HUEY MORGAN'S LATIN MUSIC ADVENTURE - THREE-PART BBC DOCUMENTARY SERIES (2020)
BBC Radio 6 Music DJ Huey Morgan begins his Latin music adventure in Rio de Janeiro with a visit to Mangueira Samba School as they prepare for carnival. It is an important time. Joining rehearsals, Huey learns that the country’s government has come out against carnival’s hedonistic atmosphere. This samba group are just one of many planning a protest, and Huey realises that the revolutionary spirit isn’t just in Brazilian music, it is out on the streets.
Huey then hits the beach but discovers that Brazilian music in the 1960s wasn’t confined to the slick bossa nova swing of the Girl from Ipanema. Released in 1964, this song provided the soundtrack for cocktail parties around the world, but in Brazil that same year a military dictatorship had taken control of the country and civil unrest was brewing.
Huey meets up with Gilberto Gil, who pioneered a new, politically conscious sound to push back against the authoritarian government. Fusing bossa nova with psychedelic rock, avant-garde musique concrete, samba, funk and soul, Tropicália was so radical, and its social implications so politically profound, that Gil and fellow musician Caetano Veloso were arrested, imprisoned and finally exiled in 1969. Tropicália burned brightly for only a few short years, but its impact still resonates today.
Landing in Salvador, Huey is straight into the heat and the chaos of Brazil in the run-up to carnival. Everywhere you turn there are Afro blocs rehearsing, enormous drum ensembles beating out samba rhythms. Salvador is the ancient capital of Brazil, and it was here that millions of slaves were shipped to from Africa by the Portuguese conquistadors - more than anywhere else in the Americas. Salvador is said to be the largest African city outside of Africa, and the revolutionary sound of Brazil has its foundations here. These Afro blocs are more than just music ensembles - they also play a crucial political role in the communities that host them. Huey meets with Carlinhos Brown, percussionist and Salvador native, to experience the rhythms of an Afro bloc up close and to talk about how Afro-positive music has shaped the sound of Brazil. Huey also joins BaianaSystem to learn the secrets of the Bahian guitar - a revolutionary electric instrument invented in Salvador in the 1940s and performed on floats called trios electricos that traverse the city during carnival.
Leaving Salvador, Huey heads to São Paulo, the centre of the Brazilian music scene today, to meet up with his good friend Supla. Taking a tour of the punk and metal scene, Huey discovers that Brazil is still using music to protest against the authoritarian government currently in power and heads to the studio to meet Karol Conka, a rapper and outspoken feminist who is making party anthems with a purpose. (00:59:03)
Continuing his journey through Latin America, Huey arrives in Cuba to explore a country at a moment of reinvention. Cuba plays a unique part in the story of Latin American music - after the communist revolution of 1959, the country effectively closed its doors to the sights and sounds of the rest of the world.
From this point, Cuban music evolved in isolation from the other Latin-speaking countries, with traditional forms placed at the heart of their sound. The rhythms and melodies of Cuba’s people have captured the hearts of fans all around the world, and now that the government is gradually relaxing restrictions, more music is being released from Cuba than ever before.
Huey sets off from the capital Havana to explore the rich musical legacy of the island as well as getting a taste of things to come. Rumba is the foundation that Cuban music is built upon so Huey decides to check out the local scene and learn a little of how sex appeal is a crucial part of that beat.
But it isn’t all about hot dance moves - music is a central part of the Cuban education system, where kids get eight hours of free music tuition every week. Huey heads to one of Cuba’s many conservatoires to see a group of children rehearsing and meets up with one famous graduate, percussionist and singer Brenda Navarrette. Another musician making authentically Cuban music, but with a modern perspective, is Roberto Fonseca, the young pianist who got his break playing with Buena Vista Social Club and is now taking his own music around the world.
Huey discovers that one of the biggest challenges for musicians in Cuba today is not having access to the internet - across Havana you see groups of people clustered around government-designated ‘hot spots’ trying to get online - but what they find once they are on there is heavily censored. But Huey has heard about an ingenious solution. El Paquete (the Package) is a physical pirate internet, a drive containing all the latest films, music and news that is delivered by hand to users once a week. Huey joins one of the delivery guys to see what new music people are listening to! This mix of the old and the new is where Cuba is at its best, and the musicians are keen not to lose sight of what makes them unique.
Huey ends his journey by checking out Cimafunk at the Havana World Music festival. It’s clear that change is already here, but the sound of Cuba’s past is the sound of its future too. (00:59:31)
Migration has shaped music right across Latin America, but perhaps never more so than in Puerto Rico, where over half the population live, not on the island, but in the United States. Reflecting this story of two halves, Huey starts his final adventure right back on the streets where he first fell in love with the hot sounds of Latin Music - in New York City.
For Latinos leaving their home country and arriving in New York, identity and community was everything. ’El Barrio’, or Spanish Harlem, became the focal point for the Puerto Rican community, and Latin music the soundtrack to their survival. Fusing traditional music with American R&B and soul, newly minted Nuyoricans created the 60s Latin dance craze the boogaloo. Huey talks to Joe Bataan about his role as a boogaloo pioneer, and how music saved him from a life running gangs on the streets. Huey also drops in on music writer, and proud Nuyorican, Aurora Flores, who was there in El Barrio during the birth of salsa and witnessed the rise of legendary record label Fania.
Flying south to Puerto Rico itself, Huey sets off on a journey to discover the music that was left behind, hunting down the roots of salsa in the capital San Juan, and the traditional folk styles of bomba and plena. These songs still play an important role in marking births and deaths in rural areas of the country, and Grammy-nominated band Plena Libre believe they are the source of that fierce Puerto Rican pride. Recently Puerto Ricans have needed every bit of that strength and pride - the island is still recovering from the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria in 2017. Huey heads to a local bar to see how traditional music brought the community together after the storm.
Musical migration is still plays a huge part in Puerto Rico’s story - some of the most successful pop music of the last few years has come from this small island. Meeting up with cuatro player Christian Nieves, Huey discovers that traditional instruments are right at the heart of the most streamed and downloaded song of all time - Despacito! Huey heads back to the capital to learn about the birth of the world-dominating reggaeton rhythm with DJ Negro, the founder of The Noise, and meets breakout artist iLe to understand why Puerto Ricans are once again looking to their musical roots in their hope for a better future. (00:59:29)
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