By Arturo Garcia (translation by Jeannine Caubarrere)
CHAPALA, JALISCO. The rock group Ginger Ninjas is passing through Lake Chapala on a 5,000 mile journey from the Sierras of Northern California to the jungles of Chiapas, visiting our entire country and giving hundreds of shows along the way with their bike powered energy source. Yesterday, Saturday February 16th, this activist/pacifist band gave a free concert at the Fuente de los Pescadores del Malecon (Fishermen’s Fountain at the Pier). The Director of the Cultural Office of the Municipality of Chapala, Sergio Unzueta, in coordination with the Office of Culture of the State of Jalisco, introduced the band within the framework of the “Chapala Vivo” festival.
The afternoon air is clean. The pier proudly boasts its new glittering stone pavement. In spite of its polluted green color, the lake seems closer to us. Its waters now bathe the sandy beach which, for those of us who grew up along its shores, used to symbolize the vast enclave of conformity. In the distance, a sailing boat is having a love affair with the waves dancing to the rhythm of the music coming from Fishermen’s Fountain. The sun is setting, and when it finally hides a magnificent palette of colors and golden shades opens before our eyes. This afternoon, lake Chapala is more alive than ever. There is a spark of life that bursts from the palm trees and the willows that flank the Fountain . The three North American Flags are waving with the breeze flowing through the material souls of the cello, the drums, the microphones, the speakers and the bicycles that surround us. Peace reigns. The relaxed spectators take their places close to the band members which are now starting to warm up their bicycles and their instruments. And there I am with my two sons, right in front of the stage, waiting to hear what would be one of the best concerts of my life.
The Ginger Ninjas & Cello-Joe from <Shake Your Peace.>
This Rock/Funk/Experimental group calls itself the Ginger Ninjas. No matter that my knowledge of music is rather limited, what truly matters is that nothing can possibly distract me when I listen to Cello Joe play and sing by himself; his music brings joy and inspiration. Cello Joe is a very cool and extremely talented young man, who graduated from the Berkeley University School of Music. His attire is casual, he wears huaraches as sandals and as a headpiece he is using a piñata in the shape of Disney’s famous donkey, Eeyore. His message is captivating. In a somewhat funny Spanish, accompanied by the sounds of his instrument, Cello Joe involves us in a totally creational and recreational atmosphere in which the message is “get rid of cars/ride a bicycle/take care of the environment”. The crowd is moved when, in favorable terms, he compares Mexico to the United States and launches an appeal to open peoples’ awareness so that they do not make the same mistakes as their neighbor from the North, where oil is the centerpiece of the engines of mobility.
Eco: a seductive voice honoring her name.
Eco Lopez is the very soul of the band. Her voice seduces us evoking the softness and the sensuality of the soul; a mixture of Gustafson, O’Riordan and Torroja. Highs and lows, whisperings to the microphone. I quiver in astonishment when listening to the lyrics of “Total Believer”, sung in a perfect and harmonious duet with Kipchoge. Kiss me if you like/Kiss me if you like. The words we hear are transformed into a spiral of invocations to the angels and deities of The Song of Solomon. Eco, who is from Uruguay, has been with the band for two years and, riding atop her “Squash” as she calls her Xtracycle Sport Utility Bicycle which is equipped with a sort of rack in the back capable of carrying up to 100 lbs of weight, she travels with the group accompanied by her copilot, “Thing 1”, the doll from the Dr. Seuss’ series. “He is my inspiration” she says, “Thing 1 goes with me everywhere, he gives me courage when I am riding”. “Look at him! Poor guy, he looks so dirty, but he is so happy!”
Kipchoge: An Ideal pushed by a bicycle in support of a “Pleasant Revolution”.
Kipchoge is the leader of this Cycling/Rocking/Activist band; his hit “Dick Cheney” distinguishes him as a rocker hungry for change, promoting love and an environmentally conscious eco-friendly lifestyle as his banners. But Kipchoge is more than that. He is an idealist, a peaceful revolutionary who uses music both as his attack weapon and as his defense armor. It is no easy task selling the idea of leaving everything behind in order to travel an entire country by bicycle opening up peoples’ minds while trying to survive from concerts. Nonetheless, his idea became an ideal which sprung to life this bicycle tour that is leaving its footprint everywhere it goes. Kipchoge talks very seriously about his endeavor and in a very clear Spanish he tells me: “You should use your bike more often, you can start by biking to work”. I thought it could be feasible and that’s what I am doing now. I must admit his proposal inspired me.
A Band with a Cause
The Ginger Ninjas musical group is made up of Eco Lopez, female vocalist, bass, guitar and various other instruments; Kipchoge, leader of the band, male vocalist, bass, guitar, harmonica; Joe Chang, cello; Brock Wollard, drums and Jared May, bass. “But the band is all of us”, says Kipchoge “from the ones who generate the electricity by pedaling the bikes, to those who join the “Pleasant Revolution” cause by helping in any way they can”.
The group members started the trip in the San Juan Sierras of California, outside of Sacrament, pedaling their way towards this adventure, having as a goal to raise the level of awareness of their followers so that they would move to an eco-friendly lifestyle, so that they would ride their bicycles as a means of transportation instead of driving cars which, because of their excessive use of gasoline, are depleting the earth’s natural resources and giving rise to problems such as the wars caused by the world’s everlasting struggle to find the black gold.
