Fun sounds from South America: Sailors channelling Colombians

Bailadoras de Cumbia en San Pelayo, Cordoba. C...

Bailadoras de Cumbia en San Pelayo, Cordoba. Colombia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another popular music genre in Colombia and other parts of South and Central America is cumbia. Funnily enough, my first introduction to it came from Sailor, an English pop band with a Norwegian-born singer and guitarist, Georg Kajanus. Although Sailor are best known for their mid-1970s hits A Glass of Champagne and Girls, Girls, Girls (great songs), they have always seemed to have an interest in Latin rhythms – for example, on songs such as Panama and Vera from Veracruz. Here is Sailor’s take on cumbia, La Cumbia, one of their more popular songs from the period after they reunited in the late 1980s. It’s very catchy and I hope come midnight on December 31 you are dancing to something as fun and lively as this.

If you are interested in South American culture, there is an excellent website Sounds and Colours ( Its explanation of cumbia can be read here. That article sings the praises of Lucho Bermudez (1912-1994), so here is a medley of some of Lucho’s most popular compositions.

For something a bit more modern, here is some “technocumbia” from Bomba Estéreo; it’s probably their best known track, Fuego.

To see a cumbia dance in a more natural setting, here is footage of a public performance in the streets of Cartagena.

Have a good new year everybody.

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Sounds from South America: vale Diomedes Diaz

In the past week or so I heard a lot of unusual music (unusual to me, that is) on internet radio from South America. My favourite app, Shazam, identified it as Diomedes Diaz. “Man, this guy is popular!” I thought. But I later read that he died of a heart attack (peacefully, in his bed, which I suppose is the best way to go) a couple of days before Christmas, and so much of what I heard was played in tribute and in memoriam.

English: Piano accordion; Weltmeister, 48 bass...

I have a confession to make and you can mock me for it if you wish: one of my favourite musical instruments is the accordion. (I am also fond of the bagpipes but will not hear a bad word spoken about them, OK?). The accordion is an instrument that is very prominent in the type of Colombian folk music that was Diaz’s specialty, vallenato (read more about this music genre here). The track that attracted me most, primarily because of the accordion melody, was this one, Lluvia de Verano (Summer Rain), from an album released in 1978, La Locura (Madness). Here is a live performance of it that I found on YouTube, but I have no idea who is playing the accordion. The occasion, according to the information supplied on YouTube, is Colombia’s famous carnival, Barranquilla (held in the city of the same name).

If you prefer the cleaner sound of a studio recording, here it is, although the tempo seems slightly slower to me. The accordion player on La Locura was Juancho Rois.

Diaz was a controversial figure, as you can see from this biography of him on Wikipedia. He had a prolific output, judging by this discography. Note how the accordion player is also given a billing on each album.

If you want to know more of his music, you can find complete sets of his 30 Exitos (hits) on YouTube. I have always wondered why “exito” was the word for a hit in Spanish, and it is also used in Portuguese-speaking Brazil. One of the language blogs I follow, Le Cul Entre Les Deux Chaises, had an explanation for that recently in its Word Mystery series. Check it out, follow this link.

How nice it would be now, to be at some colourful music festival in the Colombian sunshine!

Be merry and all that

Christmas lights dangling from a tree in a house in my neighbourhood. Photo: Bernard O'Shea

A neigbour’s Christmas decorations in his garden. Go to “I See a Star” near the bottom of the post. Photo: Bernardo

So, it is almost Christmas. This year, I’m feeling good about it. I hate the commercialisation of Christmas and the crowds in the shopping malls (mauls?) but somehow I have managed to avoid the shops and television and radio adverts for most of the past two months. As a consequence I have only heard Jingle Bells about four times over public address systems, whereas normally by now I would have been subjected to it at least 400 times. And just one Silent Night! So far in 2013 I have not heard one Away in a Manger. Really, I have been blessed. When you live in the southern hemisphere, as I have done for most of my life, the snowy theme of Christmas seems absurd. Nobody dashes through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh here! I was going to do a southern hemisphere parody of that song here, but when looking up the lyrics I found that people have already done that on YouTube. Here’s one:

Anyway, here is my rather amateurish attempt to get into the Romantic Christmas and New Year spirit using a sort of holly and ivy colour theme with some nondescript light blue thrown in and a mish-mash of ugly fonts.

