Artwork for podcast Si Yo Fuera una Canción (If I Were a Song)
Community Songs (Part 1, English)
Episode 175th November 2021 • Si Yo Fuera una Canción (If I Were a Song) • Elisabeth Le Guin
00:00:00 01:08:54

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David Castañeda, SYF’s Music Researcher, takes the lead in this alt-format episode exploring the many forms that supposedly well-known songs can take. He gets help from 6 members -- 3 in English, 3 en español -- of our Production Team. A treat!

Link to Full Spotify Playlist

La Paloma

Historia de "La Paloma" | Álvaro González de Langarika | TEDxVitoriaGasteiz |




“Habanera”, Grove Music Online |

El Coco

“Por qué en Veracruz le cantan al coco” | 


“Son jarocho”, Grove Music Online |


“The Outsider: El Coco Explained" | Den of Geek |

Perfume de Gardenias

The Greatest Jibarito: Afro-Boricua Rafael Hernández |ández 

“Rafael Hernández”, Grove Music Online |




ELG: Greetings and welcome to the latest episode of “Si yo fuera una canción” -- “If I Were a Song.” We are a community-based podcast and radio show, in which people of Santa Ana, California, tell us in their own words about the music that means the most to them.

I am Elisabeth Le Guin, your program host, and Director of this project.

This project is based on my conviction that we people in the modern world need to learn to listen to one another; and that music, and all it brings us, is the perfect place to begin.

DAVID: My name is David Castañeda, music researcher here for the SYFUC podcast. I am so happy to be a part of this project, using my scholarly training and my performance experience to bring you the stories, music, and lived experiences of those living right here in Santa Ana.



DC: Hello, everyone, and welcome to a very special episode of The "Si yo fuera una canción" podcast. My name is David Castañeda, music researcher and your host. Today, you may recognize my voice if you've been listening to our podcast. I'm the one that's always discussing amazing songs and stories that our interviewees have shared with Elisabeth, who is still here today. Right, Elisabeth?

ELG: I'm right here, ready to go.

DC: So Elisabeth, why don't you give us a little bit of background on how this episode came to be? It's going to be different than our usual format, but I think our listeners are going to really enjoy it.

ELG: So today we will not be doing our usual deep dive into a couple of songs chosen by a single person from the community. Instead, we're using a list of songs that was generated by a whole bunch of community members during an outdoor event a couple of months ago. Laura Diaz, who is our Graphic Designer, Deyaneira García, who is our Project Assistant, and I were tabling for Si yo fuera at El Mercadito, which is a community marketplace where local folks come together on the second Saturday of every month to sell produce and crafts and delicious homemade food. And Dey had the genius idea to set up an easel with paper and invite people to write down what song they would be that day, if they were just one song. And we got the most amazing list.

DC: What an amazing idea. Awesome. So what we've done is taken these songs, our community songs, and are going to delve into just some of them. As it turns out, each one of these songs has had a long, long history that spans many different nations, cultures and musical genres. It was fascinating for me to research each of these pieces, and I'm so excited to share all of this with our listeners. We'll be doing so in the form of small, small conversations with select members of our team here at "Si yo fuera una canción. In addition to being a way for our listeners to get to know more of our team, we'll hear the many different ways in which these amazing songs resonate with each team member. Some have never heard these songs before, and others have grown up with them. I think it really made exploring these compositions fascinating. What do you think, Elisabeth?

from the earlier part of the:

DC: Great. So onto the songs! The original list of songs that was shared with us comprised of about nine compositions. Of these nine, I chose three to include in the special episode. Among many factors, the most important was the rich histories that each of these three compositions have. The songs are, one, "La Paloma;" two, "El coco;" and three, "Perfume de gardenias." As a way to illustrate the many ways that artists have interpreted these compositions, I'll be presenting snippets of three versions of each composition and discussing them with a "Si yo fuera una Canción" team member. Along with hearing the reflections and reactions to the compositions, I'll also be sharing how each composition has changed over the years and have become as influential as they have across the globe. We'll be making all of the music that we touch on, as well as the music shared with us on the original Community Songs list, available for you all to explore via Spotify, as a playlist that you can access as soon as the episode goes live. We'll have a link to that playlist in our episode page. How's that sound to you, Elisabeth?

ELG: Sounds like a Plan. I think it will be really interesting to hear how our team members -- all of whom are much younger than the community members who offered these songs in the first place -- how our team members hear and react to this music. Because in the end, music, like culture, only lives if it's heard and shared.

DC: Yes. Elisabeth, you'll be joining us at the end of the episode, right? I'm looking forward to hearing your own reactions to all of this music and to the great conversations that they're going to inspire.

ELG: I'll be here! I'll be here, and I'm looking forward to sharing our impressions of how this multigenerational multi-century encounter has worked out.

DC: I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I enjoyed researching it and putting it together. I think it really speaks to the beautiful complexity that art, just like the people who make it, can happen. Well, let's get into it! Our first song is "La Paloma,” with Wes McClintock, one of our sound engineers.


1. Wes – “La Paloma”

David: Ok, Wes, thank you so much for being here.

Wes: Of course. Thanks for having me. This is cool.

David: So you specifically wanted to talk about this next composition, which is La Paloma? Can you give us an explanation as to why?

