Some tout them as the Bee Gees of Nicaragua. The press release bills them as "Nicaragua's first cultural ambassadors." One thing is certain -- they have sung the message of the Nicaraguan revolution in almost as many places as the Bee Gees have sung disco.
Los de Palacaguina ("The Ones From Palacagunia") along with musician-singers Otto de la Rocha and El Guadalupano have effectively taken the nearby 10-month-old Nicaraguan revolution on tour.
They traveled before the revolution, too raising money to support the Sandinista guerrillas fighting the regime of Anastasio Somoza; but after the revolution the requests poured in. They have gone in the past year to West Germany, France, Belgium, Spain, Panama. In Madrid, they recorded an album.
They've spent the last 10 days in the U.S. on part of a three-week, 14-city, if-this-is-Thursday-it-must-be-East-Lansing tour.
The man who helped launch Los de Palacaguina -- Nicaraguan folk singer Carlos Mejia -- is not on this tour. He is in Nicaragua preparing a "Cantata Sandino" for the first anniversary of the revolutionary government this July.
New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco were the favorite cities on their itinerary. In New York, Pete Seeger came backstage to talk. Last night, the gig was the Department of Commerce Auditorium.Today they're off to Boston, then Miami, then Mexico. Then back home to Nicaragua for a little rest. The off to Sweden.
"Los de Palacaguina is booked 'till 1981," said one person traveling with them.
All of the money, according to Roberto Vargas. Nicaraguan Embassy cultural attache, and Peter Shiras of the National Network in Solidarity with the Nicaraguan People, goes back to Nicaragua.
It will help to finance the Nicaraguan Literacy Crusade, a massive effort to cut into Nicaragua's 50-percent illiteracy rate.
Shiras said they hope to have raised $5,000 to send to Nicaragua. Tickets to last night's benefit were $5.
They aim to publicize the revolution and the folklore of Nicaragua. "The people who come to hear us are not just here for a kick or for the music," said Otto de la Rocha, whose two some fought with the Sandinistas. "If they were, they wouldn't applaud when they hear our message." The songs speak for the worker and the peasant -- the compesino -- and their fight for their land. They speak of revolution and solidarity.
They hae no musical training "It's intuition," said Humbeto Quintanilla, tapping his forehead seriously, "and ear." He and other members of Los de Palacaguina were sitting in the courtyard of the Nicaraguan Embassy where a reception for them was held before the benefit last night.
"Generally the people who come are a heterogeneous group," said Quintanilla through an interpreter. Around his neck, he wore a medallion emblazoned with the image of Augusto Sandino, the man from whom the Sandinista guerrillas took their name. "We have revolutionaries, some fascists," he shrugged matter-of-factly. "We have Latin Americans, we have the workers. They're the ones who are most interested. They can afford to come. The workers here have better means than the workers in Latin America."
In Nicaragua, members of Los de Palacaguina and Otto de la Rocha sang in barrio churches, at political meetings, and at universities in the months leading up to the Sandinista's overthrow of the Somoza government.
El Guadalupano said he sang at night to the Sandinistas at the barricades erected on the border of the city of Leon when the Sandinistas took control of the city during the civil war.
On this tour, El Guadalupano has been asked for his autograph. He can't write. "It's the system that's at fault that I can't write my name," he says through an interpreter.
For their work, the Nicaraguan Ministry of Culture pays the musicians a small sum. They, of course, say they don't care about getting rich. "I don't think as an individual," said Otto de la Rocha, smiling. "I'm part of a community."