With the possible exception of The Vampire Lestat and Dick Clark, we're all going to die some day. Now, that might be tougher to chew on than last Thursday's bagel, but I bring it up to explain a recent phenomenon.
The disc from the Buena Vista Social Club, a collection of elderly Cuban musicians, has now sold two million copies, a jaw-dropping figure for what should have been an obscure world-music record. Why the sudden surge in what could be called Old Age music? Perhaps it reflects the fact that America is developing a demographic bulge around its middle years. As former children of the 1960s see their own sixties on the horizon, maybe they are gaining a bit of appreciation along with their apprehension. After all, how could anyone with an IRA account not get a thrill from hearing the Buena Vista's Compay Segundo still swinging and singing at the age of 93?
Segundo began his career playing clarinet in his teens (that would be during the Harding Administration). Not surprisingly, he brings a retro sound to his second U.S. release, on which he sings bass harmony and plays an unusual seven-string guitar. Playing with four clarinetists, Segundo evokes the elegant Cuban music that was popular before brass instruments began their dominance of Latin music in the 1940s. For today's listeners, this means music that has an easy-going swing that goes down as smoothly as a minty, rum-laced mojito.
Cape Verde's Cesaria Evora could be every hipster's dream grandma. In recent years, she captured world attention singing mornas, songs that drip with the bittersweet longing called sodade. Evora's back catalog was quickly re-released, threatening to oversaturate the putative morna market. Fortunately Evora has added the equivalent of curveballs and even knucklers to her ever-reliable smoky mornas.
She proves herself adept at Cape Verde's upbeat coladeira style, samba, and even sings with Havana musicians, matching their sultry clavé rhythms with her chocolatey alto. The disc ends with the bouncy 'Terezinha' in the rural Brazilian style called forró. The result of this style-hopping is her most satisfying album yet. Evora shows that even as she hits 60, she can keep her roots in Cape Verdean soil and still grow as artist.
Casa da Mãe Joana is a Rio nightspot known as a bastion of old-fashioned samba. Although this album was recorded in a studio, it's a tribute to the music played at the club each weekend by multi-generational bands of performers. Several of the vocalists have more than just a touch of gray. These old guard sambistas show that their voices might have a bit of rust, but not their hearts. Accompanied by acoustic, lighter-than-popcorn backup, they sing samba classics with playful, seductive melodies.
Some norteamericanos may confuse salsa and samba, but samba has a more effervescent sound. Neither is it bossa nova, though they have the same fundamental rhythm -- bossa is the son of samba that went off to university. The album's female vocalists have lustier voices than the men, adding some earthy sexiness to the gyrating rhythms. Still, the crooning of the aging Cariocas (as Rio residents call themselves) is pretty charming too, making for one big smile of an album.
Who knows? Compay Segundo might have bunions as big as maracas, and Cesaria Evora may have shmertzen in her kishkas like you shouldn't know from. But the point is they don't sound like it when they lay down their cares, pick up their instruments and sing.
The tacit message of these joyful discs is that the party doesn't have to stop just because you can't dance as fast, that you don't need Viagra to make romance, and that life can be good and long. Even if it seems otherwise to those of us starting our mornings with oat-bran bagels and low-fat cream cheese, it's a heartening message to hear from people closer to their sunset years. - By Marty Lipp
© 1999 RootsWorld. No reproduction of any part of this page or its associated files is permitted without express written permission.