We had just arrived in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. After checking in and putting my bags away, I heard music in the distance. I was immediately drawn to it. And set off in search of the captivating sounds. I literally followed my ears and walked towards what I heard.
I don’t remember how long it took me to find the source–this was over thirty years ago. What was happening was a neighborhood festival, you might call the gathering “a giant block party”. I sauntered among the throng at the festivities. Nodding at people. Checking out the items for sale in the small stalls. Nobody paid any particular attention to me. Afterwards I hiked the long trek back to the hotel.
Later that week, after the group I was with decamped to return home, I and one other person decided to head to the Atlantic side of the Sandinista-controlled country. Our destination was Bluefields, where we were told the majority of the population was Black and June Beer, a Black poet had her home.
We made it as far as Rama, a small town in the middle of the country, only to find out we had missed the daily ferry up river and had to spend the night. Long story short, the next day I stood patiently waiting for the boat and holding our place in line while the guy I was with was off buying our ferry tickets. A Black woman who was in front of me spoke to me in Spanish.
I don’t speak Spanish and could only mutter “no habla espanol” (“I don’t speak Spanish”). When the person I was with returned with our tickets, the woman said something to him. After a bit of back and forth, they both laughed. He was an Anglo Americano, she was a Black Nicaraguan, and I was (what)? I looked like I could have grown up in Rama but I didn’t speak Spanish. What was I?
I’ve traveled all over the world and, to quote Terence, an enslaved North African during the Roman conquest, “I am a man, I count nothing human foreign to me.”
Although I’m a Coltrane freak, when it comes to music, I listen to all kinds of recordings and enjoy a broad palate in various genres, especially Afro-Spanish. All of the above partially explains why I’m attracted to the mixtape assembled by Louis Vega. I will not even try to explain or dissect his musical selections, or why the assemblage moves me.
Do like I do. If the sounds sound good to you, follow your ears.
I will note that I first got into Little Louie Vega over three decades before when he was working in the Masters At Work duo, a production and remix team. I was especially enraptured by their version of “I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun” (created by Chicago-based, African American composer and producer, Charles Stepney and co-written with Richard Rudolph, the musician husband of vocalist Minnie Riperton). The song was first recorded by Rotary Connection, a psychedelic-soul band, on their 1971 album, Hey, Love. The Vega version of the song was recorded under the moniker of Nuyorican Soul and reinterpreted by 4Hero who crafted an awesome remix. 4Hero is a London-based aggregation that lights up the cosmos with their orchestral explorations.
Needless to say, when the recent Vega mixtape entered by orbit, I did not hesitate. I knew not only that I would dig it, but also that I would want to share the aural sensation. Vega is of Puerto Rican heritage, hence the Spanish. Like I said earlier, you don’t have to comprehend a so-called foreign langauge or even know who Louis Vega is, just follow your ears. Let the sounds guide you.