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SpanishEnglishDiscography - 2001 - Qué cosas tiene la vida - Conclusion

There are now three different recordings of the wonderful title track, "Qué cosas tiene la vida", each one different. It was already a part of the Van Van repertoire before Pupy left the band. That version featured the famous fuera de liga coro which became the focal point of the whole arrangement, and was ironically introduced by a Lele Rosales rap in which he proclaimed that the rumors about Pupy, among others, leaving Van Van were false:

[audio example] [from a live Los Van Van performance before Pupy left the band] [vocal by Lele Rosales].

As usual, Los Van Van "la pusieron buena" with a coro that connected perfectly with the Havana audience and imbued the song with the pure Van Van sound. Pupy's first version removed that coro and put the emphasis on the lead vocals and his new version takes it a step further by increasing the tempo, adding the heat of the working band and adding an excellent new coro. This type of tune fits Armando Cantero's powerful rumbero timbre like a glove and gives this third version a life of its own. Pupy's more songofied rhythmic approach recalls the influence of Changuito, who is a frequent guest musician at Pupy's Havana performances.

"Qué cosas tiene la vida" contains some wonderful examples of "quoting" -- the practice of using fragments of famous songs as material for improvisation that's so common in Cuban music, as well as in Jazz. For example, in the title track Armando transforms "Llegó el sabor", from Sergio George's "Combinación perfecta" project [audio example] into "Llegó el tambor" [audio example] and Rubén Blades' "Pedro Navaja" [audio example from Rubén Blades' "Pedro Navaja"] is the inspiration for this great guía [audio example from "Qué cosas tiene la vida"].

Rubén Blades is one of the most quoted artists by Cuban singers. The following passage from "Plastico" [audio example from Rubén Blades "Plastico"] (from Siembra, Fania JMCD-537) provided inspiration for two of Timba's greatest songs. Manolín used the coro as a guía in "Dios sabe" [audio example from Manolín's El Puente] and Mayito Rivera adapted the guía for Los Van Van's "Llévala a tu vacilón" [audio example]

And later on Pupy's new CD Pepe Gómez pays his own homage to Blades [from Rubén Blades "Ligia Elena"] in the new version of "Seis semanas" [from new version of "Seis semanas"]. Of course, it could be said that Rubén himself began the exchange of musical ideas when he made a big hit in the US with Juan Formell's "Anda, muévete y ven".

The onslaught of tasteful quotes doesn't end with Rubén Blades. The album is is also full of quotes from classic Cuban music. One of the most cleverly disguised is this passage from the old standard "Dos gardenias". Here's an excerpt from the Buena Vista Social Club version [audio example]. Armando doesn't quote the words, but borrows part of the melody for his guía. The words in red use the phrase from "Dos gardenias":

quiérela, cuídala, vívela
no hay sin ella inspiración
y mucho menos poe
[audio example]

This discussion of quotes could go on and on, Tirso takes the cake by quoting himself twice in the same guía on "La bomba soy yo". The first source is from his recording of "Pa' lo que me importa a mí" from Charanga Habanera's "Charanguero Mayor" [audio example] and the second from a coro that he later added to the live version of another song from that album, "El Cantinero" [audio example]. Whether by intent or stream of consciousness association, he weaves parts of each together to create this great guía for "La bomba soy yo" [audio example], and later goes for a real stretch with this quote from Queen's "We are the Champions" [audio example].

Another interesting aspect of this album is the opportunity to compare the new vocal performances with the originals on the six songs that were also recorded on Pupy's previous disc. It's easy to hear the evolution of "El vecino se mudó" since it's sung in by the same guy, Pepito Gómez, on both records. On the new version you can sense Pepito's increased confidence -- after Los Que Son Son's many successful Havana performances, he's knows he's got the approval of the people and the band itself and his new interpretation of the song is splendid.

