A Taste of: Mexican Ballads, Part 1

It may or may not be a known fact, but I am a Mexican-American dude.  My family is completely, 100% Mexican.  98% of my relatives reside in Mexico, while the minuscule left overs live here in the Music Capital of the World.

I was born in the United States, and I have lived here my entire life, so sometimes I struggle to answer people when they ask me: “What are you?” or “Where are you from?” I generally answer with an, “I’m an alien from outer space,” or “I’m from the U.S., dur.” But as childish as I sound, one thing always gives me away – the color of my skin.  I am tan.  I mean, I’m not burnt steak-tan or typical crayola-labeled Brown, but something of a really faded wood-tan. Of course, when I’m in the sun long enough, I do become a little more burnt steak-ish.  It happens.  However, as much as I look Mexican, I don’t necessarily feel Mexican at all.  I don’t behave like any one of my relatives and I have yet to pick up the type of slang my cousins spit on the daily. So sometimes I feel torn when I have to say aloud that I am Mexican. I am genetically of Mexican descent, but that’s as Mexican as I think that I’m going to get.

Yet,  as Mexican or non-Mexican as I feel, there are actually two big things that do in fact make me totally, unrefutably Mexican to the nth power – 1.) my lust for Mexican food and 2.) my love of Mexican music.

It’s difficult to describe food through words.  I believe food is only meant to be judged and savored by our sense of taste, so I won’t really say anything about it.  If I had to, though, I’d just say that Mexican food is absolutely delicious.  I’ve been eating it all my life, and I will continue to do so til the day I die.

As for Mexican Music, I have a few things I want to cover.

I’ve briefly introduced Mexican Rock, Pop, and Electro Pop (here and here), but I wanted to write a special post focused on the beauty and fullness of Mexican ballads.  If there are any regular readers out there, you have probably caught on to the fact that I die at the sound of a great ballad.  Let me just tell you then that Mexico is one of my most treasured ballad reserves.  I have a few legendary Mexican singers of all time that I deem worth talking about, and in this post I will cover one of two musicians who rule the realm of ballads. The second will come in a later post.

José José

José José is revered as the prince of song, and he is one of the most influential musicians in Mexican music history.  He’s had tributes in his honor and is pretty much loved by everyone.  Mom and Dad love him to bits.  But before I start blabbing on about how much I love this man, let me just get a little Wikipedia-fied for a second and get some of his general history out of the way.

Jose Jose (José Rómulo Sosa Ortiz) was born on February 17, 1948 to a couple who themselves were musically inclined.  He went on to form a band that lasted about a second, took the stage name of Jose Jose (a hybrid of his and his father’s first names), and set off to take over the world of romantic ballads.

One important milestone came when Jose Jose performed “El Triste” (roughly translates to ‘The Sad One’) for an international music festival – Festival De La Cancion – in 1970.  Although this legend-in-the-making didn’t win 1st place (the actual title went to some woman I’m unfamiliar with), he won 3rd and, most importantly, the hearts of hundreds of thousands of listeners.

The video above is the footage of that song.  You’ll notice that throughout his performance he’s being showered by roses.  That’s what I like to call old-school-fangirling.  He brought an unprecedented  heavy dose of sentimental value to “El Triste”, that through a series of melodies, broke every present woman and man down to tears and cheers.  At around 2:50 in the video you will clearly see what I’m talking about.  After this performance, he went on to make a chain of endless romantic ballads and sell over 50 million albums worldwide.

Sadly, today Jose Jose is unable to sing as frivolously as he once did due to a life phase of alcoholism and a series of severe health issues that he struggled to overcome in the 1980s, 90s and 2000s. In addition, a dangerous case of pneumonia eventually and permanently damaged his vocal chords and his lungs, deteriorating his ability to sing and talk to the point that he no longer sounds like himself.

