Sunday, May 24, 2020

Albums That Defined My Musical Tastes – Jarabe De Palo’s “La Flaca”

Ana and I met in The Bahamas in 1998 and after a wild and exciting 6 month courtship she decided to leave her apartment, quit her job, give away her cat, and say goodbye to Canada to come and join me on my next contract job - in El Salvador.

Neither of us had ever traveled in Central America, nor spoke a word of Spanish beyond “La cerveza mas fina” which is imprinted on every Corona beer bottle. I had never paid any attention whatsoever to Latino music as I really hadn’t been exposed to much of it and it simply didn’t interest me. Well, it doesn’t take long living in a Latin American country to realize that music is an integral piece of the social fabric and encapsulates so much of what it means to be Hispanic.

Since we were living a Marriot hotel room in San Salvador we spent a lot of time out and about in cafes, bars and restaurants and were soon saturated with Latino music. At first it all sounded the same, but as I heard more and more of it I started to recognize some of the songs. One song in particular caught my attention and I kept hearing it everywhere so finally asked a server in a restaurant what song it was. She told me, “La Flaca” then also said the name of the band but I couldn’t make out what she was saying, never mind try to write it down. So I asked my Spanish teacher Hugo about the song and he immediately started singing it and then we used it as a project to translate the lyrics into English. The song, by Jarabe De Palo is about a man who would give anything for a single kiss from a skinny woman he sees in the bar who dances and drinks all night long and never gets fat. I would soon realize that every Latino song is about love or dancing or usually both.

We lived in the Caribbean and Central America for several years and learned to love Latino music of all types – salso, merengue, bachata, Latin pop, Latin rock, reggaeton. Some of artists we discovered during this time were Elvis Crespo, Shakira (her first albums were amazing), Mana, Gipsy Kings, Daddy Yankee, Paulina Rubio, Marc Anthony, Ricky Martin, Molotov, and so many more. The time spent in the Caribbean also exposed me to soca music and I since then I have been a closet soca fan – especially the music of Square One. And although he really doesn’t fit into this category, Jimmy Buffett has been a constant presence in my playlists for years. Nothing captures the magic of the Caribbean and the pull of the ocean quite like the ballads of Jimmy Buffett.

Our winter trips to Cuba give us an annual January dose of Latino magic and there’s nothing better than hearing that ping-ping-ping of the bachata as you enjoy that first all-inclusive drink while your pasty white skin sizzles from the powerful sun. Latin music is like an infection that never goes away once you catch it, but is a fine infection indeed.

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