Friday, February 14, 2014

Ecuadorian Music Videos: the Seventh Circle of Hell

There's no point sugaring the pill, Ecuadorian pop music is bad... but the accompanying music videos occupy a circle of hell deeper still... most probably that one with red hot pokers, arses and eternity.

Just so we're on the same wave length, watch this video before continuing. It's by the indigenous pop singer Delfin Quishpe. The song is called 'Torres Gemelas' which means 'The Twin Towers' in English. Alarm bells should be starting to ring, but let's give our man Delfin the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he can pull off that rare feat of singing about a sensitive and traumatic subject with dignity and genuine emotion.

Ok, so he couldn't. But at least we're all on the same page now.

When I first saw the work of Delfin Quishpe on YouTube I thought it must be a joke, so far beyond the realms of parody did it exist. But this was before I'd moved to Ecuador, back then I was watching it with my cynical (and I'm ashamed to say, elitist) European eyes.

For this reason, I was in two minds about writing this blog - which is essentially a piss-take of all that Ecuadorians, and to no small extent Latin America, holds dear.

After all, am I saying multi-million dollar, slick and vacuous music videos of Miley Cyrus and One Direction are better? With their inherent sexism (made all the more sickening by that knowing wink at irony) and their unashamed steam-rollering towards a mindless, bland consumerism.

To make things more complicated still, there's the stream of subtle racism that runs through all Andean life. The indigenous community is marginalised by the mestizos and sometimes even openly ridiculed in popular culture. In Peru, for example, a favourite comedy is Paisana Jacinta (perhaps Bumpkin Josie in English, or Red-neck Jane in American). It features a mestizo woman who has darkened her skin, wears ragged clothes and sports a set of comedy, crooked teeth. That's right, she's impersonating a stupid Indian - like it was 1960... in Johannesburg... under Nazi rule.

Therefore, if I'm laughing at an indigenous singer like Delfin, am I not as bad as the mestizos with their belly-laughs at Paisana Jacinta? After all, poor, old Delfin is trying his hardest. He's not a natural actor, he probably received no formal training, but he's doing his best and that's all we can ask. He's not even a natural singer... oh no, I'm laughing at him again! What to do?

Well, luckily for me the mestizo music videos are just as bad. In fact, all the more so because whereas Delfin is just doing what he thinks is nice in his own unique way, the mestizo singers are ambitiously trying to replicate elements from the Western pop canon.

I've been fortunate enough to stumble across the making of two pop videos in Ecuador. For some reason their most popular filming location is by the side of a road. I suppose it's convenient at least.

Geovanna Jara - Ecuador's Lady Gaga, freezing to death in Chimborazo
When I driving down from Chimborazo, at 4,000 metres across the windswept paramo, I saw some magic happening. The female cumbia singer, Geovanna Jara was shooting her latest music video.

Ok so this is Geovanna Jara with Muero de Frio (I'm Dying of Cold) shot on location in New York, no less. It features Geovanna jigging about on 5th Avenue as bemused New Yorkers jostle unsympathetically past. It also features a bit of CGI and that wobbly voice effect first used by Cher when she repeatedly asked us if we believed in life after love.

The production values of her latest shoot didn't quite stretch to a plane ticket to New York, so instead she was freezing her tits off at the foot of Chimborazo. In fact, this would have made a much more authentic video for 'I'm Dying of Cold' as her goose-bumped flesh turned a shade of purple blue.

Her director, producer, DoP and camera operator were a condensed two-man team consisting of an old bloke with an antique camcorder and his ten-year-old son.

Geovanna was very nice to me, she posed for pictures and even took my name so she could add me on Facebook (by the way, I'm still waiting for my friend request, Geovanna). She wasn't at all how I imagined a famous pop diva to be. I can't imagine Britney Spears pausing midway through her latest video shoot to pose for photos for a bemused Englishman who kept calling her Batney... a reference to me mistakenly calling Geovanna, Joanna throughout.

In the markets across Ecuador, the pirate CD sellers show these videos on small, crackly TVs. They always attract a large and appreciative audience. So who am I to say what's right or wrong? There's not so much money in the Latin music industry, so the budgets for their videos are necessarily a lot slimmer. So what am I doing? Laughing at people who are poorer than I am? That doesn't feel good. And besides, the singers are only giving their fan base what they want, so who am I to scoff at their best efforts? Erm, except for the awkward fact I just have.

Anyway, here's my man Delfin wading into another sensitive subject - this time the Middle East question - to sing us out with Israel.


  1. Israel is the weirdest video I've ever seen! I quite like Geovanna though - she could be the Ecuardorian Shakira.

  2. I'm planning a trip to Ecuador soon and I tipped your blog to our readers! Very nice material here, hope to have a nice experience in the Mitad del Mundo soon.