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 Review: Willie Col?n, `Lo Mato'

 Author:  Topic:  Posted:
Oct 06, 2001
Continuing with my quest to widen my knowledge of World Music, I decided I should listen to some authentic Cuban music. With that in mind, I bought the following album by Willie Colón: Lo Mato (with the famed Cuban singer Héctor Lavoe).

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First of all, all the songs are in Spanish (except for the final instrumental "Junio '73", which is not in any language, save for the title, which is in Spanish, though). Now this might sound like a vain complaint: "Duh, of course it's in Spanish, it's a Cuban album," I almost can hear you saying. And under normal circumstances, that would not be a problem: I happen to speak flawless Spanish.

So, what's the problem, then? The singers in these album speak very bad Spanish. They don't pronounce half the "s" sounds, pronounce "r" where an "l" should go, pronounce "l" where "r" should go, don't pronounce "z", and countless other mistakes. The result is, quite simply, awful. To top it off they use words that don't exist, like babalao, or use words incorrectly, like in the "verse" (I feel this is a misnomer for such a lowly assemblage of words thrown together, actually, I feel my previous use of "assemblage" is also giving too much credit) in Calle Luna Calle Sol that goes: Saca los bolsillos, tu estás arrancado (I correct the Spanish), which translates as "Take out your little bags, you are started (as in a car starting up)". What the hell is that supposed to mean?

The music doesn't have enough instruments. Apart from the percussion, the bass and the piano, there are only two trombones, which play the lead parts. Colón should have assembled a bigger orchestra to play these songs, with more instruments, like accordions (which work very well in Mexican music, which is similar to Cuban music). Two trombones simply don't have enough range, and can't play more than a note each at the same time. The drum beats also sound quite primitive-- almost as if they were Western African. They should play some more sophisticated and complex rythms, such as jazz. Also, the singer, Héctor Lavoe, has too high a voice. He should use his lower register more. He also sings too nasally. Whoever his voice teacher was obviously didn't do very good a job. He also seems to improvise throughout the record, which shows a lack of a great vision of what the music and the words should be. He should try to take the time and make the effort to write good lyrics and not depart from them, instead of resorting to make-shift measures such as the ones he uses.

Anyway, the first song, the aforementioned Calle Luna Calle Sol, is about a bad neighborhood where people get robbed. I guess that, despite the terrible Spanish in it, we should be thankful for their warning not to go visit them there, since we could get robbed. Thus it does seem to have, after all, a good social message which we should all heed.

The second song is Todo tiene su final ("Everything comes to and end"), which follows in a distinguished Spanish literary tradition dating back to the Renaissance sonnets of Garcilaso de la Vega. That is, this is very old stuff any appropriately educated person should have heard thousands of times before, in which no contribution can be original.

Track 3, Guajira ven, exhibits a very refined language and poetic sensibility, with an impressive display of literary vocabulary. Not coincidentally, Colón didn't write this song, nor did Lavoe tear it apart with one of his improvisations.

Track 4, La María, first of all, must be criticized because of the title. The use of articles to accompany proper names is very unrespectful in Spanish; just from this way of referring to her you can conclude that this woman María must be a prostitute or something similar. Which makes for a clear conclusion: the words of "love" that Lavoe directs towards her are actually words of sin and sexual exploitation.

The fifth selection, Señora Lola, is a song about violent altercartions between males (just barely) of the species Homo sapiens. Lavoe threatens a guy with a machete with a machine gun, which is quite clearly not a nice thing to do. It also has quite negative attitudes about gender relations; Lavoe's concluding insult for his opponent is as follows (again, I correct the barbaric Cuban "Spanish"):

Tú dices que tú mandas en tu casa,
En tu casa tú no mandas nada, que va,
Dícelo Lola

("You say you are the chief in your household, / In your household you are no chief, oh no, / Tell him, Lola")

So not being the person whose orders are heeded inconditionally in the household, in the mind of the Cuban singer Héctor Lavoe, is an insult. To which I respond: Mr. Lavoe, your Cuba must be a horribly sexist and backwards country.

