Lost In Pronunciation In Nicaragua's Caribbean Coast
One of the most beautiful things about Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast is its diversity.
Six different ethnicities are smashed together into a small coastal community. Of course, there is tension, but for the most part the Rama, Miskito, Creole, Garifuna, Ulwas and the mestizos live in harmony.
And on the streets, that ethnic stew is on full display. Spanish mixes with English and all of that mixes with some of the native languages. But no where is that stew more evident than in the music. Of course, there’s the tropical music, you’d expect:
But as I walked the city, I heard reggae and reggaeton; I heard marimbas and clarinets; American ‘80s pop and narco corridos from Mexico. But, perhaps, most surprisingly, I heard a lot of country music.
The cries of the pedal steel seeped out of the houses and the bars and it was the classic stuff too: George Strait and George Jones and Waylon Jennings.
One night under the rain, we were talking to a young police officer in front of a bar. Some Waylon Jennings song I didn’t recognize was playing. I asked him if young people listened to country music. He said they did. Another musician I talked to later said the influence came from their parents and grandparents who used to gather in their homes and dance to that foreign but hearty beat.
I asked the police officer if there were any bands that I should listen to. He said, “Yeah. There’s a local band everyone likes called Caribbean Tex."
I was immediately enthralled – a local band that mixes the beats of the Caribbean with the downbeat attitude of old country, I thought. For the next couple of days, every time I saw someone selling CDs, I asked for one from Caribbean Tex.
Everyone knew who they were. They nodded with approval at my excitement, but the CD was nowhere to be found. Eventually, I walked into the town radio station and asked some young guys there about the band. We talked about country music a bit and eventually I got a name and number. Dexter, they said, was one of the members of the band.
I called Dex but he said he didn’t have any of his music on CD at the moment. I insisted. I told him I really wanted to listen to it and I was on the next plane out first thing in the morning.
"OK, I’ll make this happen,” he said in a Jamaican drawl. I should call him at 6:00 a.m. to set up a place to meet to get the CD.
The sun comes up; I walk down the street to catch a cab in the rain. I meet Dex in front of a church in one of the neighborhoods that overlooks the bay.
“Here you are man,” Dex tells me with a huge smile. “We are Caribbean Tex.” I smile back, so proud that my reportorial insolence has landed me this rare musical hybrid.
I get in the cab, I look down at the CD and it reads: “Caribbean Taste.” Taste or Tex, when you add the influence of the water and the sun and the British. In this jumble of languages and ethnicities, my American ear had added yet another dimension and sent me on an impossible mission.
Caribbean Taste, by the way, plays pretty traditional reggae music. Even if it’s not the ground-breaking hybrid I was looking for, it’s enjoyable. And there’s a protest jam in the album I got.
“How long shall we wait while you sit / pretending you’re on the poor people side,” the song goes. “Autonomy is what we need / autonomy is what we need, indeed."