In Praise of Oxala and Other Gods

In Praise of Oxala and Other Gods: Black Music of South America LP
(Nonesuch, 1970)

I first started picking up international records (to hell with the term "World Music") in my early twenties after stumbling on a copy of Temiar Dream Music of Malaya on Folkways. I was completely blown away. The sounds I heard coming out of my speakers were not like anything I had ever heard. Alien as the sounds were, I could connect: Like the best punk rock or free jazz, there was something true in what I was hearing. I really can't explain any further - this isn't something that happens intellectually. You've either feel this connection or not. I did.

That connection sent me in a scurry to find more records in the Ethnic Folkways series. I borrowed my boss's van and hit all the record stores in the area. In one weekend I had stripped Sacramento and its suburbs of every available Folkways record. I picked up about 30 titles, from Pygmy chants to the sounds of sea animals to field recordings of cable cars. I was amazed at what I heard. Folkways opened up a whole new world of sound to me and became my favorite record label (and still is). But there was a problem: I had plundered Sacramento of Folkways records (for the time being) and I was jonesing for more international tunes. Enter the Nonesuch Explorer series.

My first Nonesuch Explorer album was Golden Rain. Recorded by David Lewiston and released in 1969, it is the debut record of the Explorer series. One side is gamelan, the Indonesian "classical" music that uses bells, gongs, and percussion to make a beautiful, lush sound. The flip is a recording of the Ramayana Monkey Chant. If Temiar Dream Music sounded intense to me, the Ketjak was mind destruction. Twenty minutes of an extreme web of percussive voice that is more powerful than a stadium full of Marshall stacks, my first listen to the monkey chant left me trembling. It also hooked me on the Explorer series.

Again, I set out to pillage Sacramento. While most of the Nonesuch Explorers I found are good, the ones that take the step into greatness are all recorded by David Lewiston. The hit to miss ratio for Lewiston rivals Barry Bonds. People sometimes ask, "If you could be someone else, who would you be?" I think it is a silly question and pass on it. However, if you want to ask, "If you could have someone else's ears, whose would they be?" I would claim John Peel for my right and David Lewiston for my left.

One of my favorite Lewiston recordings is on the album In Praise of Oxala and Other Gods. On this record, Lewiston has collected recordings of the Black South American descendants of slaves. Some of the songs, especially those of Brazil, are chanting and percussion, more ceremonial than celebratory. However, there are two cuts from Columbia that are downright funky. These are the two I present to you.

According to the liner notes both tracks were recorded in Buenaventura, a port town on Columbia's Pacific coast. The songs combine both Spanish and African melodies and rhythms to make a shuffling style that sounds related to both calypso and more modern dance music of the west coast of Africa. Unfortunately, the custom at the time of the record's release was not to identify the musicians, so our funky Buenaventurians remain anonymous.

I've dropped needle on Arrullo San Antonio at the end of dance parties before and it created a frenzy of funky, drunken dancing. Los cholitos is one of my favorite songs ever. If someone was to go against my wishes and stage a funeral for me when I die, it is one of the songs they must play.

It looks like you found the Academic Decathlon World Music CD. Say what you will about brainy competitions; that album was addicting. How could you forget to mention Kriti: Ninandanela???
Many years ago I, too, found the Nonesuch record with Arullo San Antonio and Los Cholitos...I've always wanted to cover those two songs, and I ran across your blog searching for MP3's of them...I see that I'm several years too late, but I just had to write because I concur heartily with you about those songs.


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