Better happy 5

For some reason, when I took that picture of the coloured stars dangling in a tree near my home, the lyrics of an old song came back to me …”I see a star, a brand new star…” I had forgotten the rest. I looked the song up and discovered I See a Star was a 1974 Eurovision Contest entry for the Netherlands by Mouth and MacNeal (they came third, the winner being ABBA’s Waterloo). It’s not very Christmas related (some reports say the song is about what you might see when you smoke dope…”the beauty that we’re inhaling every day”), but it is a very cheesy 1970s ‘put you in a good mood’ singalong number about happiness and seeing beauty in others , so what the heck, let’s give it a spin.

Mouth and MacNeal’s biggest hit (it made the top 10 in the US and many other countries) was this one, How Do You Do? Since that’s a genial thing to say to people over Christmas and New Year, and everyone likes “na-na, na-na” (nudge nudge wink wink) here it is too.

The 70s were so funny when it came to fashion and music. 🙂

Have a good one

E is for energy (until you reach the euphemistic ‘evening of life’)

English: Uppercase and lowercase Greek letter ...

In English, many of the words beginning with E seem to be endowed with energy of some sort or another. There’s exuberance, excitement, exclamation, exultation, enticing, exhilaration, euphoria, explosive, electrifying, enchanting, ejaculation, ecstasy, edification, enthralling, enthusiastic, embellishment, elopement, elation … etcetera etcetera etcetera. Let’s see if my plug-in that looks for pictures I can use without infringing anyone’s copyright will find examples of exuberance for me…

Oh, look, here is a dog being exuberant:


Exuberance (Photo credit: simonov)

And human beings can do it too, especially when they are wearing bikinis:


Exuberance (Photo credit: RobW_)

So, what sort of moods do E words conjure up in my Five Romance languages? Let’s have a look.

FRENCH:  s’essouflerThis is a word I can relate too, at least in its reflexive form. It means to get breathless, run out of steam, go stale. I should use this word more often! Every morning at 8.10am when I have to climb up stairs cut into a steep hill to make my way to the railway station, to be precise. When I get to the top of the hill I shall say  je suis essoufflé = I am out of breath. The transitive form, essouffler, means to leave someone breathless or something similar figuratively… for example, essouffler ses concurrents means to leave one’s competitors behind. Which is not the sort of thing I do on staircases. Or even on flat ground, for that matter. Of course, the words souffler, soufflé etc are somewhat related in a blowy, breathy kind of way, but I won’t go into them in any detail because they begin with S and already I am running out of steam with this theme. Time to move on to Portuguese.

Foot Bath

PORTUGUESE: escalda-pés. My big Portuguese dictionary defines this as “quite a hot foot bath“. I am impressed that the Portuguese have these luxuries. Hot baths purely for the pés (feet)! That’s what I need after climbing all those friggin’ stairs to get to the railway station every day. If your brain has not run out of steam you will no doubt think that the English word scald must be related, and yes, escaldar means to scald or burn. I can’t sleep or relax when my feet are cold. Imagine having an escalda-pés (it takes the same form in the singular and plural) in the house in winter. What bliss that would be – so much easier than using the microwave! (Foot in bath photo credit goes to someone by the name of Killjoy Divine, I kid you not.)

ROMANIAN: a escroca means to cheat or rip offun escroc means a cheat or a fraudster, and o escrocărie means a sham. Or you could use o escrocherie, which also means a scam or, more informally, a conThese are good words to have when you are travelling and you feel like your hotel room or the trinket you want at the market is overpriced.

A ground beetle

SPANISH: empicarse means to get the bug, in other words, to be hooked on something. Usually followed by por (for). To get hooked on something is engancharse. (By the way, a bug like the one in the picture courtesy of Wikipedia is a bicho).

ITALIAN: elucubrazione are ponderings or cogitations, which in a way sums up the content of many blogs. From the verb elucubrare, to ponder. It sounds more ponderous in Italian, don’t you think?

OMG! In the next instalment in this series I’m going to have to tackle the F words! In the meantime you can find A-D under the Quirky Vocabulary tab near the top of the page.

My Top 5: Italian Female Singers (2nd Edition)

I always like to hear what other musical recommendations other people have, so when I am in the mood for Italian. the Calabrisella Mia blog written by “Lulu” is a good source of inspiration. Here are Lulu’s latest top 5 female favourites, but I recommend you go to her blog at to find out more about Italian singers, actors, films, the language and life in Italy. (She is more hip than I am). Enjoy.

