Rhythm And Blues: Despite The Pandemic, Musicians Find Novel Ways To Reach An Audience

Rhythm And Blues: Despite The Pandemic, Musicians Find Novel Ways To Reach An Audience

The pandemic has wreaked havoc in many industries, including music.

Many guitarists, pianists, violinists, drummers, and even singers, lost their livelihood as their income depended entirely on live performances.

Although the COVID-19 outbreak has generated a wave of unemployment at an unprecedented global level, it has also allowed thousands of people to demonstrate their ability to adapt.

Despite obstacles to overcome, musicians have not stopped playing, using their creativity to continue their artistry.

Some share their talent through social media. Some offer private concerts by video call, charging a lower fee than live events. Others keep practicing, so they do not lose their ability or desire to play. Their neighbors, who are also isolated, get to enjoy their afternoons with music in the air.

But the struggle has been difficult, despite the optimism and perseverance.

“Our presentations plummeted and with them, our income. Even so, we have not wavered,” said Rafael Santos Zamorano, director of the ‘Quinteto Mocambo,’ a Mexican group whose music has enjoyed national and international recognition.

Members of Quinteto Mocambo serenade the Virgin of Guadalupe in December. They say the frequency of their performances has plummeted. (Christian Valera Rebolledo/Café Words)

Music: a ray of light during tough times

The pandemic has been a hard blow for many, who have had to change their plans suddenly.

“There is no doubt the pandemic has hit us hard, we have been able to do so little work, and from there, we have had to reflect on our future,” said Santos Zamorano.

To survive, musicians of all kinds have shared their talents through YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or TikTok, going viral with fragments of popular songs or original pieces.

Another option is to share covers, since it shows respect for old songs, reinventing old classics for newer generations. For some, having new versions of their favorite songs can be enriching.

In neighborhoods around the world with terraces or balconies, artists choose certain times each week to rehearse. People do not ask them to leave. On the contrary, they ask them to continue to play, as they bring normalcy to a troubled world.

Musicians have had to find creative new ways to make it through the pandemic. Some play to keep people in good spirits. (Carlos Coronado/Unsplash)

In Mexico, people have made videos where they sing, at the top of their lungs from their rooftops, songs like ‘Ramito de Violetas,’ or ‘Resistiré México,’ as an anthem of resistance, strength and power.

Despite the struggle, many musicians continue to foster their talent. They know they can entertain and transmit peace to society through their lyrics and music.

Hundreds of festivals have been broadcasted online to remind people they can still enjoy performances without fear of crowds and contagion.

Musicians accept that sacrifices are sometimes necessary for the good of all.

“We have hope nowadays with the vaccines, but it is coming at a slow pace. It is a survival situation where we must all take care of ourselves, even if it entails losses,” said Santos Zamorano.

Several groups managed to organize and raise awareness about the importance of staying at home, with songs or positive messages from their digital profiles.

Musicians in Cuba, Spain, Mexico and Canada have set the example with new compositions and projects that capitalize on creativity, talent and the desire to make music.

They have produced their new songs at home, creating simple videos of excellent quality to sustain their art.

(Translated and edited by Mario Vázquez. Edited by Fern Siegel.)



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Former UPS Executive Boosts Pledge To Alma Mater By $15 Million

Former UPS Executive Boosts Pledge To Alma Mater By $15 Million

BALTIMORE — To help students avoid crippling college debt, former United Parcel Service executive and Morgan State University alumnus Calvin Tyler is increasing his $5 million commitment to his alma mater by $15 million to fund academic scholarships.

The expanded Calvin and Tina Tyler Endowment Scholarship Fund, created in 2002 to offer scholarships for Baltimore students, will now be used to attract students from around the country to a university eager to distinguish itself as a premier research institution, the university recently announced.

“A lot of young people in Baltimore and throughout the country are in need of help right now,” said Tyler. “Putting them further in debt through the reliance on government loans is just not the answer. Getting a college degree and graduating without debt is something that we think is very important.”

Tyler Hall, the recently constructed student services building on Morgan’s campus, stands as a legacy of Calvin and Tina Tyler’s “legacy of philanthropic giving.” (Courtesy of Morgan State University)

Student demographics suggest that nearly every Morgan student will, in the form of partial or full tuition scholarships, be impacted by the increased funds. Of the approximately 8,000 students currently attending the university, 90 percent receive some type of financial assistance.

“Forty-five percent qualify for Pell Grants, federal assistance to support students, at various level based on family support, and about 30 percent of that 45 percent are eligible for maximum benefits,” said Morgan State President David Wilson. “Thousands of students will be impacted for decades and decades to come.”

Wilson said he “literally dropped the phone” when the Tylers informed him that they wanted to raise their commitment to the university.

“When I was having the conversation with Calvin, and he said that he and Tina wanted to make a larger investment, I went quiet, because he doesn’t think in increments of a million dollars,” said Wilson. “We talked about the impact of COVID-19 in the community they come from and how it’s stressful under normal circumstances, and now students have to do three times more. He told me they wanted to do everything they can to ease the loan burden, so students could taste the magic of a Morgan State University education.”

“My wife and I have become keenly aware of the effect that the pandemic has had on a number of young people trying to get an education,” said Tyler. “We have the resources to help a lot of young people … through our endowed scholarship plan. It’s not so much that we’re supporting Morgan, it’s more that we are supporting Baltimore … Baltimore is our hometown, it’s where we’re from.”

Forced to drop out of Morgan in 1963 due to a lack of money to complete his own degree in business administration, Tyler became one of the first 10 black drivers for UPS in 1964. He closed out his career with the package delivery company as senior vice president of operations, retiring in 1998 and taking a seat on its board of directors. Tyler’s company stock options and board compensations make up the bulk of his benefactor’s wealth, according to Wilson.

“Calvin was a hard worker who has made his money work for him,” Wilson said. “He didn’t come up through diversity programs or human resources, though no slight on those organizations. At one point, he was literally the chief operating officer for a major corporation.”

Calvin Tyler began his career as one of 10 black UPS drivers before retiring as senior vice president for operation at UPS in 1988. Now a UPS director, his endowment fund has help more than 200 Morgan State University students through 46 full tuition and 176 partial scholarships. (Courtesy of Morgan State University)

Morgan’s emergence as a top research university

Morgan State University has a long history as one of four historically black colleges and universities in Maryland. Founded as Centenary Biblical Institute in 1867 to train young men in the ministry, it was renamed Morgan College in 1890 in honor of Rev. Lyttleton Morgan, its first trustee board chairman.

The school remained a private institution until 1939, when it was purchased by the state to provide more opportunities for black residents. In 1975, the school gained university status and expanded its offerings to include several doctoral programs.

Today, Morgan has 12 colleges, schools and institutes, with curricula that includes liberal arts, engineering, architecture and planning, social work, global journalism and communications. In 2007, by virtue of its growth among doctoral-granting institutions, Morgan was classified as “doctoral research institution” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Ten years later, the university was designated by the Maryland General Assembly as the state’s “preeminent public urban research university.”

Together with Bowie State University, Coppin State University and University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Morgan State University is an engine that drives both the state and national economies, according a United Negro College Fund report, “HBCUs Make America Strong: The Positive Economic Impact of Maryland’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” released in 2017. Maryland HBCUs, said the report, generate $1 billion in total economic impact and account for more than 9,300 jobs and $9.5 billion in lifetime earnings among its graduates.

With the Tyler endowment, the largest private donation from an alumnus in university history, and a $40 million gift in 2020 from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ ex-wife, MacKenzie Scott, Morgan State is now reaping the benefits of a reputation that was decades in the making.

“These investments show what we’ve known all along,” Wilson said. “Morgan is a serious institution that is turning out the best talent in the country in a period of immense innovation. Philanthropists are buying into the notion that, if they want a significant return on their investment, Morgan is the first option to consider.”

“MacKenzie Scott was vetting us from afar, the Tylers were vetting us from up close because Dr. Wilson has been able to establish a great relationship with them,” said Donna Howard, Morgan State’s vice president for institutional advancement. “But both gifts show that we passed muster as they considered their giving. These two gifts show them to be deeply embedded in altruism and wanting their wealth to have a positive and transformational impact on our students, their families and our communities.”

(Edited by Carlin Becker and Matthew B. Hall)



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Internet-Based Education Suffers Due To Lack Of Access

Internet-Based Education Suffers Due To Lack Of Access

As the global coronavirus pandemic hit and school classes moved online, economic disparities became evident in education access. With almost 7 percent of its population living on less than $3.20, Mexico bears witness to the gap.

“The university had the possibility of launching the virtual system through platforms such as Zoom, Moodle and Classroom,” said Mariana Hernández, a law school graduate from the Villa Rica University and a professor for seven years. “Even so, it was too much pressure because the teachers weren’t trained. We carried on with it regardless.”

More than 30 million students in Mexico, at all educational levels, were forced to take classes online during the health crisis, according to the National Institute for the Evaluation of Education. It was a great challenge, partly because Mexico does not have the necessary infrastructure to provide remote education.