Jose Jose’s career is equally beautiful as it is tragic, but what’s important is that he left behind a legacy of some of the most amazing songs ever masterminded in the history of Mexican music.  Jose Jose’s niche was romance ballads and he left his mark with dignity and honor.  I adore him for that.

ignore the lulzy slideshow==

One of my favorite Jose Jose ballads is “Amar y Querer“, a song in which Jose Jose makes it clear that there is a distinction between wanting someone and loving someone.

One of the reasons I admire this song is because it’s jammed packed with lovely metaphors and analogies, all while Jose Jose is singing a series of simple melodies.  One amazing line is when he sings “el amor es el mar que no tiene final,” – love is an endless sea.  He defines love as suffering, endless glory, and giving your entire being to the one you love, while contrasting its meaning with want, which is quick, a ‘fleeting desire,’ and the act of pretending.

There is a lot of truth in Jose Jose’s words;  wanting is desire.  On the other hand, love is much more than that.  Love is not only filled with the good things, but all of the bad ones as well.  Love is consuming and rich act of allowing yourself to give your life to someone else.  That in and of itself is so much more difficult, and that’s why Jose Jose explains that all of us know how to want, but very few of us know how to love.

To draw inspiration for such deep meanings of love must have come from very deep places, because that’s what most of Jose Jose’s music discusses in its lyrics.  With break ups, being dumped, dumping, mutual love, unrequited love, etc. – Jose Jose touches base on all levels of emotional areas one could ever feel, and that’s exactly why he is considered the prince of song.

It also goes without saying that he has an amazing voice.  His singing was heavy and broad and very, very pretty.  Ladies love(d) his deep tone and his ability to hit high notes in the same breath.  He is a musical genius.  The fact that he was able to write meaningful lyrics and compose fantastic instrumentation and melodies is perplexing on several levels.  Take “Lo Pasado Pasado” – epicness:

The reoccurring melody played at 2:07 is so simple.  It’s catchy and it’s the kind of melody that, once you’ve heard it, you will forever connect it to this song.  Jose Jose has done this with the majority of his songs and it saddens me to live in a time when such beauty isn’t inserted in the music of my generation.

Nowadays, the masses have a clinging to quick-paced music.  Everyone wants to just dance and bounce off walls – not that I think there’s a huge problem with that.  I obviously enjoy all of that as much as the DJ across the road,  but there’s something about the meaningful purity within well crafted ballads that drives me just as crazy.

Jose Jose knows what I’m talking about and has legions of songs to prove it.


6 thoughts on “A Taste of: Mexican Ballads, Part 1

  1. oooh, nice, very nice. a combination of your blog and k-pop have made me like ballads – i never really did before. i think you post the good stuff.

    i also feel you on there being no beauty a lot of today’s music. i think that’s why i gravitate towards international music not influenced by industry powerhouses who are simply looking for the next hot-selling record, or at least music that still sees a need to preserve some sense of artistry and creativity

    • Ohhh, wait til you hear who I have lined up for the second part of this post. It’s a she and she is an amazing singer. A man singing a ballad is one thing, but a woman is another. :D

      Yeah, America seems to have sucked all the beauty in music right out. I hear people always complaining about how crappy things are, but it never occurs to anyone that there is much nicer things outside of their own little square.

  2. Wow, this was so beautiful, I really enjoyed reading (and listening to Jose Jose) this.

    I’m Peruvian-American so I’ve never heard anything from him but I’ll be sure to ask my mom or something.

    • Thanks! I’m glad you liked it. Oooh. So you understand Jose Jose completely – doesn’t the Spanish language sound particularly beautiful when it’s spoken (or in this case, sung) romantically?
      Spanish is considered one of several Romance Languages for a good reason. :)

      My parents love this guy. They grew up listening to his songs.

  3. Beautifully said. I never got into hispanic ballads, even though I heard a lot of them while growing up and am hispanic/carribean by birth. This post makes me second guess myself a bit, though. Interested in reading the 2nd part of this post.

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