Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Music and radio

Driving through the mountains, I listen to local radio. Many stations play marimba music constantly; others seem to be run by evangelical or other religious organizations and are full of exhortations, prayers, and religious music. Some stations seem devoted to American popular music (or at least hours of programming devoted to U.S. music). One afternoon about a week ago I listened to a set that included "Imagine", "No Woman No Cry" and U2's "In the Name of Love."

Of course, the penetration of U.S. commercial popular culture should be no surprise -- I remember being taken aback, momentarily, when I was in Nicaragua back in 1983, at a bar/nightclub somewhere in the countryside, with a few female friends from the U.S. and a bunch of young soldiers, when a Bruce Springsteen song suddenly came up on the jukebox (or DJ; I no longer remember which).  But that was nearly 30 years ago, and such seeming incongruities have become rather commonplace.

So, older and more recent pop, rock and hip hop songs are fairly standard-issue here. Market places, even in rural towns like Chinique, usually have at least a few stalls selling pirated CDs and DVDs, often of Hollywood movies and American recording artists.  When I was here  for the first time, just a month or so after Michael Jackson's death, the market in Zacualpa had DVDs of his funeral for sale. 

Sunday when I went to get my rental car washed, prior to turning it in to the agency on Monday (I once got charged about $20 extra for cleaning, since roads are very very dusty in rural areas, and both the inside and outside of every rental car I've used here in Guate has ended up looking like a set from an old Western, so I decided it was worth Q30 to do it myself -- I actually paid Q40 since they did a good job and so I gave them a 33% tip; just a tad over $5). As I sat and read the paper, the 4 guys who were working on the car were blasting hip hop.

But equally, if not more interesting, are the news and panel discussion programs. I've been listening a lot to a station called Emisoras Unidas, which has several local stations and therefore I can receive it pretty much everywhere along my route by switching frequencies. This is almost all news and talk, and the talk shows seem to include a lot of critical viewpoints (I hope if anyone here knows more about this station, you can correct any inaccuracies).  However, there are frequently annoying commercial plugs: through an interesting call-in show, each time the announcer introduced a new caller, she asked "And what is the best beer?" to which the caller was supposed to reply "Gallo". Okay, stations have to make money. 

Some of the discussions have touched on issues of corruption in both national and local governments. Yesterday there was a program about municipal debt, and one of the guests told callers how they could access information about their municipality, which is supposed to be publicly available.  

And, on the other hand, the station has frequent commercials from big corporations. For example, Montana Mining Company, which runs the notorious Marlin Mine that has been the site of numerous protests (and several murders of mine opponents), has a commercial that has been airing pretty frequently, touting their responsible corporate citizenship. With lilting music in the background, a pleasant voice intones about how the company invests in schools, the environment, and so forth, in mining communities. The final plug line is, I think, "desarollo con responsibilidad" (development with responsibility). 

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