Both teachers and students had to switch to online learning tools, with very little preparation. *** Tanto profesores como alumnos tuvieron que adaptarse a herramientas de enseñanza en línea, con muy poca preparación. (Lucas Law/Unsplash)

School principals across the country hired premium services on platforms allowing teachers to host unlimited video conferences with their students. But this solution was not at hand for everyone and did not solve all the problems.

The emergency has underlined the country’s inequality. High levels of poverty in Mexico are reflected in access to technological tools, making public school teachers and students disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

“My respects go to teachers at public schools,” Hernández said. “For many students, distance education is difficult or impossible. Several families do not have computers or Internet access, and many parents or guardians are unemployed and cannot pay for an online connection.”

In collaboration with television stations, the Mexican government launched a public education program covering preschool to high school, but many believe that students do not take advantage of it.

Students attending online classes with their teachers and classmates have been feeling discouraged after moving to remote education.

There is concern that many children do not have access to Internet or even a computer, and many live in poverty in very rural areas. *** Preocupa que muchos niños no tengan acceso a Internet o una computadora siquiera, y muchos viven en la pobreza en lugares muy rurales. (Aaron Burden/Unsplash)

“I do not want to imagine what education our children and young people following the television classes can get,” said Hernández, who also has a master’s degree in education.

Hernández thinks the problem is not exclusive to Mexico, although its inequality further complicates the challenge.

“Without question, the educational quality in our country collapsed, both in public and private schools,” she said.

(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos. Edited by Carlin Becker.)



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Daisy Bedoya Will Not Give Up

Daisy Bedoya Will Not Give Up

LARGO, Fla. — Entrepreneur Daisy Bedoya is facing tough times. Like many other small business owners both Hispanic and otherwise across the country, she’s been slammed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, she’s determined to keep fighting and not give up.

Bedoya, 66, says she can barely pay her bills and keep open GraphX Designs & Concepts, the business she started 16 years ago in Largo, on Florida’s west coast. The company sells promotional products for businesses and events, and sales of such items have been in a slump due to pandemic-related restrictions.

Bedoya’s small business has gone through some tough times due to COVID-19. *** La pequeña empresa de Bedoya ha pasado por momentos muy complicados debido a COVID-19. (Negocios Now)

“I have survived so far, but it is challenging. There are no sales, but one has to pay bills, rent, electricity and supplies,” said the Panamanian businesswoman, who runs the business by herself, or sometimes with the help of her son.

The pandemic has turned into a double whammy for Latino small businesses, which already faced “systemic barriers” to access resources and financing, according to a new study by Small Business Majority.

Bedoya is fighting with all her might not to close her small business, and she says government programs have helped her, but it has not been easy. *** Bedoya lucha con todo por no cerrar su pequeña empresa, y dice que el gobierno le ha ayudado, aunque ha sido duro. (Negocios Now)

Despite federal and state efforts to provide emergency funding, small businesses continue to suffer heavy losses. As a result, many have been forced to make tough decisions to stay afloat, according to the organization’s report.

Bedoya insists she won’t close.

“I’ve lived from it, and I wouldn’t want to close it because if I do, life will be even more difficult,” said Bedoya, who was one of the 300 entrepreneurs participating in Small Business Majority’s study.

The businesswoman said that last summer, she applied for federal aid and was approved for a Paycheck Protection Program loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration, but not for the amount she needed to face several months of crisis.

“I wish the money had lasted longer, but it didn’t,” said Bedoya.

Now that the federal government has made more emergency resources available, she is planning to apply for another PPP loan but says more needs to be done. The maximum amount that a company can borrow is 2.5 times its average monthly payroll costs.

“We need a long-term plan from Congress that helps vulnerable businesses. Another PPP loan is a bandage to keep us from sinking, but what will happen when the funds run out?”

Despite all the challenges, the entrepreneur sees the future in a positive light.

“I feel quite healthy, despite being 66 years old. I am a woman who likes to work, and I know that as long as I am healthy, I will keep going.”

Daisy Bedoya, una empresaria que no se da por vencida en estos tiempos de pandemia was first published in Negocios Now.

(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos. Edited by Melanie Slone and Matthew B. Hall))

 

 



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Joyful Veracruz Carnival Postponed Due To Pandemic

Joyful Veracruz Carnival Postponed Due To Pandemic

Carnival season is coming, but when will it arrive?

Carnivals are often festivals that enjoy international notoriety, as well as religious origins. They mark the beginning of Lent and a vital date toward the Holy Week.

The Carnival of Veracruz is one of the most famous. Celebrated almost exclusively in the port of Veracruz, this Mexican festival has earned the title of “the happiest carnival in the world,” due to its good vibes, excitement, colorful images and music.

