Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ferrer en Fuego

Ibrahim Ferrer
Like his hermano en musica Compay Segundo, Ferrer was born and raised in Cuba. This Afro-Cuban singer began crooning around the island to make money at an early age. With decades of practice singing traditional Cuban music, Ferrer had no trouble finding work in post-revolutionary Cuba.

The Afro-Cuban All Stars picked up Ferrer in 1996 to sing on their Grammy nominated album A Toda Cuba le Gusta. He sang a variety of songs like "Amor Verdadero" and "Pio Mentiroso," a track fronted by the late Pio Leyva, who would later reunite with his fellow Cuban Ferrer in Buena Vista Social Club.

Buena Vista Bolero
With the Cuban supergroup Buena Vista Social Club, Ferrer sang "Y Tu Has Hecho," a duet with Compay Segundo. But the one type of song that Ferrer enjoyed singing more than any other was the slow and sultry bolero. He finally had the opportunity with Buena Vista Social Club track "Dos Gardenias," and Ferrer sings it con todo su alma.

After Buena Vista Social Club showed the beauty of Cuban music to the world, Ferrer began some solo work. His 1998 debut Tierra Caliente earned the 71-year-old vocalist a Latin Grammy for Best New Artist!

Ferrer continued to woo critics with his smooth voice. He won a Grammy in 2004, but was not able to accept it. The 76-year-old's attendance had nothing to do with his age. Instead, the U.S. government would not allow Ferrer into the U.S. because he was considered a security threat. Ay caray!

Before this humble Cuban was banned from the United States, he worked with some musicians across the pond. But what English acts would want a traditional Cuban singer on their track? Easy -- the Gorillaz. The mysterious, two-dimensional artists included Ferrer on their song "Latin Simone."

He later added his voice to the collaborative album Rhythms del Mundo: Cuba. His recording of "As Time Goes By" joins the likes of Quincy Jones, Kaiser Chiefs and Coldplay. Not bad for a guy who sang on the streets of pre-revolutionary Cuba for money.

Ferrer's last album, Mi Sueño, was a posthumous release and a tribute to the bolero. If boleros aren't your style, then check out these tunes instead.

Gracias, Buena Vista Social Club
This concludes my overview on the band that reintroduced traditional Cuban music to the world. The band is full of talented musicians, and I apologize for only writing about two of them. I briefly mentioned Pio Leyva and never acknowledged Eliades Ochoa's guitarra. Before I return to these greats, feel free to check them out on your own.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Nuestro Compay

Compay Segundo
The name translates to "Second Comrade," which came from his baritone voice that came second in most songs. But don't let the name fool you, because Segundo is the first member of Buena Vista Social Club anybody should know about.

This composer / guitarrista is to traditional Cuban music as Jimi Hendrix is to rock n' roll. Segundo's playing style was so unique that he created his own instrument, a seven-string fusion of the Spanish guitar and Cuban tres known as an armonico.

Long before Fidel Castro came to power, Compay Segundo was strumming sones and danzones throughout Cuba. While Castro was studying at law school, this music legend was recording albums with Los Compadres. But it was his participation in Buena Vista Social Club that brought Segundo international success.

El sueño
"Chan Chan" is the opening track to Buena Vista Social Club. Segundo composed the four-note son, but said that it came to him in a dream. He even performed his masterpiece at the Vatican for Pope John Paul II. Instantly recognized around the world, artists' covers from Gypsy Kings to this Swiss comedy trio will ensure that this song never dies.

Fidel Castro once invited the then ninety-year old musician to perform at a fiesta. With his trademark Cuban fedora on his head and Cuban cigar in his mouth, Segundo played for the dictator whom he knew as "the new guy." Castro later took Segundo's pulse and joked about his vitality.

Vaya con Dios
Segundo eventually died in 2003 at the age of 95. Gone, but not forgotten, he was honored in 2007 with a "100 Years of Compay" celebration in Havana. So check out these videos to see how this old man plays Cuban favorites like a true guitar hero.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Los Cubanos Clasicos

Buena Vista Social Club
What happens when American guitarist Ry Cooder travels to Cuba for a collaborative effort with the country's most popular, traditional efforts? Buena Vista Social Club.

