Being Puerto Rican, a recent arrival to San Francisco and being thousands of miles away from the Isla del Encanto, Borikén, Puerto Rico (it has so many names to those who know of it and its rich history) I fell into absolute nostalgia when I first heard Mijo de la Palma, a musical act that I had not encountered while I was living in San Juan, a city that like San Francisco lies by the sea. His sounds are remittent to nova trova, rock del patio, música jíbara and all the music made with the Spanish guitar – a cornucopia which in its hybridism transmits a unity which is trademark of Puerto Rican culture.
The late Puerto Rican art historian Haydee Venegas spoke abundantly about the will of the Puerto Rican artist to dynamically produce and oscillate between styles that would otherwise be at odds. This is also found in the rich and mellow sound made by Melvin López-Rivera, the christian name of Mijo de la Palma.
In a short but revealing interview, Mijo de la Palma pours his thoughts into my audio recorder, and I gleaned from it a sense of wisdom which is rare in youth. In his voice I heard the ideas of a staunch jíbaro, a term that would translate roughly as “Puerto Rican hillbilly”, which reminded me of my Abuelo Carmelo — a loving, obstinate, tenacious and utterly assertive old man who from his finca towards the center of the big island of Puerto Rico declares that we have all lost all sight of a real and wholesome way of life. Mijo’s emphasis on the human condition and his search for solace in nature mirrors the values of an age long gone, for boricuas (term which identifies a Puerto Rican — like carioca identifies a person from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) today are almost entirely metropolitan. In his sound is the evidence of this ritornello in which he has embarked.
From the wealth of wisdom he bestows, in his music and in person, I piece together a candid interview, in which Mijo summarizes his musical inspiration and insights into politics and culture in Puerto Rico.
RV: By the title I mean Any city on our island of origin, but I do not want to assume you are from there, where in the isle of enchantment are you from Mijo?
MDLP: I am originally from the town of Vega Baja, in the Midwest of the large island of Puerto Rico. There I only keep nature as close companion, and though interested by what happens in the city I am overcome by the tranquility of the country.
RV: Tell me about the origin of your sound.
MDLP: I hate having to answer this type of question, but it is a hybrid of sounds influenced by a wide continuum of genres, reflecting the heart of a boricua, who has been hybridizing culture for over 500 consecutive years. And the music is not made by just me, Mijo de la Palma is an act that has evolved to include a bunch of musicians, who come together to play with me in alternating configurations and who come and go.
RV: How did you get to perform in San Francisco, and how do you know Yeyé Suárez, your opening act at your latest show at the Brava Theater?
MDLP: La Bohemia Productions, a group of hardcore music fans and sponsors, has organized the numerous shows I have had in San Francisco over the years, and it is through these sponsored visits that I came across Yeyé Suárez, who captured me with her beaming smile and amazing talent. The show at Brava Theater had been in mind for some time, and it is finally here. (The show took place on June 23, where Yeyé Suárez opened and sang along with Melvin)
RV: How do you feel about recent events in Puerto Rico?
MDLP: I studied political sciences at the Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico, and during this time I had a love of the law, and justice, and so I pursued those studies. After a while it dawned on me that words like “truth”, “justice”, and “freedom” were just tokens in a game that consumed humanity and kept it from truly evolving. I turn my back on politics and have became short of a hermit over the years. It is sequestered by solitude where my inspiration can truly take flight – in the lush foliage of the countryside of Puerto Rico, where the música típica finds its origins as well. I struggle greatly with my passions in my reclusion, and there springs forth the poetry, ripened by my sadness, through my sound and through my lyrics. I could not care less about politics and even less for the game of colors and words in which members of political parties indulge themselves in the island.
RV: Really Mijo, you have hit a home run there, what is your advice to all Caribbean citizens, including Puerto Rico, all being in such a state of flux?
MDLP: The best and only advice I can give as a human being is the request for you to look around yourself, and try to be more human. Technology and culture keep our attention from the essence of life, which is inside of us and which we fail to see in others, not lending a hand or helping out when we can. My advice would be for all of us to be more human.
And there you have it ladies and gentlemen, an incredibly deep man who loves his land and loves his people, of course that love is projected outward and impregnates the conversation with Melvin, the man behind the act of Mijo de la Palma, and a great inspiration.
Enjoy music by Mijo de la Palma by clicking here.
Visit the TED site for a review of Mijo de la Palma by clicking here.
For a video of Mijo de la Palma and Hermes Ayala performing live at KPOO Radio Station in San Francisco, California, click here.
Blog Editor and Web Manager at Red Poppy Art House