My Pop Life #246 : I Like It ft. Bad Bunny & J. Balvin – Cardi B

I Like It  ft. Bad Bunny & J Balvin – Cardi B

Ya mudé la’ Gucci pa’ dentro de casa, yeh (¡woo!)
Cabrón, a ti no te conocen ni en Plaza (no)
El Diablo me llama pero Jesucristo me abraza (amén)
Guerrero como Eddie, que viva la raza, yeh
Me gustan boricuas, me gustan cubanas
Me gusta el acento de las colombianas (¿qué hubo pues?)
Como mueve el culo la dominicana (¿qué lo que?)
Lo rico que me chingan las venezolanas (¡woo!)

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As 2018 drew to a close I had to choose my top three tunes of the year.  This is of course traditional.  I subscribe to a website called The ‘Spill, a sister to Song-Bar.com a music fan’s site where new albums are reviewed, words defined and a different topic is chosen every week for a playlist.  This will be the result of a mighty collaboration of the contributors. As I write, people from four continents or more are mulling Songs About Letters and sending in The Box Tops’ The Letter, or The Beatles’ PS I Love You.  I threw in The Beach Boys’ Busy Doin’ Nothing from the Friends LP.  Genius song.  One person (Maki this week) will compile two playlists from these hopeful suggestions. There are about 70 regulars, and many more who follow but do not always contribute.  It’s fun and kind of addictive.

But the end-of-year picks are chewed over from about the end of October.  I’ve been doing this properly since 2006, so I’m coming up for a fifteenth anniversary.  I don’t actually know what I’ll pick for 2020.  But this song – Cardi B‘s I Like It – (and Childish Gambino‘s This Is America) were nailed on for 2018 because they were in my top 3 favourite songs of the year.  And the other song was one I played on so…

I just flicked through my 2018 iPhoto reel and flipping heck, a glimpse of life pre-covid full of dates, gigs, visitors, work, travel, sessions, meeting friends for a celefuckingbration. Actually stopped me in my tracks.  I thought, what if I scan the whole of 2018 into my blog?  To remember how we used to live in gentrified Brooklyn?  To offer some background to these two mighty songs?  Can’t hurt surely.

So here goes – remember “normal life” ?

The Before Times

Fort Greene Park, January 2018

2018 started with Cush Jumbo and Sean Griffin and Johanna Frances and Jenny Jules and Ralph Brown in Superfine, DUMBO watching a quaint balloon-bursting burlesque cabaret and drinking cocktails & Guinness.  Cushington was pregnant.  Then in January it snowed a fair bit.  I met Ang Lee in a snowstorm in Tribeca and he offered me a part in his new movie which was nice of him.  Nice of my manager Michael Lazo and casting director Avy Kaufman to set it up too, so I sent them flowers & love.

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Then Lucy Jules came over with Sam Smith for the Grammys and we went to the afterparty somewhere downtown and I chatted to Quincy Jones about one of our projects.  He was busy. Very busy. But there he was, and he was kind to me. Erykah Badu was DJing our dance floor.  People were pretending to be cool but we got drunk and danced a lot.

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Sean Griffin and I went to the boxing one night on 42nd street.  Proper.  Enjoyed it very much.  Now sadly closed.  Sean and Cush both train at Gleason’s Gym in Dumbo (where the first night party for the original Julius Caesar was held in the fall of 2013), and they also sponsor a young pugilist.  He won very convincingly.  We would also frequent the Atlantic Fish Bar for Important Football Matches, sometimes with Henry the dawg. Now also sadly closed.

Johanna, Courtney, Benny, me, Ewan, Mary, Victor

Savannah, Georgia.  Two months of filming. The headline news was that Jenny was off in London doing a play, so I drove down to Georgia with the two cats and all their palaver in the back of the car.  They stayed in the hotel suite with me for the whole time bless their little furry socks.  I shot Gemini Man in February & March 2018 in Savannah, Georgia with Will Smith and Mary Elizabeth Winstead and my old mate Benny WongAng Lee directing.  Johanna wanted to visit so I asked if she would like to be my Executive Assistant for the shoot.  She was first class.  So was Courtney Young my voice coach.  One night Will Smith bought out a local cinema and took the whole cast and crew to the opening night of Black Panther.  I’ll write about the rest of that experience another time because Gemini Man was a gift of a job.    Then Johanna and I drove all the way back, through snowstorms in the Appalachians another two-day drive through Ashville, North Carolina, western Tennessee and Virginia.