Named for an actual club in Havana from the 50s, Buena Vista Social Club received international attention for their self-titled studio album, which Rolling Stone named number 260 of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

The band consisted of musicians of varied nationalities and ages, but that did not hinder their cooperation. Basically, Cooper recruited these legends, locked them in a Cuban studio and let them recreate the traditional sounds of their homeland.

A friend of mine who doesn't speak Spanish once told me, "Buena Vista is so good, you don't need to know Spanish to enjoy it. It's the perfect driving around music." He's right, their traditional Cuban music makes anyone want to light up a Cohiba. The song "El Cuarto de Tula" can be heard in the movie Training Day.

This band is too iconic to cover in one post, so I'll be splitting up the members into a couple. It's the least I can do for Cuban musicians who recorded a Spanish equivalent of Dark Side of the Moon. So give these songs from the album a listen.

Regresa pronto!

Sunday, November 8, 2009


Manu Chao is considered the Bob Marley of the new millennium. This musical chameleon now carries the torch that was left behind by the late, great dread locked rasta. Manu took off like a phoenix out of the remains of Mano Negra, and now unites listeners around the world.

When I studied abroad in Mexico, I saw his tour t-shirts everywhere I went. He even attracts crowds in the United States. A buddy of mine saw Manu at Lollapalooza in 2006. Though he didn't know who the performer was, my friend says that women lined the front row with beads and trinkets crying when he hit the stage.

With Mano Negra gone, Manu traveled the world making music everywhere he went. As he soaked up the different cultures, he worked to recreate local street sounds. This guy actually sustained a living by doing what we all dream of. He's what all those beach bums playing guitar on the boardwalk aspire to be.

The result was Clandestino -- a hodgepodge recording of deep meanings and mere nonsense in several languages mashed together. From "Lagrimas de Oro" to "La Vie a 2," this album defined Manu's diverse, unifying sound. Even if you don't speak every language in a song, the parts you understand are enough to keep you listening.

The track "Bongo Bong" is a remix of the Mano Negra song "King of Bongo." This reinvention is what keeps Manu Chao so fresh. He's so influential, British pop star Robbie Williams covered the song with Lilly Allen. Que divertido!

Manu continued to remold his music style with his next album, ...Proxima Estacion...Esperanza. From start to finish, this album flows together like one long track narrated in a common language. Songs like "Merry Blues" and "Promiscuity" are reason enough for English speakers to give Manu a try. He even honors his legendary predecessor with the tune "Mr. Bobby."

Not only does Manu successfully reproduce the sounds of the regions he visits, but he even captures the people and culture in his music videos. Low budget but effectual, videos like "Me Llaman Calle" reinforce his presence among people of the world. Originally a Mano Negra song, Manu remixed it and Time named it the #8 song of 2007.

Concluding Argument
I've said about all I can about this amazing man. Manu Chao's music does not conform to national boundaries. He unites people from areas of the world who speak different languages. Like Bob Marley before him, Manu seeks to unite the world through music. If you still don't give him a listen, then this blog entry was a failure.

Lista Part Dos
Ending on a happy note, here are a few more Manu songs to check out. I already mentioned most of his hits, but be sure to watch "Me Gustas Tu" and "La Chinita." The songs are easy Spanish and the videos are great!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Manu el Magnifico

Manu Chao is the musician known as el pirata. No, he doesn't commandeer other artists' songs. This musical nomad is known for swashbuckling around the globe to the tune of his own inexplicable style. He's such a force in the international circuit, I have to dedicate two entries to the man.

El Pirata
How many languages does your favorite musician speak? One? Two if you're a hipster, three if you're an elitist. Well, Manu sings in five, fluently... seven if you count Gaelician and Wolof. I can honestly say that I had to Google that language just to see where it's spoken. Yeah, his music is like nothing you've ever heard before.

Since I started writing this blog, I've always mentioned an artist's major fanbase in the Spanish-speaking world. Just to emphasize, Manu Chao's reach extends throughout Europe and into Africa, as well. But how did this Spanish vagabond start?

Mano Negra
His first band's name translates to "Black Fist," the name of a resistance movement in Andalucia. The 19th century rebels are not well documented, and neither is the band. Their music video for King of Bongo shows just how far music videos have come since the late 80s. Yikes.

