Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Oscar D’Leon - Sonero del Mundo

Sonero del MundoI can’t dance.

I mean my hips feel it, my body feels it, my head nods to it, but my feet are large bricks.  There are times, however, that even my concrete boots move with grace, usually to good salsa music and nobody does latin salsa better than Oscar D’Leon.

Oscar D'León was born in Caracas, Venezuela on July 11, 1943.  When he was young he worked by day as an auto mechanic and by night played bass for local “conjuntos” - small Cuban folk bands consisting of guitar, bass and percussion that sang folk songs.  On stage D’Leon would sing and dance with a double bass.  He went on to form a number of orchestral bands and gained a reputation as a great improviser.  His first great successes occurred in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s recording with his band, La Salsa Mayor, a merengue standard "Juanita Morell."  In 1978 he founded a second band called “La Critica” that played Cuban rhumba music and he would alternate singing for both bands.  In the 1980’s he became a well-known Caribbean music singer, but it was during the 1970’s that D’Leon earned the Spanish nickname  “el Sonero del Mundo” - the Son Singer of the World.  In 2003 D'León suffered 3 heart attacks, one while performing on stage, and two at the hosptial, due to high cholesterol.  He continued to perform and record through 2009 but, on Dec 20, 2009, he suffered yet another heart attack. Fortunately at the time of this writing, D’Leon is still with us.

In 1996, D’Leon release his namesake album  el Sonero del Mundo.  I took two years of high school Spanish and grew up in Southern California.  Frankly, all that means is I know how to ask in fractured Mexican Spanish  for another beer and directions to the bathroom. Yet, that noncomprehending is one of the great pleasures of latin salsa music - I may have no idea what the songs are about ( I’m sure the songs run the gambit of human emotion, interaction and experience) and, due to my illiteracy, I may never know. But, somehow, it doesn’t matter.  Salsa music moves the soul as well as the sole whatever the vocalist may be singing. To my feet el Sonero del Mundo’s “el Sonero del Mundo” is one of the finest salsa albums of all time.

Carlos Santana cut his teeth on latin jazz and you can hear why.  Salsa is infectious big band street music. Great salsa dancers mesmerize and amaze.  It is sexual, fast-paced, joyous.  When performed by a great musician it creates a community.  Indigenous peoples had music and it bordered on the religious.  The music was based on beat.  Drums and percussion, flutes and horns - a communal dance to the beat.  Salsa music takes that aboriginal aesthetic and refines it and envelopes it in fluid motion and grace.  While D’Leon sings “Mirala Como Se Menea” (”Mirala How It Shakes” (thank you Google Translate)) you shake too.  When I hear “Volver a Verte” (”To See You Again” (again thank you Google Translate)) I want to attempt those intricate salsa steps that I know I have no chance of ever doing.

Ultimately, today’s column is a tribute to salsa master Oscar D’Leon.  I hope he reads this because I have something to say to him - Gracias. Usted me han movido y el mundo.

- Old School

Buy here: Sonero del Mundo


Mary said...

you guys write up the best reviews, covering such a wide rage of it, thank you!

Marawynn said...

you guys write up the best reviews, covering such a wide rage of it, thank you!

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