Enjoy Your Symptom!
I have a confession to make. I love the song "Chi Chi Man" by Jamaican quartet TOK. I know, I know, even with my barely speaky-spokey patois I can understand that the chorus "Blaze di fire mek we bun dem!!!!" is not a SAVE Dade slogan. And yet I love the song. The Jamaican lesbian couple grinding next to me at last month's Caribbean Bash loves the song. The likkle kids racing 'longside trucks blasting the dancehall hit at Trini Carnival this past October love the song. The suburban Latin moms working their backsides in a Kendall dance studio on a Tuesday night love the song. Light the fire, burn the queers!!!!
Oh, dancehall, why do you hate the gay man so? Is it because the riddim penetrate so deep all that polymorphous pleasure makes you nervaas? Makes you need to draw lines with the lyrics because all boundaries are crossed by the beats? Is it because even the timbre of the voice goes so deep-throat you must bash chi chi man dem if you are ever going to deny how good that sound stroke you? "My Crew, my dawgs/Set rules, set laws/ ... A gal alone a feel up my balls." Even as Roshan 'Bay-C' Clarke lays down the law in the "Chi Chi Man" intro, his tone is so low and all-encompassing no one can escape the titillation: His voice feel up every ting.
"That's not what it's about," insists Alex McCalla, denying any trace of homophobia as he slouches poolside with his TOK bandmates in the faux-marble decadence ("Jacuzzis suites!") of El Palacio hotel off the Palmetto. "Chi chi man is anybody that represents negativity or corruption," he clarifies.
And that part about "a gal alone a feel up my balls"?
"Well, that's just the truth," shrugs Craig "Craigy T" Thompson.
"Yeah," agrees Xavier "Flexx" Davidson, "there's no hidden meaning."
"Music is music," adds Craigy T.
A cigar is just a cigar.
Trained in barbershop style while choir boys just outside Kingston, the four young men hooked up with manager/producer Richard Browne to create a new dancehall style that adds harmony to the already established DJ and Sing J forms. For "Chi Chi Man" Tony Kelly crafted the "Sashi" riddim, but the overwhelming appeal of the tune first released in the summer of 2000 in Jamaica arises from the shift in vocal styles. The menacing call to order issued in the intro rolls into what sounds like the melody from the Christmas carol "Do You Hear What I Hear" (the band claims it's really an old pocomania melody) and then bounces into freestyle verse. The single anchors TOK's debut album, My Crew, My Dawgs, released and distributed in the United States by VP Records, a collection of surprises that could have been called Riddim Thugs-n-Harmony.
If the four-part dawgs capture a U.S. audience, they will hear even more gripes about their sexual politics (I'm sorry, what people interpret as their sexual politics), but back home the biggest controversy was stirred by the use of "Chi Chi Man" as a theme song by the JLP (Jamaican Labour Party) during last year's heated elections. "We had to go on television and tell people that we're not in any way or form politically motivated," says a concerned Craigy T. "People can always spot a fake, and we're not that."
Argentine punk institution Los Violadores, on the other hand, are and always have been politically motivated in every way, pissing off dictatorships throughout the Southern Cone for the past twenty years. They were arrested along with the crowd at their first show in 1980 and later had to flee Chile in 1987, when the Pinochet regime got wind of their offense to good taste and gory government. Last month they played to adoring fans at the Argentine Passion Festival and presided over the "soft release" of their first CD to be distributed in the United States, Lo Mejor de Los Violadores. This "best of" compilation is among the first titles released in the United States by Gustavo Fernandez of DIY-godsend distributor DLN on his own label, Delanuca.
"Those guys have a lot of history," says Fernandez, who was a teenager evading military duty under the bloody regime when the punks first hit the scene. As singer Pil Trafa tells the tale, the rock bands already established in Argentina in the Seventies disguised themselves in symphonic arrangements and bloated virtuoso experiment to "disguise themselves from the dictatorship." In 1977 punk reared its ugly head when Violadores founder Hari B. took out an ad in a local zine after a trip to London: "I have to inform you that punk exists in Argentina because I'm here and I'm punk." The form may have been borrowed but the fury was homegrown. "We would never sing in English," points out guitarist Stuka, who currently lives in Miami. "That would be seen as a betrayal of our own rock scene."
Twenty years later, their history published in a lengthy tome and their hits archived in a compilation, Pil and Stuka still feel relevant. Stuka dips into TOK's dictionary to tell why: "The politicians are all maricones [fags]; all they want to do is steal." Pil agrees: "They're trapped between timidity and corruption." In the last presidential elections, the punks launched a campaign for themselves over the Internet. "We're not eligible because we refuse to vote," admits Pil (suffrage is mandatory).
"But we still got a couple thousand votes," giggles Stuka. Lo Mejor de los Violadores, already released in Argentina, makes available songs that were no longer available but still feel relevant to Argentine youth. "The youngest still feel the repression," he explains. "It's just now it's an economic repression. They understand the lyrics, adapt them, and find their own way to rebel. Unfortunately what we said then still applies."
And still applies throughout South America, as Los Violadores' popularity in Peru proves. "Peru was one of the first places we were accepted outside Argentina," observes Pil, who spends much of his time in that nation with his Peruvian wife. "When we first started touring there, we were practically the only band with rock roots," recalls Stuka. The Peruvian scene has changed a great deal since then, as Andean rock darlings Libido will show when they return to Miami after a year's absence to play a benefit at La Covacha for the International Rescue Committee, an organization dedicated to helping resettle refugees across the world, from Bosnia and Burma to Colombia and Rwanda.
As the name suggests, Libido aspires to rock stardom without irony or reservations. "We try to play the music that we like," says drummer Jeffry Fischman by phone from Lima. Apparently they like jangly retro guitars, heavy tom, teasing cymbals, rumbling bass lines, and lyrics lightly touched with angst. "There's no fusion; it's pure rock in the style of Heroes del Silencio or Soda Stereo." Rock fans in the United States will be able to judge for themselves now that Libido's first release is being distributed by DLN. (Who isn't DLN distributing?) Hembra, the followup wildly popular in Peru, is still only available as an import, so catch the group while you can at La Covacha.
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