Monday, March 03, 2008

negro bembon

Mataron al negro bembón
Mataron al negro bembón
Hoy se llora noche y día
Porque el negrito bembón
Todo el mundo lo queria
Porque el negrito bembón
Todo el mundo lo queria

Y llegó la policia
Y arrestaron al maton
Y uno de las policias
Que tambíen era bembón
Le toco la mala suerte
De hacer la investigación
Le toco la mala suerte
De hacer la investigación

Y saben la pregunta
que le hizo al maton
Porque lo mato
Diga usted la razon
Y saben la respuesta
que le dio el maton :
yo lo mate
por ser tan bembón
El guardia escondio
la bemba y le dijo :
Eso no es razon

I was recently thinking about the ways in which race shows up in Latin music when the song "Negro Bembon" by Ismael Rivera popped into my head. The song makes me think of how Afro-Latinos in Latin America didn't really undergo US-style civil rights / Black power movement. So instead of making a loud and angry statement like NWA's "F*** tha Police" or a righteous and defiant statement like Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff", "Negro Bembon" gives us the muted and insufficient "Eso no es razon" from a Black cop who, even with a gun and badge, is still not strong or brave enough to truly challenge a racist system. Occasionally I wonder if the song's refrain is deliberately understated as way of making a powerful social critique, but most of the time I tend to think that the voice of protest is so muted because certain white supremacist assumptions are pervasive and taken for granted in Latin culture, even in the music of Afro-Latino artists like Ismael Rivera.

tego calderon: latin america needs its own civil rights movement
a rising voice: afro-latin americans


Abdul-Halim V. said...

I feel like adding, just so it is clear, that I'm not anti-Ismael Rivera, by any means. He's amazing and I actually really like the song. (And I'm wondering if I should put up a clip of Las Caras Lindas) But (as should be apparent from the movie clip) it comes from a different era when the position of Blacks was different from now. Perhaps that is the best way of thinking about it. It doesn't have to be a matter of slow racial progress in Latin America. In 1953 Bob Marley was barely 8 years old and none of the members of NWA were even born yet.

Kismet said...

I love this! Keep the Afro-Latinidad coming!

Also love the afrofuturistic Floetry cip a few posts ago....

Abdul-Halim V. said...

Thanks! I definitely will if I can. But you might also use the search operation at the top of the blog and plug in "afro-latino" or "black latino" or "black hispanic" and see older posts (if you haven't already.)

tinkering critiker said...

I think that when you begin to analyze popular expressions of afro-latinidad in Latin America it is important to thoroughly understand the nuances of the culture (Puerto Rico, 1950s), the language (Puerto Rican/Caribbean/Afro-Antillean Spanish), the particular sense of humor (Caribbean tongue and cheek humor), historical discourse on writings on racial history etc among other things. Try to resist the temptation of reducing local popular Afro Antillean culture to racial ideologies rooted in experiences from other parts of the world. Be sure to cite/check out Puerto Rican writers, artists, intellectuals and artists who have already written, spoken, and performed elocuently on the topic of racial prejudice in Latin American and Puerto Rico in particular. In my opinion it is through dialogue and empathetic listening that we can forge alliances to improve the world, not criticizing (without having been there) from afar the shortcomings of racial consciousness from one particular position. If you want to know what Ismael Rivera thought about racial relations maybe you should try to investigate what he thought, wrote and said, and how other Puerto Ricans made sense of this artistic output. Juan Flores is a good place to start if you want.

Cornelius Alter Ego said...

I have a very different take on this. This was the reality that a lot of people were dealing with. Like the blues, sometimes the voicing of wrong and injustice is meant to be cathartic. The notion that the man on the street and the police officer both are powerless in this situation also means that the two are not so far apart. I appreciate it because it calls out the evil that was/is part of everyday life. How different are things today?