What do I love most about Puerto Rico? I guess it’s the cocos. They’re like my head. Hard.
Then again, there are the plátanos. They stain my skin. In a good way.
Anyway, I’ve gotten some bugging from certain social media interests to compile my own list of songs that make me “Happy” about being Puerto Rican, something along the lines of BuzzFeed’s attempt last year. I don’t know what to tell you but this idea of posting a bunch of large images accompanied by pithy text is not my idea of a good time. But hey, like Bob Marley used to say, If dem cap fit, let them wear it. So here’s my playlist for today (Day of All Days, mind you).
1) Puerto Rico. Eddie Palmieri
A song often used to start off many a great university radio station salsa shows. This is like Palmieri’s third or fourth attempt at recording a song about Puerto Rico, and this one has it all. Incredibly kicking horn and rhythm section and of course Palmieri’s Debussy ragtime chops. Repeat this at least 5X before going out.
2) Al Ver Sus Campos. Ray Barretto
Ricanstruction is one of the great Barretto comeback albums, late ’70s, just when you thought classic salsa was over. This one focuses on the jíbaro and the destruction of the island’s small-biz agriculture by guess who. That makes it a favorite of the burgeoning Sandinista left and independentistas.
3) Soñando con Puerto Rico. Bobby Capó
Have to confess I think the first time I heard this was on one of those Puerto Rico Tourism Board commercials. Despite the cheesy pop-rock arrangements, Capó is one of the great yet under-recognized Puerto Rican vocalists. This is a good one for the slow jam section of your after-parade party when you’re trying to get people to leave.
4) Lamento Borincano. Victor Jara
Of course you know this was written by Rafael Hernández, ironically while living in El Barrio in the 1930s. There are a million cover versions, but to demonstrate how it is an international classic, I chose this version by Victor Jara, who was a victim of the Pinochet coup in 1973. The song is the original version of “Al Ver Sus Campos,” about a jíbaro who tries to sell his stuff in the town in the valley and finds no buyers.
5) No Me Interesa. Cultura Profética
Cultura is one of my favorite contemporary Puerto Rican bands, particularly because of their unflinching social critique. They make real culture a priority over the globalizing madness of consumer culture. Rather than being concerned with proving they are good Americans, Cultura makes a case for independent thinking and identity.
6) Draco Rosa. Bandera
Draco has always marched to his own drummer, and lucky for us, he’s extremely proud of his roots. This song has a galvanizing power that comes directly from his inner strength, using the image of the flag to help us persevere.
7) Yo Me Quedo. Tony Vega
Salsa romántica catches a lot of flack, deservedly so in most cases, but this late-80s re-take on the Pablo Milanés classic shows that Puerto Ricans are nationalists on a pop level. It’s probably not a good idea to follow this up with Eddie Santiago, but if you’re in a nationalist borrachera at some shack in Piñones with a ride home it’s not a bad choice.
8) Son a Cuba y Puerto Rico
Continuing on the Pablo Milanés tip, here’s Isaac’s version of another nueva trova classic. While we’re not going to admit salsa is just a copy of Afro-Cuban music, we sure have some mirror-image stuff going on. And even if you’re not necessarily down with hardcore socialism, it’s definitely a good idea for us to be much closer. (If we’re the wings, I guess Hispañola is the head and body?)
9) Boricua en la Luna. Roy Brown
Roy Brown is our own Silvio Rodríguez and Pablo Milanés, one of those central figures of the boomer independence movement. Based on a poem by Juan Antonio Corretjer, this is one of those transnational declarations of independence. Cultura’s Willy did a great version of this on a Banco Popular Christmas special a year or so ago.
10) Loco Pero Feliz. Pirulo y El Tribu
Contemporary salsero Pirulo has his finger on the pulse of Puerto Rican locura. While there are no explicit references to la isla, we all know who and what he’s talking about. Living la vida colonial requires a certain distance from “sanity.” And we are proud of that distance.
11) Mi Gente. Héctor Lavoe
This is the moment when Puerto Rican identity became permanently transnational. Not much needs to be said about the moment when “mi gente” became all of us, guaracheando or not, because Héctor said so. He makes us the sonero/a of our own destiny.
12) Puerto Rico. Frankie Cutlass
The rawness and repetition of this are the hallmarks of hiphop. Shout out to all the Big Pun, Fat Joe, Hurricane G, Latin Empire, Rock Steady Crew, Charlie Chase brothers and sisters out there.
13) En mi Viejo San Juan. Trio Los Panchos
Hard to beat Los Panchos. We’ve heard this a million times and it seems to be the best version to remember the elders. That three-part harmony is no joke.
14) Las Caras Lindas. Ismael Rivera
For Boricuas, it doesn’t get any better than Maelo. Almost any of his songs are enough to drive anyone to ecstatic joy and tears. Here, he reminds us who we are, in essence. La melaza que ríe, canta, y llora.
15) Light My Fire. José Feliciano
I know this is an unorthodox choice, but, hey, it’s really BuzzFeed, isn’t it? Besides, have you ever heard a more kick-ass version of this song? One that proves that rock and roll is all about blues, r&b, soul…and being Puerto Rican!