Thursday, July 24, 2008

Noches del verano

Just got back from strolling around my neighborhood while listening to Buena Vista Social Club. In my khaki pencil skirt and shabby ballet flats and slouchy shoulder bag, I tried to pretend that I was in Old Havana on my way to La Bodeguita del Medio--and not climbing the hills of suburban Portland!

The Buena Vista Social Club track "Pueblo Nuevo" is a piano-based instrumental in which the soloists interpolate bits of other songs--the melody of "Stormy Weather" played over the chord pattern to "Guantanamera." And this made me think of another strange musical connection involving the world's favorite Cuban song: the chorus of "Guantanamera" has the same chord progression as "Summer Nights" from Grease.

Let me explain. When I was in high school I went to Cuba with a school group (yes, it was legal), and when you're a tourist in Cuba, you hear "Guantanamera" everywhere. We took a boat trip up a river and our boat came complete with three musicians singing and playing "Guantanamera." And a few summers earlier, at musical theater camp, I had performed "Summer Nights," so I was pretty familiar with its chords and melody...and after hearing "Guantanamera" for the twentieth time, something just clicked. Try humming it: "Guantanamera, guajira guantanamera" and then "Summer lovin', had me a blast."

I just did a little research and found out that this is a very simple chord progression, I-IV-V-IV, common to both classic rock and Afro-Cuban/salsa music. It is also used in the songs "Wild Thing" (which we sung in my sixth-grade rock musical version of "Beauty and the Beast") and "Louie Louie" (Portland's favorite rock song). Can you hear the similarities?

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