On 24th March I was invited to see Harry Potter Parts One & Two on Broadway by Cush and Sean, who were taking their friends Rose Leslie & Kit Harrington as an early wedding present, when Kit had to drop out.  Since they refused to take money for the tickets (very good central stalls) I refused to take money when I bought them dinner between the two parts.  Afterwards we went backstage and met the cast, the original West End players, including Noma Dumezweni playing Hermione, whom Jen and I had had lunch with when she was rehearsing.  Funny how things turn out –  a few months later Jenny would be taking over that very role.

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Then in April I flew to England to see Jenny whom I missed terribly.  She was doing her beautiful thing at The Donmar in The Way of the World by Earth Wind & Fire  William Congreve.  She was in a lovely top floor flat in Covent Garden, yards from the theatre but a tragedy overshadowed that production when one of the actors committed suicide just after opening night.  AD Josie Rourke closed them down for the week and provided therapy and food in the space while they collectively and individually worked through their reactions.  Awful.

Another tragedy was in waiting when my ex-girlfriend Mumtaz Keshani emailed to say that she’d been diagnosed with stage 3 cancer.  Jenny and I went to Lincoln’s Inn Fields for lunch then bought some pastries & cakes and took the Piccadilly Line up to Arsenal to see her in Highbury Hill where we had tea and Jenny massaged her back because she was in such pain.  We didn’t stay long because she wasn’t well enough.  It made me weep silently this act of compassion from my wife for my ex-girl.   It was the last time either of us saw her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It wasn’t all pain and tears.  I had drinks with Susan Kyd (with whom I’d acted in Berkoff’s West) & Sallie Norris (who’d just retired from the NYPD and was now working as security for NBC).  I managed to squeeze in Brentford v QPR with Billy the Bee and daughter Bella, spotted QPR fan Mick Jones outside afterwards, and went to see The Ferryman in the West End with my bestie Paulette Randall drinking vodka & tonic all the while.  Funny how things turn out – a few months later I would be in The Ferryman on Broadway.

I also went down to Brighton for a few hours for Sunday lunch to see some beautiful people who I love and miss. Me and Skye, Tom and Lua Blue, my sister Rebecca with Scarlett holding Lua, Delilah-Rose and her mum Millie.  Fam. Famalam.  Becky came with Lee (no good photo sorry Lee)

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Back in New York dear Mo, Maureen Hibbert had been performing in D.C. in Hamlet with Lorna Brown and they came up for a wee holiday in Brooklyn and they stayed for a few days and we hung out for a bit. Mo read my second draft of a film script I’d just finished.  We live in hope.  She liked it though.  So did I.

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But WAIT –  on the night I’d landed at JFK and come home the 24th April 2018 our dear friends Cush and Sean produced a rather  beautiful baby boy called Maximilian Patrick Jumbo-Griffin!!  I’d have to wait a week before I could give him a hug.  Jenny would wait a whole month!

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Went down to Jamaica Bay to try and find the horseshoe crab mating season with Libby and Stefan but we only saw some perished evidence on this beautiful spring day.  Drove home via the storefront churches of East New York and Brownsville.  I usually cycle down to Jamaica Bay, it’s 12 or so miles each way and a wonderful wild spot on the shore.

I need to see nature.  Be in nature.

 

 

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There was A Nice Drinks with (cousin of Mo) Meisha Brown and Gabrielle Bennett and Tara out on the Lightship pub The Frying Pan on the Hudson.  Special friends of rabbit.

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May 5th.  Cinqo de Mayo. This Is America and I Like It are both released on this auspicious day.  They dominate my year in music.  Childish Gambino hosts Saturday Night Live but I’m on an early night because…

May 6th 7am At the start line for the wonderful 5-Borough Bike Ride with Tony Gerber and Michael Vachon (good people) although this shot is on Queensboro Bridge and cyclists were cussing us for getting in the way.  40 miles with no traffic lights which is becoming something of an institution for me although for the second year running I had to flip out at Commodore Barry Park near us and change clothes because

I had tickets for Mahler’s Das Liede Von Der Erde at the Kennedy Centre matinee with our neighbours Libby, Stefan and Pippa… 

 

…dearie me the bougie life continues with a city visit from Frances Tempest who designed the costumes for A Respectable Trade and my film New Year’s Day and her daughter Nelle whose treat it was for Frances was 70 and they were staying in The Park Lane Hotel on the flipping Park and we went for afternoon tea at The Plaza on the corner of 5th Avenue which is a city landmark.  So lovely to see them both, since they all moved to Hastings from just around the corner in Brighton about 12 years ago.

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Then finally Jenny came home.  It had been a while.  It’s the life we lead so it is. And we went to see Max together.

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The new member’s club Dumbo House had opened by then and we were founder members so we would take folk there for drinks or a buffet lunch.  Like all member’s clubs it quickly became over-run and self-conscious but it is remains a good place to take people and here is dear Meisha, cat sitter, cousin and all round NY famalamadingdong.

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Very soon after that the Shakespeare Sisters were in town with a screening of Julius Caesar  – the very reason we’d moved to New York in 2014, four years earlier.  Phyllida Lloyd, Clare Dunn, Cush Jumbo, Jenny Jules, Harriet Walter and Kate Packenham in Dumbo for a lovely meal after the screening.

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Now the World Cup was drawing near which means Panini Stickers oh yes.   We started looking around New York for venues to watch the World Cup – hopefully matching the teams playing.

We studied Egyptian restaurants in Astoria, next door to Colombian restaurants and cafes.  Watched a Germany game in DSK in Fort Greene with a crowd, great fun.  We watched Nigeria v Croatia (0-2) (see above) with Babs in Buka on Fulton St a few blocks south of us.  Little did we know that Croatia would go all the way to the final.  We watched all three Iran games in Bijans on Hoyt Street after learning that Brighton & Hove Albion were interested in one of their players, Alireza Jahanbakhsh.  They played well, so did he, but they were in a group with Spain and Portugal and Morocco and didn’t qualify for the knockout section.   England did though…

Then around my birthday (Gemini) we had a special visit from dearest Kimberley my niece and her fiancee Kazeem whom I got to know really for the first time as we wandered around Williamsburg looking at properties and talking Marxism.  They asked me if I would perform the duty of celebrant at their wedding in 2019  ie : conduct the wedding service.  Very touching and very moving, I agreed on the spot.

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Then Lucy came back with Sam Smith for some gigs and we went to three of them.  I’ll write about all that at another time but here’s a quick photo of the Barclays Centre gig (we took Johanna & Adepero).  We went to Madison Square Garden two nights running with Meisha & Gabby, darling Loretta Sacco and Babs & Silke.

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Babs and Silke (centre couple) held a party to celebrate their secret private wedding and we were all very happy. Then they decided they were going to move to London. Not quite yet but grrrrrr.

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Then England won a penalty shoot-out with Colombia (watched at home).  Hold The Front Page.  Booked a flight to Samara via Istanbul.  A World Cup date in Russia with England my Lionhearts (See My Pop Life #211 Three Lions) hooking up with Billy The Bee and his crew.  A fundamentally life-changing summer.  They have proper wifi in the Moscow subway you know.  HD.  You can watch a live game down there.

 

 

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Then a visit from my oldest best friend Simon Korner who landed the day b4 the World Cup Final (what would we have done if England had beaten Croatia?).. This was just rather wonderful – we went to the Jazz Standard of course to see The Mingus Big Band simply my favourite thing to do in New York, and a compulsory trip for tourists and visitors.  That and the East River Ferry.  Cherished moments.

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Another trip to Dumbo House with our New York family Lynn Nottage and Tony Gerber, with their friends, now ours, Gary Perez and Federica Pietracci. We drank some cocktails and moaned about Trump, like the bougies do.

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Then on August 10th dear Mumtaz died, the same day as her mother had died years earlier. I wept. I can’t remember when I’ve ever felt so sad in my life. The funeral was arranged for Wednesday the 15th. I stood on my stoop in Brooklyn the day before and called Virgin Atlantic to see if I could swap my flight to Los Angeles for one to London, then from there fly direct to LA. On Airmiles. They had one seat available going to London landing on the morning of the funeral. They switched the previous ticket. They charged me about $300. It was like a miracle. I landed in London & drove to Wycombe and Jen’s Mum & Dad, and blessed Dee Jules had driven over from Harlow to let me in. We had a long chat before I changed into a suit and left for Hendon mosque.

