07 December 2005

You want salsa on those latkes? (CD Review)

Hip Hop Hoodios: Agua Pa' La Gente
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The situation started in 1492
King Ferdinand gonna burn the Jews
Inquisition came and it hit the fan
Forget Espana, want New Amsterdam.

And it is New Amsterdam -- now New York of course -- from which the latest cultural result of the expulsion of the Jews bursts forth in the form of Hip Hop Hoodios -- a Latino-Jewish hip-hop group with a keen sense of humor.

The Hoodios (a name is derived from Judio, a Spanish term for Jew) first released their 5-song Raza Hoodia EP in 2002, and this year released a full CD by the name of Agua Pa' La Gente (both available in mp3 format at hiphophoodios.spintheglobemusic.net).

A blend of funk, hip-hop, rock, salsa, and klezmer touches play tag throughout the album. You've got your basic power-chord fueled Spanish-language Hanukkah rap in "Ocho Kandelikas" (Imagine Ozomatli gone kosher, and you've got the idea). Then there's the sing-along-inspiring refrain of funk-pop-flavored "Nose Jobs" with its message of nasal ethnic pride. Klezmer clarinet is a sharp addition to the hip hop groove of "Kike on the Mic," but the boastful lyrics stumble into the banal. Really, I don't really care what color "honeys" you chase. And yes, dear, of course you're large and in charge.

While the positive cultural message makes a refreshing diversion from so much smarmy rap-pop, the Hoodios do sometimes trip into such traps of cliche as they balance between cultures and languages. I'll leave to your own imagination the maturity level of the song "Dicks and Noses," which is about what you think it might be about. And some songs are plain silly, like the country-kazoo stylings of "Toribio the Clown Gets His Groove Back." Not necessarily bad-silly, but the CD seems a bit disjointed with these next to the album's title track, a biting criticism of the privatization of water resources.

Perhaps the most compelling track is another serious one, "1492," from which lyrics were quoted above. The song includes some tasty trumpet work by Frank London and tells the story of the Jews' plight upon Spain's order to expel or convert the Jews. The diaspora of Jews into the Americas, along with the "conversion" of those remaining in Spain ("Christ or death, what would you choose?") means that "millions of Latinos they got Jewish blood." And now some of them are making music about it.

Hip Hop Hoodios show serious musical chops, and some promising songwriting. A little more maturity and a little less shallow self-parody could launch them into serious bandhood, and their cultural messages could get the attention they deserve (they have been featured on one of our favorite radio shows, The World's Global Hit).

Oh, and the band offers a money-back guarantee on the album. So what do you have to lose?
The Jews weren't the only targets, of course. A new book by Mary Elizabeth Perry tells the story of the Muslims who were in a similar plight after the edict of 1502, many of whom nominally converted (and were known as Moriscos) though they kept many Muslim practices alive. The book is The Handless Maiden: Moriscos and the Politics of Religion in Early Modern Spain.

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