Wes: Well, I listened to both the versions that you had up, and I really think I've heard that the instrumental piano version before and it it brought back memories and I think maybe my my parents played it when I was a kid. It really it just brought back memories of my home when I was a kid and I was just like, Well, maybe this is the same song that I'm having this reaction to. Wow. So I thought you could. I'd learned something, and I'm not sure if it is the song. It just really feels familiar to me.

anish ever. It was written in:

Wes: Wow. Ok, cool. That sounds great.

David: So this first this first version is going to be just what what can be called a piano reduction, right? So the full composition, maybe it includes strings, maybe it includes voice. But what this one arranger did was create a version just for piano, so I wanted to make sure to start with this one so we can have a very clear idea of what the melody is and how the accompaniment sounds. And that very characteristic baseline bom bom bom bom bom, bom bom, so let's listen for that. This is “La Paloma.”


Music clip #1a: Sebastian Iradier, “La Paloma” (piano)


David: Wow. Ok, so I know that you're a musician. So what do you think just listening to this song?

Wes: I mean, I first off, I love piano and just straight piano songs always get me just because I just love the sound of that instrument, but there's just such a nice… it's just such a nice vibe to this song. Like you said that that that bass line that's kind of continuous, continuous and the lead, the melody, it's just really easy to listen to. And it's just there's something kind of comforting about it.

David: Yeah, you know, you know, what I like about this composition, too, is it speaks so much to the art of melody writing, right? So there's there's such a thing as being able to write a melody that not only is very singable, but it's also just pleasant on the ear, which is very difficult, right? If you think about writing stories or literature or anything, there has to be a particular way of thinking where you can make sure that your message is being accessed by those who are consuming it. The same thing is true for music. So how can you write a song with a complete musical thought in a way that's going to be able to be accessed by people who perhaps don't have the same musical background as you or are going to have many, many, many different musical backgrounds? This song does that beautifully. I mean, in my opinion, another person who just is amazing at this, was amazing, I should say, was Antonio Carlos Jobim. He would write amazing melodies with amazing harmony, which is the combination of different notes to create different moods. We musicians call this chords. And you can manipulate this to create different emotions in the listener. What these melody lines that are very, very recognizable in the American kind of canon. I mean, Burt Bacharach, amazing Elton John as well. So there's an art to be able to write music like this and to think that the idea was writing this in eighteen sixty, it's just kind of mind boggling, you know?

Wes: Yeah, oh, totally. And it's just there's something so human about the way it's I mean, obviously it's human because the humans playing it, but just the sway of it just feels so comforting, almost like you're being. Rocked in a crib or something.

David: Yeah, like a lullaby,

Wes: Just like that. I like the vibe. Yeah, like. Yeah. Mm hmm.

David: Ok. So now we're going to hear this same song. So what I mean by song is the melody like the main meat and potatoes of the composition, melody and then accompaniment? Now we're going to hear this expanded to more of what can be thought of as being in kind of like an operatic vein. Now the interesting thing about this next version is we're going to listen to Elvira de Hidalgo, which was she was a Spanish opera singer and later vocal coach. Now she served as coach for perhaps one of the most well-known opera singers of the 20th century, and that's Maria Callas. Maria Callas was an American born Greek singer. She was of Greek descent. She received her musical training in Greece and went on to be one of the most influential opera singers in the world. So Elvira was the one who was coaching her, and Elvira is the one who's going to sing this version in Greek the same song, but in Greek in an operatic vein. So let's take a listen. Cool. And. And here it is.


Music clip #1b: Elvira de Hidalgo, “La Paloma”


David: Ok, so there we heard a little bit of an operatic version, so much wider voice, well, there's voice number one, the first version didn't have voice, but this style of singing is much wider. Big, big, big, huge voice. There's violins. What did you think Wes?

Wes: Oh, it's it was pretty cool to hear such a different version. Yeah, it's like you can clearly tell it's the same song, but at the same time, I don't know if you could really. It might not connect the dots because it sounds like wildly different at the same time. So it's it's interesting, and I think it really suited like what what she did to it. It sounded really cool, like a really good version.

David: Yeah. So in this communal songs episode, this community songs episode that we have here, we've been kind of playing around with this idea of a song kind of becoming more than what it started as. It starts as one thing and then musicians take it and add things from their own lived experiences, right? So this is obviously an operatic version. It's been expanded to reflect that operatic background and function, but it started mainly as one of these kind of like very slow piano pieces that we first kind of interpreted almost as a lullaby. And now this one has way more energy. It's much bigger in the next version that we're going to hear. Is it going to be even more different? So this is one of the beautiful things about music, and Wes, you brought up such a good point about things being human. You know, it's that music, for me, is part of the beauty of the art of music is that it's very human, meaning that by nature, it's mostly chaotic, right? Like, you can't really predict what people are going to do with music. It's kind of just you watching and appreciating what happens within that medium because people are always going to put things that they know into it, and it's going to change and morph into something else and something great and not so great and something that hits you and doesn't hit you, but it hits the other person very deeply. It's all of this beautiful chaos that for me, is just so fascinating.

Wes: Yeah, yeah, totally. And it's it's just incredible. Like you see said, to see a song evolve in a way and just someone adds something new to it that brings in a new life to it. Yeah, it's very interesting.

