In the western world, many of us have come to be inspired by and appreciate India’s best classical music thanks to The Beatles‘ musical curiosity and courage. They introduced the sitars’ sound (just like earlier they had used the Cuban bongos on “Till There Was You” and “And I love Her”) on “Norwegian Wood”, “The Inner Light”, and others. George Harrison‘s friendship to musician Ravi Shankar gave us a glimpse into the unfamiliar territory of Indian music.
Shankar’s expertise with the sitar is at its height in the soundtrack made for the movie Gandhi (1982) with the piece: “Discovery of India”, an uptempo and festive melody that invites to celebrate life’s joys. For a more meditative tune, listen to “Kafi-holi” (Spring Festival of Colors), “Tabla” (Dwhani) with its percussion and refreshing flute sound, and “Song From The Hills”.
Ravi’s daughter, Anoushka, has gone a step further fusing Indian melodies with Spanish lyrics and cadences. Enjoy: “Inside Me”, “Buleria Con Ricardo”, and “Ishq”, a definitive mix of Arabic and Indian music.
Talking about combinations, fusion, and mixes: Strunz & Farah, Iranian-Costa Rican duo of master guitar players Ardeshir Farah and Jorge Strunz has given us through the years a plethora of exquisite melodies that range from Caribbean influences to Eastern sounds from the lands where guitars were born. Their strings of fire of lightening speed are a delight to listen to while marveling at their skills. Enjoy: “Rayo”, “Balada”, “Fantaseo”,“Jardin”, “Twilight At The Zuq”, “Laleh” and “Shamsa”.
Another duo of amazing instrumentalists is The Yoshida Brothers. Playing the shamisen (three string “guitar”) with a rock twist, the brothers are unique and innovative. Listen to “Passion” where they added an Argentinian bandoneon; “Rising”, a rocking theme; “Storm”, a quiet melody; “Hill With No Name”, and “Morricone”, a tour de force mixture of a rock ballad.
If relaxing is your thing, Keiko Matsui‘s jazzy piano is one of the fittest for this purpose. “Souvenir”, “Secret Forest”, and “The Wind And The Wolf” with its flute and piano combinations will transport you to a green and cool oasis until…
You begin to hear a more familiar but out of place music:…salsa!? Yes, La Orquesta de La Luz (The Light Orchestra) is the Japanese band who plays salsa as good as any Cuban or Puerto Rican one. If you watch them playing, dancing, and singing in Spanish, and don’t believe your eyes, I don’t blame you. It’s not a hallucination, though! Like ABBA, these artists are the only ones I’ve seen becoming famous singing in other language other than their own. Check out: “Salsa Caliente Del Japon” (Hot Salsa From Japan), “Descarga de La Luz” (Light’s Jam), “Gracias Salseros” (Thank You Salsa Fans).
To say goodbye to Japan, listen to Kitaro‘s “Koi” (Carp).
BEFORE ARRIVING HOME…
I want to briefly mention some countries and artists you will enjoy better by discovering them by yourself, so I’ll skip most details.
Germany: Karunesh (a German making Indian music). Punjab, Solitude, A Journey To India. Boney M (brainchild of Frank Farian, this 4 member band of afro-caribbean performers put Europe and Latin America to dance in the 70’s, great vocalist Liz Mitchell). Gotta Go Home, King of the Road, Sunny, Heart Of Gold, Fever, No Woman No Cry, Brown Girl in The Ring. Another protege of Farian: Eruption (almost a copy of Boney M) but had three great covers: One Way Ticket, Hold On I’m Coming, and I Can’t Stand The Rain. Great vocalist also: Precious Wilson
UK: Albert Hammond (born in London, raised in Gibraltar). Besides his great hit: It Never Rains In California, he also wrote and sang: To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before, When I Need You, The Air That I Breathe, Down By The River, One Moment In Time (for Whitney Houston) and had many hits of classic Mexican songs: La Paloma (The Dove), Echame a Mi La Culpa (Put the Blame On Me), Fallaste Corazon (You Failed, Heart), Ansiedad (Anxiety) and many others, including Cantare, Cantaras (I’ll Sing, You’ll Sing) the Spanish response to USA For Africa with the best of the best of all latin singers in one recording. Smokie (this British band had two one-hit wonders): their cover of Needles And Pins and Living Next Door To Alice.
Argentina: Leo Dan‘s Te He Prometido (I Have Promised You), Mary Es Mi Amor (Mary Is My Love). Leonardo Favio‘s Ella Ya Me Olvido (She Already Forgot Me), Fuiste Mia Un Verano (You Were Mine One Summer). Piero‘s Si Vos Te Vas (If You Leave),Yo Vengo (I Come From). Los Cinco Latinos‘ (one of the most beautiful female voices ever: Estela Rabal) Quiereme Siempre, Tu Eres Mi Destino (You Are My Destiny) a Paul Anka original song. Astor Piazzola‘s Oblivion, Adios Nonino.
Brazil. Roberto Carlos (Rey du Brasil=King of Brazil). Where do I begin? This excellent singer has been at it for more than 60 years. You could compare his style to Frank Sinatra’s, but “Frankly”, I think Roberto’ s simple and sensible melodies are way more beautiful and perdurable. India (Indian Woman), As Baleias (The Whales), O Amor e a Moda (Love and Fashion), Fera Ferida (Wounded Wild Animal), Ohlando Estrelas (Looking at The Stars), Procura–Se (Wanted), Amazonia, and many others. Nelson Ned (The Little Giant), a short fellow with a powerful voice. Check his Todo Pasara (Everything Will Pass), Happy Birthday My Darling, Yo Tambien Soy Sentimental (I’m Sentimental Too), and Quem e Voce? (Who Are You?).
