Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Getting married in Ecuador: Part One - the Civil wedding service

Part One: The civil wedding

I got married in Ecuador not once but twice. What was once a deeply Catholic country is becoming increasingly secular (although centuries of Catholicism still ensures which direction Ecuador's moral compass points to this day).

A secular state means a marriage service stripped of religious jiggery-pokery. So what are you left with? A rather soulless service held in a government office presided over by a bureaucrat who pronounces 'husband and wife' with the same listlessness as rubber-stamping a planning application.

This is where I was married - Direccion General de Registro Civil, Quito
My first wedding took place in Quito's central registry office, close to the Quicentro shopping centre and the main park. Being an Englishman simplified our wedding plans... I was only allowed to marry in the Direccion General de Registro Civil. Ecuadorians marrying compatriots can pay for a registrar to visit their venue but foreigners don't get this luxury.

We tried to keep the civil wedding under wraps, partly because none of my family from England were attending and partly because we didn't want to steal the thunder of the big church wedding we were planning later that year. Of course, there was no way we could keep it a secret from the Ecuadorian wing of the family and Lucy's parents, sisters, cousin Shaopix and friend Tanya all attended (the latter were witnesses).

Although neither Lucy or I had placed very much stock on the civil wedding when the day arrived I think we both recognised its significance. Although we had tried to pretend to the contrary, this was the real thing. We might tell everybody that the real wedding was in a couple of months time but legally this was the only one that counted. I wore my brown three-piece suit and Lucy wore white - well, it is a wedding after all.

Smiles after the service with Lucy and her sisters
I was very nervous on the way to the registry office, packed into the Fundacion Alli Causai truck and - as the only foreigner - feeling ever so slightly isolated. Nobody from England was with me to share the moment... largely because I had kept it a secret. There had been nothing Byzantine about keeping mum, it was just that people were making great efforts to attend the religious wedding in two months time and I didn't want them to think they'd missed the boat, My parents had only had a civil wedding at a registry office and I worried that doing things twice might have seemed needlessly showy for my thrifty father's northern sensibility.

On Lucy's side were her parents and her three sisters, Arlen, Emilia and Camila. Her cousin Nidia and her friend Tanya served as our witnesses. Nidia tried to combine her duties as witness with a secondary role as photographer, but I think it proved harder than she'd expected and we weren't exactly presented with an album of 'keepers'. Not to worry - during the short service a cartoonist entered the room and sketched us both in charcoal. I was portrayed as a towering, long-haired giant with beady, little eyes... so I suppose it was a fairly good likeness. If I ever see the caricature again I will publish it on this blog but I fear it may be lost forever.

I was nervous ahead of the service but I knew what to expect, having attended (and photographed) the civil ceremony of our friends Tanya and Christian a few months earlier. It is short, official and humourless and aside from signing your name on a document there is no ritual and few frills.

Afterwards we headed back to the north of Quito and to Nidia's house to eat sushi (probably Emilia's idea) and cakes (probably Carlos' idea) and sparkling wine (probably my idea).

I think Lucy and I were both feeling relieved. Bureaucracy in Ecuador isn't always a straight-forward matter - particularly when you are a foreigner and documents need to be counter-signed and verified. I'm sure in the back of both of our minds we had considered the possibility of an official declining my papers.

So legally we were married but we had both steeled ourselves to disregard this ceremony. Neither of us wanted to detract from the big bash on the horizon. Of course, we were married and this was a fact we could not avoid and in response we played a little game, asking one another what percentage married we felt... it wasn't a very scientific scale but the answers tended to skirt between 20-70 per cent. Of course, neither of us wanted to score higher than 70 in case it took anything away from the next wedding.

Let's say, the formalities were completed. The paperwork was in order... now we could set about the real challenge - putting the finishing touches to an ambitious wedding where all our friends and family would be in attendance.

The fun was about to start...

Part Two: The Real/Fake Wedding

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Becoming an Ecuadorian Citizen (in an afternoon)

My daughter Julia became an Ecuadorian citizen. She was not born in Ecuador, she was born in London, so the process was slightly more complicated (but not much). She has an Ecuadorian mother and an English father - that would be me.

At four months old Julia crossed the Atlantic for the first time and visited Ecuador. She had a whale of a time but entered the country on her British passport as a tourist - so it was high-time we resolved this and made her officially Ecuadorian.

