Trying to unwrap the sonic and linguistic influence of any single music is a challenging maze riddled with all research leading to a single source. Of course, that source developed before written history, so the point, if we have one, is music is something felt, something experienced, rather than an ethnocentric rooting of this or that people here or there. Alas, tradition culturally binds us, so for the purpose of exploration let’s begin in Spain.
A land rich with the accordion-driven trikitrixa and Celtic-derived Galician sound, flamenco reigns as the folk music of Spain. Centered in the Andalusian areas of Cádiz, Ronda and Triana/Seville, cante flamenco developed as the Rom traveled from India. Importing Mediterranean rhythmic structures, cantaors would emit gritto desgarrados (heart-rending cries) amid handclaps and footstomps and, eventually, guitars. Duende, the unspeakable essence invoked through trance-like repetition, allowed poor urbanites hopes of spiritual redemption as crowds spontaneously gathered at juergas, tightknit community gatherings. We know this story well as every folk music stems from suffering of some sort. In Spain Moors, Greeks, Visigoths and Phoenicians mingled and made music.
Flamenco, infamous as Spain’s sonic child, is a bastard son. As the music evolves, incorporating genres like hip-hop (a la Ojos de Brujo), the origins reside in another spontaneous occurrence: the sudden meeting ground of many cultures jamming, dancing and, to the chagrin of musicological academia, having fun. Chasing duende, as it goes, may not be such a serious endeavor.
Or so one comes to believe spinning Agua Pa’ La Gente (Jazzhead Records), the first full-length by the cross-continental culture-smashing Hip Hop Hoodios. On “1492” vocalist Josh Norek raps, “You think that I’m joking, what the hell was I smoking/Jews and Spanish, you think that we’re a token/But you don’t want to believe me…Well here’s some words that will hit you with a thud/Millions of Latinos they’ve got Jewish blood.” Klezmatics trumpeter Frank London, a leading proponent of klezmer, an American Jewish concoction whose roots are equally interdisciplinary, lays down a sweet horn line behind Norek as he deconstructs history by reconstructing identity.
“Speaking of shared immigration experience,” Norek says, “a lot of Jews have been in this country longer than Latinos, though both cultures are very music-oriented. A lot can be traced to Spain when Jews, Moors and Christians were living together. Jewish culture influenced Latin music; there are certain melodies in salsa that go back to Sephardic songs.”
However heavy Norek and crew—including bassist Federico Fong, founding member of Caifanes and Jaguares and Puerto Rican/Jewish writer Abraham Velez—seem to be getting, territory is tread playfully. Seasoned professionals in the Latin Alternative scene, as players, lawyers, journalists and publicists, Hip Hop Hoodios is a supercrew merging to create a unique synthesis of rap and rock en español. What more could one say of an album featuring a kazoo-driven, psychedelic slide guitar track dubbed “Toribio The Clown Gets His Groove Back” and a Control Machete-esque spoof called “Dicks And Noses” with Norek rapping “You like our dicks and you like our noses/You see a Jewish guy and you forget where your clothes is”?
“I’ve always listened to hip-hop since being a 12-year-old and seeing Yo MTV Raps. At a young age it was apparent most early white rappers, like Third Bass, were Jewish. At the same time, we love Control Machete, the Orishas and Mo