Calabrisella Mia

So, here it is finally.  The 2nd edition to My Top 5:  Italian Female Singers.  My musical preferences change very often and I’m sure there will be more revisions to this top 5 list but for now, here are the Italian female singers I have in constant rotation in iTunes.

The disclaimer is always the same – these are my own personal favourites and I don’t expect everyone to agree with my choices.  In fact, I’d love it if you’d comment with your Top 5 Italian Female Singers.

I hope you enjoy it and maybe discover some new music!

1.  Alessandra Amoroso

Alessandra Amoroso always had a passion for singing.  Since she was very young, she participated in local competitions.  When she was 17 years old, she auditioned for the popular talent show “Amici“, however didn’t make it.  This didn’t hinder her.  In 2008, she auditioned for…

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Tickets please: the scramble for seats around Brazil begins

Porto Alegre in southern Brazil is the venue for Australia v Netherlands; France v Honduras; Nigeria v Argentina and South Korea v Algeria, plus one round of 16 match.

Porto Alegre in southern Brazil is the venue for Australia v Netherlands; France v Honduras; Nigeria v Argentina and South Korea v Algeria, plus one round of 16 match.

The World Cup draw has been made and at last all those who are planning to go there for it can finalise the details of their trek up and down and across the great land that is Brazil. Travel agents are going to be busy this week, even on the weekend.

From an Australian perspective, I was speaking to a travel agent earlier in the week about prices to Brazil. She said that outside of Carnival (February 28 to March 4) and the World Cup (June-July) there are actually cheap tickets – round about $1450 economy return. But during the World Cup they can rise to as much as $5000! (I didn’t dare ask about prices in business or first class). Tickets from Australia to anywhere are never really that cheap, compared with prices in more competitive markets overseas.

Since most of my readers are in the US, UK or Australia, I shall have a quick look at what the World Cup has in store for those nations in particular but won’t ignore the rest.

  • View of Olinda, Brazil

    Olinda, Brazil

    The US have a really tough task in Group G, having to face Germany, Portugal and Ghana. Their matches will be in the north (steamy Manaus in the Amazon basin) and the north-east in Natal (my favourite Brazilian city) and Recife, which is a great holiday destination too – the historic town of Olinda, one of the loveliest in Brazil, is right next door. From a travel perspective, then, US fans are in for a treat. Portugal will play in exotic Salvador, Manaus, and the federal capital Brasilia, which I have heard mixed reports about. Some say it is rather sterile. However, colourful Salvador should compensate for that.

  • Congonhos in Minas Gerais, Brazil. Photo and copyright: Bernard O'Shea

    Congonhas in Minas Gerais, Brazil. Photo and copyright: Bernard O’Shea

    England likewise have a tough group, including former World Cup winners Italy and Uruguay, as well as Costa Rica. England also have to play in Manaus, plus the big cities of Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte. So it will be a case of going from the jungle to the concrete jungles. Around Belo Horizonte, however, there are some great historic towns (Diamentina, Congonhas, Ouro Preto, Tiradentes and Mariana, for example) and the state of Minas Gerais is blessed with many rivers and waterfalls. I spent a week or so in the area and it really impressed me. Belo Horizonte, too, is vibrant and certainly not as intimidating size-wise as Sao Paulo, which also has its attractions and green areas. The Sao Paulo coast is verdant and also makes a great spot to unwind or console yourself after your team has been knocked out of the World Cup. 🙂

  • Iguaçu Falls

    Iguaçu Falls (Photo credit: gjshepherd_br)

    Australia, the lowest ranked team of the 32 participating, drew the defending champions Spain, the beaten finalists the Netherlands, and a strong South American team, Chile, who could easily progress at the expense of one of the European giants. Australia’s matches are in the cooler south (Porto Alegre and Curitiba) and in the western interior (Cuiaba, where I heard that hotel rooms will be scarce). I read that the Australian team was considering using Vitoria in Esprito Santo as its base, which would have been a good choice – smallish, calm city, some nice beaches – but now I think Florianopolis would be a better choice. The beaches there are superb and it is within easy reach of Porto Alegre and Curitiba. I have been to Curitiba but not the other two venues. There is a great train ride from Curitiba down through the rainforest to picturesque villages and the coast, where the Ilha de Mel, or Honey Island, is the top drawcard. Curitiba is in Paraná, whose main attraction is the Iguaçu Falls on the western border with Argentina and Paraguay. If you are going, be sure the Falls are on your itinerary!

