Our Program Host Elisabeth Le Guin brings in the New Year with a lightning review of our first 9 months of production, accompanied by the most varied playlist imaginable: no fewer than 34 songs chosen by our interviewees!
I’ll be using the structure that you’ll be familiar with if you’re a regular listener: I’m going to reflect a little on where we’ve come from, and then pass on to consider what’s coming. It turns out to be an exercise particularly well suited to the season of the New Year. The month of January in which we find ourselves right now takes its name from the Roman god Janus, a curious figure who had two faces, one turned toward the past and one toward the future. I don’t know if Janus knew how to sing; but today I plan to make my reflections with the help of the many and diverse musics that our interviewees have brought us in the course of the last nine months.,:
Our interviewees, the heart and soul of the project, represent all adult age groups, from 19 to 84 years of age, and a range of occupations that includes artists, musicians, nurses, teachers, house-cleaners, students, gardeners, professionals, and more. Some are parents. And it’s notable how many are community organizers. Activism is an electric current that runs through the veins of our show, and it’s something that makes Santa Ana a very exciting place to live.
With all this, I want to point out that we’ve only managed to represent a few corners of the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual human landscape in which we’re based. Now Janus puts on his forward-looking face: we’d really like to be able to connect with the local communities that speak Asian languages, and with more members of the Black community; and I wish we could find a suitable way to connect with the many Santanerxs who presently live unhoused, scrabbling out their lives among the streets and alleyways, chased out of so-called public spaces by the police, as if homelessness were a crime.
It remains to be seen if we’ll realize these hopes. Of course we cannot be all things to all people, and “Si yo Fuera” has its planned termination at the end of June this year, when our grant funding runs out. But naming a dream can be the first step toward its realization, and the year is yet young!
Now, dear listeners, I want to invite you to accompany me on a lightning musical journey through the 40-some songs we’ve featured so far, touching on the most striking and relevant themes that they’ve evoked in our interviews to date.
Fasten your seatbelts, please!
I think the theme that encompasses all the others in our show, the meta-theme, is the question of our due place in this world. Every single one of will ask ourselves about this repeatedly during our lives, and every one of us is going to come to different answers on their path. This human tendency to question and to seek gets a classic expression in the song, “La maza,” or “The hammer,” by Silvio Rodríguez, which Laura Pantoja shared with us in Episode 15.
[ “La maza”]
The question of our place in the world has a particularly sharp edge for migrants and the children of migrants, a large population in Santa Ana that includes two thirds of our interviewees to date. Some of them have chosen songs that directly explore the migrant condition. Thus Jorge Drexler, in his song “Movimiento,” from Episode 6 with Lucy Dale:
So too, Ana Tijoux in “Vengo,” from Episode 12 with Marlha Sánchez.
The great Atahualpa Yupanqui, whose music was shared by Luis Sarmiento in Episode 4, expresses the tension between past and future that migrants know so well, as a fundamental aspect of the human condition, in his beautiful “Tú que puedes, vuélvete:” “You who can, come back.”
[Atahualpa “Tú que puedes”]
The river of nostalgia that flows through this song has become at times a very strong current in our show. Many participants have chosen songs that evoke the places they were born; and many of these places are in Mexico. Accordingly our show has at times become a nostalgic revisiting of Mexican regional musics; and it must be said that Mexicans do nostalgia like no one else!
Angélica Sánchez, in our very first episode, kicked off with the wonderful “Canción mixteca” an archetypal example of Mexican longing for the far away.
Laura Pantoja, in Episode 15, evoked the nostalgia for the long ago, with her childhood memories of the music of Cri Cri:
[Cri Cri, “La patita”]
Mariachi, a musical symbol of Mexicanness recognized the world over, evokes for many a potent mix of nostalgia and national pride. Graciela and Jorge Holguín, in the double Episode 5, guided us through some memorable moments from this grand tradition of Jalisco State.
