I’ve been a professional musician since I was a child; from the very first time my grandfather made me climb a stage at age 8 (at a wedding, no less), I just know this is my thing. My main instrument is bass, but I can play percussions, keyboards, and other string instruments, which is an advantage if you don’t want to starve to death in Mexico’s difficult music environment. Yes, everyone is my mom’s side of the family is a musician, and they’ve been involved in musica tropical (think salsa, cumbia, merengue, rumba) for generations. My mom is a singer and singing coach herself, and her vast knowledge of ballads has informed my perspective on music for as long as I can remember.
Despite playing instruments for years and years, I had never thought of myself as much of a singer, and yet, I’m mainly known in my hometown for being the vocalist of my current band. A few months ago, we decided to play a tribute show to José José, perhaps Mexico’s most legendary crooner. I studied his discography religiously, I went to my mother’s entire collection of cassettes for different versions of his songs (from him and other performers), and became obsessed with his live recordings. Simply put, the man in his prime was a monster. I just couldn’t believe how frustratingly clean his live vocals were. I wanted to do this right, but I eventually had to face the fact that my voice just wasn’t as perfect; you see, José José comes from a jazz tradition, but he was also classically-trained — his father was a tenor and his mother an organist — and that puts a special emphasis on solfège and pitch perfection. Singing a José José cover is a daunting task for anyone, let alone a guy like me who’s not a natural singer.
I love “La Nave del Olvido,” José José’s first big hit, for its 3/4 rhythm, his brilliant phrasing, but most importantly, for how freakin’ massive the chorus is. The expectation created by the line “espera un poco,” the pause, and then the powerful “un poquiiiiiiiito más” is just anthemic, immortal, transcendent. All that momentum, all that emotional energy. José José’s take on Dino Ramos’ ballad was not the first; the song was already a hit in South America by Venezuelan singer Mirtha Pérez, but to be honest, her version pales in comparison with that from El Principe. Back in 1969, his label planned this song to go to Spanish singer Dyango — he was the bigger name and an already established hitmaker in his homeland — but José lobbied hard for it. He even sneaked into a recording studio to bring his rendition forward. It quietly became a hit, and little by little, it conquered the entire continent.
It’s the song that created the legend.
(Song recommendation by M. de la Rosa)