Four years ago my friend Kevin and I went on a trip to La Paz, the capital city of Baja Del Sur, Mexico. It’s difficult to get there direct, so we flew into Los Cabos and rented a car with a plan to drive two hours up the coast. Unfortunately, the rental place only had manual transmission sedans, which neither of us knew how to drive. Having once spent an afternoon hauling pipes around in a manual pickup while working as a plumber in college, Kevin was nominated to be the driver, and we set out in fits and starts along the two-lane road. Once we got going there was less changing gears, so we cruised steadily until we hit one of the many small towns along the road and a large group of bikers flagged us down by lining the middle of the road. The car lurched to a stop and they asked us to roll the window down, after which they shoved a donation box in our faces. Hearing our meager, American-accented Spanish, one white-bearded and leathery biker came wandering over and explained that he was from upstate New York. We chatted for a minute about mutually familiar locales and then he and his friends cheered and laughed as the car sputtered into action. Later, at the hotel restaurant, in a joint broken English/broken Spanish conversation, a waiter would tell us Adam Sandler had stayed there and filmed part of a new movie nearby at La Playa Balandra, where we went the next day. It turned out he was talking about You Don’t Mess With the Zohan; they pretended the beach was Israel.
That trip was a week before the 2008 presidential election. It was strange to do all my last minute reading about McCain and Obama while out of the country, though it was surprisingly easy to get access to American media. What does it mean that a hotel has wireless but not potable water? I suppose debates about access to basic needs, and what those basic needs are, are fodder for an election season—or at least they should be. Currently in America, though, we’re trying to figure out how to not have mass shooting once a week and pondering the moment of conception. I don’t think I’ll ever be the type of person who says i so-and-so is elected I’m moving abroad (I’ve never even lived outside of the Northeast), but if we’re not moving backward, our national conversation makes it feel as though we’ll only ever inch forward.
That is not really the case with the rest of the world, much of which has seen seismic shifts in the last four years, a whole lot of which I read about on Facebook and Twitter. If four years ago I was so surprised by the lack of physical borders in the world (shout out to the Eurozone!), what’s getting me now is how you don’t have to go anywhere to go everywhere. This is joyously true in music, where you can hear everything all the time—the distance between Detroit techno and Egyptian festival is very small. It brings me great pleasure to be able say that without ever having visited either country. In fact, I’ve never been to most of the places featured in this Photo Issue, but it wasn’t difficult to discover any of these artists, despite their longitudinal distance. So we’ve unofficially dubbed this our international issue, though I’d like to think it’s only lazily global, more concerned with excellent jams than fulfilling quotas. Besides, everyone is probably secretly from upstate, anyway.