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SpanishEnglishPt. 3 - Song by Song - 2. Sube y baja

Sube y baja
(He decidido quedarme arriba)
by David Calzado

[click here for full lyrics and analysis of form]

"Sube y Baja" is the album's most direct foray into the Habanera/Forever controversy. Although it's sung by Aned in the first person, there's no question that the song's real protagonist is the composer, David Calzado, "singing" his message to Charanga Forever through Mota's voice. This approach is used several times on the album. The songs are also cleverly written so as to have two possible interpretations. One could imagine, (to an even greater degree with "El Bla Bla Bla") that it's Aned singing the lyrics to his female love interest, but it could just as easily be Calzado singing to his former Charangueros. Writing lyrics which are open to two or even three legitimate interpretations is a very interesting nonmusical aspect of the Timba art form, used brilliantly not only by Calzado, but by Klimax, NG La Banda, and of course the undisputed masters of the double-entendre, Los Van Van.

Here, the lyrics speculate as to whether Calzado's career will go up or down after being deserted by his former musicians. ("pero ahora me pregunto ¿qué hago? ¿me subo? ¿o me bajo?"). But ultimately, like Mark Twain, he informs us that the reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated and he remains at the top of the Timba heap ("¿qué cosa a ver? no veo a nadie en mi lugar. Mira, que yo lo busco y no puedo encontrar") He then goes on to attribute his continuing success to his ability to know what the people of "the street" want to hear. (me robé la calle, ¿por qué?, por que la calle es mía, y me la como como un vaso de agua fría").

Remember that each song in this article has its own lyrics/form page, and that you can open a second browser window to that page and scroll through the lyrics and form as your read this description.

Like many Timba arrangements, "Sube y Baja" begins with a little taste of one of the coros from later in the song before going into the horn introduction and cuerpo -- and since it comes from the second tumbao and coro we call it "Tumbao 2" even though it comes at the beginning of the song. We hear the piano tumbao without the bass as Aned lays out the lyrical premise in rap that's so Cuban that no one would think to call it "rap", and yet it is. It's speech, not singing, but its intricate and entirely Cuban rhythm is an intrinsic part of it and Mota performs it identically in concert.

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Here it is on the record [audio example 6] and here it is live at Havana's legendary Tropicana nightclub. [audio example 7].

The piano tumbao itself is a gorgeous miniature composition which, at least in the hands of Duarte, lends itself to endless variations -- a kind of "Timba Jazz" that's very enjoyable to listen to even without any of the other instruments. As in all these MIDI examples, the quantized percussion is the "click track" that Duarte played to and he overdubbed the keyboard bass afterwards. [audio example 8]. While "Charanguero Mayor" has, at least by Cuban standards, quite a good mix overall, our biggest complaint is that the piano is too low, as opposed to earlier Charanga Habanera albums such as "Hey You Loca", whose beautiful piano parts glow right through the texture. So it's wonderful to be able to listen to the piano parts by themselves to really appreciate their subtleties.

Whether it be Timba, Salsa or Latin Jazz, the vast majority of all Latin arrangements begin with a short horn mini-composition of four to eight bars and this is frequently reused to conclude the arrangement. Such is the case with Charanga Habanera, but they seem to have an endless capacity to fill this predictable feature of the chart with fresh and interesting ideas. The horn intro to "Sube y Baja" is particularly clever in the way that it comes in and in its use of cross-rhythms. It comes in on the last 16th of beat 3, phrased in a "3 against 2" cross-rhythm. Here it is at the beginning [audio example 9] and the end [audio example 10].

The cuerpo is very short, but interesting. It has two 4-bar "A" sections, followed by a "B" section that breaks down into two 3-bar phrases and then leads seamlessly into Tumbao. Here's Tirso's MIDI version: [audio example 11].

At this point, let's stop and review our terminology for those who haven't been following along with all of these articles. The basic roadmap of the Timba arrangement is to follow the cuerpo (the main song) with one or more "tumbaos", which can be thought of as short, repeating harmonic progressions with catchy and recognizable rhythmic figures in the piano and bass. There's usually a breakdown when each new tumbao is introduced, against which the percussion plays preset or improvised rhythm figures ("bloques" or "fills") and the singer talks or raps to the crowd, frequently setting the stage for the lyrical content of the next coro. This is followed by short, repeated, harmonized vocals called "coros" which alternate with short lead vocals called "guías". These vocal sections alternate with short horn sections called "mambos".

Almost all Salsa and Timba is based on this format and Charanga Habanera is no exception, but within this format Calzado and the other CH arrangers are endlessly inventive. For example, let's look at what goes on against Tumbao 1:

First of all the bass stops playing time and plays long sustained notes, the first of which temporarily changes the key from major to minor. The absence of the bass puts the spotlight on the piano tumbao as Aned does a slight variation on his opening rap. Near the end of the rap the percussionists come in with a bloque.

rap (4)

Aned: y tú sabes que yo estoy ahí
en la pelea que te gusta a tí
ay, pero ahora me pregunto
¿qué hago? ¡mira!
¿me subo? ¿o me bajo? [bloque] [audio example 12]

Next the coro enters. Normal salsa consists of alternating coros and guías, but here the lines are blurred. The lead singer punctuates the lines of the coro, and, in the following section, the coro punctuates his guía! But the cleverness of the form is overshadowed by the pure melodic beauty of Aned's guía itself. [audio example 13]

coro 1 (4)

coro: yo solo quiero que mi pueblo diga
Aned: ay Dios!
coro: si voy pa’bajo o si voy pa' rriba
yo solo quiero saber lo que hago
si voy pa' arriba o si voy pa' abajo

guía (4)

