I learned some facts about my friend, Peruvian – American Guitarrista Ciro Hurtado last night, about his upbringing in a small Peruvian town in a jungle that was only accessible by propeller driven airplanes. At his CD release party last night at the elegant Tropico de Nopal gallery (1665 W Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles CA 90026) he spoke of how, when his village finally got two hours a day of electricity, he was first able to listen to shortwave radio. I’d never realized that we had shortwave in common. It was an interesting revelation, especially because we are almost the same age and would have been listening to shortwave radio in roughly the same era.
A July 7, 1996 Los Angeles Times article about me by Henry Chu noted that:
In junior high school in the ’60s, while his peers studied their text-books, Tucker spent his spare time fiddling with a shortwave radio, listening to the crackle of Radio Japan and stations out of war-torn Vietnam. Those broadcasts exposed the teenage Tucker, the youngest of three children, to other cultures and outlooks.
“That’s what turned me into a relatively independent thinker,” he said. “That was a revelation.”
I had built my own shortwave radio from scratch as my fourth semester electronics project at Pacoima Junior High (now Pacoima Middle School). The Vietnam broadcasts I was referring to were from the Voice of Vietnam–i.e., “Radio Hanoi”–which was re-broadcast in the Western Hemisphere by Radio Havana. On Radio Havana, I also got to hear broadcasts by Black Panther in exile, Bill Brent, who decades later I would track down in Cuba so I could put him back in touch with certain comrades from California.
Last night, Ciro mentioned that one of the stations he listened to was Radio Havana as well. Ciro and I are just about the same age (he’s a little less than a year older than I am) so I wonder if we were listening to the same broadcasts; the same ideas and music, at the same time on our two separate continents. He also indicated that while it was difficult to get broadcasts from Lima, Peru as his location was in the North of the country, they could get reception from Ecuadorian stations. I also used to listen to Radio HCJB (Heralding Christ Jesus Blessings, a religious station but with plenty of secular news and music) which broadcasts from Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador.
Last night Ciro began to give a small lesson about the physical geography of Peru to the audience but got cut off and then diverted, but it was apparent from his description of heights in the Andes that he didn’t realize that in point of objective fact, the Andes are higher than the Himalayas when measured from the center of the earth to the peak. The sea level by the Indian sub-continent, by which Mount Everest is measured, is way lower than the sea level by the Andes. That makes Ecuador’s Mount Chimborazo the farthest point from the center of the Earth, arguably the real tallest mountain on Earth. Because it is so high and because short radio waves like FM and Shortwave (as opposed to AM which is a long wave) bounce off the stratosphere, it makes radio broadcasts from Andean stations like HCJB amongst the easiest to receive in the Western Hemisphere.
If I keep talking about Ciro’s tales–which are simultaneously poignant and hilarious–I’ll never get to his music. He was early on attracted to the Beatles and other rock and roll “zoo groups” (as he dubbed them) like the Animals, the Turtles, and the Byrds. Combining these influences with indigenous Peruvian sounds and the world music he heard on shortwave, he has created an incredibly eclectic and intriguing fusion that is all his own….but if I say more, I risk spoiling your enjoyment of just hearing him for yourself, so you really need to get his CD’s–such as his latest Los Angeles Blues as well as his earlier work like Guitarrista and his Huayucaltia collaborations. Not to mention that you really have to hear him in person as live music is always the best:
One final note. Emceeing the event for Tropico de Nopal (a gallery you also really need to visit), Reyes Rodriguez opined that, in light of the amount of money the government spent hauling the Space Shuttle Endeavor to Los Angeles for exhibit at the California Science Center, that the money would have been better spent on the arts and on support of such spaces as Tropico de Nopal. I have to agree and disagree: I too bemoan the lack of funding for the arts. The first time I ever ran for office, at the age of 18 in 1974 for State Senator, I even put out a leaflet explaining the statistics of government funding the arts comparing California to New York and to the Netherlands (California’s spending per capita was and remains pathetic by comparison). However we shouldn’t be in the position of pitting science against the arts in our government priorities. We should end our obsession with spending for war.
In the meantime, don’t wait for our government to do the sane and rational thing; support Tropico de Nopal, the arts, and live music yourself: