There are some days, even now, when only Juan Luis Guerra will do, to jig along to in the kitchen while making a meal or washing up.
By the early 90s Guerra was something of a Latino legend in South America. Certainly, when we lived on that continent, and when JLG had slotted Asuncion into his itinerary, suddenly the TV (both channels!) was filled with little promo ads for his concert in one of the city’s football stadiums, and the racks of the street-sellers full of cheap copy import Brazilian/Argentinian cassettes had more than plenty of this particular bearded cantante. I picked up one of the many badly produced copies of his ‘Grandes Exitos!’ flooding the racks of these vendors in the plazas and…well…Guerra provided much of the soundtrack for our final year in Paraguay, for some of the nostalgic transition times in our return to GB, and – as I’ve said – has been absorbed into the general fabric of listening repertoire, as an occasional but integral part.
The merenge/bachata/salsa rhythms of his band and his songs were intoxicating, and as un-English as you could get. There was hardly a dud track on this Greatest Hits compilation, or in fact on several of the other cassettes I subsequently acquired (I had a particular fondness for his ‘Arieto’ album, and also one sent to me after we returned to the UK – ‘No es el mismo..’) His songs often touched on social comment – ‘Costo de la Vida’ and ‘Ojala que llueva cafe’ come to mind – but the pop-tinged love songs were equally good, perhaps better, with language and imagery that was fresh and inventive.
This song is a great example of that – ‘Quisiera ser un pez/Para tocar mi nariz en tu pecera/ Y hacer burbujas de amor por donde quieras/Pasar la noche en vela, tocada en ti…’ Blowing bubbles of love in your fishtank, spending the night ‘soaked in you’ may well be quite erotic imagery, but it’s at least fresh, original, playful. Many of the songs have that same air of inventiveness – ‘Como abeja al pañal’, ‘Carta de amor’ – but ‘Burbujas’ seems to me the best. Plus, as someone distinctly non-fluent-but-still-in-love-with-the-language, I love the sound of the words – ‘Burbujas’ (onomatopoeic?) is lovely.
Wikipedia tells me that his career has gone from strength to strength, and that’s great to hear – particular since his notable Christian conversion sometime in the late nineties/early noughies (?) – when such events can often signal career decline. I was of course excited to hear he’d found Jesus. Still am. But there’s one small cirrus cloud of disappointment: his album of entirely Christian worship songs – ‘Para Ti’ which I bought via ebay a few years ago has nothing like the sparky originality of language and imagery to be found on the ‘secular albums’. Instead, some rather conventional, even (I’m sorry) clichéd expressions of worship.
So here’s the thing. I know what’s really important, and I do rejoice in his fearless stance, his new faithful service to Jesus. But for some creative, stimulating, zippy love songs to dance to in the kitchen, I’ll be singing ‘Quisiera ser un pez..’!