Aned: porque será que me mantengo
y de la cima no me caigo
coro: porque sigues piango piango
Aned: pero no quiero dañar
yo sólo quiero encontrarme con el
personal [audio example 13]

In the next section Aned does more than just punctuate the coro -- he actually sings a full-fledged guía against it. Then he sings his normal guía, which leads into the first mambo. Normally the singers rest and the horns take over, but the mambo is punctuated first by Aned and then by the coro. The larger point we're trying to demonstrate here is that the creative explosion of Timba is partially fueled by taking the four basic parts of the salsa formula and mixing and matching them in endlessly varied ways to generate new ideas. At times, it's as if the mambo, the coro, the lead singer and the various subsections of the rhythm section are all engaged in one continuous conversation, with everyone talking almost at once, but never getting in each others' way. [audio example 14]

coro 1 (4) [¡con guía polifónica!]

coro: yo solo quiero que mi pueblo diga
Aned: ay ahora yo quiero que diga
coro: si voy pa‘abajo o si voy pa' arriba
Aned: yo sigo pa' arriba
coro: yo solo quiero saber lo que hago
Aned: ¿qué?
coro: si voy pa' arriba si voy pa' abajo

guía (4)

Aned: no es que yo sea lo más grande
pero la cosa está que arde
ay!, la cosa está que hierve
la cosa está caliente
ya no es tan fácil sofocar a la gente
qué va!

mambo 1 (8)

Aned: coge tu mambo
y mira al Gordo de Carmelo guarachando
coro: yo me pregunto que me voy a hacer
Aned: pregunta a Noel ... o a Dantes
o a Orlandito, o a Lazarito
si mira como hay gente aquí!
yo [audio example 14]

This is followed by the full treatment of Tumbao 2 (which was previewed at the beginning) and then a return of Tumbao 1, but with a different, shorter coro. This time the coro and guía are of different lengths, and after the last guía, the coro begins again and extends itself, introducing the third Tumbao. [audio example 15]

Tumbao 3 has the same chord progression as Tumbao 1, but the piano part is different and perfectly suited for Tirso Duarte's improvisational style. This next MIDI example never ceases to amaze me. [audio example 16]

This is the longest section of the song with many different combinations of coros, guías and mambos, leading to a section which is truly amazing! It begins as a mambo, but the coro and then Aned join in on the second phrase. Then things really start to get interesting! As the horns play the pickups to what seems to be another repetition of the mambo, a new coro (coro 5) overlaps their phrase, and then two beats later Aned comes in as if he were singing a canon with the corista! The effect is beautiful. Then, by dividing the singers into groups, the coro begins again before it ends! You have to listen to this example quite a few times to fully grasp how brilliant it is. [audio example 17]

mambo 2 (2)

segunda mitad de coro 4 (2)

coro: porque la calle es mía
y me la como como un vaso de agua fría [bloque]

mambo 2 (2)

segunda mitad de coro 4 (2)

Aned: ay, ¿por qué?
coro: porque la calle es mía
Aned: ¿y yo?
coro: y me la como como un vaso de agua fría

coro 5 (4) [coro 5 tiene la misma terminación como coro 4]

coro: amiguitos vamos todos a cantar
Aned: ay, amiguitos vamos todos a cantar, mamá [¡entrada canónica!]
coro: porque tenemos el corazón feliz
porque la calle es mía
Aned: ¿y yo?
coro: y me la tomo como un vaso de agua fría

coro 5 (4)

coro: amiguitos vamos todos a cantar
Aned: ya bailar
coro: pa' que herremos un corazón feliz
Aned: ¿por qué?
coro: porque la calle es mía
Aned: ¿y yo?
coro: y me la como como un vaso de agua fría [bloque] [audio example 17]

Later in this section come two memorable guías which are "quotes", another popular device in all types of Latin music and Jazz. The idea is to take a short phrase from another song and find a way to change it to fit in a clever way against the current song's tumbao. The first quotes an old Los Van Van tune, written by Rodulfo Vaillant, "Se Muere la Tía", [audio example 18], and the second is an addictive little phrase that was handed down from Yeni Valdés (now in Los Van Van herself) to former Charanguero Michel Maza and finally quoted here by Aned. The melodies of both quotes soar magically against Tirso's tumbao, and they also make sense lyrically. The coro is comparing Calzado mastery of "the calle" to the ease with which he would drink a glass of cool water; the Van Van song is about someone's aunt who is dying of thirst, and the Yeni quote is a thirsty child asking his mother for water. (The word "agua" is also common slang in Timba to mean that the music is so hot that it's going to need water to put out the fire. And that would apply here as well!)

coro 6 (2) [audio example 18b]

coro: porque la calle es mía, mía, mía
y me la como como un * vaso de agua fría [*=bloque]
Aned: sí!

mambo 3 (2)

Aned: se muere de sed la tía
¿por qué? [referencia a "Se Muere La Tía" por Los Van Van]

coro 6 (2)

coro: porque la calle es mía, mía, mía
y me la como como un vaso de agua fría [bloque]

mambo 3 (2)

Aned: hay agua mamá
niñito tiene sed [referencia a una guía por Michel que era originalmente de Yeni Valdés]

coro 6 (2)

coro: porque la calle es mía, mía, mía
y me la como como un vaso de agua fría [bloque] [audio example 18b]

The bloque leads into the final Tumbao, which is the basis for another of my favorite Tirso Duarte improvisations. About halfway through, Tirso, without breaking the stride of his tumbao, manages to quote Weather Report's "Birdland", predating the Los Van Van quote featured in the title track of their forthcoming CD! [audio example 19]

Tuesday, 20 March 2018, 02:48 AM