The earlier version of "Juégala" was recorded by the great El Indio, and Pepito shows his respect for the master by emulating his performance very closely until the new version takes of into it new material. "Juégala" is a great composition with serious and thoughtful lyrics which I find particularly moving because they give the music a sense of prestige and elevate it above the preconceived cliche images of Latin music -- dances, fiestas and palm trees. I think this was one of the secrets of the worldwide success of the BVSC. It was packaged to appeal a more international "world music" audience -- not just the Latin fiesta market. Of course I'm not saying that Cuban music isn't dance music, but at the same time it deserves to be respected as serious music, and a lot of this has to do with the lyrics. I always think of Mayito's lines on the LVV version of "La bomba soy yo":

yo cuido la melodía
[I take care with the melody]
me gusta ser coherente
[I like to make sense]
yo no canto boberías
[I don't sing silly nonsense]

The two brand new songs on the album are also very strong. "Ay Papa", sung by Pepito, has funny lyrics and a particularly interesting rhythmic snare drum pattern that gives it a wavy feel which perfectly fits with the character of the tune. [audio example]. "El pregonero" has more great singing from Armando [audio example], and an overpowering groove. Pupy's songo roots, implied throughout the album, are out in the open here, with clearly defined songo patterns punctuated by inspired bloques such as these -- [audio example].

Pupy's Los Van Van classic "Seis Semanas" was the closing piece of LVV's "Ay Dios, ampárame" -- an eleven minute studio recording featuring a legendary vocal performance by Mayito Rivera, so re-recording it here was a very gutsy move on Pupy's part, but the new version has powerful new guías and mambos added and stands on its own. I have no doubt this the song itself is and will continue to be a Cuban music classic. It's a perfect example of a "love song" lyric (in this case loss of love), which is treated with extreme elegance, but also leaves the door open to the double entendres and multiple interpretations that are so characteristic of Cuban music.

In summary, "Qué cosas tiene la vida" is a collection of ten "must-have" recordings which rely on their melodies and lyrics more than explosive arranging or difficult instrumental parts. Dance bands will find them likely candidates for success as cover tunes because they have that magic that make them sound good as soon as you play them because they're so natural, and not forced in any sense. As I said before, this music has the BEAUTY OF SIMPLICITY WORKING FOR IT.

Knowing that Pupy was such a defining part of Van Van's soul, it was difficult me to imagine him completely out of Cuba's most legendary group. He had done other solo projects before, but watching Pupy, as a complete leader, creating such a personal concept is such a happy surprise. Of course this album will make the listener remember Van Van, especially Pupy's peculiar piano tumbaos which I personally think had a lot to do with creating the "train" sound of Van Van. That part of Van Van was Pupy and many Van Van hits were written by Pupy as well. In Pupy´s band we have the "Changuito" signature too -- this album has lots of hardcore songo throughout -- so it´s logical to expect similarities. But through small details, Pupy has created a new sound and a new concept which is quite different from Los Van Van. There are differences in the rhythmic approach, and also the choice of instruments -- Pupy has one timbalero and one drummer, while Samuel plays both in LVV. Also, LVV has three trombones while Pupy uses two trombones but adds two trumpets, who themselves add some fine solo work on "El gato no arana" and "Seis semanas".

I think Pupy is now fully-motivated to take his project to the moon. He now has one of the hottest acts in Havana and the full support and respect of both the public and the other musicians. Suddenly he has so much more energy -- as much energy as Van Van lost with his departure, but I hope this will be positive for music and it would be great to create some healthy musical competition. After listening to what Pupy is doing now I´m sure Van Van will react and come out with some great new music too -- that´s the way Cuban music gets developed -- and all of us who love it stand to benefit.

About the Author: Pepe Martínez plays bass as a sideman with several acts in Spain: Coruña Big Band (Jazz), Combo Matías (Jazz-Fusion), and Bianca (Pop). He's currently arranging for and recording Cuban singer Yanko Tortolo on his first album, "Yanko y su Tinglao".

Tuesday, 03 October 2023, 01:26 PM