When we travel abroad, I tend to spend some time finding out about and buying local music. Over the years, given our predilection for visiting developing nations, this has not always been an easy search and for sure the lagging end of my cassette collection, for example, was music bought abroad long after cassettes had become obsolescent back home.
Nicaragua proved especially challenging on the music front. I thought Leon would be our best bet as it has a reputation as a student town with a vibrant live music scene. But the live music scene seems well in decline, such that midweek there is no scene to be seen (or heard).
Our local guide in Leon 8 February, as reported in my blog for that day, drew a complete blank on both the matter of live music (probably because there really wasn’t any that midweek night) and CDs. We did a little bit better on the CD front under our own steam on 9 February, but only through the good offices and guidance of a nice man in the musical instrument shop, helping direct us to (possibly) the only recorded music vendor in Leon.
The Leon CD vendor spoke no English and probably would be minimally helpful in Spanish too. In broken Spanglish we asked for Caribbean-style Nica music and he indicated that no-one on the Pacific side of the country buys or sells that stuff. Instead, he talked us into buying a second Nicaraguan typica/folklorica CD, probably surplus to our requirements. Still, at about 50p a pop, the extra CD was not exactly a big deal to us. Perhaps more of a big deal to the vendor.
On a Spanglish request for modern music, he simply stuck two CDs into my hand; one named Bacanalero to Brutal, which is basically a various artists mix of Latin American merengue, bachata and salsa music, primarily from Dominican and Puerto Rican artists. This was similar to the response we got in Guatemala 12 years ago to a similar request – except that the Leon vendor didn’t put the CD onto a sound system so we could hear it and thus the locals didn’t all start dancing in Leon, unlike the Lake Atitlan Guatamalan menengue-dancing locals. The sounds on my Bacanalero to Brutal CD are reasonably up to date though and the disc has the reassuringly modern “2014” on it. The other CD was named La Cuneta Son Machin and the vendor signaled to me that this second one was “really the one” in his view.
Our attempt to get some Caribbean music with Guillermo the next day did not fare much better – he didn’t think Masaya would yield anything so we ended up in Granada where he picked up an MP3/CD with a bit of absolutely everything on it, including some Caribbean side music, including the recommended Dimension Costeña, but this is clearly even more of a low quality bootleg jobbie than the regular CDs you buy on the street.
When we got to Mukul, I did a bit of Googling and ascertained that La Cuneta Son Machin is becoming one of the most successful Nica bands ever – half populated by sons and nephews of Nicaraguan folklorico patriarchs Carlos Mejía Godoy and Luis Enrique Mejía Godoy. La Cuneta’s latest album, Mondongo, has just been nominated for a Grammy award; apparently the first time a purely Nica band has been nominated for a Grammy. We’ll find out whether they won while we are at Mukul. How cool is that? Well, just a little bit cool. And no, they didn’t win, but heck, to be nominated is still a big deal. Just don’t try saying “La Cuneta” in polite company after a couple of rum and cokes…
…anyway, it should be easy enough to get hold of this historically successful and current album, right? Wrong. We tried. Mukul itself only sells bog standard stuff – Putumayo world music CDs at over £20 a pop. Managua Airport shops? Not a chance. So in the end I needed to one-click a download of Mondongo from Amazon.co.uk…
…not exactly helping the Nicaraguan economy the way I had hoped (and boy does the Nicaraguan economy need help – the inability to buy local music locally is but one example of the commerce shortage in this country, which has in theory been a liberal democracy with an open economy for 25 years) but at least we were able to get our lug-holes around the album. Yes, it really does rock, btw, before you ask.
Try listening to it twice and see if you can avoid the infectious rhythm and sound being stuck in your head. This is the sort of track that could be next summer’s global craze. I encourage all Ogblog readers to open their windows and play Mondongo loud, to ensure that you and your neighbours are similarly infected, thus all dancing, clicking and buying the album. It’s the least you can do.