and innovation; and literature. After the event, there was a reception in another room in the residence where margaritas and some Mexican culinary delectation was were on offer. I spoke to the Mexican diplomat then about two matters. Firstly: indigenous rights, which President Peña Nieto had just addressed at the UN Plenary Session of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. The leader discussed the importance of protecting and promoting the rights of indigenous people and their cultures and customs across the globe. Mexico, for its part, recognises 56 languages in use by its more than 15 million native peoples.
I also asked Mr Gómez Pickering on a more difficult issue: the exorbitant numbers of child migrants attempting to cross Mexico’s northern border and the disappearances, murders, rapes, robberies and extortions committed in the deserts and forests of Mexico against travelling workers. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights noted recently that despite the change of government (from the conservative PAN of Felipe Calderón to the centrist PRI) there had been no let-up in the violations of human rights against undocumented migrants. The ambassador palmed off the issue to his human rights attaché, Stephanie Black, who did admit the enormity of the problem and suggested that while the PRI had been addressing the matter there was still a long way to go.