Monday, January 4, 2010

Where have you been!

Sorry folks. Been busy. My mother thought I had been eaten by chupacabra. Not really, but she was worried.

Let's see, January 2nd Juan called up and asked if we wanted to come to some parties where he was playing.

First party, a dedication to the epiphany, or three kings day, which happens on January 6th. The dedication was a bomba y plena group playing in front of a three king's altar. Here in Puerto Rico and perhaps other places, the epiphany is huge. Exchanging presents is done on this day, since it is celebrating the gifts the three king's brought to Jesus, and some folks around here go so far as to decry Santa Claus and not celebrate Christmas in that context at all. (As in, they will celebrate it as a holiday that commemorates Jesus' birth, but they do not exchange gifts or talk of ol' St Nick. )

We started filming, and then the festivities took a more religious tone, and we were asked to shut the camera off. I had no problem with this, but just hope that no one thought anything exploitative was going on. I'm there for the music, and the meaning behind the music, but with all of the utmost respect and reverence I can muster. If I did not bow my head in prayer, it is only because I do not practice religion in any organized sense, and I would feel deceitful to act a part that I do not practice in my life back in DC.
I like to watch people, and I like to watch people praying. It's like watching someone sleep on the metro. It's one of the most intimate things people do, and there it is out in public! When music is played here, it is an act of prayer and I will confess that it is one that I am more comfortable with. I was raised Catholic and still feel bitter about its menace and damnation. However, that is not to say that I have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. I like the images, and physical actions of worship, whether it is playing music, praying, dancing, or meditating. I love saints, and statues, and idols, and good luck charms, and rosaries. But some old man in Rome is going to dictate morality to me? No thanks.
Anyway, we head of to Juan's next stop (yes, this guys can play anywhere from 3-16 parties a week during the Christmas season. He also has a full-time job) It is a family party and the musicians have been hired to specifically play plena. The group is a bunch of different guys that have known each other their whole lives, along with their teenage sons. Juan has known some of them since they were kids. This is the kind of generational exchange of tradition that is amazing to someone like me. I have learned recipes from my family but we do not have a musical folklore tradition. It amazes me that someone can learn to play by ear. It's refreshing to see a six year old put down their Wii game box because someone with a guiro (gourd instrument) has come into the house and the six-year old wants to learn how to play. Real time magic can beat simulated adventure any day, I think.
We do not videotape this party. Juan states that perhaps we should sit this one out and we do. We eat some snacks, meet some family, and dance for a little while. Juan says goodbye, and its off to the final party
Here we meet the rest of the members of Viento de Agua. They are set up to play a big house party in Rio Piedras, which is the university district. There are tons of young university age folks around excited for them to play. Dubz and I start to videotape.
I'm still having trouble with lighting. It seems like the quality is grainy. However the audio has improved, and this is largely because the audio at the party was better. I caught some great footage of a timbale player, and experimented with close ups and some of the natural lighting. I'm excited to edit and cut and paste.
I got home around 3am, and slept till noon. I hit the beach. I know, you all feel very sorry for me but truth be told, filming is hard work. Harder than I thought. Harder than any jobs I'm working at right now back in DC. This is largely because it is new and foreign territory for me, but it's also the schedule, and the coordinating with other people. I wouldn't have it any other way. Grueling can also mean satisfying :)
So Sunday was housecleaning day. Laundry, cleaning, more beach (I know, poor little me!) and looking back through some footage.
Today we shot some footage of Condado, one of the most commercial and touristy areas in San Juan. I want to use the footage to juxtapose it against some of the footage of less commercial areas and interviews where musicians are talking about cultural heritage. Puerto Rico is rife with contradictions, but despite what some people think or may see in San Juan, it is not taking capitalism lying down. Hopefully I can make my point better in the movie.
Next two days are the epiphany and I don't know what to expect. They are family holidays so it might be pretty lo-key and my one chance for chilling out before the 7th, then weekend, then the fiestas de la calle.
I hope to get some interviews from folks on the street about Christmas in Puerto Rico so we'll see.

1 comment:

  1. amen sister! I love to hear those inner thoughts of the ethnographer...filming and recording are some of the toughest parts of the experience. It takes coordination, being at the right place, at the right time, with the perfect angle...and courage. I admire you and live vicariously through you! you're rockin it!