Songs about generators and Spam? New Puerto Rican music reflects the island’s resilience.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- On Christmas Eve, receptionist Kala Ronda planned to cook rice and beans for her husband and three kids. "But when I came home, we didn't have water running," said Ronda, 36, who lives in San Juan's Las Lomas neighborhood. This was after suffering through three months without power before it finally returned in early December. There's a song for that. In "Mi Navidad No Se Apaga," which in English means "My Christmas Won't Go Out," written by Grammy-nominated salsa singer Victor Manuelle, the Spanish lyrics translate to: "This Christmas in my Puerto Rico is going to be great. "And if we don't get electricity, we'll light a candle. "And if there's no 'pasteles' [meat pies] or rice and beans for dinner "We'll eat Spam on Christmas Eve." Ronda said she didn't serve Spam; she bought fried chicken. Hurricane Maria hit in late September, and its devastating effects have permeated the holiday season in Puerto Rico. The storm leveled thousands of homes, felled trees, blocked roads, knocked out communications and wrecked the electrical grid. Now, as recovery plods along, famous and amateur musicians have used the unique circumstances as inspiration, creating songs that resonate with the island's weary citizens. Turn on the radio, and you might hear Joseph Fonseca's rollicking merengue song asking the Three Kings for a new power generator. In Puerto Rico, Jan. 6 was Three Kings Day, or Epiphany, celebrated with parades and presents. "And when I turn it on, it shouldn't sound like this: Trrrrrrrrrr," he sings in "La Planta Nueva," or "The New Generator," which has gotten more than 300,000 views on YouTube. "When I'm deep in sleep to rest for work, I jump, and I get up, and I think I'm dreaming, but nothing has happened," he adds. "It's just that the fuel is finished." Fonseca said he was inspired by the loud throttle of the three generators he used to power through a 45-day blackout at home in Caguas, south of San Juan. He had solar panels, too, but Continue Reading

Girl with cancer, 15, performs emotional rendition of ‘Ave Maria’ for Pope Francis at Mexico hospital — WITH VIDEO

A girl at a pediatric hospital performed a heartfelt rendition of "Ave Maria" for Pope Francis Sunday, an emotional moment during the pope's trip to Mexico. Dignitaries, media and hospital staff listened to the girl perform the classical Schubert song, holding back tears. Francis stood next to the girl as she sang, then bent down and kissed her cheek after she finished, sharing a few words. POPE FRANCIS GREETS MEXICO CITY RESIDENTS, DECRIES CORRUPTION IN SPEECH TO LAWMAKERS The girl — identified as Alexia Guarduno, 15 — has osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer, and has an operation scheduled for Feb. 25, according to media reports. The pope's visit to Federico Gomez pediatric hospital in Mexico City marked a poignant stop during his week-long trip to Mexico, his first visit there as Pontiff. Another child at the hospital presented Francis with a handmade Valentine's Day card with a big heart on the front. "You made this?" Francis asked as he accepted it. "Gracias." The pope bent down and kissed dozens of sick kids, playfully mussing the hair of the older ones. Some posed for selfies with the pope. Several rose from their wheelchairs to embrace him. Francis also played doctor to one little boy, administering medicine from a dropper. The pope makes a point of stopping at children's hospitals during his foreign trips, both to visit with the kids and to thank the staff for caring for them. While parts of the encounters are televised, Francis also visits bedridden patients in private for more personal encounters. The hospital was previously visited by Pope John Paul II in 1979. With News Wire Services Continue Reading

Sanitation sergeant who died on job mourned by de Blasio and fellow workers at Brooklyn funeral

A sanitation department sergeant who died on the job last week after complaining about the heat was remembered Wednesday as a man of character who took great pride in keeping the city’s streets clean. Frank Musella, 37, collapsed in Staten Island last week as temperatures soared across the city. Colleagues found him unresponsive in his car after he returned from a patrol. The medical examiner’s office said he died from a heart ailment. Mayor de Blasio, who had ordered the city’s flags to fly at half-staff, described Musella as a devoted sanitation worker and autism advocate who helped raised thousands of dollars after his youngest son was diagnosed with the condition. “We lost a good man,” de Blasio told mourners who filled Brooklyn’s Most Precious Blood Church for Musella’s funeral. "A man of character. For nearly a decade, Frank was devoted to keeping this city clean and safe. He took great pride in his work." Musella was the first member of the sanitation department's Enforcement Division to die on duty since it was created three decades ago. Hundreds of sanitation workers in uniform with tears in their eyes lined up outside and saluted the gray casket draped over with a blue sanitation flag. It was carried into the church as the song “Ave Maria” brought many to tears. Musella’s widow, Alessandra, sat in the front pews with Musella’s parents and other family members, trading hugs and wiping tears. DeBlasio broke the somber mood with a story about Musella’s funny side. “You couldn't leave your smartphone unattended," the mayor quipped to giggles and smiles. "Otherwise you'd find an entire selfie-photoshoot featuring Frank, posted on your Facebook account." Musella was an avid mechanic and a master chef, and spent a lot of time repairing the family's home after Hurricane Sandy, the mayor said. Continue Reading