Mumtaz’ son Mikey gave a wonderful eulogy, and she was buried in the muslim section of Hendon cemetery. Lewis MacLeod was there, who sadly passed in July this year, and Taj’s oldest friend Martina Ward our lawyer. I left the meal in tears waving goodbye and drove to Terminal Five to fly to Los Angeles.

Stevie K watching Shakespeare in Griffith Park

I stayed with Gwen & Bob in Pasadena. Gwen directed Sanctuary DC in Washington in 1988 and we started Apricot Films together. I caught up with old friends Sheree Folkson and Stevie Kalinich, visited Carol with him in Malibu Colony and had a swim. Saw Sabra Williams in Titus Andronicus in Griffith Park with Stevie K, Suzy Crowley, Tony Armatrading, Alan Boyd & Tracy Landecker. And marvelled at how bad the traffic had become in the 15 years since we lived in LA. 1st world problems kids.

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Back in NY there was a BAFTA screening of the Quincy Jones doc and the genius was actually there. He was mobbed afterward by greybians and I thought I’d leave him alone this time.

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Bear with me dear reader. I know it’s long. A long story, back when things were things. A whole year in words & pictures. Pretty filleted too. Not much football, politics or cat pix, be honest!

Then Jenny was offered the Public Theater Mobile Unit tour of Lynn Nottage‘s Pulitzer-winning play Sweat.  This tour was aimed at the rustbelt communities in the swing states as we approached the Mid-Term Elections. The states – Pennysylvania, Upper New York, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin & Minnesota are where the story takes place, de-industrialised towns and cities where factories had closed and gone south of the border, examining the ensuing struggle of the workers to keep their jobs, and their friendships. The play dramatises in forensic detail how people’s economic circumstances affects their worldview. Or how capitalism creates racism, which is how I prefer to define it. A fantastic play, a true American masterpiece which will be produced for many years to come.

At almost exactly the same time, Jenny was called to audition for Harry Potter on Broadway. She had a series of meetings at 9am in places like Bushwick, before Sweat rehearsals, to see if she could handle flying, dancing, magic and talking onstage.

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Meanwhile I was cycling around Brooklyn enjoying the fall.

And had a surprise visitor from Tokyo in the shape of Mirei Yamagata, our translator for our last trip there. Really lovely to see Mirei !

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I think my most unhealthy visit of the year was from Benedict Wong who was in town for some ADR on Gemini Man. I went in I think four times in all to do ADR, mainly off-screen lines with slightly different versions of the plot. Benny and I started our tour around lunchtime in local bars having a pint in each then moved onto cocktails at some point in the afternoon, ending up in Dumbo completely steaming and going up to Dumbo House to complete the session. Shocking. “When things get weird“, Benny said, “be like water“.

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Me, Benton Greene, Jenny and Rebecca Hart in Madison, Wisconsin

So that was when I flew to Milwaukee and drove down to Kenosha to see Jenny and Sweat (see My Pop Life #243 The Blacker The Berry) and then followed the wagons across Wisconsin, to a Union Hall in Janesville, a hotel in Madison and then a community centre in Colombus before I drove back to Milwaukee and home.

Through rural lands and small towns, gentle rolling hills and big skies. It was in Wisconsin that Jenny was offered the role of Hermione Grainger in the Broadway production of Harry Potter & The Cursed Child. But she couldn’t tell anyone at all, and signed a Non Disclosure Agreement to that effect. The joy of landing a gig, the pain of keeping your mouth shut – for three whole months. The bougie 1st world problems we have to suffer!

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Back in the filthy fleshpots of the city, we watched our extraordinary friend Nona Hendryx do her thang at Joe’s Pub and drank cocktails in her honour…

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Halloween sitting on a stoop handing out candy in Dean Street with Lynn, Tony and Melkamu their son -pictured left dressed as Dracula. Absolute mayhem for about three hours….

but Tony managed to snap us in a quiet moment…

 

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Finally saw American Utopia, David Byrne‘s stunning and uplifting re-invention of The Gig down in Flatbush at King’s Theatre. Bought the ticket outside.

