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Monthly Archives: September 2015

“Pedro Infante Goes Electric!” is not a headline I ever read, so I suppose that his fans were fine and ready for it, unlike Bob Dylan’s. Whoever produced Pedro Infante’s sound in the late 1950s took some musical chances. What’s really different is Pedro’s movement away from mariachis and the incorporation of piano, organ and electric guitar into his music.

We get a taste of electric guitar in Pedro’s “Cien años,” an early bolero ranchero written by Rubén Fuentes. It features a mariachi, which is typical for Pedro, and also has maracas which evoke Cuba and the Caribbean feel of the bolero:

No me platiques,” by the Mexican Vicente Garrido Calderón, goes further in electrical experimentation. It has both piano and organ along with maracas and a guitar solo! There are violins, but they are definitely not from a mariachi.

I don’t know if Pedro Infante’s version is among the better-known versions, but this song is a standard bolero. At another time in Pedro’s career, the singer might have been backed by a mariachi on this.

Another example of a move away from traditional instrumentation is “A la orilla del mar,” which is featured in one of Pedro’s last movies from 1957, Pablo y Carolina. The lyrics and music are by the Mexican composer Manuel Esperón, who was the musical director of this and 488 other films, including all of Pedro’s. “A la orilla del mar” has some piano reminiscent of Gershwin and a tiny bit of the space age-y sounds of Esquivel. This is not surprising since Esperón seems to have run in the same circles as Esquivel. Since Esperón worked so closely with Pedro, he may also be behind the sound of “El Ídolo de Guamúchil” on “No me platiques.”

Pedro himself took a lot of chances and died while flying a plane in 1957. Here’s a clip of Pedro’s massive funeral from the documentary Así era Pedro Infante (I have a copy of this!): It’s narrated by the ever-so-galant actor Arturo de Córdova, who graciously calls Pedro the greatest actor in the world. If Pedro had lived a bit longer, who knows, he might have become Mexico’s greatest rock singer.

Agustín Lara‘s song, “La clave azul,” gives this blog its title. “La clave azul” premiered around 1934 as the outro for “La Hora Íntima de Agustín Lara” on Mexico City’s legendary XEW. As the outro, “La clave azul” was intentionally brief at around half a minute:

Solismanía goes into some of the lyrical questions en español. The blog focuses, of course, on Javier Solís’ wonderful extended version from 1964:

The blogger wonders why “se va la clave azul.” However, the author misses the point that “La clave azul” was an outro.

While Solismanía does mention an earlier and more famous program, “La Hora Azul,” the author doesn’t go into the question of “azul.” “Azul” was the color of the blues. The artists featured on “La Hora Azul” weren’t exactly singing the blues given the show’s focus on boleros. Boleros are, however, focused on that old blue feeling. It can be sad if you want it to be, or it can make you happy to know that you have lived, loved and maybe even lost. Lara’s lyrics were poetic, and he was influenced by the modernismo movement. Azul was huge for Rubén Darío, signifying “lo ideal, lo etéreo, lo infinito, la serenidad del cielo sin nubes, la luz difusa, la amplitud vaga sin límites, donde nacen, viven, brillan y se mueven los astros.” “Azul,” then, most likely references the blues and Darío’s use of the word.

Not present in either Lara’s or Solís’ versions is the actual instrument and rhythm of the clave that we hear in Toña la Negra’s version:

As with many of her songs, this one showcases Toña’s Afro-Mexican and Caribbean roots. This version might have been the first extended one given Toña’s close association with Lara during the XEW years and his assertion that she was his favorite female interpreter.

An instrumental version, perhaps based on the extended vocal version, is the first track of the album Agustín Lara y la Gran Orquesta de Solistas:

I’m not sure if there ever really was a “Grand Orchestra of Soloists,” but I wouldn’t be surprised if we owe this oxymoron to the everlasting wit of “El flaco de oro.”