Julia at Hacienda Guachala in Cayambe, on the line of the equator
Back in London we attended the Ecuadorian consulate, a crummy building near Kings Cross station. We had imagined the process might be lengthy and formal so my dad volunteered to come along with us, in case Julia needed a minder while we were being interviewed. Instead the process was relatively short and informal but it was nice to have him along for the ride all the same. I bought him a gourmet burger to say thank you but I'm not sure he enjoyed it very much because it was served bloody (he is fussier than a little lord).

The consulate was quiet, it was just our little party and a family of economic migrants from near Otavalo who were living in Milton Keynes - from the slopes of Imbaburra to the slopes of the Milton Keynes Snow Dome. They were returning to Ecuador after seven years of graft in England. Julia garbled garrulously to their two-year-old son; he turned to his mum, concern in his eyes: "What's up with that baby's mouth, why can't it talk?"

Waiting room literature was a selection of newspapers printed for London's large Latin community. The pages were filled with adverts - mostly for immigration lawyers - but dad enjoyed reading an article on David Cameron and another on Jorge Lorenzo. It's good Spanish practice.

A political propaganda film was playing on a loop on a TV in the middle of the room. President Rafael Correa was banging on about mining - I can't remember if he was for or against the mine, but by the end of the programme I was left in no mind his side was right, whatever side that was.

The citizenship process was like all Ecuadorian bureaucracy - baffling with long periods of inactivity punctuated by fleeting bouts of frenzied signing and rubber stamping. Embarrassingly the citizenship had a price of £4.20 and nobody had thought to bring change. I had a £20 note but they wouldn't break it and bank cards were out of the question. Between the three of us we upturned every pocket and scraped the paltry sum together with five pences and coppers - the bureaucrat oversaw the debacle with remarkable patience.

I'm not sure what Ecuadorian citizenship meant to Julia, frankly she looked rather nonplussed by it all. It will no doubt come in very handy at some point in her life but I'm sure her British passport will be the more useful travel companion. I can imagine plenty of instances where pretending not to be English might be diplomatic, after all Britain has been at war with just about every country on the geo-politcal map and has racked up plenty of animosity. By contrast, Ecuador has only ever been to war with Peru, and this was a short-lived and amicable dispute settled when the Ecuadorian army got in a muddle and sent 500 crates of unripe bananas to the front-line instead of the rifles.

As the latest Ecuadorian citizen, we got a souvenir photo of Julia taken next to the giant Ecuadorian flag and the signed poster of the President.

Julia's first moments as an Ecuadorian
Not every country permits dual nationality but Britain and Ecuador do. My favourite part of the episode is the declaration by the Home Office that if you take on a second nationality then don't come crying to Britain if you get conscripted in some foreign legion, the Queen can't get you a discharge. Julia, you're on your own.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Enrique Males: Ariningacaman

This is a music video I made for Ecuadorian singer Enrique Males' song Ariningacaman.

Enrique Males is from Otavalo and despite being a softly-spoken man face-to-face he has the most impressively deep and powerful voice when he sings. He specialises in traditional Andean folk sounds, typically played on pre-Hispanic wind instruments.

Ariningacaman is sung in Quechua and is a love song to Males' child. It was sung at my wedding in Cayambe after Lucy walked down the aisle.

The video is a montage of some of my favourite footage I filmed after nearly a year filming in Ecuador's rural communities. I made the video because I love the song and it didn't exist online - I would like more people to hear and appreciate Enrique Males' music. I hope you like it.

Kay shungupi nawipi yuyaypi causangapac nanguta manachi


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A rough guide to Latin American music

I shall attempt to hack a path through the dense jungle of Latin American music. Previously I'd dumped all Latin music into one collective pile, but the genres and sub-genres are endless. To be honest, I still find it hard to distinguish the subtle differences between Chicha and Cumbia or Salsa and Son Montuno. However, I fully support the necessity of endless sub-categorising. As a fan of metal I can tell you the differences between death, thrash, black, power, Viking, or hair metal.

So here goes and in alphabetical order (this list is by no means complete and is very much a work in progress)

Bachata – Latin music from the Dominican Republic, it became very fashionable again in the late 1980s thanks to a singer called Juan Luis Guerra. Bachata is a mix of European and African traditions and features rhythm guitar, bass, bongos and a guira - a metal board or drum played with a stiff wire brush. Here is a nice example of a Bachata song I like by Juan Luis Guerra called Ojala que lleuva Cafe (I hope it rains Coffee). 