David: Yeah. The last thing I want to say, too, is this is another example of something starting in one place, let's say, you know, like Yradier was in a visit to Cuba, and he wrote in Havana,bthe habanera version. But it's become something that, you know, it's kind of something of the world now. You can't even really call this like Latin music or whatever. It's just something of the world. It belongs to so many different places and people. Now it's kind of like a human song, you know, it's more so than we can say, like a Latin composition or an Iberian composition. If you want to say it's so many people know this song, so many people can sing the melody just like yourself has so many people grew up with the song and didn't even know they were listening to it. It's, you know, it's all of ours, I would say now, even though it's heat ideas, but it's all of ours, you know?

Wes: So do you know how that got, how it got to reach so many people so quickly? Was it just such a unique song that just it just blew the world away?

vid: So it was written in the:

Wes: Right? That makes sense. Yeah, it's just a very inviting song. So I guess it just pleased everybody.

David: Mm hmm. I think The Beatles is one of the only other acts and songs of the Beatles are the only other compositions that are recorded as much as this one, which kind of makes sense, you know, a lot of the Beatles music is very accessible. I have my own opinions, but that's not for this episode. Controversy? Yes, OK. No controversy on capoeira. No, no, no, no, no.

Wes: No. We'll do a special anti-Beatles Christmas episode. Hey, man. Hey, I'm not saying anti-Beatles.

David: Hey, man! OK. Let's listen to this last version, which is, this is for me, such a special version because I grew up with this next type of music. So this type of music is in my household. They called it "trio", which means three in Spanish. It's also called trio romantico, which is. It describes an orchestration that is founded on really three voices in those musicians that are singing are also playing guitar like instruments. Typically, there's like a guitar from a normal six string and then some kind of wrecking tool, and they sing a type of music called boleros. Boleros, as we've talked about before in this episode, had their substantial start really in Cuba, the Bolero the we know today started in Cuba. There's different types of Bolero, but the ballads that we understand today is Bolero started in Cuba. They were listening to crooners, and they infused all of this kind of North American influence into the Spanish songs. These Latin American songs, Cuban songs, and then that genre became very popular in places like Mexico as well. But quickly, all over Latin America, so pretty much anywhere in Latin America, people would be very familiar with ballads, as we would say in English. But Boleros and this specific style of interpreting Bolero is called trio or trio romantic. The band is Los Panchos, which is one of the most well-known trios Los Aces diamantes for some others. But here is La Paloma as sung by Los Panchos.


Music clip #1c: Los Panchos, “La Paloma”


David: Ok. Wes, what do you think?

Wes: You know, it's so interesting about that version is that it almost takes you a minute to realize it's the same tune. Like the I found the other version to be a lot closer to the original, even though like this clearly is the same song with the the baseline. But they do these breaks and where the guitar just kind of stops and rings out. And the first time I heard it, I had to kind of switch between the two to see if it actually was the same song because it's they just totally made it their own.

David: Right, exactly.

Wes: Yeah. Now that's another version. I really like it, and it's like, it's in a weird way. It's kind of hard to believe that's the same song because it sounds so different.

David: Right, right. Well, what's funny about this one, too, is we can really hear. So there's some kind of bass instrument. I can't tell if it's some kind of guitar run. Get that it on is they use this instrument and mariachi music. It has this beautiful, warm round sound, really, really round sound, and we can hear that in this recording. It could also be an upright, an upright bass played excellently because usually there's a little bit more treble, especially that high. But whatever it is, we can hear the rhythm of the Habanera in this version. Just like we heard in the first version that we heard, which was the piano reduction. But the interesting thing is that how Minetta rhythm would essentially become the bass or one of the foundation, the foundational pillars for a lot of the music that we know today as salsa sound Montano, a lot of that we can hear those remnants of in this music. It was one of the predecessors to a lot of this Cuban music that became popular worldwide as well. And this song uses a lot of that in this genre called Bolero. And one of the things the Spanish does, or one of the things they did is exactly what you're saying was they would take these songs, these very well-known Boleros and they would just make them their own. They would manipulate the song in such a way to make you feel the lyrics and feel the melody that much more. They were amazing at what they did. And yeah, and it's just it is. It is hard to believe this is the same song, but it is the same exact song. Three different ways.

Wes: Yeah, yeah. And just there. I mean, their vocal harmonies were beautiful. That's yeah, it has the same vibe all the way through. It just is a very comforting song, no matter how you hear it through all these versions.

David: Absolutely, absolutely. And again, I mean, my shameless plug for Los Panchos, everyone listened to Trio Los Panchos. They were masters. They they had different personnel come in and out, but they were always just tremendous and they were extremely famous throughout Mexico and all of Latin America. In my house, we had them playing pretty much all the time. If it wasn't Luther Vandross, it was Los Panchos or Tower of Power. You know, it was all these different things, but those Panchos was constant. Beautiful music. And yeah, just another way of interpreting and seeing how this these one compositions can become so much more than just songs, right? They become rooted in so many different people's lives in so many ways that they cease to be just one thing. They become many things all rooted in this one kind of connective thread that connects so many different regions and lands and people and cultures in this very beautiful, chaotic way. I just I love talking about this kind of stuff.

Wes: Oh yeah, yeah. Music's just constantly evolving. It just always has been. And it's beautiful.

David: Beautiful. Well, thank you so much, Wes. This was fun.

Wes: Yeah, yeah. Thanks so much for having me. I liked it.


TRANSITION #1, (English), “El Coco”


2. Alex – “El coco”

DC: Ok, so here we have Alex! Man, thank you so much for being here, thank you so much for being part of this really cool Community Songs episode. We're going to talk about some music today.

AD: Absolutely. That sounds great.

DC: Great. So what we're going to talk about today right now is a song called "El Coco." So, "El Coco" is one of the oldest songs in the son jarocho repertoire. So son jarocho, for all of those who aren't familiar, is a folkloric Mexican music, specifically from Veracruz, Mexico. And it's a beautiful type of music because you can very much see this confluence of the European, the African and the Indigenous all in one type of music, right? As as even a Mexican myself, sometimes growing up, there was not a lot of acknowledgment of the African presence in Mexico during the colonial era. I think even my Mexican friends, there was a lot of kind of disbelief that they were even Africans in Mexico, right? But the fact is, the Africans, individuals that were taken forcefully out of the continent very much went to everywhere, and what we now recognize as Latin America, that includes Mexico. And Veracruz, being a port city saw a lot of this influx of these individuals forcefully removed from their homeland, forced to come to the New World. They went through Veracruz. And a lot of this, a lot of the remnants of this movement can be found in the cuisine there, but also very much in the music. And that's what we're going to look at today. So why don't we just get right into it? I'll just play you some music, Alex, and you could tell me what you think.

AD: All right. Sounds great.

DC: All right.


Music clip #2a: Los Plátanos machos, “El coco”


DC: Ok, Alex, what do you think?

AD: Yeah, I mean, I kind of... Being from a music production background, that's kind of where my mind was drawn. Thinking about the arrangement and everything. I was, I mean, at first, really curious what the instrument, the pizzicato kind of string instrument almost sounds like something being played really high up on the frets or something, that's kind of what drew my attention in. Not something I hear a lot in music that I listen to.

DC: Well, it's a harp.

AD: It's a harp, oh my god!

DC: -- But it's a specific harp. It's a harp. Yeah, and he's way high up on the harp. Yeah. And so the cool thing about the harp in this type of music is they're playing the melody and usually they're playing like a bass line with their, I mean, if they're a righty with their left hand, they're playing the bass line on the low end of the harp. And with the right hand, they're playing these melody lines, leading the music a lot in the really, really high upper registers. And it really, really cuts. It's amazing.

AD: Usually in pop music, right? the vocals is what cuts. But in this, in this recording, anyway, that is the thing that really cut through the mix. So yeah, that's really cool.

een musicologists like Robin [:

AD: Oh yeah, I'm so, you know, back in high school, I started, I had my own band and I started learning, recording engineering, which is basically, you know, putting mics in front of instruments, and then recording things into the computer, and then mixing it. So I kind of self-taught all that stuff. And then when I got to college, I started taking classes on that more formally. So basically, learning how to be a tech in the studio, in a recording studio. So, you know, having mixed a lot of different songs for myself and other people, my ear is always tuned to where instruments are placed, for example, in the stereo field. So between the left and right ear, or how compressed they are, or how much they stand out in the mix, just simple things like that, is kind of what stands out to me.

DC: Well, and so for everyone who's not familiar with [it], there's a lot of music industry lingo here, right? So for example, mix: when Alex is talking about mix, he's actually referring to the relative happiness or loneliness of volume between the instruments. So when we listen to -- and Alex, correct me if I'm wrong or, you know, jump in at any point -- but when we listen to music nowadays, everything tends to be very much controlled. When the voice needs to be heard, the voice comes up; when the guitars need to be heard or whatever, the voice, the guitars come up or come down. So what Alex is talking about is listening to where all the instruments are in relation to each other, specifically with reference to volume. In the studio, you can manipulate all this, right?

AD: Yeah, exactly, and yeah, I appreciate you rephrasing that, because I do tend to jump into the lingo there, so. Yeah, that was great.

DC: And with a lot of these folkloric musics, this is part of the mastery that's required, right? So if you're a vocalist, not only -- let's say you're playing son jarocho music -- not only do you have to be heard over this just really percussive, blaring requinto, the strumming guitar playing really, really loud, but also this huge harp way, way up high. Your voice needs to project and cut through all of that! And that's what we hear these musicians doing. It takes a tremendous amount of mastery to be able to do this and have everything sound good. Right?

AD: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, with this kind of music. I mean, they're mixing things live, and we're talking about mixing as... Like nowadays, it's people in the computer, kind of you've seen the images of people moving faders -- like volume knobs -- up and down, right? And the way this music was made, obviously there wasn't that. It was like they had to make this live, and make all the relative volumes of each piece sound the way that they wanted it to. So that kind of comes through in this recording. That's really interesting.

DC: Absolutely. And one quick note too, before we move on. So you mentioned the lyrics. So the lyrics for this song are kind of interesting because they're kind of confusing. So El Coco is a type of bird that is, that can be found in the Veracruz area. And not only is it a beautiful bird, but it's also delicious. Like, people eat it. So and that's what some of the lyrics are talking about here. But there's also a Coco, which is a monster, kind of like a like a bogeyman in Mexican, but also Iberian folklore and myth. So this is one of these songs that, as we'll see over the course of this small segment on El Coco, this song started one way has become kind of like a theme that many musicians then take and become inspired by and use as a jumping-off point to add their own flair, their own musical influences, and even write their own lyrics. So as we're going to see right now, we're going to hear, "El Coco" is much more than just a composition or song. It's like a vibe and an idea, and everyone puts in their own little thing. So some versions are going to talk about the bogeyman. Some versions are going to be talking about the bird, and how they like to eat it. Another version is going to talk about, as we're going to hear, a siren, someone like a mermaid, who lives kind of close to the water under a bridge, as the lyrics are saying. And so it's, it's like this kind of meta vibe that these musicians over hundreds of years are kind of playing with constantly, continuously making new versions of the same theme with the same aesthetic. Crazy, right?