  • Hosts Brazil don’t have fancied opposition in their group – Mexico, Croatia and Cameroon – but no game is easy at this level. Most of the matches are in the north or north-east, but the opening game of the tournament is Brazil v Croatia in Sao Paulo, provided it can get its stadium ready on time.
  • Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan are in Group C, I guess the South American side will be the favourite but that’s a fairly even group. The weakest group is said to be E: Switzerland, France, Ecuador and Honduras. The Swiss play in Brasilia, Salvador (against France) and Manaus, the French team’s other games are in Porto Alegre and Rio de Janeiro.
  • Brazil’s great local rivals Argentina face Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria in Group F, while to round things off in Group H are Belgium, Russia, Algeria and South Korea.

I didn’t watch the draw ceremony (it took place round about 3am or 4am Australian time) but heard that perennial carnival favourites Margareth Menezes and Olodum were among the performers at it. Here is one of my favourite songs of Menezes, a carnival hit from a few years back, Dandalunda. It has got the exotic African rhythms and flavours, but bear in mind that no recording captures the sheer excitement and pulse of the baterie (drums and percussion) that a live performance generates.

Here is a taste of Olodum:

Dark moments in Lisbon, lighter ones in Paris

Lisbon at night, looking south towards the Tagus river.

Lisbon at night, looking south towards the Tagus river.

Last night I went on the Night Train to Lisbon. Unfortunately it was the film of that title and not a real comboio, or trem as Brazilians would call it. But nevertheless, armchair travel while you are sitting in a cinema with a big screen, and a glass of wine in your hand, is a pleasant experience. The film has had mixed reviews, but I enjoyed it. A dull professor from Switzerland makes a spontaneous visit to Lisbon and begins to see the world in a new light. There is a love interest and some tense drama involving members of the Portuguese resistance just before the revolution of 1974 (“What if your first assignment was to kill your father?”). Although there wasn’t much Portuguese spoken in the movie, it was great to see parts of Lisbon again. It reminded me why it is one of my favourite cities. And yes, you could spot the yellow trams like the one in the top picture above. Here is the trailer.

Cover of "Night Train to Lisbon: A Novel&...

Cover of Night Train to Lisbon: A Novel

The film is based on the book of the same name (translated from German) by Swiss writer Pascal Mercier. The film made me want to get the book, but after reading all the reviews of it on the Amazon website, now I am not so sure. While many gave it five stars out of five, many also gave it just one star and said it was long, implausible, pretentious and almost impossible to finish. One review claimed that reading the book meant being subjected to “an involuntary language course in Portuguese”. Perhaps that is not such a bad thing after all. I guess I will skim through it at a bookshop first before deciding whether to invest time and money on it.

Portugal does seem to be the flavour of the month, in Australian cinemas at least. Another film that opens next week is the comedy, The Gilded Cage. It’s about a Portuguese couple who have lived for a long time in Paris but then get the chance to return home after they inherit a winery (no doubt there will be food and wine porn in the film, at least some of the obligatory Portuguese cod, or bacalhau). It was written and directed by Ruben Alves, who was brought up as the son of Portuguese immigrants in Paris, and has won a number of awards in Europe this year. It’s mostly in French (its title being La Cage Dorée) but there is a smattering of Portuguese and, I think, people trying to speak Portuguese but confusing it for Spanish instead. It looks like a lot of fun. Here is the trailer.

Don’t confuse your pic pics with your mic mics

Round about the time of their summer hit Pic Pic, Voltaj were also getting a lot of airplay with another song, Lumea e a mea (The world is mine). Initially I would get confused when searching for them because the “ic” sound is predominant in both, pic pic in the former and mic mic in the latter. I have already covered the song and meaning of pic pic (see Drag out your inner îndrăgostit  here), so I will focus on the mics. Here is the video to Lumea e a mea, which I initially found a bit creepy because of the stalking element, but then it takes a surprising twist, and as usual with Voltaj it is technically well made.

