1. In commemoration of the 34th anniversary of the Nicaraguan Revolution today, July 19th, 1979. (I wrote most of this a couple of years ago, and it’s just been sitting in my drafts folder… I hope you like it!)

    "What’s the confusion?" asked the sergeant,
    "Could it be that this bastard is the notorious Cadejo?"

    If there is one thing the Sandinistas took really seriously, it was the honoring its heroes and fallen comrades.

    The double-LP Canto Epico al FSLN, from which today’s song comes, features, among its 35 songs, 12 homages to martyrs of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional dedicated to Casimiro Sotelo, Pedro Aráuz Palacios, Eduardo Contreras, Julio Buitrago, Luisa Amanda Espinoza, Carlos Fonseca, Leonel Rugama, José Benito Escobar, Camilo Ortega, Germán Pomares, Edgard Munguía, and the topic of today’s post, my all-time favorite revolutionary, Rigoberto Cruz… better known as Pablo Úbeda.

    Úbeda was one of the earliest members of the FSLN, having been a participant in the Nicaraguan Revolutionary Youth (JRN) of 1959 and the New Nicaragua Movement (MNN) of 1962, two of the predecessor organizations to the Frente. Unlike the primarily student-based FSLN membership, Úbeda was a worker, and thus valuable in his ability to both relate to, and blend in among, the general population.

    He participated in the FSLN’s first guerrilla action in 1963 commonly known as Raití-Bocay or the Río Coco and Bocay Operation, a spectacular failure that, for a short while after, pushed the group away from armed struggle and toward reformist politics. The analysis to later come from FSLN leader Carlos Fonseca stated that the failure at Raití-Bocay was due in large part to an incorrect choice of locations; the town of Raití was largely populated by Miskito Indians who spoke little Spanish and often had little interest in the guerrillas. Because their relationship to the land (and to the rest of Nicaragua) was different from mestizo peasants, the FSLN was unable to relate and win over supporters that could assist with intelligence and supply lines, nor did its presence inspire a pool of potential recruits. In addition, Sandinista commander Víctor Tirado López notes, in his essay El FSLN, un producto y una necesidad históricos, that the operation demonstrated an overemphasis on armed struggle without undertaking corresponding political work, that it showed that links with the peasantry must be strong rather than fleeting to create a solid guerrilla base, and that the long-established Nicaraguan tradition of preparing armed ‘invasions’ from across the Honduran or Costa Rican borders could not be successful (1).

    It is worthwhile here to refer again to the writings of Carlos Fonseca in order to lay the groundwork for understanding Ubeda’s contribution. In Fonseca’s 1969 declaration, Nicaragua Hora Cero (Zero Hour), he points out that this defeat, along with the general decline of the Nicaraguan popular movement around 1963 (2), shattered the FSLN and thrust it into a period of quasi-reformism. While the Frente still maintained that armed struggle was the only way to achieve victory, “the reality was that for a while the practical work to continue preparing for armed struggle was interrupted. In addition, it is true that after the defeat in 1963, our movement emerged seriously conflicted, but didn’t know how to find the proper way to overcome this internal crisis.” (Obra Fundamental, pp. 152-153) Fonseca doesn’t argue against the period of recuperation, but rather notes that the FSLN failed to use this time to collect resources or train new combatants for a renewed attempt at waging war against the veiled dictatorship of the Somoza family.

    During this time between 1964 and 1966, the FSLN engaged in quasi-legal organizing with an organization known as the Republican Mobilization in urban areas, attempting to develop a broader anti-Somoza front.

    Ubeda, however, was one of the few members to remain in the mountains during this period of strategic confusion. As a leader of the Frente’s clandestine work during its brief above-ground phase, his assignment was to develop contacts with potential allies and collaborators and to seek out the prime location for the resumption of armed struggle. In the process, he became an organizer of some of the first peasant unions in Nicaragua, alongside fellow Sandinista Bernardino Diaz Ochoa. The work of Ubeda is summed up quite succinctly by Tomás Borge, commander and founder of the Frente, in his 1985 essay Marginal Notes on the Propaganda of the FSLN:

    Three consecutive years of underground work visiting everyone, hut by hut, household by household, ravine by ravine, from Pancasán passing through Peñas Blancas in Jinotega and following the Tuma River until he arrived on the Atlantic Coast where he traveled the long footpaths through the mining areas… Without his organizing work, Pancasán would never have been possible.

    In 1967, Ubeda was killed, along with FSLN founding member Silvio Mayorga and the rest of his unit, during the Pancasán campaign. While also a failure, the Sandinistas analyzed that this was a failure of a different type than that of Raití-Bocay; whereas the latter had been a failure on all fronts, Pancasán demonstrated a military failure but one in which political groundwork had been successfully laid—in part by the efforts of Úbeda—to maintain the activities of the revolutionary struggle.