Banda, Musica de – the most popular party music of Ecuador, you can't have a fiesta without Musica de Banda in the Andes. It is brass bands, cymbals, bass drums and loud thumping rhythms that compel your feet into stamping. Every police force, neighbourhood, army regiment, and school has its own banda de musica and competition between the rival bands is fierce. Nothing gets the party started like the banda. At my own wedding we booked a local banda from Cayambe - provided they were fed and watered (with rum) they kept playing for hours. My dad took this video of my wife Lucia and I dancing to the banda - we're both carrying raposas (stuffed skunks) which are a fertility symbol in the Andes... and I'm dancing very badly.

The Banda at my own wedding, playing before the bonfire
Bomba – an Ecuadorian music from the black immigrants of El Chota, an Andean valley in the highlands. Most of Ecuador's black population is based along the coast (particularly Esmeraldas) so El Chota is unusual. The African roots have been fused with indigenous Indian folk traditions so it has a very distinctive sound and appearance.

Cha cha cha – a Cuban dance music, a derivative of Son Montuno (see below). Cha cha cha is onomatopoeic, it is what you do between the steps: “One, two, three – cha, cha, cha... etc”. The dance is now a staple member of the competitive ballroom scene.

Chicha – this is Peru's take on Cumbia, but it's extremely popular across the Andean countries. Chicha arrived in the 1960s when Lima received massive immigration from the Andes, mixing tropical music with highland folk sounds. Chicha relies on an electric guitar, instead of an acoustic guitar. In the last ten years it has become trendy with young Peruvians, shaking off its working class roots and arriving in the discos and studenty bars of Barranco. Chicha is classic dance and drinking music.
My favourite chicha song is without a doubt Grupo 5's Te Vas Te Vas. Chilean singer Americo's version is the most famous but it's not a patch on Grupo 5.

Cumbia – Arguably the most popular genre of music across Latin America, Cumbia is everywhere. On every bus the radio will be playing cumbia... or its evil twin techno-cumbia. Originally cumbia was folk music from Colombia, mixing European, Indian and African traditions and was danced in courtship with large skirts made with 10 metres of cloth, so the girls shake, lift and play with their flowing dress.
La Sonora Dinamata are a fun introduction to Cumbia and this energetic live performance gives a good sense of the fun of cumbia.
Los Hispanos have this song about Gabriel Garcia Marquez' novel 100 Years of Solitude
I was lucky enough to watch a Cumbia video being made - it wasn't quite Beyonce.
Man shooting a music video in Ecuador
I was fortunate to see a cumbia video being made before my eyes - this is Geovana Jara
Festejo – an Afro-Peruvian rhythm. There is debate over the authenticity of Festejo, some critics claim it is a relatively modern reinvention to give the black population of Peru an identity. Festejo uses donkey jaws as a rattling, percussion instrument. 
The best festejo song I've found is this by Eva Ayllon called Saca La Mano (Put out the hand). It's easy to dance to, you stick out your hands, stick out your feet and then shake your head like you don't want to lose (as the song says). We danced this at the wedding.

Mambo – an older Latin music, also from Cuba (like so many other styles) and also part of the ballroom dance circus.

Marimba – an Ecuadorian afro music, but also heard across Central America. It is named after the wooden percussion instrument, similar to a xylophone. In Ecuador it is closely associated with the largely black province of Esmeraldas.

Pasillo – mournful, drinking music from Ecuador. The songs are melancholy and the lyrics are over the top. There is a European undertone to the music, particularly the Viennese Waltz. There's a pasillo song by DĂșo Benitez called Diseccion where the singer imagines his own death and being sliced up on the autopsy table, pretty tame if you grew up with Cannibal Corpse's 'Hammer Smashed Face' but pretty gruesome stuff for non-death metal audiences. Until the 1950s amorous young men would hire a pasillo to serenade their sweethearts under the window. If the girl accepted her lover's overtures she would appear at the window, if the gesture was rebuffed she would remain in bed.
Maybe Julio Jaramillo is the most popular pasillo singer, here's Nuestro Juramento.

