Friday, May 19, 2006

Tucanos y Araras

Music Review - Julieta Venegas

One of the most gifted and accomplished -- and certainly one of the most respected -- artists in the Latin music sphere during the late '90s and into the next century, Julieta Venegas enjoyed enormous acclaim during her run, and though commercial success took a little while to catch up with her, it eventually did with her remarkable third album, Sí. Born and raised in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, Venegas was the daughter of two photographers and one of five siblings. She embarked on her musical journey at a young age, studying piano from the age of eight. In addition to piano, she also studied musical theory, singing, cello, and violoncello at La Escuela de Música del Noroeste, while she also crossed the border to study at South Western College in San Diego -- all of this before she even graduated from high school.

During her school years Venegas began playing with various bands, including Grupo Chantaje and Tijuana No! (composing one of the latter's more significant hits, "Pobre de Ti"). At the young age of 22 she packed her bags and moved to Mexico City, where she hoped to involve herself with the city's vibrant music scene. Given her talent (and beauty), it didn't take her long to make acquaintances, among them Fratta and Café Tacuba. She began writing music for plays around this time, including Calígula Probablemente by Francisco Franco, and she also took up the accordion. She then started a band called la Milagrosa, enlisting Fratta and Rafael González, but when she was offered a contract with BMG, she dropped the band idea and began work on her solo debut, Aquí, which she recorded in Los Angeles with esteemed producer Gustavo Santaolalla (Café Tacuba, Juanes, the Amores Perros soundtrack).

In addition to writing the songs on Aquí and singing them, Venegas also played the accordion, piano, and guitar; a number of guests also played on the album, among them brothers Joselo and Enrique Rangel (Café Tacuba), Rafael González (Botellita de Jerez), and Patricio Iglesias (Santa Sabina). BMG released the album not only throughout Latin America but also in the United States and Spain, and it won much acclaim for its excellence. She also toured a lot, embarking on the De Viva Voz tour with Ely Guerra and Aurora y la Academia (which stretched across North America) and the Calaveras y Diablitos tour with los Fabulosos Cadillacs and Aterciopelados (which hit the major cities of Spain). During this same late-'90s era, she contributed her in-demand talents to a number of albums by other artists (Enrique Bunbury, Mastretta) and to a number of soundtracks too (En el País de No Pasa Nada, Amores Perros), and she performed at a number of major festivals.

During roughly this same time Venegas also wrote and recorded her second album, Bueninvento, released in 2000. A bit of a departure from her debut, Bueninvento was more of a straightforward rock en español album, without quite so many of the artsy flourishes of Aquí, and features a backing band of veteran sessionmen: Joe Gore (guitar), Fernando Saunders (bass), Joey Waronker (drums), and Rick Boston (sax, flutes). More tours and soundtrack contributions followed: the Revolución tour with Jaguares, Jumbo, la Gusana Ciega, and Lisa Flores; the Fémina Rock tour with Aterciopelados, Maria Gabriela Epumer, and others; and the films Demasiado Amor, Sueno del Caimán, Asesino en Serio, María Llena Eres de Gracia, and Subterra. She also got her first Latin Grammy nominations: Best Rock Song for "Hoy No Queiro" and Best Rock Album for Bueninvento.

Following all of this activity, Venegas settled down in Madrid and Buenos Aires to record her third album, Sí, this time working with producers Coti Sorokin and Cachorro López rather than Santaolalla. An even bigger departure than Bueninvento was from Aquí, Sí was not only a shift in songwriting and musicianship but also a shift in emotion. In a word, it's happy -- a happy album charged with love and other such emotions, not the sort of serious, somber tones that shaded her past work. In terms of songwriting, Venegas collaborated with Sorokin for half the album, something she'd never done before -- co-write her own songs, that is. And too, she altered her arrangements, going for a poppier approach, and played around with programming different sorts of groovy rhythms like hip-hop and reggae from which she would build the songs. Sí ended up being her commercial breakthrough as it spun off one big hit after another. "Andar Conmigo," "Lento," and "Algo Está Cambiando" all charted highly, each successive single doing better than its predecessor.

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Friday, May 05, 2006




After the martyrdom and sanctification of Thomas Becket under Henry II, the saint's grave in Canterbury cathedral became a place of pilgrimage - whence Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, told by a group of pilgrims on their way to the shrine.

The gait of their horses became known as the canterbury, later the canter.


The object of chess is to trap the shah, "king." The winner then announces that the king is "dead" (mat): "checkmate," or shahmat.

Shah evolved, through an Old French plural, esches, into chess; also into checkers, both the game and the design.

The Exchequer, which in England deals with the financial side of government, probably derived from the checkerboard tables, eschequier, used in the Middle Ages to facilitate counting. A bank check comes from the same source.

The game of chess seems to have entered Europe with the Arabs, at the time of their conquest of Spain. They had learned it from the Persians, who apparently found it in India.


The hazards of life once referred to dice. The word comes from Arabic az-zahr, "the die." The Crusaders probably brought it back with them to France, whence as les hasards, it crossed to England with the Norman Conquest. Some variants of craps are thus called the hazards game.


The ouija board comes from French oui (yes) and German ja (yes).


Tennis is sometimes said to come from French tenez, "hold," a cry supposedly uttered by French players of this ancient Arabic game. But there is no record of such a cry, and the earliest occurrence of even the conjecture is in the 17th century; while tenetz, the English adaptation of the original Arabic word, tanaz, "leap," goes back to 1400.

Racquet probably comes from Arabic rahet, "palm of the hand." The original form of the game was played with the palm alone.

The c in racquet doesn't belong there, being a garbling of French raquette and English racket.

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