I was a volunteer in the Oct-Dec 2015 cycle in the community of Santa Catarina Masahuat, El Salvador. We were the first cycle on a varied project which involved supporting a youth civic rights group and the construction of a children´s playground and seating area using sustainable eco-building techniques. There was, quite literally, never a quiet moment. Music was played near-constantly, whether through our choosing as we made bio-brick and cob walls or - more often than not - completely involuntarily, courtesy of perhaps the fruit-and-veg van, a week-long street party or just a neighbour who seemingly really, really loved electronic dance music. So many of the unique experiences that we shared were accompanied by some form of music or the other.
Below I share stories from our cycle under the headline of the song which provokes the memory. (Disclaimer: Please note that in all but one of songs listed, the memories associated are related to the sound of the song, rather than the content... Otherwise that´d be pretty odd!).
It´s impossible to list them all, but here are a few of the most significant. This is the soundtrack of my experience.
Generic Romeo Santos song, Ceilidh music
What do these two types of music have in common? They were both part of a community dance evening that we organised! ´Bachata´is a distinctive type of Latin music. I would say it´s my favourite. Romeo Santos is said to be the ´King of Bachata´ and due to the distinctive sound his songs are instantly recognisable. 'Ceilidh' music is a traditional type of Scottish music that accompanies a specific style of folk dancing. My roommate Sarah is from Glasgow and very patiently taught both nationals and internationals several dances to this! It's really upbeat, positive music and a great way to get everyone involved. On the community dance evening itself both dances were taught, with the Bachata being taught by Iris, a national volunteer. Fellow volunteers absolutely threw themselves into this and there were definitely some questionable shapes being thrown around!
Albatroaz - AronChupa
Play this song to any of the international volunteers on my cycle and, after the groans of ´oh no, not again´, they´ll be able to regale you with many memories that were involuntarily accompanied by this song. Honestly, the community were just obsessed with it - we surely heard this song being played at LEAST ten times a day. And what an all-purpose song it was. Any occasion, it would be there, that bum-bum, bum-ba-dum, bumpy dumpy dum ba-doopy dum. Whilst we were in the community we were able to witness the Latin American tradition of the 'Reina' (Queen) pageants, an important beauty pageant for young girls from different barrios that involved many street parties, many parades on the back of pick-up trucks and thus, a lot of music. This song was always on the playlist. The strangest thing is, I'm not even sure the community themselves liked it that much.
Things in developing countries can sometimes be pretty unreliable, but this song is something that you could always count on.
World in Motion - New Order
Yes that´s right, England´s 1990 World Cup song. I'm not sure which one of them started it but this was definitely a favourite of the international male volunteers who knew the lyrics to practically the whole thing. This is the kind of song that is perfect for those hot, long afternoons where everyone is working on their stage sets or costumes (we supported the community youth group in putting on their first play!) and are perhaps feeling a bit grumpy or unmotivated. The amusing, tongue-in-cheek-ness of the song (combined with some dodgey dance moves) was always a reminder for me to relax and stop worrying so much. It's also quite amusingly patriotic (not sure Sarah, the only non-English volunteer, felt about it though...). I'm listening to this right now with a huge grin on my face, missing my fellow volunteers very much.
Mire, va (Very danger!) - Kevin Martinez et al.
as yet unreleased
Our facilitor was a brilliant, gentle guy called Rudy. He had a few keywords and phrases - the most famous being Mire, Va, and everyone´s favourite "very danger" - which were uttered on such a regular basis that, naturally, they became a song in themselves. My good friend and national volunteer Kevin is a somewhat aspiring rapper and along with some of the other nationals concocted this brilliant rap about the cycle which he then performed at our Eco-Festival. One of the final events that we organised, the festival marked the opening of the playground and was also celebration of everything that we had achieved in the cycle. The talents of the local youth were also put on display - there was music, dancing, and awards for a poetry competition - so it was the perfect setting to debut the rap. This is the one song on this list where the lyrics really are significant; they themselves were a celebration of friendships and shared memories. And with the repeated beat of "Mire, va, oh-laaa", it´s very catchy too.
What a wonderful world - Louis Armstrong
I had the privilege of having one of the national volunteers, Lucy, as a host sister. Her friendship is one of the most special things I have taken away from the experience and, for me, she is the definition of my experience in El Salvador. We're around the same age with a similar sense of humour so in a way, we were direct comparisons of each other in terms of life for a young 20-something in El Salvador and in England. It is for her that I draw the most frustration for the lack of opportunities or safety of movement that the youth have there. Yet I also admire her great determination for change but also the commitment she has to her family. Despite being a Progressio volunteer she also had a lot of chores to keep up with, so would be up before I rose and working long after I stopped. Often I would trudge home after work at around 5, sweaty, tired and covered in paint/cob/other, and there she would be cleaning the house and singing. This is one of her favourite songs.
Y asi fue (And it was like this) - Julión Álvarez
My host Dad, Edgar, loves listening to music, especially first thing in the morning. This took a bit of getting used to - he works from home and so essentially we were awoken pre-6am most mornings by some song or another. This is one of his favourites that I really came to love and associate with my home there - often I´d be lying in bed in the morning listening to the music, and when this one came on Edgar would always start singing. It´s a lovely sounding song, and of course I didn´t really understand the content (it´s actually about a crazy night of passion where the singer falls in love...?!?) but it means something to me none the less. On my final day in the community, my family gave me the lyrics to the song and Edgar and I sang along to it together with tears rolling down our cheeks. Of all the songs listed, this one is perhaps the most personal and most significant for me.
The 11 weeks I spent in El Salvador were crazy, inspiring, maddening, and unforgettable all in equal measure and I have the great privilege of going back to the community for a visit next month. I am so looking forward to seeing how the work has progressed in the two cycles since I left - as well as being with my host family and friends and singing these songs once again! (With the exception of the albatroaz song. It would not be love lost if I was never to hear that ever again...)
Until next time - Mire, Va, Very Danger!
Written by Rebecca Grannan, Oct-Dec 2015, El Salvador.