AD: Yeah.

DC: So why don't we move into the next version?


Music clip #2b: Los Cojolites, “El Coco”


DC: Ok. What do you think about that one?

AD: I mean, I really, I loved it. It was cool to hear the evolutions on that original concept, but also obviously the similarities stood out a lot.

DC: I want to ask you, did you hear any differences in the instruments, perhaps?

AD: Oh, yeah, I mean, I heard some percussion in this one, so I thought that was interesting. In the last one, there wasn't really like a drum beat, necessarily, and this one had the kind of claps and things in there. So that's something that stood out to me right away.

DC: What a great ear! OK, so this is from a live recording of a video and in the video, it's musicians playing, with someone doing zapateado, which is on a tarima, which is on a wooden board. It's kind of like tap dancing, but in this tradition, the tap dancing is actually percussive. It's part -- and an integral part -- of the music, so that's what you picked up immediately. The other thing is, in the first version, we heard Requinto, jarana and and harp, just three -- and voices of course. In this one, we have a dancer. We have what sounds like a guitarrón, a really low kind of bass-like instrument. We have what seems to be something like a guitarra de golpe or like a normal guitar, like a normal six-string. And then we also have like a requinto-type instrument kind of playing similar lines that we heard in the first one. The interesting thing is, this kind of setup and these sounds actually are closer to mariachi, and the instruments used in mariachi, than they are to son jarocho. So already we have a blending of many different types of folkloric Mexican musics, of which there exist many! Many, many, many different types of things. And exactly like you're saying, Alex, all under this same umbrella vibe, theme, of "El Coco," they're using the main melody of "El Coco," the main melodic line and vocal line, as well as the the refrain, the repeating, "Coco," that they're using throughout.

AD: Yeah.

DC: So, constantly moving. What did you think of the mixes this time, and how the musicians work? Because this is a live recording. So what did you think about that?

AD: Yeah, I mean, everything. It felt almost like radio friendly recording, how something would be recorded today where, you know, the vocals definitely cut through everything. And then there was a bass frequency. There was drums in there. So it was just a lot more traditional pop-type mixing.

DC: What a cool way... I'm loving the way that you're analyzing everything, not so much cultural background. You just get to enjoy the frequencies and where everything is sitting in relation to each other, frequency-wise. How cool! It's interesting to hear you talk about this, because I'm coming from the opposite, you know, from like the music-cultural side, and you're coming from almost like the mathematic, like --

AD: Yeah. But I love hearing about, you know, learning about it right now, in real time. It's really cool and adds a whole new dimension to my appreciation of the music.

DC: Great. Great. Well, yeah, keep. Let's keep a tag teaming this, because I always try to give people as many different ways to appreciate the music as you can, right? So you can appreciate it technically, so if you want to get into the techniques that the requinto player is doing, to be able to get those kinds of sounds out of the instrument, that's one way of appreciating it. Right? It's very much an art to be able to do what Alex is doing right now, and appreciate how sounds can blend with one another and how to manipulate the tension of the ear, right? In real time, which is everything that sound engineers do. And then, of course, there's the cultural appreciation, knowing all the meaning behind the songs and everything. And many more. I'm very much appreciating this conversation because I'm learning from you, Alex.

AD: Awesome. Likewise.

DC: So let's go to the last one really quickly, so this is going to be perhaps the farthest away from the first version. Let's see if we can pick out some of the instruments that are being played. And then, Alex, I'm very interested to see how you're hearing all these, because it's way more sounds now, in this last version. So let's get into that.

AD: All right.


Music clip #2c: La Polvadera, “El Coco”


DC: Ok, what do you think?

AD: Well, a lot of different things on that one! The first thing was, there's a lot of layers on this track, but also, compared to the other two, they're not afraid to pull them back and bring them back in, right?

DC: Yes.

AD: Here we have multiple vocalists and they're adding different layers in the vocal department too, and obviously the percussion. There's so many elements to that as well. So those were the kind of things that stood out to me this time, and I'm also I'm curious what the difference is lyrically, again.

DC: So one of the things I love about this version is, we have a lot of instruments, exactly as you're saying, what we're hearing is the jawbone of a donkey. Quijada, that's that "krrrr-krrrr," that's what that is. So that's actually the teeth rattling in the jawbone.

AD: Whoa.

DC: And you can scrape the teeth. So it sounds almost like like a rasp, like a wheedle. And then you can hit the jawbone. You hold it by the front of the jawbone -- dried out, of course -- and then it rattles that way. And that's part of the percussion. That's that "krrr-krrr, chika chika," that's that sound. We also have congas, that are originally from the island of Cuba and used in many different Caribbean and Latin musics. And we also have this really low thumpy sound, thumpy percussion, "duk-a-duk, takak," that's actually a cajon, from the Afro-Peruvian tradition. So we have all of these different traditions, all in one. I've kind of made my life's work studying all these different types of Latin music, it's just such a beautiful thing to have in such cohesion, all of these different cultural elements in one song. Lyrically, it's moving away from the traditional lyrics, creating almost this, like, impressionistic mosaic of the port. Right? So not only would you have the bird, but you would also have these ships coming in to the port. You would have these different puentes and bridges and under-ways that the water would filter in through from. And they're kind of with their lyrics, creating this image. So it isn't just about El Coco anymore. It's about everything that the Coco inhabits. And the vibe that the Coco is, in this region of the world, right? So it's more kind of like a snapshot on this theme as opposed just to the initial. So it's just... It's gone so far from the original, you know?