Reggaeton – born in Puerto Rico, it mixes Jamaican reggae with hip-hop. It is one of the most popular types of music with young Latins today. It's fair to say the lyrics are aggressive, sexist and homophobic. I once found myself in a reggaeton club in Montanita and it was a pretty shocking sight of hyper-sexualised gender violence on the dance floor. The women were simulating oral and anal sex - all in time to the music - while their Guayaquilian boyfriends bobbed along - less in time to the music - swigging from bottles of Pilsner and Club Verde. Reggaeton isn't for me but achieved worldwide fame at the hands of Daddy Yankee's Gasolina.

Salsa – born in New York in the 1970s from Caribbean immigrants who combined Son Montuno from Cuba with Jazz music. It became popular as a symbol of Latin identity and is so intertwined with the dance scene the two are almost inseparable. Unfortunately, no party in Latin America can exist without Salsa music. It is less sexual than bachata but more sensual, the dance is a game of flirtation. Latin girls might even choose a man, based on his ability to dance Salsa. In the last decade Salsa has faced a slight decline with the popularity of bachata and the advent of 'romantic salsa' – a sexist, and lyrically crude form of the genre. The most famous Salsa figure from history was Hector Lavoe (the man who could breathe underwater), he was chaotic, always late for his shows, and died of drug abuse.
I can't dance salsa and perhaps because of this fact the music has always left me slightly cold. However, there are a few diamonds in the rough - like Quitate Tu by Fania All Stars.

San Juanito – an Andean folk music from Ecuador. It gets its name from the fiesta de San Juan, with which it is closely associated. It is upbeat and danced with handkerchiefs (like our Morris dancing). The festival of San Juan derives from the Incan festival of Inti Raymi, celebrating the sun God on June 24. The men tend to sing with deep baritone voices and the women sing with a high-pitched, slightly alien style (a little bit Bollywood), it sounds incredible. I love San Juanito and it's always played at the fiestas. This song by Jatari is called Chimbalito 

Son Montuno – another genre from Cuba, the roots of Salsa music. Percussion plays an important role with its African origins, but also blends Spanish guitar and brass styles. It is purer than salsa, which is blended with jazz, and slightly slower.

Traditional folk - every South American country has its own traditional folk songs but the best I found is Luzmila Carpio from Bolivia. Her high-pitched voice is incredible and almost alien to the ears. She can hit notes you won't believe the human voice could reach. Her song Arawi - performed here live - is haunting and very beautiful. Ecuador has Enrique Males who recreates a pre-Colombian sounds with the wind instruments borrowed from museums. His voice is deep and powerful. He sang this song Ariningacaman at my own wedding - it's a love song, sung in Quechua, to his child.

Vallenato – an upbeat Colombian coastal music played with an accordion inexplicably popular with Ecuadorian bus drivers. Carlos Vives made the genre fashionable in the 90s, he won three Grammy Latinos (if you're counting). His best song, by a country mile, is La Gota Fria (The Cold Sweat) but the videos for some of his latest songs are worth a watch, for his sheer hammy performances alone. There's something very likeable about Vives, even when he's acting like a total prat, as in this toe-curlingly cringey video for Vovi a Nacer.

Metal – Heavy Metal in Ecuador is most closely identified with the urban working classes, so has more to do with heavy metals rougher roots than the slightly sensitive, art-school emo scene we see in Europe today. The south of Quito is heavy metal heaven. It's strange to see Latin boys (just like in Europe its male-dominated) dressed in black leather with long, greasy hair under the scorching Ecuadorian sun.
Unfortunately, Latin metal has yet to find its own distinctive sound, particularly in Spanish-speaking South America. Trailblazers like Sepultura and Sarcofargo from Brazil seem to have had more influence in Europe than Ecuador. Instead, the most popular Latin metal groups attempt to replicate the European/US sounds, with the most popular genre by far being Power/Prog Metal. The lyrics (when they're in English) are disastrous and unintentionally comedic – but that's true of a lot of German metal too.
I'll keep on digging, but so far I haven't found anything particularly original. It's a shame because South America has such a deep well of Pagan history to draw from and an oppressive Catholic religion to rebel against. What could be darker or more metal than human sacrifices, snake Gods and living volcanoes?

Rata Blanca are perhaps the most popular... just don't expect Guns n' Roses.