    We will note in the lyrics that Carlos Mejía Godoy makes various references to Nicaraguan particularities; the opening stanza, for example, refers to animals and plants that I had never heard of before (and which you can read about by clicking the links I provided). We hear about Carlos Reyna, the National Guard, the cadejo, a juez de mesta, three towns, and three kinds of crops useful for hiding.

    Anyway, I hope you all dig the song and the little history lesson! You’ll find an English translation below.

    (1) On a few occasions before the formation of the FSLN, opposition groups, largely under the hegemony of the Conservative Party, attempted armed invasions of Nicaragua to overthrow the Somoza family’s hold on power. The 1959 El Chaparral guerrilla operation in which Carlos Fonseca participated (as a member of the Nicaraguan Socialist Party) was an unmitigated disaster, and ended up being the last attempt by the mainstream opposition to overthrow Somoza with force.

    (2) Fonseca attributes this to the farcical election of René Schick, a Somoza family ally, as president in the 1963 election and the natural decline of the revolutionary energy following the Cuban Revolution, at that point 4 years past.

    SPANISH:

    Se disfraza de espadillo, se disfraza de mozote
    y se convierte en pocoyo, conejo, garrobo, cusuco, pizote.

    Pablo Ubeda pasó ayer mismo muy temprano,
    Carlos Reyna lo encontró allá en el comisariato.

    Pero cómo sucedió? Si ayer en la madrugada
    el juez de mesta lo vio cruzándose la cañada.

    ¿Qué será esta confusión? se preguntaba el sargento,
    ¿no será que este cabrón es el mentado Cadejo?

    Lo vieron en Kuskawas, en La Tronca y en Waslala,
    ya no lo verán jamás, se lo tragó la montaña.

    Lo ayudan los vientos, las siete cabritas
    lo oculta el chagüite, lo esconde la milpa.

    La guardia dispara contra el cafetal…
    y sale Pablito sereno, pajito, bordeando el cañal.

    ENGLISH:

    He disguises himself as espadillo, he disguises himself as mozote
    and he becomes a pauraque, a rabbit, an iguana, an armadillo, a coati.

    Pablo Ubeda passed by very early yesterday,
    Carlos Reyna (1) found him there in the commissary.

    But how did it happen, if yesterday morning
    the juez de mesta (2) saw him crossing the ravine?

    "What’s the confusion?" asked the sergeant,
    "Could it be that this bastard is the notorious Cadejo (3)?

    They saw him in Kuskawas, in La Tronca and in Waslala (4),
    but they will never see him again, he was swallowed by the mountain.

    He is helped by the winds, by the seven young kids,
    he is obscured by the banana stalks, he is hidden by the cornfield.

    The National Guard shoots at the coffee plants….
    and Pablito comes out calm, covered in straw, walking along the canal.

    (1) Carlos Reyna was an early member of the FSLN, joining the Frente after participating in the MNN. He was killed during the 1967 Pancasán operation along with Úbeda, Commander Silvio Mayorga, and a full third of the guerrilla force.

    (2) In Somoza-era Nicaragua, a juez de mesta was a middle/upper-class person in the countryside designated to resolve land disputes between peasants. During the Sandinista revolution, jueces de mesta were converted largely into a network of informants for the National Guard, during which time they were also called orejas, or ears.

    (3) The cadejo in Central America is a mythical dog known to accompany those who wander late at night. In most countries, it is believed that there are two cadejos: the white, which is considered a benign protector and is compared with the Christian concept of a guardian angel, and the black, which is the embodiment of evil and is the opposite of the white (racist). Pablo Úbeda’s informal title was El Cadejo de las Segovias, the Segovias being a forest in north-central Nicaragua.

    (4) Three remote areas northeast of Matagalpa in north-central Nicaragua.

    SOURCES:

    1. Borge, Tomas. “The Patient Impatience”.

    2. Zimmerman, Matilde. “Sandinista: Carlos Fonseca and the Nicaraguan Revolution”.

    3. Baracco, Luciano. “Nicaragua: The Imagining of a Nation”.

     
  2. This song is a constant reference point for me when I explain what I mean when I say that revolutionaries need to be politically agile and willing to learn how to “swim in stormy waters.”

    In Memorandum Militar 1-79, Luis Enrique Mejia Godoy sings some helpful tips on tactics and strategy mean to be disseminated during the 1979 Nicaraguan insurrection which ultimately overthrew the Somoza dynasty. Since most of the population was illiterate at the time, the Sandinista Front had to find innovative ways to train people to defeat the substantially better-armed National Guard. The Mejia Godoy brothers were like “hey, why don’t we make some songs teaching people how to field strip rifles and shit?” They did, and it was a massive contribution to only the second successful revolution in Latin America, and one of the only revolutions in history to come to power largely via urban insurrection.

