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SpanishEnglishPt. 3 - Song by Song - 8. El bla bla bla
El bla bla bla
by: David Calzado
[click here for full lyrics and analysis of form]
El bla bla bla, one of the first new originals to come out after the breakup, could be interpreted as singer Aned Mota's rant to an estranged lover, but all of Havana knew that the real protagonist was composer David Calzado and that the "bla bla bla" was really a reference to the trash talk that was being leveled at Calzado by his former Charangueros.
The song's message is "all right, enough talk, let's get down to the music" -- and the music is as inspired as anything Charanga Habanera has ever done -- one gorgeous guía after the next floating above stately melodic basslines, and technicolor piano tumbaos glistening through the tapestry of the rhythm section. Duarte recorded four different tumbaos from this song in my very first session with him, and although I'd never heard the song itself, the tumbaos captured my imagination immediately and I had listened to them over and over before I ever heard the rest of the song.
Listen to the opening of the track. [audio example 60] Where did Duarte get that piano tumbao come from? It's not really classical -- it's not jazz -- it's not Earth Wind & Fire -- it's certainly not salsa -- and it's not like any other timba piano part. It's a miniature piece of music with a life of its own, with enough hooks that it can be listened to over and over by itself, and yet malleable enough that it fits like a glove with that majestic chromatic bassline and then with the skillfully harmonized coro. Here's Tirso's early MIDI recording of this musical idea, from December, 1999. [audio example 61]
The short melodic cuerpo is very pleasant, although some of the musical ideas are borrowed from early Charanga Habanera material, such as this one [audio example 62] which is almost identical melodically to the same spot in "Usa Condón" [audio example 63].But as usual, the cuerpo is really just an introduction to the meat of the song.
If you're not already familiar with this song, let me give you a chance to experience this next section the way I did -- which was to first become familiar with the tumbao as a separate piece of instrumental music, and then to be bowled over by the way it gets combined with the coros and guías. Here's Tirso's tumbao [audio example 64]. Now, after you've gotten used to that, listen to the amazing way it's woven in with the vocals. [audio example 65] The original role of the piano in salsa, and before that, the of guitar-like tres in son, was to accompany the singers with a harmonic background while supporting the drummers with a percussive rhythm pattern. This piano tumbao fulfills these roles, but can also stand by itself as a compelling musical idea. In the final product, the melody of the piano sometimes pops through while the singers are breathing and sometimes plays in counterpoint along with them. With this to inspire them, Calzado and Mota put together a string of gorgeous guías, full of strong melody ("ya no me interesa tu calor, no necesito de tu amor") and plenty of funk and humor ("dime si te gusta, baby"). The section ends with a brilliant quote from Pablo Milanés' Para vivir -- one of the very best of Charanga Habanera's hundreds of wonderful guías ("y es que a este amor de nosotros le hacía falta carne y deseo también" ) -- the quirky offbeat phrasing, the poignant melody notes, and best of all, the pure rush of the transition back into the tumbao of the introduction. It's one of Mota's most inspired moments as he squeezes every bit of soul out of the word también and then, as the first tumbao roars back in, the emotion in his voice rises vividly as he lays down his rapped introduction to the next coro.
The transition to the third tumbao [audio example 66] is brilliantly achieved - the second tumbao is only played during the breakdown (i.e., presión and masacote gear). The third tumbao comes in just as the band guns its way in normal marcha arriba. The key changes abruptly to minor and the end of the previous coro is ingeniously transformed into the beginning of the next. Then, several guías later, a full breakdown arrives, going through the full gear cycle. The bass drops out, throwing the spotlight on Yulién's kick drum and fiery percussion fills -- the horns enter with series short dramatic "Mission: Impossible" style phrases -- the bass drops in a couple of powerful pedal tones to increase the tension and then a wicked bloque brings back two more repetitions of the main tumbao, which surges to still a higher peak of intensity with another rapped breakdown and the entry of the fourth tumbao. Here's the whole section just described. [audio example 67], and here's Tirso's version of the fourth tumbao. [audio example 68]
The last two coros are adaptations. First is catchy little phrase from Sergio Mendes' Mais que nada [audio example 69] which seems endlessly fascinating to the Cubans. Manolito, Issac and others frequently quote it in their live shows. The seventh and final coro of this incredible arrangement is based on the folkloric song to the deity Eleguá. [audio example 70]