Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Bus Home - Seventh Semester at JCU

I was leaning against the post at the bus stop when I suddenly realised it was remarkably cold. The sun was setting towards the west, in some unknown location behind University Hall, well beyond John Flynn College and the once-glorious Western Hall. The night was approaching with steadiness, and in that natural requiem for the dying day, the skies were filled with shades of gold and red, the majestic display of the natural cycles that surround our very busy lives at University.

My internal thermostat, under subjective control, was telling me it might have been around 18 degrees Celsius. I looked at myself, feeling very Australian. I was wearing a T-shirt I was given during the SPRTE conference in Canberra last year and the standard footwear of this Great Southern Land: thongs. Maybe not the appropriate clothing for such a cold late afternoon, but who cared anyway?

The bus approached in the distance, making its way northbound towards us. I looked at my watch again and realised that I had taken this same bus at that very hour exactly one year earlier. Well, to be precise, it was exactly one academic year earlier; not necessarily three hundred and sixty five days in the past. The precise academic date was the last Friday of exams for the first semester of the year.

During the first semester of 2008 I was completing my fifth semester at JCU, and I still remember with great complacency how I finished that final exam for Advanced Cell Biology on that last Friday afternoon of exams. I recall taking the last bus number 10 for the day, ready to go home and sleep. As that day was dying, just like this one, I leaned my head against the window, and with a big smile of my face I was embracing the finalisation of another semester of academic endeavours, whilst listening to 'Tabaco y Chanel' by the Colombian group "Los Bacilos" in my MP3 player.

A year later, I would take the same bus home. This time, however, the last Friday of exams brought me to Uni not to sit an exam like all the rest of the students, but rather to continue my literature research on caffeine and Alzheimer's disease. This year I will be finishing my Honours year in Pharmacology, thus only needing to complete assignments and my thesis.

As the sun continued its journey towards the West, I sat in that bus, and in a retrospective (and slightly melancholic) mood realised how incredibly lucky I have been. Even though this year I do not have a proper mid-year break, this Friday finalizes my 'proper' seventh semester at James Cook University in this beautiful spot in the Australian tropics. As usual, each semester has its own distinct flavour and experiences, and this one has been a very special one.

The bus was now following the sun in its westward journey. In my MP3 player a slightly-more-Medieval version of "Amazing Grace", rendered by the German band Gregorian, was playing, the beautiful tune resonating in the auditory centres in my brain. As I stepped down of the bus in Kelso and walked home, the song continued to play, bringing to life the world around me in the fantastic realisation of the amazing mercy that God displayed, even towards a wretch like me.

I was so glad of being in Australia, after seven semesters, with great friends, marvellous fellowship, and the Southern Cross up in the skies always faithfully showing me where the cardinal South is located. And even more, to be able to lean against the bus window in a cold June evening and truly sing (in my head, at least) the deep theological implications of Amazing Grace.

What a great blessing, mate!

Monday, June 1, 2009

La Epítome de la Música Latinoamericana

Les traigo tres vídeos que, a mi parecer, epitomizan las variadas facetas de la música de la América Latina. 

(1) Lo Clásico: "Como Fue" - Raul Di Blasio y Los Tri-o

El bolero "Como Fue" fue inicialmente compuesto por Beny More, uno de los más grandes intérpretes de la Cuba del Siglo XX. En este 'cover', el pianista argentino Raúl Di Blasio y el grupo colombiano "Los Tri-O" retoman ésta composición cubana para darle renovados brillos contemporáneos. El piano de fondo y las voces del trío resuenan la época dorada de la música cubana, en el apogeo del son, cha cha cha y el bolero, entre los años 20's y 40's. Tres naciones juntas que expresan el alma latinoaméricana en un bolero clásico de nuestra herencia común: la española, la indígena y la africana. 

(2) El Lamento: "Todo Cambia" - Mercedes Sosa

La canción "Todo Cambia" se basa en la poesía escrita por el chileno Julio Numhausen, quien junto con el grupo Quilapayún fueron parte de la "Nueva Canción" que nacía desde el Cono Sur, para extenderse hacia toda Latinoamérica. Mercedes Sosa fue y sigue siendo uno de los exponentes argentinos de éste género. Una de las cosas que hace a la Nueva Canción parte importante de la supra-cultura latinoamericana es porque nace del sufrimiento de la América Latina entera bajo la opresión de regímenes autoritarios que saltaron durante décadas en todo el sub-continente. La Nueva Canción Chilena, por ejemplo, guarda en mártires como Victor Jarra el sentimiento de la opresión injusta y la desigualdad social en nuestros países. Y más aún, "Todo Cambia" nace desde el exilio, una canción de los corazones desplazados de sus patrías, en el dolor y la angustia de esa misma opresión. 

(3) El Aroma a Pueblo: "La Tierra del Olvido" - Carlos Vives

Desde la región noroccidental de Colombia, esta porción de vallenato viene con sabor a campiña. Representa la voz folklórica de las regiones lejos de la metrópolis, en donde la música fluye en el diario vivir de los pobladores que luchan por sobrevivir. Es en las canteras de la campiña en donde el sentimiento folklórico se mantiene y florece. El vallenato representa al elemento popular, la música de pueblo, del sudor del sol a sol, un elemento clave en toda Latinoamérica.