Their songs, all with original lyrics, invite us to reflect on living a life more in tune with nature, on reducing our dependence on plastics, fuel, toxic materials and anything else which contributes to pollution and threatens our planet.
My son, Emiliano, is three years old. He also dances to the rhythm of “Dick Cheney”. He is too small yet to understand the lyrics or the message behind the song, but it doesn’t matter. The language of music is universal. The rhythm embraces all of the spectators. In my son’s small face I see the reflection of the warmth and the energy generated by every turn of the pedals, by every song, by every inch of space that the sun is leaving behind for the moon. By now all of us are possessed by the music and our bodies dance with the songs and our mouths try to sing the words which, although we are hearing for the first time, already seem familiar to us. The message of peace and harmony is well received. I am totally haunted by Eco’s voice and the lifestyle she has chosen invades my whole being and makes me forget everything. Forgotten are the office and the long sleeve shirts; forgotten are the contracts and the day to day struggles. The only thing real to me are the voices coming from the speakers and the energy coming from the sweat of the people who are generating it; this recyclable energy, this energy which makes an almost illogical circuit from the soles of the pedaling feet to the drumming of the listener’s heart. All of this plus what the golden afternoon sun bestows upon us on this February day in Chapala represents magic for a Pleasant Revolution.
Alone with the Band
Arturo Garcia (AG): Why the name Ginger Ninjas?
Joey Chang (JC): Because Ginger means gentle; and Ninjas for what the Japanese warriors represent. So in essence, it means Gentle Warriors.
AG: Warriors of what?
JC: Of a revolution against the excessive use of fuel which is responsible for destroying this planet. We are also against the excessive use of plastics and other substances that are harmful to mankind.
(Ariel approaches and seats next to Joey. He introduces us.)
JC: This is my girlfriend, Ariel.
AG: Nice meeting you Ariel…. Why Chiapas as your final destination? Is it because of the political situation in that State?
JC: I think it is because of the pyramids. Chiapas is like the end of Mexico…
I wait until Eco finishes talking to the group of fans who, I am convinced, are now joining the ranks of her very long list of admirers. She is very gentle and approachable. I try to guess her country of origin from her accent in Spanish, but I fail. She finally tells me that she is from Uruguay and with a smile she breaks the ice. She doesn’t know it but I am extremely nervous. I soon realize, however, that being close to her dissipates all my nervousness and I try to strike up a conversation instead of conducting an interview.
AG: Why Mexico?
Eco Lopez (EL): Because Kipchoge took that decision.
AG: Are there people joining the group during the trip?
EL: Yes, but there are also people who abandon the trip. In the beginning when we started we were 15, then we went down to 8 and now we are 13.
AG: And how come you decided to come to this country to do what you are doing?
AL: I love what I do. Mexico is super beautiful. The people are wonderful. The climate is…..
AG: How long have you been doing this?
EL: You mean singing? Two years.
AG: Two years?
EL: Yes, that’s it. I started singing in Kauai. I opened my voice to the wind and the earth answered yes.
AG: That is very poetic.
EL: I know. My father is a poet and a musician. He is known in Uruguay as “El Pato Lopez”.
AG: Are you aware that you will become famous one day?
EL: Well, I do not know about that, but really it is not what I am looking for. I am fulfilled just by sharing what I do with other people. And the best of it all is to be able to share it with children. That for me is very powerful.
AG: Does the group have a sponsor?
EL: Yes, this company called Xtracycle which manufactures our bikes…
It’s already quite late and it seems that the band members are hungry. On our way to the diner, Kipchoge agrees to answer a few additional questions. We are now walking along Madero avenue. We pass in front of the church, the coffee shops and the ice cream stores. The afternoon is pleasant.
AG: I asked Joey and Eco why Mexico and not Canada? Why Chiapas as a final destination? It seemed to me that they did not have a very definite answer. They told me you were responsible for planning the trip.
Kipchoge (KC): True.
AG: Did you know that Chiapas is one of the largest states in southern of Mexico and one of the richest in natural resources, but also the one with the highest poverty rates in the nation?
KC: Yes, I knew that.
AG: Is this the reason why you chose Chiapas as the last stop in your “Pleasant Revolution” tour?
KC: In part, yes. But in reality we tried to take our message to the entire country. In the beginning our goal was to reach Belize, but then I decided that our tour would end in the southernmost state of Mexico.
AG: Why Mexico?
KC: Because Mexico has not yet made the same mistakes as the United States. But, since globalization has placed this country in our same path, it is important to inspire change…
And this ends my conversation with Kipchoge. The following day I offer him a glass of water while we are at my house recording some music that will help his cause. Kipchoge is reserved and pleasant. He tells me that PEMEX (Mexico’s oil company) offered to be a sponsor but that he refused (for obvious reasons). My three year old son, Emiliano, joins us in one of the best rides of his life, seated in the back rack of our new friend’s bicycle while he pedals his energy in search of a better world, a world cleaner than this one, a world where people are more empowered and less apathetic, a world that will necessarily become more harmonious. Such is this Revolution. Change by way of music, without weapons. Peaceful. Pleasant.