Tuesday, February 19, 2013


A history happened. People came and did things. Names were given, things were buried, flesh was pierced, invocations. Justifications. Cultures mixed. Some say assimilation is genocide.

The past can only live in two ways: memory, and evidence. There is a middle way: history, which is documentation, oral and written, people telling each other things. History has a cousin which is literature. Stories, songs, poetry. Coming in from the side is technology, which offers ways to freeze this previously liquid medium: printing for a super long time, photos for a medium long time, recording since then. And now the digital abstracts all these things to information, thawing the freeze, engendering re-mixture. These forces are amoral and easily appropriated by those who would do good or ill, those who would preserve or destroy, those who would destroy in the service of preservation, who would kill to bring about their vision of peace and justice, who whould act.

In South America, Europeans came, bringing their ideas about God and race and whatever else, their drive for profit and ownership. People do stuff. People can't but be people. One person who lived there was a man named Atahualpa. He had a lot of power and influence in a mountainous region in the west of a continent that he probably didn't call South America, but since the Europeans took the hegemony it's not that easy for me to quickly look up the old names. Some shit happened with Spaniards and he ended up getting killed. Probably some people said some shit that wasn't true or made some promises they didn't intend to keep. Those things tend to happen when people want to take stuff. You can pretty much either pay for stuff or just take it and if someone doesn't want you to take it then you need to like, talk about it, fight, stuff like that. Oil is like that too. Any resource really. Water's like that in some places. It'll probably get more like that in more places. Food too. Money, of course.

Atahualpa was around about five hundred years ago. No cell phone cams, so we get stories and songs. A history that flows like water. Was he a good man? Let's say the conquerors didn't come. Would he have been a good ruler? Led his people to prosperity, or squandered his kingdom's resources on liquor and women? Somewhere in between? Dunno, cause what happened was the Spanish people made him swear his love for Christ and the Pope and then killed his ass so they could take gold and slaves. Shit like that. History flows.

This record is from Ecuador, and it's about forty years old. It's called Atahualpa. There are no vocals on the record. Here's some of what it says on the back of the record:

Decir ATAHUALPA es decir principio, punto de partida de nuestra nacionalidad Sugiere gravura, hidalguía y porte caballeresco a todo lo ancho y lo largo de la expresión.

Decir ATAHUALPA es exponer con un solo nombre toda la belleza de un Imperio coronado por la nieve sempiterna de Los Andes.

Historiadores y poetas han cantando al Inca Quiteño. Faltaba sólo el acento sonoro del compositor. Ahora que ya lo tenemos, escuchémoslo con unción. Dejemos que el gramófono desgrane una a una las yúmbicas notas de "Atahualpa" y hallaremos en nuestras intimas emociones estereotipado el boato de una corte esplendorosa en la terminante grandeza del Tahuantinsuyo...!

INVOKE. Let the breast swell with national feeling. Ecuador.

The record is all hooky instrumental genius. Electric organ, harmonica, acoustic guitar, brass band, piano four hands. I wasn't previously familiar with the players, but I'll list them anyway, because their contribution must be remembered: Carlos Bonilla (guitar); Nicolás Brito (band); Héctor Bonilla and Medardo Luzuriaga (pianos); R.P. Jaime Mola (organ); Rodrigo Barreno (band); Guido Aguirre (harmonica).

Tradition rides on the knife's edge between popular resistance and fascist appropriation. To know your tradition and act freely within it is harder than you think. Invoke with care and vision.

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