    The lyrics are built into the video so that you can follow along!

     
     
  3. Nicaraguan legend Luis Enrique Mejia Godoy's 1981 album, Un Son para mi Pueblo [Songs from the new Nicaragua], featuring his group Mancotal. Download here.

     

  4. CARLOS MEJÍA GODOY Y LOS DE PALACAGÜINA - NICARAGÜENSE GÜEGÜENSE [NICARAGUA, 2003]

    "Soy Nicaragüense, Güegüense por gracia de Dios, quiero que este grito clarito truene en mi nación, este orgullo nadie me lo va a quitar, soy dueño del Coco y del Río San Juan."

    This is a fun song about how cool it is to be Nicaraguan. In addition to it being El Salvador’s independence day, today also marks the rest of Central America’s declaration of independence (except Belize and Panama) and I figured I should show the other countries love too. Carlos Mejia Godoy, the older of the renowned Mejia Godoy brothers, is the country’s most recognized folk musician, having written and recorded hundreds of songs celebrating Nicaragua and its people. During the 70s and 80s he gave his work a particularly revolutionary character, using his fame to promote the armed struggle of the Sandinista National Liberation Front and, after the FSLN’s 1979 victory, working as Vice Minister of Culture under Maryknoll priest and poet Fr. Ernesto Cardenal. In other words, he’s a badass and deserves your attention.

    I can’t find the lyrics for this one and since Nicaraguans like to make up words (generally with a lot of umlauts [ü]) I am not even going to try and transcribe them. Still, I think you can have some fun dancing around your room with this. As is typical in traditional Nicaraguan music, there is a lot of emphasis on the marimba and the accordion, though the marimba only pops up on this one during the hook. Notice also that while the first verse of the song is played in duple meter (like a polka: oom-PA, oom-PA), the hook changes the rhythm entirely to a triple (like a waltz: OOM-pa-pa, OOM-pa-pa), then returning to duple at the start of the second verse.

    You can hear references to the country’s history and geography as well; Mejia Godoy refers to Diriangén, an indigenous folk hero, and the Rio Coco and Rio San Juan, two rivers in the north and southern borders of the country, respectively.

    ENJOY!

     
  5. Luis Enrique Mejía Godoy performs the Nicaraguan classic, “Pancasán [Revolución] during a concert at Casa de los Mejía Godoy. The song was written during the Sandinista Revolution by Afro-Nicaraguan poet David McField in honor of the town of Pancasán (just east of Matagalpa), which was one of the first base areas for the FSLN. In 1978 a group named Grupo Pancasán made the song its opening track on its debut album. Their version is more epic and inspiring, but LEMG’s version is a little more fun. I prefer GP’s rendition, but I didn’t think that would be the prevailing opinion. :-)

    Listen for the Afro-Caribbean influence, especially toward the end. Also interesting to note, if you watch the Grupo Pancasán version, is the chant referencing the cimarrón, the Spanish word for a runaway slave. Here are the lyrics in Spanish/English, enjoy!

    SPANISH:

    Hay un clamor
    que viene de la montaña,
    hay un clamor
    que se oye al amanecer,
    que dice así: Revolución,
    Revolución, Revolución.

    En Pancasán la brisa
    te está llamando,
    en la ciudad ya viene
    quebrando el son,
    que dice así: Revolución,
    Revolución, Revolución.

    El general tendrá
    que irse acostumbrando,
    para saber de donde
    le viene el son,
    que dice así: Revolución,
    Revolución, Revolución.

    Se acerca ya la hora
    de irnos cobrando
    tanto dolor y crímenes sin razón,
    que viene ya quebrando el son,
    y dice así: Revolución,
    Revolución, Revolución.

    ENGLISH:

    There is a cry
    that is coming from the mountain
    There is a cry
    that is heard at dawn
    And it cries out: Revolution!
    Revolution! Revolution!

    In Pancasan, the breeze
    is calling you
    In the city, the sound
    is already being heard
    And it cries out: Revolution!
    Revolution! Revolution!

    The general will
    have to get used to it
    if he wants to know where
    the sound is coming from
    And it cries out: Revolution!
    Revolution! Revolution!

    The time is approaching
    for all the pain and senseless crimes
    to be paid for
    It’s coming now, the sound is being heard
    And it cries out: Revolution!
    Revolution! Revolution!

