Palabra del día: Tapón
Translation: Traffic jam
Explanation: Though the DR’s capital Santo Domingo has a lot going for it, traffic control is not one of those things. On a recent trip there, I was stuck in a traffic jam for two hours, on what should have been a 20 minute drive. On the plus side, I now know the word “tapón!”
Foto del día:
This photo is from a recent gig at a super fancy resort in the nearby town of Puerto Plata. Scroll down for a video of our performance and to read about all of the juicy details.
Photo from Juan Guivin
Comida del día: Arroz blanco
Dominicans love their rice. Recently, I asked my class of musicianship students to introduce themselves, and to include their favorite food. Over half of the students said that it was white rice. Though white rice may seem like one of the most basic things to cook, it takes some effort and some practice to get it right. My neighbor Jacquelyn recently taught me her method, so here’s her recipe if you want to give it a try!
Musica del día: Soda Stereo’s “Persiana Americana”
Soda Stereo is not a Dominican group, but the Dominican guys I’ve been playing with (who self identify as “rockeros” at least some of the time) were appalled I had never heard of them. They put on a recording in a taxi on the way to our gig in order to “educate” me, but unfortunately the taxi driver told them to turn it off because his religion prohibits him from listening to non-religious music. This belief is not uncommon here – my next door neighbors on both sides follow this practice.
Despite the car-ride controversy, here is “Persiana Americana” from Soda Stereo, a rock band from Argentina who were popular in the 1980s and 90s. Their music is definitey a refreshing change from the bachata-pop music I usually hear blasting from car radios while wandering around Cabarete!
House #3: A Pool with a View
If you get invited to someone’s house (especially in a foreign country), always go.
The above is a rule that I live by. Purely by chance, I have followed this rule three times in the last month. Each of these times, it has led me to beautiful places, interesting people, and new perspectives on Dominican culture and lifestyle.
I recently traveled to Santo Domingo, or, as Dominicans like to say, “el capital,” for a Fulbright safety briefing at the US embassy. The trip was a great excuse to see the city for the first time and to explore the music scene there.
In Santo Domingo, I stayed with my friend June, who I met while she was volunteering at DREAM over the summer. June teaches English to the children of diplomats and baseball players at a private international school in Santo Domingo. She introduced me to her many cool friends, one of whom invited me to spend an afternoon at his family’s country home in a nearby town called San Cristobal. After a short drive (of course accompanied by El Presidente himself), we spent the rest of the afternoon drinking wine in a pool with a beautiful view of the countryside and the ocean way off online casino in the distance.
A nice place to spend an afternoon, if I do say so myself.
While in Cabarete I’ve experienced the life of lower class Dominicans, in Santiago I caught a glimpse of something that resembled middle class, and in Santo Domingo I found myself gallavanting among the upper echelons of Dominican society, due in part to being in the right place at the right time and in part to the endless supply of hospitality that is embedded in Domincan society. When I meet people for the first time, they frequently say to me, “Siempre a tu orden,” (“Always at your order”), and when I go to someone’s house for the first time, I’m likely to hear, “Estas en tu casa” (“You’re in your home”).
The rest of my time in Santo Domingo gave me a chance to explore the music scene. On Sunday night I went to a concert in the Zona Colonial, which is the oldest area of the city, boasts the first cathedral on the continent, and has plazas and cobblestoned streets that almost resemble Europe (though there was too much noisy traffic to fool me).
Santo Domingo Cathedral at night
The group I saw was a merengue-son band called Grupo Bonye, who performs in a big plaza every Sunday night for a large group of dancing Dominicans.
This video will give you an idea of the festivities:
The second concert I saw was an awesome all-female Latin jazz group called EJazzSon. I was super excited about this concert for two reasons. First, female musicians are rare in the jazz world, but I just happened upon a group of all women. Second, they played some interesting fusions of jazz, Latin jazz, and local music. This type of cross-cultural mixture is what got me excited about studying international jazz in the first place while studying abroad in Spain and exploring combinations of jazz and flamenco. I haven’t found much jazz in the miniscule music scene of Cabarete, but I guess I just needed to spend a few days in Santo Domingo. I’m hoping to work more with EJazzSon on my next trip to el capital, and perhaps to even interview them for my blog – stay tuned!
In other news, my newfound music buddies and I have decided to become an official band, and we’ve named ourselves the Caribe Quartet. Members include guitarist Emmanuel Pena, bassist Juan Guivin, drummer Sheldon Sandoval, and me on piano and French horn.
Here is our performance of Fly Me to the Moon at our recent gig at Lifestyles Resort in Puerto Plata, recorded with the new GoPro camera and Zoom recorder that mtvU recently sent to me to use for the duration of my grant:
Our frontliner was New Orleans blues and bossa nova singer Anthony Jefferson.
This gig was a great way to bond with local musicians, and also an opportunity to get a taste of the extremely wealthy tourism industry in the DR – quite a contrast from my daily life in Cabarete.
Getting to the gig was quite the adventure. By the time we arrived, the contents of our minivan taxi included:
• 4 musicians
• Our driver
• His wife and baby
• A drum set (the majority of which was on my lap)
• An amp
• A guitar
• A bass
• An electric piano
• A french horn
Due to a severe miscommunication, our clown car arrived half an hour after the concert was supposed to start. Since the event organizers didn’t want a bunch of ragged musicians walking through their fancy dinner set-up, we had to enter through the back, which involved tossing our instruments over a fence, climbing over the fence after them, and then walking on the beach in order to get to the stage. I guess even the fancy resorts can’t escape the last minute chaos of Dominican life!
Check out YouTube for more videos of our performance.