Celebs show power of volunteering in cleanup of Jacob H. Schiff Playground at Amsterdam Ave. and W. 138 St.

When Corbin Bleu showed up in Harlem on Tuesday, a group of teenage girls greeted him by singing a song from “High School Musical.” At first, the teen idol from Brooklyn seemed taken aback, but he soon joined in. Organized by Microsoft Bing and, the daylong event allowed the volunteers and celebs to mingle while they worked together to repair the “peace wall” at the Jacob H. Schiff Playground at Amsterdam Ave. and W. 138 St. It was all part of Bing’s “Summer Of Doing,” an initiative aimed at inspiring young people to give back to their communities. The campaign challenges teens to improve the environment and combat poverty, and offers prizes for those whose projects demonstrate the greatest impact. There were plenty of not-for-prime-time moments. Upon her arrival, “Vampire Diaries” star Kat Graham told a television reporter she was “so happy to be here in Brooklyn” (the star was corrected and the scene, promptly re-recorded). Nicole Richie’s handlers limited the actress to interviews with a pre-approved list of outlets before she took her turn at the wall and was whisked away in a black Escalade. In between their photo ops, the celebrities bore the summer heat along with the volunteers, painting the playground and retiling broken sections of the massive mosaic. “Honestly, it almost felt like they did more work than us, even though they were only here for a short amount of time,” said one teen volunteer, Courteney Engelman. The peace wall was created in 2005 by CITYarts, an organization aimed at bringing young people together with professional artists to create public art. Other stars, including Maria Menounos, Nigel Barker and “Twilight’s” Chaske Spencer were there to help. Graham capped off the day with a suprise performance. Spencer, who first worked with Bing last year delivering school supplies, spoke about the importance of Continue Reading

New CDs brighten holidays

Even though most people hear holiday music for only one month a year, from Thanksgiving until Christmas Day, it's easy to get sick of the same old songs. Ask anyone who has heard one too many chestnuts roasting on that open fire - or worse, people who have heard "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" so many times they wanted to shoot both Grandma and the reindeer. So if you know someone who loves holiday music, it might be thoughtful to consider some of this year's fresh offerings. Darlene Love. One of the most tragic consequences of the Writers Guild strike is that without live David Letterman shows, America may not get to hear Darlene Love sing "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." But here's a good consolation prize: her first-ever (amazing, huh?) Christmas CD, "It's Christmas, Of Course" on Shout Records. It's a great record that includes a splendid duet with Cissy Houston on John Lennon's "Happy Xmas." Mannheim Steamroller. Overdone, some say. Overwrought. Overdramatic. So what? A new Mannheim Christmas record is an event. "Christmas Song" (American Gramaphone), with Chip Davis' lively, spirited reworkings of a dozen classics, from "Let It Snow" to "Frosty," is likely to outsell everything in sight. Holly Cole. Along with Love, the aptly named Holly Cole serves up the best new CD of the season. "Baby It's Cold Outside" (Koch) gives fresh, often sultry new arrangements to great tunes like the title track, "Santa Baby" and "Zat You Santa Claus." Hannah Montana. Calm down, kids. This isn't a whole Hannah CD. But she has the lead track ("Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree") on "Disney Channel Holiday," which also features such other tweener faves as the Jonas Brothers. For Parents. Christmas Rock Records has put out three CDs with holiday-style instrumental arrangements of AC/DC, Metallica and Green Day songs. Highlights: "Master of Puppets" and "Highway to Hell." For Nonparents. At least two compilation CDs - "Oh Santa" on Yep Roc and Continue Reading

