I was at an event at the 92nd street Y the other day, a conversation between Laurie Anderson and Neil Gaiman. During the Q&A they were asked if they could mention a moment when an artist had touched them in such a way that they were a different person afterwards. I’ve had a lot of those moments. But there’s one that stands out so I decided to try and write it down. What follows is my best attempt to answer this question.
Falling in love
We’re driving in my dad’s red Chevy Blazer headed to la Gran Parada, one of the main parades of the carnaval. My mom and my sister are in the back seat arguing as usual.
“But mom, why do I have to go!” “Ay hija, you need to learn to have some fun” “But it’s so boring!” so it goes.
The windows are rolled up, the AC is set at max and the radio is playing the usual carnaval repertoire. The AC provides some much needed respite from the heat of Barranquilla which today is somewhere around 100 degrees. The music provides another sort of respite drowning out the argument in the back. This is a new car a fact of which my dad is very proud of. One its novelties is a fancy radio with an equalizer which I’m fidgeting with trying to find frequencies that will produce a better sound.
“Mijo, ya, enough! Honey, why don’t you two get off here and find some good seats at the palco. I’ll go find somewhere to park with Manuel”
We’re by la via 40 where the parade is to take place. Mom opens and the door and blast of hot humid air that smells of wet wood wafts into the car.
“Get off quickly you are letting the cold air out, nojoda!”
We pull away to find a parking spot, driving slowly by houses painted yellow and fuchsia where men sit outside on plastic chairs drinking and blasting more loud carnaval music.
“Turn the radio up”
I turn the dial up some more. All of a sudden trumpets and drums explodes out of the speakers while a siren plays in the back. Dad turns the dial up higher. The song quiets down and now it’s only congas playing with the siren lingering in the back.
“Mijo, I want you to listen carefully to this song, you’ll learn some important thing about life”
Ruben Blades begins “Por la esquina del viejo barrio lo vi pasar, con el tumbao que tienen los guapos al caminar, las manos siempre en los bolsillos de su gaban, pa que no sepan en cual de ella lleva el puñal”
I’ve ever heard anything like this before. The layering of the instruments, the sound of the street, the siren in the background, it all takes me somewhere else. It takes me to some corner in Nueva York where Pedro Navaja is on his way to meet his doom. The drive is long enough to listen to all seven minutes of the song. By the end Pedro Navaja lies dead on the pavement and I’ve learned that life can always surprise you in unexpected ways.
We find a parking spot. I’m still in a daze the song swiming in my head.
“Papa, are there more songs like these?” “Mijo, so many more”
We walk slowly in the heat, his hand on my shoulder. I’m smiling from ear to ear dreaming about all that I have to explore of this new found love called Salsa.