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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"Chan Chan"

Buena Vista Social Club feat. Compay Segundo - Chan Chan (1997)

This song was written by Segundo in 1987 and had been recorded a number of times, but this is the one that made it an international sensation.

I can't resist some trivia on this before we get into the song itself. First, the stringed instrument that Segundo plays on this piece is called an armónico. It is a cross between a Cuban tres and a classic Spanish guitar. He invented it because he wanted the freedom of both instruments in his hands at once. Second, producer and band organizer Ry Cooder was fined half a million dollars for making the album Buena Vista Social Club that this track leads off. He made it in Cuba with Cuban musicians saying " must be with masters." The album happened by accident. Cooder had traveled to Cuba to record African musicians in collaboration with Cubans. The Malian musicians did not get their visas in order, so he was in Cuba with a plan to record, and no collaborators. World got around, drinks were had, ideas were hatched and within days a plan to record old style Cuban son musicians from before the revolution was hatched.

Way back in the first week of this project the song Lagrimas Negras was on the table. It was a bolero-son, perhaps one of the first to blend bolero and son together. This is a pure son song. It does not include the classic "and 4" claves sound so associated with the style, but besides that it is standard. The lyrics are so simple and even a little juvenile. Chan Chan and his woman Juanica are on the beach. When she is brushing or sifting sand off of her self, Chan Chan gets aroused and announces that they must immediately lie down as he can't do anything else.

Vocals and guitar are provided by the 90 year old songwriter. If I sound half that sexy at half that age I will be lucky. The slow sultry repetitive rhythm is meant to bring couples together on the dance floor slowly closer and closer until the inevitable occurs. The trumpet solo at 2:40 continues the minor key seduction. The guitar solo that follows is a master on an instrument of his own devising. How can you go wrong? When the singers come back in, you know your dance is almost over; less than a minute to turn this chance into a magical night.

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