As popemobile rolls along Fifth Ave., devoted flock greets their pontiff

The frenzied faithful along Fifth Ave., eager for a glimpse of Pope Benedict, waited with a song in their hearts and comfortable shoes on their feet. They stood for several hours, and saw the pontiff for just fleeting seconds. Yet no one was griping Saturday after the Popemobile's brief but exhilarating swing through Manhattan. "It's well worth it, and I wore the right shoes," said Rosemarie Luisi of Waldwick, N.J., who arrived about 51/2 hours before the pontiff rode past. "We're delighted, and God is looking down on us." Her blessed attitude was shared by the multitudes lined 10-deep along the famed boulevard, a scene more reminiscent of St. Patrick's Day than a spring Saturday in late April. Jennifer Sela, 18, came with other members of the Cathedral of Sacred Heart band in Newark for a chance to serenade the Pope. She brought her guitar, while others played the drums as cheers of "Viva il Papa" echoed. "We came to sing to him," said Sela, and others shared the sentiment - spontaneous versions of "Ave Maria" and "Amazing Grace" were heard along the route. The spectators turned the 23-block ride into a "Canyon of Hero" - all gathered to see the beaming pontiff in the only public-accessible part of his three-day New York visit. The white Popemobile, which Benedict shared with Edward Cardinal Egan, pulled onto Fifth Ave. just south of St. Patrick's Cathedral at 1:24 p.m. "Viva Papa! Viva Papa!" shouted the first people to see Benedict, seated and waving from behind bulletproof glass. A phalanx of two dozen NYPD motorcycles preceded the special vehicle, while two Secret Service agents stood on either side of its front and rear bumpers. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly was on the scene, and police helicopters whirred overhead. NYPD snipers looked down from surrounding rooftops. Despite the heavy security, there was a sense of serenity in the crowd once the Pope appeared."It's beautiful, it's just Continue Reading

Funeral for Luciano Pavarotti takes place in Modena

MODENA, Italy - Luciano Pavarotti received a final, tear-stained standing ovation after a recording of the great Italian tenor singing a duet of "Panis Angelicus" with his father was played during an otherwise somber funeral Saturday in his hometown cathedral. Many of the mourners inside wiped away tears as the tenor's unmistakable voice filled the cathedral, a poignant reminder of the talent lost with his death Thursday at age 71 after a yearlong battle with cancer. Pavarotti and his father had sung the duet in 1978 in the same cathedral - an event recalled by Archbishop Benito Cocchi in his homily, recounted to him by a witness who described it as "a weaving of two tenors" with one after the other picking up the melody. In a series of eulogies, Pavarotti was remembered as one of the world's greatest voices, a symbol of Italy, a humanitarian and - in a message from his 4-year-old daughter Alice - a father. "Papa, you have loved me so much, I know you will always protect me. I will hold you dear to my child's heart every tomorrow," his daughter said in a message read during the service, while her mother, Nicoletta Mantovani, sobbed in the front row of the sanctuary. Also sitting in the front row were Pavarotti's first wife, Adua, his three grown daughters and his sister. Among the 700 guests were Italian Premier Romano Prodi, U2 lead singer Bono, U2 guitarist The Edge, movie director Franco Zeffirelli and former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. When Bono arrived, Pavarotti's widow blew him a kiss and gave a wan smile, but fought back tears. The 90-minute service was filled with music, from Bulgarian-born soprano Raina Kabaivanska, who cried as she sang the opening hymn, Verdi's "Ave Maria," to tenor Andrea Bocelli's "Ave Verum" during communion. Flutist Andrea Griminelli played a solo. Thousands of admirers filled the piazza outside the Romanesque cathedral, following the service on a big screen, their clapping echoing inside the church. The Continue Reading

ALTAR GIRLS. Many are called but pew are chosen as Catholic ladies seek love at church

Another crisis is looming in the Catholic Church. Throngs of single, churchgoing New York women are desperate to find a man to connect with, and he's not the priest. The problem: The men in their parishes are reportedly too busy praying to be doing much flirting. "I've talked to many women who were definitely looking for love in the pews, but I don't know how successful they were," says Jennifer, a broadcast executive who, like some other Catholic women interviewed for this article, asked to have an alias used when discussing the subject ("I'm afraid they're going to excommunicate me," she says, only half-kidding). Jennifer, an attractive blond in her late 20s, has never actually talked to any of the pew prospects who attend her Sunday-evening Mass at St. Ignatius Loyola on the upper East Side. (The cardinal rule everywhere: Evening Mass is filled with twentysomethings, morning Mass with everyone else.) Actually, there was this one time, but things didn't exactly pan out. PSALM ENCHANTED EVENING... "There's this point during Mass where you shake hands with the people around you and say, 'Peace be with you,'" explains Jennifer. "This guy in the back had his hands folded, and I turned to him and he said, 'No, I'm fighting something,' like he had a cold. " In an instant, her big chance for physical contact was blown. "I was like, fine, bless you, too! Get some Purell and shake my hand! It's not that hard. " Still, that's one more liturgical liaison than Jill, a 27-year-old East Villager, has ever had at her parish, Our Lady of Pompeii at Bleecker and Carmine in the West Village. "I've never met anyone at Mass, ever," she says. "Maybe the church should get involved a little more. They want us to marry and start families, and continue with their values and traditions, but we're not meeting anyone! " If God has a solution, He's not letting on yet. In fairness, most Catholic churches do offer young-adult groups, but they can be Continue Reading