AD: [Yeah. But it's so interesting that -- now you're saying that, I'm seeing that all three versions are grounded in geography, in a place, and it's... That's really interesting. Like the second one was about kind of the naval, coastal aspects, even though it wasn't about the bird anymore.

DC: And that's one of the interesting things about these folkloric musics. And perhaps why a lot of musicians find these fountains of inspiration in these folkloric musics, because these musics are rooted very much in places and in people, but more than anything, in lived experiences. So when you look at these lyrics, it's again, it's like these impressionist lyrics. But what they're really imparting is the lived experience, right? What is it like to live in these places? What are some of the things you would see, smell, feel? And this comes out in this type of writing, right? all under this umbrella theme of "El Coco." And again, to reiterate, there's also different versions and takes on El Coco, right? So you have again, like all these different, all these different ideas connected to this one theme, right? I just find it fascinating.

AD: Mm hmm.

DC: So -- that was it! Thanks so much, Alex. Thanks so much for sharing your insights and your expertise with sound engineering, because I think that really gave our listeners expanding toolkits to be able to appreciate music. And I appreciate that very much, as an educator and also as a musician.

AD: Cool, yeah, I mean, this is this is really fun, I mean, going into these totally blind, having not heard any version of this song. It was really cool. And hearing the background on it.

DC: Yeah, really. So yeah, of course. And you know, I think it's... part of the fun in experiencing musics that you aren't familiar with is this kind of process of discovery, you know, analyzing, kind of putting on your detective hat, trying to figure out how everything's working, trying to figure out how everything is working in relation to something else, and what these cultural contexts behind everything in the music can be. We can do this for Korean Pasari music. We can do this with any number of African, like Soukous music. We could do this with Bollywood, anything. Karnatic music, whatever. You know, it's more of kind of like, being curious, and being engaged and having fun with learning about things that you don't know. And it can be that way for music, huh?

AD: Yeah, definitely.


TRANSITION #2, (English) “Perfume”


3. Zoë – Perfume de Gardenia

David: Ok, Zoe. So thank you so much for being a part of this community songs special episode, so you really wanted to talk about "Perfume de Gardenia." Could you tell me what kind of jumped out at you?

Zoe: I thought the name sounded really beautiful. I don't speak very much Spanish, but I can kind of make up that the word perfume kind of is referring to the scent, a sweet smell. And then Gardenia is referring to gardens or plants, both of which I am very interested in. So I'm excited to hear more about what this means and why it was significant to someone.

on was actually written circa:


Music clip #3a: Perfume, Sonora Santanera


David: Ok, Zoe so what do you think?

Zoe: It felt very romantic. It felt like a main character in a romance movie, walking through a market or a garden or something very humble. I was very cognizant, too, of the accompaniment in the background. I really liked the instrumental as well. It seems like it was very moving, the music.

nera, that was founded in the:

Zoe: Yeah, that's amazing.

David: So what I'd like to do now is show you a different version. I'm going to show you a different version in a different genre. So we heard Bolero, kind of like big band Bolero. Now what I want to do is I'm going to show you a mariachi version of the same song, and I want to see what you think.

And here we go, this is "Perfume de gardenias" by Javier Solis.


Music clip #3b: Perfume, Javier Solís


Zoe: So compared to the first one, I felt a lot more of the emotion of the piece. The first one, it felt very lighthearted and romantic, but this one, I felt the yearning through the violins. They had a lot more of a voice.

David: Interesting. Ok, so the violins are speaking to you. Was there anything about the vocal interpretation that made you feel a little bit more in this one?

Zoe: Yeah. I think another reason why I felt that a lot of it was more emotional is the use of vibrato in his voice. It was really compelling in this specific take of the song.

David: So vibrato, for anyone who is not familiar, vibrato is that effect that singers can use in their voice. Really, really good singers can turn it off and turn it on whenever they need to. But it's the difference between a straight tone -- aaaahhhh --- and kind of almost like a wavy tone, AaAaAa --that kind of thing. So that's vibrato. And Zoe, what you're saying is you're saying when you hear that it really makes you feel the emotion of the song.

Zoe: Yeah, it's a lot more intense.

David: Wow. Ok, so that's also speaking a little bit to this type of music, right? So again, Javier Solis was a mariachi and in mariachi traditions, especially popular mariachi genres, part of the vocal interpretation is these very lamentive, expressive techniques that they use to make the music just really get to you right in your heart. And I think that's on display here in this version, with Javier Solís. He was a tremendous talent, and he actually died when he was very early in his 30s. Just such a terrible story that Mexico lost such a tremendous singer. But he's incredibly incredibly famous. He was also an actor out of Mexico. -- So this was an example of Mexican Bolero or something we can call Mexican Bolero, right? So, so far, Zoe, what are you seeing in terms of orchestration between the two songs so far? Specifically, is there anything in terms of the way the music has been orchestrated and arranged that you prefer? So I know you were talking about the violins and you were talking about the vibrato, but does one maybe turn you off, or does one kind of like really not do it for you, of the two so far?