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On November 11th we were honoured to be invited by Ms Cushington Jumbo and Mr Sean Patrick Griffin of this parish to be godparents oddparents at the Christening Glistening of Maximilian Patrick along with Ms Phyllida Lloyd of this parish who did supply a silver goblet nay tankard from which we anointed the Child with bubbled wine.

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Remember remember the 5th of November celebrated on the 12th next door with our lovely mad neighbours burning illegal wood and drinking drinks with ratatouille and baked spuds. We burned it down. Jenny makes the ‘devil horn’ sign with her fingers and um…

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Nipped over to England to see Andrew, Rebecca, Mollie, Delilah Rose, Ellie & her new baby boy Archie. Saw Mum too who was in good form, always a relief. So was I, ditto. I stayed in Brighton with Delilah Rose and Millie, and Kerry came round one evening. Famalam. Went to see John Cooper Clark and Johnny Mercer at The Dome with Tim Lewis & Andy Baybutt (See My PopLife #119 Chickentown). Got drunk afterwards. Saw the Brighton Beach Boys doing the Kinks album The Village Green Preservation Society live onstage, great as ever, miss them so much I can’t say anything more. Went and spent an evening with Kim & Kaz in Crystal Palace discussing the forthcoming wedding. Saw all the other famalam and came home to Brooklyn.

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Went to see the tremendous Orbital at Brooklyn Steel on my own and had pizza and beer afterwards with instigator Paul Hartnoll, Brighton drinking buddy.

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Next up Greek at BAM, operatic adaptation of Berkoff’s play, then The Jungle at St Ann’s with our lovely friend Jo McInnes amid an international cast in a rebuilt migrant camp in Calais.

Took Jenny to see Taylor Mac at Town Hall and he came down into the audience and sat on my lap to tell a joke. (He knows Jenny)

Then it was Jenny’s birthday – (and Frank Sinatra’s and Ken Cranham’s) 

 

 

Visitors! Although they stayed in Midtown, after I’d advised them not to stay in Midtown. C’mon it’s hellish up there. But people don’t visit New York to hang around in the suburbs do they?  They want hell. Carl Firth and his daughter Anna on a birthday treat. Carl is married to my Dad‘s wife Beryl‘s daughter. Famalam. The night they left I went in to audition for Sam Mendes who was re-casting Jez Butterworth‘s The Ferryman on Broadway.

Was offered The Ferryman the following lunchtime. Auspicious first visit to Carnegie Hall that night to see Handel’s Messiah which my father performed every Christmas with the Huddersfield Choral for 35 years- I never saw him sing it sadly.

And finally the new cast of Harry Potter was announced and we could all stop LYING TO EVERYONE. A week of celebration which turned into

CHRISTMAS

Jenny Jules, Noma Dumezweni, Nomawethu Dumezweni, Jo McInnes, Cush Jumbo, Damien, Lee Ross, Sean Griffin, Ralph Brown with Maxi Pad, Qeiva Dumezweni, Kiki McInnes Ross and Nabil Elouahi (taking the picture you star) gather chez nous in Fort Greene on Christmas Eve Happy Holidays to eat Jamaican food and do secret santa, drink um drinks and sing Fairytale of New York before going to Baptist Church on Lafayette & Washington and thence to the pub.

Christmas Day viewing

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Saw Maxi one last time and boy had he grown in the last six months!  What a beauty.  It had been a year of marriages and death and one precious birth – is this why I held him so close to my heart?  Or is it that I don’t have any children of my own?  Or is he just a cutie?

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I’ll give Roxy the last word

I didn’t mention so many people whom I care about and who are ever-present in my heart whether I see them or not. Chief missing man is my brother Paul who lives in Shanghai. I think we see each other every two years, quite a long time to wait! And my Dad, and Beryl, missed them too, up there in West Yorkshire.

And of course that’s just the peaks. Saw tons of theatre productions unmentioned and a load of films too, usually BAFTA screenings but not always. You Were Never Really Here was my top film after Roma, then Burning, Capernaum, Shoplifters, Border, Sorry To Bother You and Black Panther.

