Let’s be honest. I’ve been putting off writing this post. I don’t completely want the closure that it brings. The last year that I spent living and working in Colombia was amazing for me, and I miss it like Everything but the Girl. In fact, there are one or two girls that I regret not stuffing in my suitcase and bringing home with me.
In my last post I promised a two-part feature on the Senses and Memory. This week I offer part two, a retrospective in song paying tribute to the 10 tracks that will always carry me back to my second home.
The first time I heard this I was at a club called La Puerta in Santa Marta. It was a special night, and the sound of this song will always take me back.
I first saw Colectro play at Noche del Rio, during Carnaval in Barranquilla. I was pleasantly surprised to catch them again less than a week later playing at Berbetronik. It’s a great example of all the crazy and fun places that electro-cumbia music is going these days.
The funny thing is that I don’t really like J. Balvín much. I’ve seen him perform live twice, and both times I couldn’t quite grasp why all the women around me were losing their minds. Granted, I may not be his target audience, but the simple truth is that most of his catalogue is just not as good as this reggaeton gem.
El Columpio - El Afinaito
Unfortunately, this Champeta singer died at the young age of 36 less than a year before I arrived in Colombia. By the time I was leaving Barranquilla, this song had completely taken over as the unofficial summertime anthem of the country. This is a great sample of Champeta Urbana, one of the reigning types of dance music on the Caribbean coast.
Vallenato music gave me a new respect for the accordion—this up-tempo hit is modern Vallenato at its best.
This is the first Vallenato song that I can remember admitting to myself that I really liked. Some of my first Aguila Lights and aguardiente tragos were downed while this was blasting in the background.
Another feel-good champeta track, with some of the most positive lyrics that you’ll ever hear in a popular dance song.
A slower, more old-school vallenato song, representing the genre in its most romantic/corny/heart-wrenching form.
En Barranquilla Me Quedo - Joe Arroyo
Nuff said. It’s amazing how little love Joe Arroyo gets outside of Colombia—he is salsa’s best kept secret!
Representing the Cali scene of Colombian salsa, this group is super-smooth. This is one of my favorites, a great song that walks the line between Salsa Romántica and Salsa Brava or Dura.
Another gem that I heard for the first time while out dancing in Santa Marta. It’s always great to hear fresh “new” groups putting out top-notch salsa, this act hailing from Bogotá. You’ll definitely recognize the theme, and you’ll probably love the song before you finish hearing it for the first time.
St. James Infirmary Blues - Traditional
I’ve liked this song for a while, but I had never had the chance to actually play it until this past year. While it wasn’t one of our staples, it was one of the funnest songs to play with Mango Jazz, and in my humble opinion, one of the ones that sounded the best. I’ll especially remember getting to play it one evening with Francisco joining us on clarinet, giving it a great New Orleans edge.
This is one of the first Afro Latin songs that I learned to play on piano, probably back in seventh grade. My favorite version is an arrangement on a John Santos album that I scored at Jazz Camp about ten years back. Still, hearing this song will now remind me of Colombia, not elementary school or camping in the woods. I especially loved watching the melody get permanently stuck in our drummer, Camilo's, head after hearing it just once or twice.
I can’t really explain how this song became the unofficial anthem of Carnaval in Barranquilla. The song is 50 years old already, recorded by a Puerto Rican group. Regardless, it is one of the songs that you’ll probably hear there five times per day, no joda.
This is another older Puerto Rican classic, and another one that I’ll associate with hanging out at Mazzino Pizzeria. On some nights when we weren’t playing there, we would just show up, plug a laptop into the speakers and enjoy some music on the patio. One particularly fine evening, I found myself crooning the opening lines to this tune along with Jaime as we both lost ourselves in the beauty of the sad melody.
Again, clearly not a song about Colombia. BUT, many a rug were cut over the past year with this one providing the motivation.
Before I got to Colombia, my favorite salsa song ever was “Pedro Nevaja” by Willie Colón and Rubén Blades. At my first house party in Barranquilla I heard El Sonido Bestial, and I had to change my mind pretty much on the spot. Partly because the song reworks the theme from Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C Sharp Minor, one of my all-time favorite pieces of music. The real reason is because the song is just fierce... so if you can’t stand the heat then please stay off the dance floor!
What!? I know, random right? Actually, it’s not all that surprising to find out how popular this song is after you listen to Champeta. The African musical traditions that Paul Simon mined to produce the Graceland album are the very same roots that provide the rhythmic foundation for the Champeta sound system movement.
Double-entrendre, maybe? If you listen closely, Antonio Rosas is not literally telling you to take your clothes off. Still, the song is hot if you’re up for a little Salsa Romántica.
Another slightly curious staple of today’s radio rotation in Coastal Colombia. The song was recorded almost 20 years ago, but for some reason, it had it’s resurgence just in time for my arrival.
Cositas Que Haciamos - Farruko
Reggaeton is far from my favorite genre of music, but my time in Colombia helped me gain a new appreciation for it. This song sticks out because at one point I'm sure that no less than 75% of the population had this programmed in as the ringtone for their phone.
Another late-night salsa party hit... “El amor se hizo para dos!”
This is the kind of goodie that would bang out of our speakers as we cleaned the house from top to bottom on a lazy hot sunday.
I can’t explain exactly what I love so much about this simple salsa classic. But I don’t have to explain myself—just give it a listen. It goes well with 1:30 AM and a willing dance partner.
So now I face the challenge of re-entry. Reintegration. Reorientation. Re-imagination. The good thing is, there are a few things that I can hold onto to keep my feet on the ground and my head on my shoulders. Music has always been one of those things, which I why I spent my very first week back in the States at Jazz Camp West. In fact, my week at camp was one of the last things I did in America before shipping out for Cape Verde in 2011. So, after reuniting with my keyboard after two years, I headed to the mountains for a week in my happy place. The adjustment is a still a work in progress, but I'm doing OK :)