Friday, March 18, 2011
sex on the floor
“Where is all the singing? I thought people would be singing in the streets.”
He was American. Probably from one of the upper central states – Minnesota or Wisconsin – from the almost-across-the-border sing song in his voice. His wife simply looked tired.
”And music. I thought there would be music.”
With that I knew he was new in town. Because all you need is patience if you want to hear music on the streets of Melaque. Pouring forth from a car radio or a truck loudspeaker.
But I don’t think that is what he was looking for. He had a Hollywood-acquired notion that roving mariachi might musically mug him at every street corner. Confusing Carmen Miranda with Dolores del Río.
Don't get me wrong. Mexico is a very musical country. I get to share my neighbor's taste in radio music every afternoon as she does her wash.
But there is something deeper than that in the Mexican character.
Last year I witnessed a bit of it in Manzanillo at a performance of the Orquesta Sinfónica de San Luis Potosí (pieces of eight). One of the most popular pieces that night was Arturo Márquez's Danzón No. 2.
It is played at almost every pops concert in Mexico. Mexicans admire it so much, it is commonly known as the second national anthem.
Some of you probably know it as the stunning video produced by the Mexican Tourism Board.
But it is more than just a cultural icon. What Márquez wrote is the very essence of good sex.
And I am not merely talking about the fact that all dance music represents sex. It is more than the old Scottish joke that Presbyterians are opposed to sex standing up because they are afraid it will lead to dancing.
The danzón is an odd dance form – at least, its paternity is. Apparently, it derives from an earlier English dance (though I find it hard to believe considering the character of both countries). The Cubans then modified it into a very seductive dance. So seductive that polite society eschewed it.
Like many other things Cuban (including contemporary Cubans on rafts), the danzón made its way across the Gulf of Mexico to Veracruz – where it spread through Mexico.
There are other popular danzón pieces. But none as popular as the piece Márquez premiered in 1994.
All music can be enjoyed abstractly. And that is certainly possible with this piece. Márquez follows the academic form, but he turns it into his own with a very clever interpretation.
I will not bore you with the formal music – because that is not its most interesting characteristic.
The first time I heard it performed live was in Manzanillo. From the moment the solo clarinet started the syncopated theme, shoulders started to move in time with the music. Then torsos, hips, and feet. Until the audience was undulating to the music -- like some Fellini orgy scene.
If you listen to the piece (and I urge you to do so), put aside all thoughts of academic music. If you cannot feel the hands of an expert lover as the oboe waxes and wanes, I can offer nothing more to you than my condolences.
This is the piece that Bolero dreamed of being in the movie 10.
This YouTube video of Gustavo Dudamel conducting the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela is not the best recording of the piece. But you get the idea. (It is best if you choose 480p.) These performers are simply too young to capture Márquez's mature caresses and kisses.
Listen and enjoy. Drop those inhibitions and let your body move.
This is the sound the man from Wisconsin should have been seeking on the streets of Melaque.
But then, shouldn’t we all?