Sadly, the holiday will not occur on its expected 2021 dates, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the city promises not to cancel it, but postpone it.

The first reported carnivals occurred in Italy during the 19th century. City-wide parties were held; people covered their faces with masks and wore their best clothes. These carnivals’ main characteristics were decadence — alcoholic beverages and sexual debauchery were commonplace. The parties used to last for days and ended on Ash Weekend.

The Veracruz Carnival Steering Committee began in the early 20th century. It consisted of president Ildefonso Consejo, vice-president Rafael Loperena, treasurer Federico Varela, and committee secretary José Troncoso. Thanks to the committee, the first floats paraded in 1925.

The Veracruz Committee still exists, as part of the municipal council of the city. Each year, it organizes the festival’s budget, and 2021 is no exception.


Usually, the whole city gets together for this celebration. *** Toda la ciudad suele reunirse en estas fechas. (Tania L. García/Café Words)

How is the ‘World’s Happiest Carnival’ in regular years?

The Veracruz Carnival occurs during mid-February and boasts many different activities. It begins with a beachball game called “Singles vs. Married,” where Veracruz men dress up as women and form two different teams: married men compete against single men.

In total, there are five different parades.

Other events are the coronations of the King and Queen of the Carnival who will, with their court, parade through the city’s port. They will reign over the Bad Humor Burning, where participants set a cardboard character known as Juan Carnaval on fire, symbolizing that sadness will leave and only joy will remain.

Lastly, on Wednesday, to conclude the festival, Juan Carnaval’s funeral, is held. People mock politicians, giving them sarcastic and ironic advice on how to do their jobs.


The Carnival King presides over the first parade. *** El Rey del Carnaval encabeza el primer desfile. (Tania L. García/Café Words)

The most visited attractions are the floats’ parade, where participants travel more than 3 miles across town. The Heroic Naval School of Veracruz’s various musical bands plays during the long walk, accompanied by baton twirlers.

The floats’ dancers wear bright and colorful dresses, with choreography that took more than six months to prepare. The floats take about three months to build, sport creative designs, and several lights to illuminate during night walks. The participants usually interact with the spectators, creating a unique celebration not seen anywhere else.

“We call our group Los Destrampados. We are a funny and irreverent troupe, and every Carnival we organize ourselves six months in advance,” said Néstor Lascurain, troupe leader of ‘Los Destrampados.’ “We have to choose our costumes. We dance to merengue, salsa and reggaeton, and people always come to dance with us. We have been participating since 2002, and we have won first place prizes, due to our originality and the joy we bring to people.”

“We knew this year’s Carnival ran the risk of being postponed or even canceled,” said Lascurain. “It is unfortunate since something like this has never happened before. All the troupe is downhearted, but it has to be this way, so that everyone can stay healthy. It affects many people who participate in the Carnival, since it is a good opportunity to make some extra money.”

Veracruz’ port — one of the most important in the country — will miss the Caribbean music this February. The genres usually heard are salsa, reggaeton, danzón and cumbia.


Regional popular outfits are shown off in the parades. *** Los trajes populares de la región salen a relucir en los desfiles. (Tania L. García / Café Words)

The one place where the Carnival will not be missed this year: people’s memories.

“Every year, I take my family, so we can see the Carnival during the weekend. Saturday and Sunday’s parades are more fun,” said Víctor Flores Peña, a Carnival regular. “It is a bit expensive, but it is worth it, as it makes my family happy. We prepare for it as if we were going on a picnic; we prepare some sandwiches and bring potato chips and sodas.”

There are forums, photographic exhibitions and concerts with local, national or international artists. The Carnival also has strong security, which monitors the different activities to guarantee both participants and spectators’ fun and safety. However, this year’s risk outweighs the benefits.

Due to the global pandemic, authorities officially postponed the Veracruz Carnival as a preventive measure to avoid contagion.

“It was a shock to all of us that there was not going to be a carnival this year,” said Lascurain. “Hopefully, the pandemic will end, and let us have some fun soon, and us carnival folks can work again.”

The Veracruz Carnival Committee issued Mayor Fernando Yunes Márquez’s statement, where he said the festival “could take place in the summer of 2021.” He added: “We have the budget to carry out Veracruz’s biggest festivity.”

The news will allow the participants’ and spectators’ hope to remain alive. Although nobody knows when it will happen, the Veracruz Carnival will return, more joyful and striking than ever.

(Translated and edited by Mario Vázquez, edited by Melanie Slone and Fern Siegel.)

