Travel in music: Chapter 16 - 2001, Puerto Rico

2020, the world is in confinement because of a corona virus. I have used this time to reminisce on my past through a musical blog series. They will take you through my peregrinations on this tiny, unique earth, in chronological order. Click on the song, use it as soundtrack, and enjoy!

2001 - Chapter 16 | After a winter hop in the Czech Republic, I found myself on a plane to Puerto Rico to join another ongoing project, except this one had gone into a tailspin. Again, my stint was extremely brief and it left me with very few memories of the island itself. This project was memorable for mostly one thing: being the turning point of my relationship with my nomadic job. Up until then, I had been a bright-eyed freshman, soaking in the thrill and the pace of the adventures with wild abandon. Like a dog sticking his face out of the car window, I swallowed the wind with a wide-open mouth, never taking off my rose-tinted glasses for a moment. In Puerto Rico, the first fly hit the back of my throat...


The team I joined was in complete disarray. My director was at the bottom of a dark depression, barely able to work and utterly uninterested in exploring the country. Since discovery had been the raison d’être of the job for me, that was hard to take. Worse still was trying to salvage this wreck of a human being, who crumbled into a hot mess of tears several times a day. I had few tools but my hitherto intact naïve enthusiasm. I pointed to the bright Caribbean sunshine, the white sandy beaches and the kids acrobatically diving off the Condado Bridge. To no avail. Unlike me, who was still aching to get on the rides, she had already spent a full night in the amusement park and knew that, at dawn, Pinocchio turns into a donkey.


A similar feeling would wash up on me much, much later, in Haiti. That is a story for another chapter. For now, for me, the car had not yet slowed. I still stuck my head out the window. I was just a little less trusting of that exhilarating wind, because I knew what bugs it carried. I had witnessed first-hand how the pressure of this this very peculiar job could turn the strongest, most passionate of people into a ball of doubt and despair. Yes, even if the lifestyle that came with it entailed living in a palatial beachside villa, spending weekends off the main island, in Vieques, and listening to excellent salsa every evening.


Just like this post, my focus was inward rather than outward at the time. By my standards, I explored little and, therefore, regretfully have little to share about the place. I do remember thinking its entire status, and therefore its identity, as a little bit odd. Discussions on whether or not the island should push for full statehood and join the Union or maintain the status quo permeated all political discussions. That debate had been ongoing for decades in 2001 and probably still goes on today. Though Puerto Ricans benefit from full citizenship, the archipelago is an “unincorporated territorial possession” of the USA and, as such, the world's oldest colony. Indeed, since 1493, even though its owner changed in 1898, at the onset of the Spanish-American war.


Mixed identities are an amazing source of creativity. Puerto Rico is no exception. It has been a prolific crucible of talent. There is a big latin rock scene, from which I like a band called ‘Fiel A La Vega’. ‘Calle 13’ is no doubt one of the best ambassadors of latin hip hop. More importantly though, Puerto Rico could legitimately challenge Cuba’s claim as the cradle of salsa, and Panama’s as the birthplace of reggaeton. In both those cases, many of the artists that truly popularized the genres were ‘boricuas’. In salsa’s case, it was giants like Tito Puente, Bobby Cruz, Richie Ray, Eddie Palmieri, Ray Barretto, who emerged on the NY scene in the 1960s, mixed Cuban son with jazz, and even coined the term ‘salsa’ for the first time. There were musicians from all over Latin America in those early bands, of course, but the scene itself even bore the name ‘Nuyorican’! From the Nuyorican scene, I particularly like Willie Colón and Héctor Lavoe. The heavy brass section, and the homage to a country I love, make this song a real personal favorite.

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