Carraca refers to the ships with which emerging European states started their centuries-long process of plundering the rest of the world, successors to the caravel and the predecessors of the better-built galleons of the seventeenth century. The piece that bears the vessel’s name was presented as part of an exhibition in Mexico City entitled Africamericanos, a photographic inquiry into the current status of communities descended from the slaves once brought in carracks and galleons to the entirety of Latin America. Their histories erased not only by their place in the colonial exploitation apparatus but also by the nationalist discourses of the republics that followed it – in places like Mexico a function of ideological racial unity under the category of ‘mestizo’ or mixed race – the descendants of Africans nevertheless gave Latin music the pulse that beats at its very core. The sonic environment they brought with them creaks and flows in the matched rhythms of a sea of death and the rowing with which their bodies broke, the creation of a second nature forever hostile to life itself.
This is what Carraca captures in its first five minutes or so, the field recordings and the electronics striking a jagged way through peaceful alienation, a subjection so powerful there is no refuge but the songs of ghosts and the damp walls of the ship’s hold, each moving crack the splintering of an entire existence. The tenor sax, whose function against the tape and electronics would normally be that of a voice, is here more like a howl, but not a tragically affirming surge of emotion. Instead, it is a quieted scream, a banal part of a soundscape that evokes a vastness that rather than impress comes, sooner or later, to sicken. Natural sounds and electronic noises sway into each other, the force of their ever-so-soft collision a hiss of non-understanding, of non-reconciliation, constantly underlined by the sax’s powerfully subdued presence.
Midway through, a relatively long section of Pendereckian horror and stridence gives way to the song of birds, and eventually to the rhythms of West African drums and voices heard as if muddled by fever, remembrances dashed and destroyed against the endless waves. The ending is a somber drone, the ocean water gently caressing the bottom of a vessel made to carry goods but which instead carried the suffering of centuries to come, the still abyss of the sea its sole limit.
Lozano and Tercero have crafted a powerful, often punishing piece, one that leaves no doubt about the fate of the millions of humans whose descendants are now beginning, in places like Mexico, to be recognized as a people and a significant part of communities made invisible by the myriad histories of the nation across the last 200 years. It all begins, and perhaps will now end, with the terrifying, calm movement of the sea. (David Murrieta Flores)