Tag Archives: Guatemala

Catholics, Communists, & Carnivals: 70s Central America Through the Eyes of My Mother

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Every year in La Ceiba there is a carnival dedicated to the patron saint of the city, Saint Isidore the Farmer, who is known for his piety to the poor. My mom tells me the stories of what growing up in La Ceiba, Honduras in the 70s was like. The political strife of a deeply stratified Central America created a tension in which everyone thought Honduras, like Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador, would face revolution. Yet, every year, the carnivals continued.

It’s such a big source of pride for the locals that the most famous Honduran musician of all time, Guillermo Anderson, born and raised in La Ceiba, wrote a song about it that encapsulates the joy that the hurly-burly of floats, school bands, Afro-Indigenous dance troupes, equestrian displays, and musical acts bring. It’s one of the rare moments, where, for a short period of time, despite the ever-worsening conditions of a city once-nicknamed “Honduras’s girlfriend” because of its economic prosperity and beauty, the general population can enjoy themselves. While there’s a big push to clean the city for the event, trash litters the streets at every corner. It’s been like this for years. When a hurricane hits, a torrent of filth ravages people’s homes. They say the stench can persist for months after the last drop of the hurricane dries. You get used to it.

A similar story of deep poverty could be found in Nicaragua, especially after the earthquake of 1972 that left two-thirds of the capital, Managua, displaced; facing food shortages and diseases, humanitarian aid never made it into the hands of the common people affected by the earthquake, most likely because the Somoza regime had stockpiled it. By 1975, the Sandinistas had begun organizing under this pretext. At the forefront of their movement was the concept of liberation theology, or the idea that the Church, in the Global South, was morally obligated to assist the poor—an ideological supposition which came about because of, and in opposition to, the government’s poor response to the disaster.

In 1976, the La Ceiba Carnival had finally expanded from beyond its initial simple scope as a float parade to a fully-fledged Carnival. This was, according to my mother, supposed to be the best one yet! It was where she was first introduced to cotton candy and sugar daddies, treats which were previously unfamiliar to Honduras, and my mother’s palette, entirely. Nearly fifty years later, whenever she gets a chance to try either of them, she sports the sanguine smile of our broken homeland. For a brief moment, she is a young child again. Initially being held in the Barrio Mejía, and despite nationwide political unrest following the ousting of the then-Honduran president, the inaugural carnival would be one to remember.

The year after, a different Mejía, the bard of the Sandinista Revolution, Carlos Mejia Godoy, would compose a song that would eventually win that year’s OTI, an international music festival not unlike Eurovision but for Iberia and Ibero-America, with “Quincho Barrilete,” a song that captured the anti-Somoza fervor brewing in Nicaragua and put it to song, calling for nothing short of a revolution backed by Jesus and being fought for the pueblo. With lyrics cushioned in metaphor and steeped in regionalisms such as “Colochón,” or “The One with the Curly Hair,” a nickname for Jesus Christ, the track was unmistakably Nica. Despite the song’s overt and radical political messaging, it should be noted that Somoza’s regime, at this point, had not yet been overthrown! The opposition to Somoza, and the Somoza family, who had served as puppet leaders after the United States handpicked the family following the short-lived revolution of Augusto Sandino (The namesake of the Sandinistas) in the 20s, in which he overthrew the previous American-picked despot’s administration, had become so widespread that the revolution was literarily being televised! My mom watched this year’s OTI intently. The next year, said revolution began. The next year, the carnival still took place, just as it had the year prior. Every year, the carnivals continued.

Saint Isidore the Farmer, patron saint of La Ceiba, would no doubt be flattered by these carnivals. I just worry what he would think after the carnival ends, and he sees the misery of my people as they normally are. I want him to be proud of us. I know he would be proud of what the Nicaraguan Revolution dogmatically set out to accomplish. But I also don’t think that these two events that my mom lived through and tells me about with a vivid recollection are so dissimilar. A carnival is not unlike a revolution, after all. You have explosions, you have drums, you have marching. Sometimes, you even have guns.

Cover photo by Ramon Cerritos (Creative Commons license).

A Protest Music Interview: Portes

When searching the internet for contemporary protest musicians I have my techniques and keywords to filter out the real deal from the posers. With all my requirements and strategies I likely never would have found the music of Portes. She is a Guatemalan-born protest musician and activist based out of Colorado, US.

Lucky for me, her PR company contacted me after seeing what the Shouts webpage is all about and so I interviewed Portes about her brilliant latest album, the electro-pop ‘National Anthems’. She also told me about her experience fostering a child, her activism and musical inspirations and her rather unusual day job – cybersecurity and computer networking.

Halldór Kristínarson: First off, for those who are not familiar with your music and your work, who is Portes?

Portes: Portes is a Colorado-based solo indie artist creating music in all genres. As the name implies, it comes from the French, des portes, meaning doors. Each style of music represents a door to explore. Thus far, the music is primarily electro-pop, dream pop, synth, R&B, and crosses with the more aggressive industrial music that sounds like Nine Inch Nails, but stretches to ambient and even worship music.

HK: How did you first get introduced to creating music and has it always been political and protest driven?

P: I’ve been creating music since I was in elementary school coming up with song lyrics and melodies. It hasn’t always been of a political or protest nature, but I recall an early song that I wrote in high school called, “Glory?” that dealt with the Vietnam War, so maybe I had some idea early on in life that I could write music of a deeper, more thought provoking nature.

HK: Can you tell us a bit about the creative process and production behind your album National Anthems? You speak of being new to the electronic music scene, yet it sounds natural. How did the sound you have on the album come into existence?

P: It helped to write music with a producer who had the same political ideology and stance as me. There wasn’t a conflict in content or style between us. The best inspiration for me at the time of making National Anthems was to look at the music of Nine Inch Nails and that aggressive, in your face, angry vibe. It was the feeling I was feeling watching the Trump administration constantly lie to the American people and who continue to do it today, to the detriment of millions of people and the thousands who have needlessly lost their lives to COVID-19. We started with the song, “Pressure” and used that song as the base for the others. Really, the album came together effortlessly. In fact, I had “Sister” as a different type of song and I had the chorus lyrics and melody mapped out a year before I started National Anthems, so it was just a matter of turning it into this new style and revamping lyrics to address the theme of female empowerment and turn it against these high profile sexual aggressors, like Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein, and Larry Nassar. I’m glad you think it sounds natural. I appreciate that.

HK: Being originally born in Guatemala and later growing up in the United States how has that affected your music, lyrically and melodically? 

P: I lived in Guatemala as a baby for about six months before being adopted. But, you ask a good question about how that experience has informed my music. Knowing I’m from a multicultural family grounds me in being open-minded and willing to experience other people and cultures, including their music.

HK: Have you been back to Guatemala? Do you follow what is going on there or in nearby countries? Or Guatemalans coming to the states these days?

P: Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to return to Guatemala. It is something I want to do in the future, when it’s safe to do so. I do follow the news of what’s happening in Central America and issues around societal violence, cartels, and immigration. It saddens me greatly to know the people are being mistreated and displaced. It makes me realize just how blessed I am to have the opportunities I do by virtue of having been adopted and being raised in the U.S. I don’t know other Guatemalans, so I can’t speak to that issue.

HK: Some people believe that the arts and activism should be separated, that the arts should be a form of entertainment only. Other people put forth the same argument about journalism. What is your take on how artists, journalists and other people with a voice should use that power?

P: I personally know where I stand on the intersection of arts and activism. But, I won’t dictate how others should use their creative platform to promote their activism. I can only encourage others to find their passion in politics for speaking truth in a time of when untruths are the norm. Some do it to music, like Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, CSNY, REM, among others. I would love for “National Anthems” to have that same gravitas as other protest albums and artists. I have something vital to say and that should manifest into something, so I do it with my music. I’m also grateful to media outlets like Shouts Music Blog who share my art and activism with its audience. So, thank you for that! Journalists have an obligation to investigate, verify, and validate facts, so it’s about truth more so than activism. However, there are journalists like Amy Goodman from Democracy Now! who are more involved in activism.

HK: Who are some of your influences, whether them being musicians, activists or anyone else?

P: Some of my music influences are Sia, Nine Inch Nails, Iron & Wine, and Thievery Corporation to name a few. In addition, I appreciate the informative documentaries by Michael Moore. I recently watched Planet of the Humans, which was eye-opening about our dependence on fossil fuels and problems surrounding renewable energy. I was a QA Engineer for a photovoltaic manufacturer.

HK: Besides the music, you are working on a computer networking and cybersecurity degree. What drew you to that field?

P: I haven’t made music and songwriting my full time career yet, though I’d love to be at a publishing house, until then my actual career is in technology. I’ve been a technical writer, IT project manager, and customer experience consultant. However, in my previous roles, I was hitting a wall in advancement since I didn’t have a background in computer networking, so I went back to school after earning a master’s degree. Turns out I’m pretty good at cybersecurity and have a 4.0 GPA and am seeking a role in my field.

HK: What about your extracurricular activities, do you partake in activism outside of the music you make?

P: I support causes that are important to me. I lived in Haiti, so I support the Haitian Timoun Foundation. I also care deeply about animal abuse and neglect, so I donate to Hope For Paws, The Wild Animal Sanctuary, and local animal shelters.

HK: The act of taking in a child into foster care and eventually adoption, how has that changed your view of the environment around you? I can only imagine it has also affected your music?

P: It changes everything! You still have to take care of yourself first. That’s what good mental health counseling has taught me. Self-care and self-love is a necessity. He’s incredibly empathetic. He cares about the littlest bug and other people. It’s important that he knows that this planet is finite and we have to take care of Earth by cleaning our messes, recycling, reusing, and reducing our waste. He’s also so sweet, so I actually had him sing on my last single, “Human”, which is a song about global warming, climate change, and social injustice. Although “National Anthems” isn’t really for kids, he heard enough of it that we’ve talked about some of the themes and I want to empower him to have his own voice and stand bravely against injustice and uphold the values of our nation, like liberty and freedom of speech. 

HK: What do you hope to achieve with your music?

P: First, I want people to hear what I have to say because I do value the truth and this album was carefully and thoughtfully put out to have an effect that motivates people into action. Second, I hope people find their own stance about the content. Maybe there’s a person who can relate to my experience of sexual assault or who want to protest against gun violence at schools. My son shouldn’t have to do lockouts and lockdowns, but that’s what we’re dealing with now. Lastly, I hope people like the music. I think it’s badass.

HK: What is on the horizon for you?

P: Once I can get back into the studio, I need to do vocals for “Sanctified”, which is a delicate, breathy worship song in the same style as “Human”. Finished songs in queue for release are, “Rocket Crown”, a female empowerment song that blends classical music and hip hop. “I’m on Fire” is an electro-pop love song. “Good Girl” is a fun, catchy EDM song. I can’t be serious all the time. I need some levity too.

HK: Thank you very much for participating and for making your music. Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?

P: Listeners can find the music on various streaming services, except Spotify. Other than that, saddle up! We’re going on a long ride with Donald Trump, so it’s going to be bumpy, but Portes is here for you in those moments when you feel like screaming from that rooftop, I’ll scream with you. It’ll be very therapeutic. I promise!

Check out more of Portes’ work on Bandcamp ı YouTube ı Instagram