Venezuela. Oscar D’ Leon. Just like The Beatles became the teachers to American rock and rollers, Oscar D’ Leon showed Cubans how to play Cuban music when he visited the island in 1982. Check La Botija de Abuelito (Little Grandpa’s Jug) live in Salsa ’91, Calculadora (Calculator), and Ven Morena (Come, Brown Woman).
Colombia. Claudia de Colombia, the most beautiful and sweetest voice in Latin America, PERIOD. Tu Volveras (You Will Return), Nuestra Historia de Amor (Our Love Story), and Aguila Real (Regal Eagle). Shakira before going blonde: Estoy Aqui (I Am Here), Ojos Asi (Eyes Like These) and Donde Estan Los Ladrones (Where Are The Thieves). Then, like Elvis, she dyed her hair and the rest is history.
Panama. Ruben Blades. Singer, Harvard graduate, lawyer, actor, presidential candidate…the man put salsa lovers to think beyond the dancing. His political and social themes makes him the poet of this genre. Beginning with Nuyorican Willie Colon, they sold millions with their album Siembra (Sow) an equivalent in Latin America to a Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Check: Buscando America (Searching for America), Tiburon (Shark), Creo En Ti (I Believe In You).
Dominican Republic. The island shares its geography with Haiti, one the poorest countries in the world and still both countries have the happiest music in the continent: Merengue and Kompa. Despite their harsh economic conditions, I suspect their levels of depression don’t get even close to ours. I still haven’t met a depressed Dominican or a Haitian. Go figure! Check Johnny Ventura‘s Patacon Pisao (Smashed Plaintain), Wilfrido Vargas‘ El Jardinero ( The Gardener), Los Hermanos Rosario’s Bomba, Juan Luis Guerra y 440‘s Si Tu Te Vas (If You Leave), and Tabou Combo‘s Baissez Bas and Mabouya.
Puerto Rico. I could spent time on many wonderful musicians from the island, but I will concentrate on only two: 1-Jose Feliciano. Mostly known by his cover of Light my Fire and Feliz Navidad, this blind born guitar player and singer has been greatly under appreciated despite being a versatile musician able to play from La Malaguena to Billie Jean. Watch him perform The Gypsy on Sesame Street, listen to Windmills of Your Mind. Anyone can cover a song, but when Feliciano does it, he puts that energy that makes it more vivid. Listen to: My Sweet Lord, Jealous Guy, In My Life, Daniel, I Wanna Be Where You Are, Purple Haze. Banned in Cuba in the 70’s for having played for Nixon in the White House, people loved his boleros and still listened in hiding: Lagrimas Negras (Black Tears), Usted (You) and Camino Verde (Green Path). 2-Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz. One born in the island, the other in Brooklyn, NY, the duo created a mix of salsa and classical music (thanks to Richie’s piano classical training). They became born-again Christians in the mid-70’s and their music lyrics changed, but the songs and arrangements were the best: Sonido Bestial (Bestial Sound), La Novicia Bailadora (The Dancer Novice), Mi Amigo Juan (My Friend Juan), and Luis y Lola.
Mexico. Jose Jose. The Prince of Song stunned audiences when he first sang El Triste (The Sad Man) not only for his potent voice in 1970 but also for his raw emotion in his performance. From then on, Mexico and the world loved him. Amar Y Querer (Loving And Wanting), Almohada (Pillow), No Me Digas Que Te Vas (Don’t Tell Me You’re Leaving), Tus Ojos (Your Eyes) and many others. Juan Gabriel. Songwriter, singer, performer, “El Divo de Juarez” as they called him, left us beautiful melodies: Hasta Que Te Conoci (Until I Met You), Ya Lo Se Que Tu Te Vas (I Do Know You’re Leaving), Asi Fue (So It Was). Emmanuel. Este Terco Corazon (This Stubborn Heart), El Dia Que Puedas (The Day You Can), El Rey Azul (The Blue King).
Cuba: Birthplace of many tropical genres and styles, among them: cha-cha-cha, son montuno, danzon, guaracha, and others it would take pages to cover them all. Here are the highlights: Beny More, better known as El Barbaro del Ritmo (The Brave of Rhythm) is the most beloved Cuban artist. Hoy Como Ayer (Today As Yesterday), Mi Amor Fugaz (My Fleeting Love), Que Bueno Baila Usted (How Good You Dance) and Mi Saoco (My Mojo). Perez Prado, The King Of Mambo, had important hits in the American charts in the 50’s, still unmatched in his musical power as a band leader in the island. Lived in Mexico and left us with these energizing songs:Mambo # 5, Mambo #8, Patricia, Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White. Orquesta Aragon. The Masters of Cha-Cha-Cha have been playing since the late 1940’s. El Bodeguero (Bodega Man), Envidia (Envy), Silencio (Silence), Hay Que Saber Comenzar (Got To Know How To Begin). Celia Cruz. La Reina de la Salsa, she took her charisma, powerful voice and cheerfulness all over the world with the best of her Cuban soul made music. Enjoy: Quimbara, Guantanamera, Pinar Del Rio, Caramelo (Candies). Los Zafiros. The Cuban response to The Platters. He Venido (I Have Come), used cleverly in one of the best scenes of Breaking Bad, Un Nombre de Mujer-Ofelia (A Woman’s Name-Ofelia), Bellecita (Little Beauty), and Hermosa Habana (Beautiful Havana).
Well, my friends, this is it. Here our trip ends. Thanks for coming along. May this info serve you as a reference where to find good music to soothe your soul whenever you need it. Keep your mind open and remember…
ALL YOU NEED IS EARS
My farewell song: Todo Tiene Su Final (Everything Has An End) by Puerto Rico’s beloved Hector Lavoe