Song Of The Day 4/5/2016: José Fajardo – “Vamonos P'al Uno”

Cuba: We Cool? –The first time I heard of charanga was last summer when I was putting together The Hidden '60s, and came upon a Merv Griffin tune called "The Charanga." Diving into research for this week I came across the term again as a specific style of Cuban music. I cast around for tunes and found quite a few by José Fajardo. I wouldn't exactly say I was surprised, more amused that the Merv Griffin song had fairly little in common with charanga at all. It's a cha-cha, which came from charanga, but isn't exactly the same. Merv (who, lest you think I'm scalding his rep, I was quite fond of) also threw a flute mixed about halfway through the right speaker during the chorus. That had something to do with charanga as well. Maybe they thought they'd gotten the flute and the cha-cha in there and they could just wing the rest. Acceptable business practice.

José Fajardo was a flutist, and charanga flutists like him and those in the Cuban ensemble Orquesta Aragon were most responsible for giving their instrument any measure of cool it might have had in contemporary idioms. (Sit down Ian Anderson. You're a likable dude, but sit down.) The flute was one of the distinctive features of charanga, along with the unison vocals, tympani and miniature violin combos. That last feature is what sucked me into Fajardo's “Vamonos P'al Uno”: The string arrangement is magnificent. Flute improvisations over such bubbling violin beds are a hallmark of charanga, particularly ones from wooden 5-key flutes, closer to piccolos in the Anglo-Saxon experience. After Fajardo split Cuba for Miami after the revolution, the charanga went through a revival period, probably as a side effect of the cha-cha madness that overtook the cast of Mad Men in the '60s. 

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