This month we visit the island referred to as Kiskeya or Quisqueya depending which side of the shared border of Haïti or La República Dominicana you live on. To lead us through a vinyl exploration of this beautiful shared musical history we are joined by former Music Director at KALX of UC Berkeley and current Latin Music Curator and Programmer at Pandora, Marcos Juarez.
Important Note: This podcast was recorded before the recent disturbing deportation of Haitians taking place in the D.R.
At our last Pelanga this past Saturday at La Peña we teamed up with Chicano Batman for an incredible night of music and dancing. We had a blast combining our sounds and crowds. Many thank you’s to all of you who came out!
At one point while I was deejaying I saw fellow pelanguero, DJ Papicultor give me his “oh hell yes!” look while dancing which lets me know I’m playing something special. It’s also a good indication I should be featuring it here at lapelanga.com. The song is called O.S.S. Merengueby Original Shleu-Shleu. OSS was one of the many offshoots from Les Shleu Shleu and also the most popular. Lead by maestro Tony Moïse on sax they would eventually evolve into
What I love most about this song is that it starts off in one great place, but then ends up in an entirely different place that is even better. First we get a hard hitting conga break that then flows into a classic sounding merengue, but then hold on because before you know it you’re off to San Francisco with Edouardo Richard playing a great Santana inspired guitar solo. And if that wasn’t enough they bring it all back to some Haitian rumba with sirens going off letting you know—this shit is on fire!
Hopefully you all aware of our upcoming Pelanga en La Peña this Saturday, May 7th. Pelangas have blessed us in many ways, one of which is the joy we get from seeing so many of you dance and lose yourself in the music. But one thing we haven’t been able to ignore is seeing so many beautiful women dancing solo. Now it needs to be said that we really love that Pelangas have a culture of everyone being very respectful — especially toward women who very much appreciate not feeling hounded and harassed by men. But men, that’s no reason to be wall flowers. We understand that dancing can be intimidating, especially with someone you may not know. But don’t worry su pelangueros are here to help, or rather Oscar De Leon (Venezuela’s most famous salsero). Here he is performing his merengue hit Juanita Morel backed by Conjunto Quisqueya. Now take note, he’s just dipping and rolling with a simple spin. Watch, repeat and practice in front of a mirror. Men, you can do this and have a line of dance partners waiting on you all night. Gold medallion is optional.
During my recent trip to Puerto Rico my girl friend was just getting over the flu. So it wasn’t much of a surprise when I felt the early signs of a sore throat and congestion in my ears creeping in on me. That evening I went to the nearest bar and asked for the best rum they had. I was poured a very healthy glass of Trigo Reserva Aneja (a 12 year old aged rum). I’m no expert on rums, but that glass was super smooth and I made sure to take my time with it as it’s borinquen embrace coated my throat and ran down my chest working it’s magic. By the time I was walking back to my hotel room my sore throat and congestion were completely gone! And on that walk back, like the rum, Johnny Ventura‘s blazing rendition of El Ron Es Mi Medicina began to run through me and onto my lips.
So what we have here is one Aramis Camilo y La Organizacion Secreta’s classic albums from the 80s. They seemed to have borrowed Willie Colon’s persona idea of being mobsters (on the back cover you’ll notice the guy in the car is actually holding a gun). By no means is this gangster merengue, in fact Aramis’s music embodies so much of what I love about merengue from this period. Unlike long self indulgent salsa intros, this music kicks into gear right from the start and packs more energy per note. This song El Motor was one of Aramis’s biggest hits. To be honest I preferred some of the other songs on the record UNTIL I saw this video of it performed live back on DR’s legendary TV show Medio Dia. I’ve probably watched this video at least a 100 times. Time to get on su motor and ride. More merengue videos to come. Enjoy!
As always, big shout-out to William—the only person at our parties that knows every merengue song we play.
The first merengue CD I ever bought was by Juan Luis Guerra, thanks to my fellow student, known fondly as Copete, who taught me how to dance it when I arrived at college. Little did I know that ten years later I would play “A pedir su mano” (Translation: “To ask for her hand”) during my wedding. It was too appropriate – we couldn’t pass it up.
(The video includes some bad 80s effects and some brilliant footage of the Dominican Republic. I’d never seen it till now.)
Also at college, I was invited to learn and perform a dance to Soukous, thanks to Janet and Kirimania. When people who hadn’t heard it before asked me to describe what Soukous sounded like, I would tell them it was “how you’d imagine Merengue sounded before it crossed the Atlantic”. At the time I didn’t realize that in fact, it really had.
This was affirmed again many years later, when we picked up this little treasure:
And to our surprise, we found this song, Dédé Priscilla, by Lea Lignanzi – the original version of “A pedir su mano”. Since then we’ve tracked down a few other tracks by Juan Luis Guerra that are adaptations of soukous. Maybe I’ll dig those up for you sometime.
Dede Priscilla by Lea Lignanzi
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