But it feels like a life lived at speed, racing through cultural signposts, cramming it all in, travelling, watching, drinking, BUSY.  Now we have slowed down so far that some mornings my brain feels like porridge.  Where is my starter motor?

Cardi B captured me from minute one.  Brassy, tough, funny.  If you follow her on IG or Twitter you’ll know what I mean.  She is so NY in-your-face ex-stripper-turned rapper but she is the real deal.  She doesn’t talk about things she doesn’t know about.  No bullshit whatsoever.  Funny as fuck.  She talks about her business.  She is Dominican NY, although musically very little merengue or bachata appears in her songs.  She is hip-hop.  But on this track she wanted a more Latinx vibe.  In the end her label boss the prolific Craig Kallman pulled out I Like It Like That by Pete Rodriguez in 1967 a boogaloo hit and reframed it with Cardi plus hot Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny and Colombian cumbia singer J Balvin.   The finished song has a trap meets salsa beat and features two reggaeton stars.  Designed to crush.  

The song had been covered once before in 1994 by The Blackout All Stars who included Tito Nieves, cousin of our friend Edna Benitez, partner of Heidi Griffith, English casting director and good friend.  Threads, connections, always.

We heard it from car radios & in shops all summer.  I’ve spent some of this year going deeper on Latin Music, a catch-all genre that includes anything sung in Spanish, from ranchera to norteño, bolero to son, bomba to plena.  For another post, but much of the best Latin music since the 1960s has originated from New York City, coming out of the Puerto Rican communities of the Upper East Side and the Bronx, or Cuban and Dominican exiles up from the Caribbean, Colombians, Panamanians, Trinis and others.  It is this rising demographic wave which has clearly resulted in Trumpism, (along with the sight and sound of 8 years of a black President) a panic about whiteness becoming the minority, and Amy Coney Barrett is clearly the last gasp brick on top of the collapsing sea wall.

We are seven days away from the election.  We’re in a pandemic.  We’re in a racial fissure.  We’re divided and tired. 

Good luck everyone.  Life will go on, as ever.

 

 

My Pop Life #88 : Silencio – Ibrahim Ferrer

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Silencio   –   Ibrahim Ferrer with Omara Portuondo

…Duermen en mi jardin
Las blancas azucenas, los nardos y las rosas,
Mi alma muy triste y pesarosa
A las flores quiere ocultar su amargo dolor…

Jenny and I went to see the film Buena Vista Social Club in 1999 upon its release.  Directed by Wim Wenders, it charts the rehearsals of a group of Cuban musicians, some in their 90s as they play some of the old Cuban boleros and ballades and sones from the heyday of the pre-Castro era in 1940s & 1950s  Havana.  Featured imageThe accompanying LP had been released two years earlier in 1997 with Ry Cooder producing and his son Joaquim on drums and percussion.  It was an instant classic, most particularly the opening track “Chan Chan” which became ubiquitous in coffee-shops around Brighton and parts of London (and indeed the entire world).   The ageing stars all became actual stars, and one of the more moving scenes in the film is the musicians arriving in Manhattan and marvelling at the architecture, presumably never dreaming they’d visit New York City.   Compay Segundo played tres and sang, Ruben Gonzalez piano, Cachito Lopez was on double bass, Eliades Ochoa was on guitar and vocals, Ry Cooder played slide mainly and Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portuondo sang.

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One of the highlights of the film was the Rafael Hernandez song “Silencio“, performed by Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portuondo both in rehearsal and onstage in Amsterdam.    For some reason the song wasn’t on the Buena Vista Social Club LP, but instead turned up on Ibrahim Ferrer’s first solo LP “Buena Vista Social Club introduces Ibrahim Ferrer“, also produced by Cooder in 1999.   His incredible vocal style, reminiscent of Nat King Cole in it’s delicacy, melts me every time I hear it, and this in combination with the lyrics has confirmed this piece as one of Jenny and I’s all-time special songs.  We bought it on CD, and it came with a very thorough little colourful booklet which had the Spanish lyrics to every song, and the English translation on the opposite page.  We actually decided to use the CD as a language tool and tried to learn Spanish in time for our winter visit to Cuba 1999/2000.  The first verse sets the scene :

…Duermen en mi jardin 

Sleeping in my garden

Las blancas azucenas, los nardos y las rosas,    

the white lilies, the agave and the roses

Mi alma muy triste y pesarosa  

my soul so very sad and regretful, 

A las flores quiere ocultar su amargo dolor…      

the flowers want to hide my bitter pain…

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I want to hide my bitter pain from the flowers ?

