Latin American overtures..

Yesterday, I saw Wim Wenders’ documentary about the Buena Vista Social Club, the record made by a rag tag collection of old Cuban musicians and singers under the gentle supervision of travelling musician and producer, Ry Cooder.

The film contains concert and studio footage, interviews with the musicians and atmospheric footage from the streets of Havana, all mixed together in a rather discordant whole. I actively disliked the cinematography with its constant panning, moving around in a way that almost make the viewer nauseous, and I found the footage unspectacular in general. The film works well in spite of this, due to an extremely worthwhile subject matter. All of the Cuban musicians are charming old men who really enjoy their music, and their life and it shows. And, of course, the music is brilliant.

What the film does convey with great success is a sort of magical Latin American ambience that is hard to explain. A lot of people familiar with the works of Gabriel García Márquez will recognize that light, almost otherworldly human touch.

I often, unsuccessfully recommend the Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano‘s book Memory of Fire to people interested in Latin America. Galeano’s book is a wonderfully poetic three volume work on the history of the New World, divided into hundreds of small stories chronologically ordered and intricately interconnected through the wonders of history itself.

I suppose the sheer size of the work is enough to scare most people away, which is a shame as it is a very light and enjoyable read. Galeano has also written a most wonderful book about football which any football fan (IMNSHO) ought to read.

Finally, to give a small example of Galeano’s style, I’ve picked a piece from his latest book, Upside Down. I hope you’ll excuse the rather heavyhanded translation from the Danish..

“The human refuse: Street urchins, hobos, beggars, prostitutes, transvestites, homosexuals, pickpockets and other petty criminals, drug addicts, drunks, cigarette butt collectors. In 1993, the human refuse of Columbia suddenly appeared from their hiding places beneath the rocks and gathered in protest. The demonstration started at the revelation that the police groups of social purging were killing beggars and selling the corpses to students at the Universidad Libre in Barranquilla for dissection exercises. On that occasion, the storyteller Nicolás Buenaventura told the real story of creation.
Nicolás told the dreck of the system that when God created the world, he continually wound up with bits and pieces left over. While the sun and the moon, time, the land, the seas and the forests were born from the hands of God, he constantly brushed the remaining scraps into the abyss. But God, being fairly preoccupied, forgot to create man and woman, leaving the two no choice but to create themselves. Thus, in depths of the abyss, in the scrap heap of God, woman and man created themselves from the remains of God.
We humans are born from refuse, and that is why we all have a bit of the day, and a bit of the night, and we’re all time and earth and water and air.”

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