     
     

  6. Que me cuentan, seguidores? Today we’re back for song of the day with a great track by Nicaraguan musical legend Carlos Mejia Godoy, called “La Tumba del Guerrillero” [The Guerrilla’s Grave]. Somehow, I’ve had this on my computer for months and just heard it for the first time today. Anyway, it’s an awesome song and I hope you enjoy it. If you want to check out past episodes of this segment, click here.

    At this point, you may be asking yourself who this Carlos Mejia Godoy character is. Well, perhaps I should tell you. He is probably the most well-known figure in Nicaraguan folk music, and his songs were very strongly associated with the Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional political movement. Many of his albums from the 1970s celebrated the Sandinista Army’s exploits against the national army of dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle, as well as the campesino way of life common to areas under Sandinista control.

    It is difficult to tell how much the Revolution owes to the songs of Carlos Mejia Godoy, which were able to organize a collective sentiment among the people, extracting the themes and chords from our deepest roots and preparing this sentiment for the struggle. -Sergio Ramirez Mercado

    Mejia Godoy continued to be instrumental to the Revolution even after its victory in 1979, by helping to build enthusiasm for mass campaigns, such as the National Literacy Crusade. While he later distanced himself from the degeneration of the FSLN, he has continued to uphold the intent and goals of the ‘79 Revolution, singing his songs of the era to this day. In 2006 he ran for Vice President with Edmundo Jarquin on the MRS (Sandinista Renovation Movement) ticket, though they didn’t fare too well, gaining only 6.29%. Daniel Ortega's FSLN, which won 37.99%, emerged victorious and occupied the presidency for the first time since 1990.

    Fun fact: Carlos Mejia Godoy’s son, Camilo Mejia, is a well known former US soldier and conscientious objector to the Iraq War.

    This particular song isn’t incredibly characteristic of most Nicaraguan nueva cancion, which often features more accordion and marimba (the latter highlighting the African influence on Nicaraguan sound), so it’s difficult to point out any particular national features. If you’d like a better idea of the instrumentation used for this song, here is a video of the live version from a concert at Casa de los Mejia Godoy where you can see what is in use.

    "La Tumba del Guerrillero" is a hymn dedicated to martyrs of the Sandinista revolution, who had died in battle and had their graves hidden from their families and friends by the government. As always, the lyrics are provided in English and Spanish for your convenience. Enjoy!

    SPANISH:

    La tumba del guerrillero
    dónde, dónde, dónde está
    su madre está preguntando
    nadie le responderá
    la tumba del guerrillero
    dónde, dónde, dónde está
    el pueblo está preguntando
    algún día lo sabrá.

    Guerrillero, vos surgis en ríos
    montes y praderas
    en el viento que mece el chinchorro
    del hijo del Juan
    en las manos humildes y toscas
    de la vivandera
    en la Milpa donde el campesino
    busca y busca el pan.
    Como dijo el poeta trapense
    de Solentiname
    no quisieron decirnos el sitio
    donde te encontrás
    y por eso tu tumba es todito
    nuestro territorio
    en cada palmo de mi Nicaragua
    ahí vos estás.

    CORO

    Guerrillero, vos nacés de nuevo
    en la carabina
    en los bronquios de Pedro el minero
    que en Siuna murió
    en los ojos de los miserables que en Acahualinca
    aún espera sedientos
    la aurora de la rendición.
    Como dijo el poeta trapense
    de Solentiname
    no quisieron decirnos el sitio
    donde te encontrás
    y por eso tu tumba es todito
    nuestro territorio
    en cada palmo de mi Nicaragua
    ahí vos estás.

    CORO

    ENGLISH:

    The grave of the guerrilla,
    where, where, where is it?
    His mother is asking,
    nobody responds to her
    The grave of the guerrilla,
    where, where where is it?
    The people are asking,
    One day they will know.

    Guerrilla, you arise in rivers,
    mountains and prairies
    In the wind that rocks the hammock
    of Juan’s son
    In the humble and rough hands
    of the sutler*
    In the cornfield where the peasant
    is looking for food
    As was said by the Trappist poet
    of Solentiname,
    they did not want to tell us the place
    where you are to be found
    Which is why your grave
    is our entire country,
    in every inch of my Nicaragua,
    there you are

    CHORUS

    Guerrilla, you are reborn
    in our rifles,
    in the lungs of Pedro the miner
    who died in Siuna
    In the eyes of the miserable ones,
    that in Acahualinca remain thirsty,
    waiting for the dawn of surrender
    As was said by the Trappist poet
    of Solentiname,
    they did not want to tell us the place
    where you are to be found
    Which is why the grave
    is our entire country;
    in every inch of my Nicaragua,
    there you are

    CHORUS

    *A sutler (in Spanish, vivandera) is, apparently, somebody who provides provisions to soldiers in battle.