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?


sparks said...

Great movie I thought

Steve Cotton said...

Youthful exhuberance has its place.

Felipe Zapata said...

Really loved the Tourism Board's video. Thanks.

Steve Cotton said...

I watch it now and then for both the images and the music. But I find the music more moving without the video.

Jody said...

Knowing a bit about danzón, having listened to hundreds of danzones, and being a danzón dancer, I can tell you what I have learned from experts in Cuba. First of all, it is the national dance of Cuba. EVERYONE in Cuba knows what the danzón is, what it sounds like and some still know how to dance it. That is not to say that young people do it at parties--it is considered "old" music. Cubans are very proud of it. It is rarely composed in modern times but I would direct you to Gonzalo Rubalcaba from Cuba (living in the D.R.), Frank Emilio Flynn (dec.) and La Orquesta Moderna Tradición (based in SF, my home town). All have composed and perform some very beautiful modern danzones.

In the late 1700's, after the Haitian revolution, many Haitians and French colonists fled to Cuba. Haiti is but a quick boat ride to Santiago de Cuba. With them came the Contradanza, their European-based popular dance music of the time. Over more time, Contradanza evolved into Danza, out of which the Danzón was created. Since the late nineteenth century, the Danzón has developed and changed in many ways. However, the basic structure has stayed the same.

It is a salon dance--very precise in its movement and character. Romantic? Elegant? Formal? Yes. Because it was the first dance in Cuba, danced by ALL classes, including Afrocubans, and because it was a partner dance, upper-class white Cubans considered it scandalous.

Did it serve a purpose in the seduction arena? Yes, but not because in was really erotic in any way. (although partner dancing was considered erotic at the time I suppose.) There is a section of the danzón, which repeats a few times over the song, which is called "el paseo". It was during this section that couples stopped dancing and walked, arm in arm across the dance floor, chatting, demurely flirting with their fans, and catching and shooting glances across the crowd. Real seduction. Cuban men and women were judged severely when they didn't understand the subtleties of the dance or did not listen very carefully to exactly what the orchestra played--all the cues to the dance are embedded in the music.

Eventually, the "son" and "chachacha" were incorporated into the danzón. Lots of hip movement and much faster--much more Cuban as we think of Cuban dance today. When the mambo hit, it was all over for the danzón.

There are very few parts(snippets of about 30 seconds) of this video that are danzón. Very few. It is beautiful, but it is not danzón.

Excuse my long-winded ramble, por favor. Can you tell I love Cuban music and dance. Sí, es mi pasión.

Steve Cotton said...

This may be another one of those instances where Mexico has taken a cultural icon and made it its own.

Jody said...

You are absolutely right!

Steve Cotton said...

I was just listening to a recording with much beterr fidelity. The piece literally seduces me each time I listen to it.

Curtiselowe said...

Beautifully done...the Blog and the music.

Steve Cotton said...

If you find a better quality piece, listen to it. But not alone.

Kim G said...

Great post! That's not a piece I knew, and I really really enjoyed it. Also thanks to Jody above for providing some additional cultural background-- quite interesting.


Kim G
Boston, MA
Where we have been looking (without luck) for a recording of this perfromance.

Steve Cotton said...

Amazon has a number of options. It is now my Mexico theme -- for, at least, the week.

Jody said...

Noticed this yesterday. Thought of you:

Steve Cotton said...

Thanks for the link. I may pick up the CD.