The conceit of the song is that the flowers are sensitive to him : “I do not want them to see my true feelings“, and the punchline is right there in the last line, repeated : “si me ven llorando, moriran”   :  “if they see me crying, they will die“.

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It is a very beautiful song indeed, and in the live version on film we see tears in Omara’s eyes as she sings that line, Ibrahim Ferrer notices and wipes them away, an extremely affecting moment.

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Jenny and I flew to Havana in December 1999, just as the entire planet was getting ready to celebrate the millennium.  Fidel Castro, alone among world leaders, had declared that the millennium was actually one year hence, when 2000 became 2001, since 2001 was the first year of the new millennium, and if you think about it, (do the math!) he is absolutely correct.  The year 2000 signals the end of the 99th year of the century.  But the speedometer numbers turning together became a far more potent symbol and the world sheepishly followed the digits.   Meanwhile Air France lost all our bags en route (we flew via Paris, and having missed the plane because it wasn’t announced in the lounge, had to overnight in Madrid where we went clubbing briefly).  They turned up six days later in Havana Airport (where we went every day to the same desk in case our bags had been flown in), minus one bag which never did turn up.  They also lost a bag on the way home.  Never fly Air France readers !

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Havana was extraordinary, crumbling like a beautiful classy kind old lady, a once-magnificent colonial city on the sea with two economies, local and tourist.   Jenny was often mistaken for a local cubana which meant that a)  I’d bought her, and that b) now and again we paid the tourist price (2p for an ice-cream).   We thought we’d see some of the Buena Vista musicians playing somewhere, but that was our naïve European dream.   We met Carlos & Manolo, theatre director and lighting designer (via Miriam Ryle‘s contact) and they showed us their beautiful city.    Their aunt ran a local restaurant downstairs, called a paladare, the night we ate there our hotel companion John Singleton (director of Boyz n The Hood) was also there with his family.  We celebrated New Year’s Eve with Carlos & Manolo and their friends at a rooftop party, and ended up dancing on the Malecon – the long sea wall – at 5am.  It’s a magical city.   After a few nights in an Old Town Hotel we moved to an apartment in one of the majestic crumbling blocks near the centre with Manolo’s uncle’s family.   It keeps the tourist money in the community.   After about a week there, and various adventures which I’ll account for another time (see My Pop Life #173 Como Fue), we received a phone call from Jenny’s sister Lucy who was house-sitting for us in Brighton. She told us that we’d been burgled.   We cut short the holiday by three weeks and flew back to England to deal with insurance and nonsense.  We’ve never been back to Cuba, but I’m sure it’s different now.

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I should briefly salute the great Ry Cooder, whose musical career has been one of true wonder, from playing on Captain Beefheart’s Safe As Milk, The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, Little Feat’s Willin’, Randy Newman’s 12 Songs, and The Beach Boys’s Kokomo to producing Bobby King & Terry Evans, playing with Ali Farka Toure, as well as producing countless great LPs of his own, most notably perhaps Bop Til You Drop and Chavez Ravine and the soundtrack to Paris, Texas.  I’ve only scratched the surface of his work to be honest.  We got to see him live later in New York – see My Pop Life #208 I Can’t Win.

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There are two versions of Silencio below, both by Ibrahim Ferrer. It’s a latin classic written in the 50s by the Puerto Rican Gershwin/Cole Porter/Irving Berlin, national treasure Rafael Hernandez and which has been covered by many great stars from Trio Los Principes in 1960 to Venezualan tenor Felipe Pirela in 1966.  The version from the film has Ry Cooder’s slightly intrusive slide guitar, tastefully toned down somewhat for the studio version recorded some two years later.  Both, however, are utterly stunning.   I prefer the solo LP version personally, but the film with them singing live is so moving…

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Buena Vista Social Club, directed by Wim Wenders :

Silencio, from Ibrahim Ferrer’s first solo LP :