“Like a knife
You came into my life
When I was about to die”
My recent explorations as a successfully unknown lyricist have had an interesting side effect: I’m constantly analyzing what people sing about in songs. I used to pay little attention to words, nerding out on chords progressions or what the 17th violin played instead, which only worsened when I worked as a guitarist because I had to focus on what I was playing too. But man, I truly love this newly found lyrical awareness, and it has proven to be a particularly entertaining travel skill.
Central American chicken bus airwaves are monopolized by particularly horrible bachatas and rancheras. I will spare my comments on the exquisite production value of these works and go straight into their lyrical content. These words are milestones of Hispanic heritage that stand out like a bright pink house in Mykonos. True masterpieces that deserve a spot in the highest tiers of human creation.
Most of the masterfully crafted verses revolve around female body ownership (by someone else, of course), jealousy induction techniques and the complex trigonometry of love triangles, among other deeply philosophical themes. Theology and love overlap over hints at death and resurrection by romance and rejection (see how I’m already rhyming like crazy? THIS IS POWERFUL STUFF BRO).
These modern poets of love evoke images that would make Shakespeare himself cry. Take the knife and butter dude, for example. How can you top this guy? It takes hours of poetic contemplation to find love in dairy products. As a proud Venezuelan cheese eater, I completely support his cause.
But it’s not only about breaking the boundaries of lyrical expression. This music is highly infused with powerful and transforming social content too. Take, for example, the admirable female artists troubled by the issues of gender inequality who decide to make strong feminist statements like this one:
I still belong to you
Make what you want of me
Or those who decide to address the more subtle topics of depression and emotional well being:
And I hope to see you cry
And I hope to make you suffer
When you see me by his side
When you remember me
You can tell these people are deeply concerned about the social impact of what they do.
The power of these masterpieces cannot be overlooked. But like with any kind of highly elevated art, some of the beauty gets lost in translation. I encourage you to dust off your Spanish, make your way to Nicaragua and hop on any of the gringo school buses that spill these sweet poetic nectars out of their speakers and into their passengers’ hearts.
I landed in Venezuela last week, after two long years of absence. Buried within the avalanche of feelings that I’m harboring right now there’s a strange sense of gratitude for growing up in a place where nothing makes sense. It gives all of us here a sharp notion on how to use things for purposes they were never meant to be. Seeing a dude on a wheelchair rolling down a steep road (and even passing cars!) makes you break a few mental barriers for sure. He went down so fast there was no time to take a picture, so I’ll share this very relevant image on an arepa instead:
Questioning purpose has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. It makes me spend an awful amount of time inside my head, but when I choose to use this for a good cause it can get me out of all sorts of trouble. From knowing when to let go of a fight to when to move out of an apartment to choosing what kind of cheese to buy (because there should ALWAYS be cheese), knowing what I’m going for has been the greatest tool to filter out what’s unimportant.
This evergreen skepticism is also mentally draining. When you start to question questioning, you know you’ve taken it too far. It makes you take yourself too seriously and it feels a bit like trying to bite your elbow. Just try it, laugh out loud and let it go.
In music in particular, it has been historically hard for me to know “why” or “what for”. Over the years what I’ve found are better ways of being wrong but never a clear answer. My latest version includes notions about community, personal expression and the social impact it could have, but maybe tomorrow I’ll see a flying car and my mind will change all over again.
Once you question enough you start to understand that there is always room for another point of view. That guy putting peanut butter on an omelette may be right. That dude carrying a gun has his own opinion. That bachatero writing awful lyrics has a point too. I just happen to be against all of them, so I’ll write a bitter and sarcastic post about it and move on.
One thing I know “for sure”: there will always be doubt. I believe it’s just a matter of using it wisely.
Back in Bushwick, the capital of Dominican Brooklyn and gentrification, I would tremble at the sight of grocery shoppers singing along to disturbing salsa erótica lyrics. Seeing how most people hum to what comes out of the speakers of my Nicaraguan rides, I add chicken buses to the list of propagation methods used to spread dysfunctional dating principles all over Latin America.
I left Nicaragua on an express bus to San José so I could make it on time to meet a friend I hadn’t seen in years. I expect the fancier vehicle to be void of my usual travel entertainment, but instead I encounter its evolution: what the youngsters call the DVD. On my last journey out of this amazing country, I delight at the sights and sounds of Marisela, “La Número 1“.