Zoe: Of the two so far, I think, me coming from a background in orchestra as a cello player, I'm definitely more geared towards the version that emphasizes the violins. And also I noticed a lot of the wind instruments making a big name for themselves as well. But I really love the sound of a violin and I could hear the pizzicato of the cello, the plucking. I would say the second version was very good for me. The first version wasn't bad, it was just a different interpretation.

David: Exactly, and I find this so interesting, that based on our own experiences, we can have these very instant, visceral reactions to things, right? So it's so interesting that you have this rich background in orchestral music and you're able to pick up the little techniques that are happening on the violins. And this allows you to relate so deeply with it. Whereas for me, a percussionist, even though I love, love, love the Javier Solis version, I love that there's a huge band for the first one, the Sonora Santanera version. That's one of the first things you hear, "Tak -- krrrrr-ak"! That's the instrument that I play. So when I hear that I perk up, you know, so it's very, very interesting how these experiences that we have in our own personal lives can have an effect on the way that the music hits us, and we relate with the music. How long did you play? You said you were a violinist?

Zoe: I was a cellist. Well, both statements are actually true. I was a violinist for the first five years that I was in the orchestra. Then I switched to the cello in middle school.

David: Wow. And what kind of music did you play?

Zoe: I did a lot of classical music. I had a very strong penchant for music that was from the baroque period. I think anything that allowed the cello to have not necessarily like a strong voice, but like that "uumph" factor, I really enjoyed those. But one other thing I wanted to say about the Javier Solis version of the song was that I found myself swaying from side to side as I was listening to it, more so the second version than the first. And I'm not sure why. I think the first I was still kind of getting used to the melody, but after I already became familiar with it, I found myself swaying. I think the violins were a big part of it, but his voice was just so much more amplified in the second one, that I noticed.

David: He also had a tremendous voice, though. Tremendous. It's kind of like a one in a million voice Javier Solis had. I mean, it's some of those really, really big bel canto notes that he that he sings -- Bel canto actually comes out. It's a term that comes out of Italian opera, and it refers to when a singer is using their full voice to produce these huge, huge, huge notes that actually were meant to be heard at the back of the opera hall. This was before amplification was a thing. So singers had to come up with these techniques to be able to produce sound that would be heard at the end of a concert hall, and a concert hall that can house, you know, a lot, a lot, a lot of people. So they developed these really, really big, big, big voices, and the mariachi tradition really absorbed that. And a lot of the best, most influential mariachi singers we can say, develop these really, really, really big voices. And even today, when you go see Mariachi performed live, you can see and hear just the visceralness, right? Like the physicality that's that's required to sing that kind of music. It's very, very, very impressive. It's very interesting that you picked up on that.

Zoe: Yeah. And it's especially important, you know, when you're playing with these big orchestras to have a voice that makes up for the fact that it's a single person compared to many instruments.

ista Social Club in the early:


Music clip #3c: Perfume, Ibrahim Ferrer


Zoe: This one I... Another stark contrast from the prior, in that it was very -- it felt like a ballroom dance! It's very smooth. I also really liked the bass, the way it was kind of trudging along, carrying the entire song. There are just a lot of small elements that I picked up on.

z singers and crooners, circa:

Zoe: I'm not surprised at all that there are influences from the Jazz genre, because part of me almost wanted to suggest that it was kind of like a toned down, smooth Jazz.

David: Interesting! Ok, yeah. Yeah. What kind of pointed you in that direction?

Zoe: I would say the piano, the way the piano kind of held on to certain notes, I could tell kind of the tempo changed a little bit from the initial two that we listened to.

David: Yeah.

Zoe: And of course, the bass. I think the bass is one of the strongest elements of Jazz. Or at least to the, to identify it on my end.

David: That's very interesting. It's always fascinating. Like I said before, how people can pick up -- because we all have different perspectives based on our own individual experiences and memories, and the music that we have grown up to and listen to currently. So every time I have conversations like this with somebody, it's fascinating to see what things they're hearing that I'm not even, you know, really perhaps paying attention to. It's just fascinating. So of the three, which was your favorite and why?

Zoe: Oh man! Hmmm. I would say if I had to rank them, I would say the very by Javier Solis would be number one. The most recent one by Ibrahim, I think, was his name?

David: Yes.

Zoe: Yeah, I said, that's my second favorite. And then the first, I would say, is my least favorite of the three. But it's still a beautiful song. You can't really go wrong with this type of melody.

David: I completely agree, right? Favorite, least favorite means nothing because they're all beautiful, and that's a beautiful predicament to be in, I think.

Zoe: Definitely. I hadn't really looked into the genre too much. But from what I've heard today, I definitely would like to hear more from Javier Solis and then also from Ibrahim.

David: Nice, cool! So we have we have people interested.

Zoe: You successfully converted me. [laughs]

David: Yes. Yes. That is a win for me. Only because I'm sharing amazing music by amazing musicians. And that is definitely a win, and warms my heart. For everyone listening, we're going to be posting and sharing all of this music in the form of a playlist, a Spotify playlist. So if you want to hear these songs in their entirety, be sure to check out the Spotify playlist. And always, if you want to reach out to us and as an email, we're happy to point you in directions that will allow you to explore these artists and these genres of music as much as you want. Thank you so much, Zoe.