 



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Stalled Life-Saving Transplant Ops Begin Again After COVID-19 Lockdown in India

Stalled Life-Saving Transplant Ops Begin Again After COVID-19 Lockdown in India

The coronavirus pandemic and the national lockdown that followed brought organ transplants in India to a complete standstill.

But as cities begin to unlock in phases and hospitals gradually steer the focus to other chronic ailments and lifesaving procedures undermined by Covid-19, organ donations and transplants are slowly resuming.

On Aug. 17, the family of a 31-year-old man from Kolkata in West Bengal consented to donate his organs after he was declared brain dead as a result of severe injuries he suffered in a road accident. The noble gesture marked Kolkata’s first organ donation  during the pandemic and third this year. The two others occurred in January.

In a similar gesture on Aug. 15, the family of a deceased 39-year-old woman from Pune saved the lives of five patients suffering from end-stage organ failure. The donor had suffered a brain hemorrhage and her family consented to donating her heart, liver, lungs, kidney and cornea after doctors declared her brain death. Two of her organs were flown to south India; the heart was sent to MGM Healthcare in Chennai; and the lungs were sent to KIMS Heart and Lung Transplant Institute in Hyderabad. The remaining organs were transplanted to patients in Pune.

“This was only the second heart transplant that we carried out in our center since the country went under lockdown,” said cardiac anesthesiologist and critical care specialist Dr. Suresh Rao.

 

Rao was part of the heart transplant team in Chennai’s MGM Healthcare. “Usually, we carry out anywhere between eight to 10 heart transplants in a month. But since the lockdown in mid-March, we have carried out only two,” he said.

Before Covid-19, the number of transplants done annually in India was about 5,ooo kidneys, 1,000 livers and 50 hearts, according to the Journal of the Practice of Cardiovascular Sciences.

The first case of Covid-19 was reported in India on Jan. 30. A nationwide lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi from March 24 as the number of cases began to soar. The country has now crossed 2.7 million cases and recorded more than 50000 deaths.

“The state governments advised to stop the transplant procedures due to the concern about the outcome if patients get infected with Covid-19,” said Rao. “The Tamil Nadu government lifted this clause last month and allowed hospitals to restart transplants if organs were available within their centers. Now the government has allowed inter-city transplants too, thus enabling us to fly the organs from other states.”

However, the process remains challenging due to the low number of domestic commercial flights operating in the country.

“We had to arrange a chartered flight with help from a charitable trust to bring the heart from Pune to Chennai,” Rao said, referring to the organ donation on Aug. 15.

In Western India, the State of Maharashtra recorded 160 organ donations in 2019. So far this year, the state has recorded 50. Maharashtra currently has over 5,500 patients waiting for kidney transplants, nearly 1,100 waiting for liver transplants, 74 waiting for heart transplants, and 16 in line for lung transplants. While patients with kidney failure are sustained on dialysis, those in need of other organs have little interventions other than transplants.

The living donor organ transplants, where a close relative is allowed to donate the organ, also took a back seat during the pandemic. In some cases, organ donors and recipients feared contracting the infection and delayed the procedure, while in other cases hospitals they had registered with had halted the program.

“It is logical to presume that patients on the waiting list who did not get transplants in time may have succumbed. But we currently don’t have any data on this,” said Dr. Vasanthi Ramesh, director of the National Organ and Tissue Transplant Organisation. “Hospitals are still busy with Covid-19 and the health systems are stretched. We will collate the data from centers in the coming days”.

Some transplant centers have calculated the mortality based on their own waiting list. Chennai’s MGM Healthcare has lost nearly 30 percent of its patients on the waiting list for heart transplants.

“Patients in need of heart transplants have to wait anywhere between one to three months to get the organ. However, this year, the waiting period had crossed six months for most patients,” said Rao.

Doctors say that ensuring a COVID-free pathway before and after the transplant is most challenging. This fear is probably keeping most hospitals away from restarting their transplant programs, even as it is not economically viable for them to sustain.

“In Mumbai, we have 39 recognized transplant centers but only one-third have agreed to restart the procedures,” said Dr. SK Mathur, president of the Zonal Transplant Coordination Centre, Mumbai. A similar trend in reduction in the number of transplant procedures has been recorded in the United States and France.

Gradually though, states have devised standard operating procedures to minimize the risk of infection. Tamil Nadu government, for instance, has insisted that not just the donor and the recipient, but also close family members of the recipient be tested for Covid-19. In Maharashtra, patients and healthcare workers must be screened and followed up for up to 28 days.

Doctors believe the number of transplants will increase in coming days after speedier test results for Covid-19 tests and increased public awareness of safety measures to control spread of the virus.

(Edited by Siddharthya Roy and Judy Isacoff.)



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