So, what’s the mic mic business all about? It’s in the first line of the chorus:

Sunt mic, mic, mic, dar nu-i nimic, 
Nu e totul pierdut, maine-un inceput, 
Cat de mare ar parea, lumea e a mea.
Sunt mic, mic, mic, dar nu-i nimic, 
Daca in palma mea sta inima ta, 
Lumea e a mea.

Mic means “small”, sunt mic thus “I am small”, and dar nu-i nimic means “but it’s nothing”, that is, nothing important.

The chorus to the song could thus be translated as

I am small, small, small, but it doesn’t matter,
All is not lost, tomorrow there’s a beginning,
How big it would seem, the world is mine.
I am small, small, small, but nothing,
If your heart were in my hands,
The world is mine.

I also found a “symphonic version” on YouTube but have no idea who is playing the classical instruments….

For those who prefer a mix of male and female vocals, there is also a version by Voltaj featuring a singer called Kamelia.

Incidentally, I was looking at the Romanian airplay charts this morning and noted that Belgian singer Stromae, whom I featured in the previous post, has two songs that have come into the bottom half of the Top 100, while an Australian, Faydee, is just outside the top 30 with Can’t Let Go. 

Stromae takes France by storm

Français : Stromae aux NRJ Music Awards Polski...

One singer in French who does make you sit up and take notice is Stromae. For one thing, he is a tall, lanky, gangly half Belgian, half Rwandan. And he is a great entertainer. According to this chart site here, he has three songs in the French Top 20, including the No. 1 song, Tous Les Mêmes (All The Same). Rather than play the song in its entirety, I have selected this amusing “the making of” clip, in which Stromae (a play on “maestro” – his real name is Paul Van Haver and he lives in Belgium) introduces it in an usual manner with the help of a Venetian gondolier. So you will hear some spoken French (with subtitles in English) as well as the song, which takes a woman’s point of view – she complains that men are all the same (i.e. heartless brutes, but lovable nevertheless). This explains his odd, half-done-up-in-a-bun hairstyle. This kid has the longest arms, and the sleeves of his purple jacket can’t accommodate them. Just watching them flailing about while he is dancing in the gondola is entertainment in itself.

The video to Papaoutai is just as splendid and the song is very catchy, with distinct African flavours. It was the first single from his second album, Racine carrée, currently the No. 1 album in France. It’s about a boy yearning for his missing father.

In a totally different vein, and somewhat disturbing, is this song, Formidable, filmed candid camera-style.

Those are the three hits from his second album. Finally, here is the song that first gained him fame and recognition, Alors On Danse, a No.1 in many European countries in 2009.

Kanye West did a really lousy remix of this in collaboration with Stromae a year later.

A big week for Pascal Obispo

pascal_obispo_cdFrench singer Pascal Obispo has a new release out this week, Le Grand Amour, his 11th studio album since 1990. It will be interesting to see how it fares – most of his albums have peaked at either No. 1 or No.2 on the French charts, and he’s already had a No.1 this year – the 35-track compilation CD Millésimes – so he is well and truly in the public eye. I love the cover of that album (right) – with its black and white photo of a kid in a cloth cap (is it Pascal himself?), the lips in a contorted position, the expression on the face that only a kid, really, can produce. It evokes another, more innocent era, rather like the films (My Father’s Glory, My Mother’s Castle) based on the memoirs of Marcel Pagnol, which I vaguely remember having to read either at high school or university. Obispo can sing in a number of styles, including uptempo pop/rock, but on the whole his music is soft, with lush strings and piano melodies (Lucie, for example). I sometimes wish he would put a bit more “oomph” into it. The first single release from Le Grand Amour is a typically sombre but melodic ballad, D’un Avé Maria. It highlights the clarity and versatility of his voice and the beauty of the language.

Here are a couple of popular songs from early in his career. Personne, from 1996, was his first top 10 hit in France. “Personne” in French can mean “person” but also, oddly, “no one”, or “nobody”. 

His first No. 1 was a song called Fan. It’s pretty gimmicky. In the video he goes good impersonations of the likes of AC/DC, Kiss, an amusing, big-boobed Freddie Mercury from Queen, Elvis and James Bond, among others. Check it out.

Having spent the past couple of hours skimming through Obispo’s back catalogue, though, I must say that while I find much of his music is pleasant, and sometimes quite unusual, it doesn’t exactly make you sit up and take notice. My next post will feature someone who definitely does.