Next comes El día de suerte, track number 7. Here Lavoe reveals that he is an orphan, and that he has been in jail. He also contradicts himself; on the one hand, he sings

Para comer hay que buscar el real,
Aunque sea en contra de la sociedad.
A la cárcel me escribe mi amistad:
"No llores nene que tu suerte cambiará"

("In order to eat you have to find money, / even if it's by hurting society. / My friend writes to me when I'm in jail: / `Don't cry boy, your luck will change'")

But later in the song (which is too long, may I say), he sings:
No entiendo por qué la vida así me de tratar,
si yo a nadie nunca he hecho mal.

("I don't understand why life treats me like that, / since I have never done anybody harm.")

But it is evident he has done people harm; he himself admits it in the song!

Anyway, I feel little sympathy for Lavoe's whining in this song. The album reveals clearly his weak work ethic, with much improvisation a little composition.

Track number 7, Vo so, has a sensless title. No Spanish dictionary I consulted showed any of the two "words" in the title. Anyway, it's just more male chauvisnism as in La María.

Conclusion: I'm not impressed at all by Cuban music. It is sexist, it has too little musicians, who don't work hard enough at composition and are forced to make their way through by improvisation, and contradict themselves.


World music fans (none / 0) (#5)
by nx01 on Sat Oct 6th, 2001 at 08:49:11 PM PST
I think Nick Hornby summed it up best in "High Fidelity*":

"I'm starting to remember things now: his dungarees; his music (African, Latin, Bulgarian, whatever fucking world music fad was trendy that week); his hysterical, nervous, nerve-jangling laugh; the terrible cooking smells that used to pollute the stairway; the visitors that used to stay too late and drink too much and leave too noisily. I can't remember anything good about him at all."

To this list of greviences, I would add that all I have come across are smelly and unwashed -- in general, all traits bordering on hippiedom. Due to this, I think there may be quite a bit of overlap between world music fans and Linux fanitics.

* an excellent book about why you should like pop music, I highly recommend it

"Every time I look at the X window system, it's so fucking stupid; and part of me feels responsible for the worst parts of it."
-- James Gosling

Frankly, I find all music (1.00 / 1) (#6)
by RobotSlave on Sat Oct 6th, 2001 at 10:54:58 PM PST
from latin america to be barbaric. These people are so myopic that the only songs they write are tributes to the pathetic cow-towns that they happen to be trapped in. And the barbarous things that the Cubans have done to a noble language are but a hint of the atrocities committed by, say, the "Argentinians" living in "Bi-E." If the Brits had wiped out the Spanish Navy earlier in the game, this never would have happened.

On another note, I really can't understand the people who like Hornesby. He makes them laugh, I suppose, but I don't see how that allows them to overlook the fact that he's an asshole.

© 2002, RobotSlave. You may not reproduce this material, in whole or in part, without written permission of the owner.

Any Cubans in the Audience? (none / 0) (#7)
by Ami Ganguli on Sun Oct 7th, 2001 at 05:23:13 AM PST
Could it be that this musician actually speaks perfect Cuban Spanish? I don't speak Spanish, so I have no real clue, but I do know that the "real" Spanish (from Spain) also tend to replace the "s" sound with an aspirated "th", so "Barcelona" becomes "Barthelona". If the writer of the article is American then he's probably used to Mexican Spanish, which doesn't have any more of a claim to being the one "true" Spanish than any other variety.

As for being simplistic and sexist, that may well be true, but it's a legitimate complaint against a lot of music. I rather like Eminem, who is unbelievably sexist, but the music is catchy and he's a good storyteller. That's what it's about for me. I don't really care "what" the artist is saying. Art is about "how" you say it.

So it may be that this album (or even Cuban music as a whole) doesn't grab you. That's fine. Even saying "I was bored", "I was offended", whatever... is ok too. Put nitpicking about the accent or the subjectmatter is a little petty.

One of the best cuban albums ever! (none / 0) (#8)
by Anonymous Reader on Sun Oct 14th, 2001 at 01:08:52 AM PST
I think this is one of the best cuban music albums ever.

Your stupid little "gringo" mind can not understand what's behind this lyrics. As usual, americans think they are the only ones in this planet, and they don't have a clue about Latin America reality. To call latin music barbarian only shows your ignorance and racism. It is that kind of attitude what leads to hate toward your country... And then you wonder "why do they hate us so much?"

If you listen to blues or jazz, you could sometimes hear slang, and words that do not appear in a dictionary. It's the same with this album: a lot of cuban slang. Even if you could undersand what the words mean, it wouldn't make a differenc: you need to really understand Latin America's conflicts and problems to understand what's behid these lyrics.


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