Zoe: Yeah, of course. Thank you for having me. This was definitely very eye-opening.



DC: Ok, so those are all the interviews. I had no idea how they were going to turn out, but I'm so happy with the way that they did. The whole idea was to let the music kind of take the lead in the conversations, allowing all of our own personal experiences and reflections to come to light. What do you think, Elisabeth? How did you like it?

ELG: It's just lovely. And I think that's such an interesting approach that you take, letting the music take the lead, letting the people you were interviewing, find their contexts, find their connections with the music. And I just thought it brought up such an amazing variety of ideas and concepts. And even... Even for me, sometimes questions about, you know, what is this thing we call music? What is it actually doing? You know, for instance, with Wes, talking about "La Paloma," at one point, Wes says, "It's hard to believe it's the same song!" It's after you've played him the second or third version, you know. And just this this question of, well, is it the same song, when it's covered by different artists and has such a different affect?

DC: It's... I mean, for me, of course, these questions are always complicated, right? But I would argue yes, because that's where the beauty is. The beauty is being able to recognize that something can have all these different versions, but still be the same thing. And what that speaks to, for me, is how people being people, just being human, make things their own. They make homes their own. They make places their homes, they make music their own. They make food their own because they're just constantly doing what people do, which is they imbue things with meaning. And for all of these different versions, you have all these different. You could say, arrangements, instruments, all these different things, but really it's meaning, because it reflects who they are and their own lived experiences. And for me, that's the beauty of all of these versions of these three songs. We have all different versions of just three songs, but they're all so different. And that, to me, is fascinating and beautiful and meaningful and amazing.

ELG: Yeah, yeah. And through it all the music is this thread of connection. You know, between versions of songs, sure, but also between generations, between people. And just the different way that each interviewee heard what they were hearing, and the different level on which they engaged with it. I mean, that came out really strongly with your chat with Alex, because Alex has this really powerful background as a sound producer, someone who deals with recorded sound a lot, lot, lot. And that comes out so strongly in his interview and the way he reacts to it and the things he talks about. It's like, Yeah, here we are again! It's... It's a different song for him than it is for me.

DC: Mm hmm. Mm hmm. And it's again, it just it's one of the reasons why I wanted to have these conversations with people of such different backgrounds, because I knew that everyone was going to have these different ways of listening. And hopefully what they were going to do is present these different ways of listening as a way for other people to listen differently, and deepen their appreciation of other musics that they're already familiar with.

ELG: That's right, and maybe they'll go to our playlist on Spotify! [laughs] To explore different ways to hear what, you know, songs that maybe they thought they knew very well. And you know, I think the...your interview with Zoe, it closes this little cycle of three interviews so nicely, because Zoe just goes right for the heart of the matter and, you know, talks about the romantic feelings that come up with this incredibly romantic song and, and just, you know, is like, really, there with those feelings and they're not afraid to be sentimental. And I find it really heartening, I have to say, when a relatively young person is also not afraid to be sentimental and not afraid to really say, "Hey, I like this romantic feeling in this music."

DC: I mean, you're talking to someone whose guilty pleasure is Boleros, so I cannot agree with you more. [ELG laughs] I think that that genre I can listen to all day, every day. I love it. And the fact that Zoe was able to listen to this song and like, just love the vibe, love the message behind the song and be able to. And even at the end, she says she wants to explore it a little bit more. That, to me, just lit me up because I'm saying, yes! Yes! More people are listening to Bolero! I love it! It should be listened to, they're such works of art, and they speak a lot to what music has been for many, many people for many centuries. A way to express love, a way to have people feel things through the music that are also being transmitted through the lyrics, right? Because when they are put together, then you get close to what it feels like in real life, I think.

ELG: Yeah, you do. You do. Well, it's a lovely note to end on, and David, I want to thank you for putting this episode together in such a clever and multi-layered and thoughtful way. I have really enjoyed participating in it.

DC: Thank you for the opportunity! And thank you to all of our team members who shared their experiences, their memories and their reflections with us. And thank you all listening, to take in all of these stories and these songs and these reflections and listening to them, and hopefully being inspired to listen to music in a different way and explore different musics that perhaps you weren't familiar with, or if you were, to listening to just a little bit more with us.

ELG: Hear, hear.



Would you like to know more?

On our website at, you can find complete transcripts in both languages of every interview, our Blog about the issues of history, culture, and politics that come up around every song, links for listeners who might want to pursue a theme further, and some very cool imagery. You’ll find playlists of all the songs from all the interviews to date, and our special Staff-curated playlist as well.

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Julia Alanis, Cynthia Marcel De La Torre, and Wesley McClintock are our sound engineers; Zoë Broussard and Laura Díaz hold down the marketing; David Castañeda is Music Researcher; Jen Orenstein translates interviews to and from Spanish; Deyaneira García and Alex Dolven make production possible. We are a not-for-profit venture, currently and gratefully funded by the John Paul Simon Guggenheim Foundation, UCLA’s Faculty Grants Program, and the Herb Alpert School of Music.

For now, and until the next interview—keep listening to one another!

I’m Elisabeth Le Guin, and this is, “Si yo fuera una canción -- If I were a song…”