[Mariachi: Guadalajara – Chapala – La culebra]
But mariachi is only one of many musics from Jalisco. Our interviewees Diana Morales, in Episode 13, as well as Patricia Flores, in 19, evoked indigenous musics from the same area, reminding us of the P’urhépecha and Cuyuteca traditions respectively.
[Indigenous musics from Jalisco: Tarheperama - El tecolote].
Meanwhile, in Episode 11, Yuritzy Elizabeth shows us a kind of nostalgia with a wry twist in “La tapatía,” an affectionately ironic musical recollection of the capital city of Jalisco, Guadalajara.
[ “La tapatía”]
Passing to the other side of the isthmus, the pride and struggle of indigenous youth in the coastal regions of Veracruz can be heard in the song “Marap,” shared by Luis Sarmiento in Episode 4.
In the end, no show that tries to represent the musical lives of migrants would be complete without the famous song of Facundo Cabral, “No soy de aquí ni de allá,” “I’m not from here nor from there,” which Yax Montaño brought us in Episode 16. Yax prefers the iconic version sung by Chavela Vargas, whose inimitable voice lends another layer of ambiguity to the already ambivalent lyrics.
[Vargas, “No soy de aquí…”]
But of course, nostalgia, remembrance, and reflection make up only one face of the human condition. The other, Janus-style, faces what is to come, with courage, resolution, imagination – and sometimes rage, over lived injustice.
[ “I’m enough/I want more”]
The screams of Victoria Ruíz of The Downtown Boys erupt from her throat against the social and human outrages that capitalism inflicts on the world. It’s one of the songs that Marilynn Montaño brings to Episode 19. Its message, though not its musical style, finds an echo in “What it Means” by The Drive By Truckers in Episode 2 with Fernando Agredano, as well as “Robinn Hood Theory” by Gang Starr, from Episode 18 with Patricia Flores. Both songs openly protest USAmerican racism.
[ “What it means” & “Robinn Hood Theory”]
At the heart of any effective protest is the simple act of simply speaking truth to power. This can even be done in a friendly, even a happy tone, as the group Emma’s Revolution does in “Code Pink,” shared by Kahlo Quinn in Episode 9.
[ “Code Pink”]
Direct protest is only one way of facing the future, of course. Marching alongside resistence and protest, hand in hand with them in a manner of speaking, come imagination, dream time and even fantasy, as Alberto Cortez reminds us in Episode 10 with “Castillos en el aire,” “Castles in the Air,” shared by Abel Ruíz;
[ “Castillos en el aire”]
--and also the Nicaraguan duo Guardabarranca, introduced by Cat Quinn in Episode 3.
The rich vein of fantasy, imagining alternative landscapes, worlds, and futures, is mined by all ages, as we are shown by young Yax Montaño in Episode 16 with the sonic flyover of “Flight 319,” as well as the mature Don Apolonio Cortés in Episode 14 with the evocative sonic landscape of “Blue Navajo.”
[ “Flight 319” y “Navajo Azul”]
What’s certain is that the voyage forward, whether we fly or we march, will ask a lot of us. It’s for this reason, I think, that another theme that has arisen regularly among our interviewees is the necessity of good self-care. Our playlist abounds in songs dedicated to raise confidence and sustain faith in oneself. For some reason I haven’t been able to analyze yet, this kind of musical advice is mostly offered through hip hop and R&B.
Thus we find Ana Tijoux singing “Creo en ti,” “I believe in you,” in Episode 13, shared by Diana Morales;
[Creo en Ti”]
in Episode 19, Marilynn Montaño shares “Mija,” a tender evocation of parental support by Vel the Wonder, an independent rapper;
--and in Episode 6, Lucy Dale also touches on the theme of the body as temple with the song “Holy,” by the poet and rapper Jamila Woods of Chicago.
On the R&B side, Episode 8 with Brian Peterson brought us the hyper-animated “Man in the Mirror” de Michael Jackson, while Episode 12 with Marlha Sánchez featured the more introverted “Authors of Forever,” by Alicia Keyes.