FREE TRIP ON ‘SECOND AVE.’ 200 share in Jewish culture

RUSSIAN-SPEAKING Jews have been getting a bissell of yiddishkite, or a dose of Yiddish culture, thanks to the philanthropy of a local community leader. More than 200 people, young and old, received transportation and a ticket to the acclaimed Off-Broadway musical "On Second Avenue," which chronicles the cultural history of Jewish immigrants on the lower East Side. "Jewish theater is a national treasure and should be supported," said Feliks Frenkel, president of the Council of Jewish Émigré Community Organizations. After watching the show - starring Mike Burstyn and consisting of vaudeville routines, clips and images - Frenkel said, "Everybody should see this play." So the investment firm owner sponsored a mass purchase of two Thursday matinee shows of the Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre production, which ends its one-year run today. "This culture and the performance of this material is a window into a whole world that people have left behind or their ancestors had lived in," said Zalmen Mlotek, Folksbiene's executive director. "Yiddish grew up on the soil and in the air of Mother Russia," he added. "Whether they speak it or not, it has a resonance." The 91-year-old theater group was holding its performances at the Jewish Community Center on the upper West Side. Members affiliated with the organization, an umbrella group for 42 Russian-speaking Jewish organizations, scored the tickets. While many of them are elderly, Frenkel insisted in including some younger folks as a way to introduce them to their folklore and narrow the generational gap in the community. "Culture is as important as the religious part of life or the economic part of life," Frenkel said. "On Second Avenue" offers a glimpse to the rich cultural roots of American Jews in an entertaining and engaging fashion. Much of it is in English and supertitles accompany the Yiddish portions. "Yiddish was the major vernacular of Ashkenazi [Eastern European] Jews," Mlotek noted. "It's a Continue Reading

HIT MAN SINGING FBI SONG. Sez agent closely tied to 1992 slaying of mob rival

STONE-COLD MAFIA HIT MAN LARRY MAZZA said he always knew his boss had a direct pipeline to law enforcement - he just didn't know it was an FBI agent. Mazza told the Daily News yesterday that he has agreed to tell a Brooklyn grand jury everything he knows about the relationship between his boss, Greg Scarpa, and FBI agent Lindley DeVecchio. Scarpa would have numerous conversations with an unnamed law enforcement snitch, whom Scarfa referred to as his "girlfriend," recalled Mazza, standing outside his Florida condo. "I didn't know who it was at the time," said Mazza, now a personnel trainer and fitness buff. "We knew it was law enforcement and that's all we knew," Mazza, 45, told The News. "The way it was done, we would pull over to phone booths. We used cell phones and two-way radios to be in contact with DeVecchio. It was a constant back and forth," he said. "Scarpa would say, 'It's my girlfriend' [on the phone] and I knew who it was, whoever it was, and I knew what that meant." Mazza said he later learned the mole was allegedly DeVecchio. Those alleged conversations between Scarpa and DeVecchio are a focal point of the Brooklyn district attorney's probe into whether DeVecchio helped Scarpa murder rivals during the Colombo crime family's bloody civil war in the early 1990s. In one key incident under investigation that occurred on Jan. 7, 1992, DeVecchio allegedly called off law enforcement surveillance of mobster Nicholas (Nicky Black) Grancio so Scarpa could kill him. Mazza, also known as Legitimate Larry, was in a van with Scarpa and another man, Jimmy Del Masto, that afternoon, armed to kill. "I was the triggerman," Mazza told The News yesterday. Del Masto was driving and Scarpa had a shotgun. Grancio was in a Toyota Land Cruiser he had just bought. Mazza has previously testified that they followed Grancio when they spotted him near MacDonald Ave. and Avenue U. Grancio stopped to talk to his nephew Joe Tolino. It was about 3:15 p.m. Continue Reading