Bridging Cultures through Sound

by David Paulino

Music has and always will be an expression of one’s culture and heritage. Music impacts us in a plethora of ways that it is hard to describe. Sometimes certain songs just resonates with you in a way that cannot be explained, songs impact us through their use of lyrics, sound, and rhythm. So when I received the text message, “PLEASE TELL ME YOU HEARD RESIDENTE’S NEW ALBUM?” I knew that I was going to be in for a joy ride but I really did not know how much it would impact me otherwise I wouldn’t have written about it.

Now I will not be hitting every song because to be fairly honest each song can be its own article, but I will merely be highlighting the ones that made most of an impact on me. It was around 6:00am that I was introduced to the album when I accidentally listened to a podcast that was reviewing the album, at around 20 seconds in and I heard something that made quit the application and go to Spotify in order to listen to the album. I heard throat singing, and throat singing is used to create more than one pitch at a time. I was introduced to throat singing while watching Netflix’s Marco Polo which tells the adventure of Marco Polo while he was in Kublai Khan’s court in Mongolia.

Once I found the album I noticed that there was an intro, most of the time I would skip the intro but I decided to play it and I could not find myself to go into the next song because of how surprised and captivated I was. The intro is a mix of storytelling and rap done by Lin Manuel-Miranda. I was as confused as interested by what just happened, much to my surprise Lin Manuel-Miranda and Rene are cousins which is explained in the intro and then Manuel-Miranda raps for about a minute about how little blood and a sample of saliva can map out the lives of our ancestors and how that connects us to every human in the planet. This sets the tone for what is to be expected throughout the album.

The first official song of the album is “Somos Anormales” which is the one that uses the throat singing. This song represents Rene’s connection to Siberia, and the types of sounds used are connected to the Tuvians, which are a Turkic ethnic group in Southern Siberia. The sounds used are throat singing, Tuvan drums, and an Igil; a two stringed instrument played by bowing the strings. All of these sounds are used to reinforce the message of the song, accepting how strange we are personally. Our strangeness is what sets us apart from what uniform, we are unique in our own way and we must accentuate our strangeness and learn to accept ourselves and the strangeness of others.

The next song that makes me ponder especially when it comes to romance would have to be “Desencuentro” which is featured by the French singer Soko. It is peculiar mainly because of the story being told, the two lives of the people are in a constant disagreement. One leaves just as the other arrives, one sleeps while the other awakes and vice versa, and one goes up while the other goes down. It reminds me of when one often thinks about the constant search for a partner. This song definitely mellows out the mood of the album created by the songs that came before the others.

Now the one that I must always hear before the day is gone, “Guerra”. Guerra opens with what sounds like a chorus of nuns singing a prayer, followed by a soft guitar and then it opens with a child screaming and in the background one hears gunshots. The prayer signifies that hope that we have that one day something more powerful than us can stop wars because the consequences of it are too high. The child screaming also resembles that lives of children are also affected by these nonsensical wars. The gunshots and war drums are a constant reminder that conflicts can arise sporadically and at a moment’s notice. This song is tied to Rene’s visit to the Caucasus and it deals with the South Ossetia war and the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. Due to its complexities, sounds, history, and message Guerra is my favorite among the album. Few albums take us on a journey and Rene’s words creates bridges to these faraway lands and connects us through sound and our shared history as humans.

My name is David Alfredo Paulino. I graduated from SUNY Cortland with a international studies major with a concentration in Global Political Systems and my minors are Anthropology, Latin American Studies, and Asia and the Middle East. I was born in Manhattan, NYC, but I currently live in the Bronx with my Mother, little sister, and Stepfather. Although I was born here, most of my fondest memories come from my frequent visits to the Dominican Republic, and always being there. I even stayed there for a year. Due to my constant going back and forth, I grew to love the atmosphere there and sometimes I yearn for it more than the actual city.