[“Authors of Forever”]
However, the will to keep going, to get ahead, and to change the world isn’t just found in inspiring lyrics, however beautifully sung. Bodily movement also inspires us, and it’s inspired in turn by a kaledioscopic range of rhythms and grooves. Dance turns out to be another important theme.
Veracruzan traditional dance is featured in Episode 7, with Teri Saydak:
A little more sedate, perhaps, is the vallenato that Fernando Agredano offers us in Episode 2:
[“Los caminos de la vida”]
While the son abajeño shared by Diana Morales in Episode 13 is on the animated side:
And dance can also evoke tender memories, as does the vals shared by Abel Ruíz in Episode 10, the classic “Sobre las Olas.”
[“Sobre las olas”]
Dance music moves us forward physically as well as spiritually, even if the words are all about the past, which is what happens in “September,” the happy classic funk song shared by Patricia Flores in Episode 18.
The good cheer and hopefulness that just overflow from Earth, Wind & Fire can also be found in the last group of songs I’m going to discuss here: those that deal with unity and love, the meta-theme that inspires not only many of our interviewees, but this entire project.
[ “La marseillaise”]
Unity and love march together under the flag of great inspirational phrases like those of the choruses of “All You Need is Love,” shared by Teri Saydak in Episode 7, or “We Are the World,” shared by Brian Peterson en Episode 8.
[“We Are the World fake”]
Unity can be explored through acts of radical identification with the Other – the “I am you” suggested by the great songwriter Luis Pastor in “En las fronteras del mundo,” offered by Yuritzy Elizabeth in Episodio 11.
[“En las fronteras del mundo”]
Or else it can be found at home, around the table, passing the time with beloved ones, but with the door open to whomever shows up—a scene both familiar and radical painted by The Highwomen with their country song, “Crowded Table,” shared Cat Quinn in Episode 3.
For me, all these different ways of exploring and expressing unity and love are braided together and added up in the sweet but powerful song by Maren Morris that Kahlo Quinn shared with us in Episode 9, “Dear Hate.”
There is one song left from our playlist that I’ve saved for the end, and that’s the one that Angélica Sánchez chose in Episode 1:
[“Gracias a la vida”]
I want to close today’s show by expressing my special thanks to my production team.
Over the past year we have gone from being a motley crew of students and new professionals, led by a musicologist in her 60s with no experience in podcasting -- through a million lessons large and small about what it means to launch and sustain a community media project -- to becoming, step by step, a small, close-knit community of our own.
That was something I didn’t see coming when I began this project, and it continues to be a joy despite all its challenges.
I am eager to see what this New Year brings us, and where we will take our show in the months to come!
Would you like to know more?
On our website at siyofuera.org, you can find complete transcripts in both languages of every interview, our Blog about the issues of history, culture, and politics that come up around every song, links for listeners who might want to pursue a theme further, and some very cool imagery. You’ll find playlists of all the songs from all the interviews to date, and our special Staff-curated playlist as well.
We invite your comments or questions! Contact us at our website or participate in the Si Yo Fuera conversation on social media. We’re out there on FaceBook and Instagram. And then there’s just plain old word of mouth. If you like our show, do please tell your friends to give it a listen. And do please subscribe, on any of the major podcast platforms. We’ll bring a new interview for you, every two weeks on Friday mornings.
Julia Alanis, Cynthia Marcel De La Torre, and Wesley McClintock are our sound engineers; Zoë Broussard and Laura Díaz hold down the marketing; David Castañeda is Music Researcher; Jen Orenstein translates interviews to and from Spanish; Deyaneira García and Alex Dolven make production possible. We are a not-for-profit venture, currently and gratefully funded by the John Paul Simon Guggenheim Foundation, UCLA’s Faculty Grants Program, and the Herb Alpert School of Music.
For now, and until the next interview—keep listening to one another!
I’m Elisabeth Le Guin, and this is, “Si yo fuera una canción -- If I were a song…”