So maybe music videos ruin this band's image, but maybe that's why Mano Negra never caught on in the United States. Their live performances won over audiences everywhere else though. I guess performing on your tour boat will do that. Imagine seeing an international group at your nearest port city. If that's not enough, how about traveling around Columbia via retired passenger train?

As inventive and intriguing as Mano Negra was, the nearly 10-member band soon ran out of steam. I guess some success in the U.S. market is necessary to remain relevant in the music scene. That's alright, Manu persevered and is now a world icon.

Cumbia del Tiempo
In honor of Manu's individuality, I'm going to break up the lista between posts. Here's a couple Mano Negra tracks to hold you over. I skipped videos though, because these songs are too good to be brought down by cheesy visuals.

Se continua...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Una lista de música


Well there you have it. Pop is everywhere, so you might as well get a head start on people in the states and start listening to these artists. Hey, if you learn about these pop artists before they're big in the U.S., that would make you a pop-hipster(?). So here's some more éxitos to try.

1. Enrique Iglesias - "No Llores Por Mi"
2. Enrique Iglesias - "Nunca te Olvidare"
3. Belanova - "Aun"
4. Belanova - "Cada Que"
5. Belanova - "Dulce Fantasia"

Baila mi corazon,

DJ Gringuito

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Belanova, muy bonita

American crossover Spanish Pop is all well n' good, but there are other bands out there that make Enrique's music seem like Megadeth. The synth-pop music of Belanova does so without missing a beat. This Mexican trio of vocals, keyboard and bass are guilty pleasures for music lovers all over the world.

The closest comparison to Belanova is Aqua. Aqua might not be American, but their songs have certainly killed enough brain cells on this side of the pond. Don't worry, Belanova is much better and big names have requested their services. The band has worked with Disney Latin America (apparently everything in the U.S. exists in Latin America too as long as the words Latin America are slapped onto the end). The band even promoted for Pizza Hut, how cheesy is that!

Bad puns aside, Belanova has had a lot of commercial success. Their single "Por Ti" reigned at number 1 on MTV Mexico's show "Top 20" for 29 weeks. And you thought BSB had a stronghold on TRL back in the day. Even better, their third album, Fantasia Pop went Gold in three days. Oro en tres dias!

Give the album a listen and you'll see why. The lead singer's smooth, cutesy voice takes listeners to another planet, a pop world full of sunshine and rainbows. The aptly named album plays like a soundtrack to a dream.

It's a good thing I don't own a convertible, because songs like "Baila Mi Corazaon" ("My Heart Dances") would drive me to blast the speakers and sing my little, poppy heart out. By the time "Vestida de Azul" ("Blue Dress") came on, I would be stepping on the gas to avoid an ass kicking.

The band is so overly fabulous that you almost have to embrace it. If your friends catch you jamming out to "Por Esta Vez," enjoy it too much to seem sincere. While you're lost in a world of fluffy clouds and happiness, they'll think you're being funny. You could never get away with this with Hannah Montana songs.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Ándale, Enrique!

As the son of Spanish music royalty, Enrique has earned enough success to rightfully usurp the throne. Before he moved stateside, Enrique dominated the Spanish language scene. A few Latin Grammy Awards and a couple world tours grabbed the attention of music labels in the U.S. Enrique is not just a pop star, he's an international superstar!

When he invaded the English market, there was a surplus of Latin crossover artists like Marc Anthony, Shakira and Gloria Estefan. With all the competition, Enrique quickly distanced himself from the rest. Everyone and their mother rocked sus cuerpos to "Bailamos." Like most pop hits, kids grew tired of the song much quicker than their hip madres.

In case you haven't caught on, I'm the guy who defends Enrique Iglesias at parties. I'm not much of a fan anymore, but the guy served as a bridge into the vast world of Spanish music. That might not be the reason why I learned to play "Hero" on the guitar, but then again, I really don't have a good explanation for that.

His next two hits solidified his spot in my -- and the rest of America's -- heart. "Escape" and "Don't Turn Off the Lights" made me want to learn Spanish. No, not because the corny lyrics made me swoon. I was more interested in landing a babe like Anna Kournikova. The guy is badass, regardless of how fun and sappy his music might be.