Undserstaning language is important, I guess

…so here’s something you might not know about me. Even though I have a fancy schmancy music degree from a fancy schmancy university, am an indie rock snob to the point of making my daughter listen to lullaby renditions of Radiohead to lull her to sleep, I, Chip Harlan, Mister “I have no guilty pleasures music,”, Mister “I inwardly scoff at your plebeian musical tastes,” love El Patron, Atlanta’s “regional mexicano” radio station. A lot. In fact, as of late I’ve been listening to El Patron more than WREK, Atlanta’s bastion of all things obscure and indie. A lot more.

And I’m not sure exactly why. I mean, a lot of it, chord-progression-wise is the formulaic of the formulaic, and with very un-indie rock recording values. I’m pretty sure the prevailing aesthetic is to make live instruments (especially brass) sound as if they were being played by Casio keyboards. I guess maybe because, even though it’s music that’s been sent through the Pop Music System, there’s still no mistaking its place of origin. It still retains it’s Mexican heart, I guess. And, not knowing any Spanish (besides the obligatory “mi coracon” that seems to be in every song), it’s easy to forgive horrible lyrics if you don’t know what they’re saying in the first place.

Anyway. So the point is, I’ve been listening to El patron a lot, and for a while there was a song I heard pretty much every time I turned it on called El Papa de los Pollitos. Now, let me reiterate, and this is key to this whole anecdote, that I Do Not Speak Spanish. At all. So the only thing I can get out of the lyrics is the “Pollitos” (and only because of the restaurant on 5th ave), and that it means “baby chickens.” So I figure that it’s some sort of hard luck ballad, you know, “Oh, my life is hard and dusty, I work in the fields for people who don’t respect me, I have no position of stature or authority, the only things I have for my own are these baby chickens I’m raising. Kind of like a mariachi version of Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, taking care of his pigeon coop, you know? A Sad Sack Ballad.

And I like it, so one day I find the album on Itunes, put it into my shopping cart, and like a month later, I finally blow the 10 bucks and buy the album. And I think to myself, hey, maybe I’ll send a copy of the pollitos song to Oliver, he knows Spanish, maybe he can provide a rough translation. But, you know, iTunes and its DRM, sending him a copy is going to be problematic. And so this is the point where I go onto youtube, and find the video, and find out just how accurate my assumption of what this song is all about actually is:

…so what have I learned here? Do I still like the song, now that I know what the lyrics are about? Yeah, sure, the music is still the music, and it’s got a catchy melody and arrangement, that Nortena vibe, so yes, I still like the song. Do I like it as much? Well, yes, and no. No, because, as one who generally favors the Underdog, finding out the lyrics aren’t about Workin’ for “The Man” as much as about being “The Man,” I identify with the protagonist a lot less. But yes, because I find something so interesting in taking something as endemic to modern urban inner-city life as Gangsta and adapting it to such an non-urban-sounding idiom of Mexican Folk Music. I don’t know if it’s a sense of musical irony or what. It’s interesting, though, that there’s this entire genre of music that, instead of being relegated to guys in Sombreros and Nudie Suits in the back of divey Mexican restaurants, has had new life blown into it by infusing it with the character of modern urban music. Not the sound, mind you, just the character. It might talk like a foulmouthed crack-dealer in the heart of Brooklyn, but it still sounds like the north Mexican desert. And since it retains its heart, I can forgive the crappy boast lyrics.

But seriously, and I’m sorry I’m making this joke, what is it with Mexicans and the shooting guns up into the air?


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