The average gabacho music fan must be scratching their head at the concert that'll happen this Saturday at the Gibson Ampitheatre. "Margarita La Diosa de la Cumbia"…is it a Mexican band? Cumbia…is that the one with the horns? Margarita…so there'll be booze? And what the hell is something Mexican doing at the Gibson?
Oh, those silly gabas! The Margarita in question isn't a drink but rather Margarita Vargas Gaviria, a Colombian singer that has crowned herself "The Goddess of Cumbia," referring to the shuffling musical form originally from Colombia that's insanely popular in Mexico, where Margarita (she goes almost exclusively by that name now) has made her base for about 20 years. She has crafted a great solo career, but first became famous by being one of the lead singers for La Sonora Dinamita, the most deceptively brilliant musical group since the Kinks.
La Sonora Dinamita needs little introduction to Latino music fans–they're the music of weddings, of quinceañeras, of backyard parties, the hokey stuff to which you danced with your aunt or your token white friend, which you always laughed at for the double entendres, hilarious morality tales, and PG-13-rated album covers like the one above. But that's the thing with them–whether they sang about heartache, infidelity, or anal sex, you always danced–ALWAYS. Even in the saddest songs, the urge to dance, to laugh, to smile, takes over every fiber of your being–this is the Latino Zoloft.
Some background for non-fans: La Sonora Dinamita is like a Colombian version of the Beach Boys and the Drifters fused together–the former for sheer longevity and a shameless parade of musicians that fill in when others quit or die, the latter for how former members of La Sonora Dinamita have picked up the shards of the original group to create their own Sonora Dinamita ripoffs, to the point where it seems three of them are playing Southern California each week. Margarita's troupe is probably the best of the bunch, anchored by her throaty, smoky roar, so her concert is a definite must-go. But even she knows better than to sing only her solo songs, so a bit part of the concert will be the oldies-but-goodies, the soundtrack to any given Latino weekend.
Whittling a best-of list for La Sonora Dinamita is nigh-impossible: in all their iterations, they probably had more hits than the Beatles, Elvis, the Supremes, and Destiny's Child/Beyoncé combined. But whittle we will, so following is their 10 best songs.
As for my claim they also made the best music videos ever? They'll speak for themselves. Again: most joyous group in human history.
10. "El Africano"
This is one of three songs by merengue legend Wilfrido Vargas that La Sonora Dinamita not only covered well, but made into their own by virtue of a powerhouse performance. And while the lyrics don't translate well into English–a winking young woman asks her mother what on Earth might a "rabid black man" might want from her–no one in their right mind would ever classify this tune as racist. This is one of the easier-paced songs in the Sonora Dinamita canon, full of lazy horns, bright acoustic guitars, and a jungle of bouncy percussion instruments. My apologies for not finding the official music video for "El Africano," but the picture above will give you an idea of what's to come…
This is one of La Sonora Dinamita's later hits, recorded by Margarita in the mid-1990s. The lyrics are straightforward, an admonition ("Oye" is "Listen Up") to open your eyes and "enjoy the good things that life has," followed by a roll call of said good things–the smell of mint, the beach, a park of kids, among others–all propelled by a ceaseless beat that rises when another female voice joins Margarita for the climax. It's a 24-hour smile–and those dancing gals sure paid attention to the song's message.
8. "Mete y Saca"
One of the rare Sonora Dinamita songs with a solo male lead singer (although not always–more on that in a bit), this is a big swirl of a group dance, with a simple command–in and out, out and in, in and out, out and in. Man, I wish I could find the music video for this…
OH SNAP–gyrating chicks getting artistic and shit! Song is actually sad–a woman perpetually trying to find her philandering man, weeping that it's a "scandal" that she continues to love him. Nope, no message gets lost here.
6. "Capullo y Sorrullo"
Another Margarita song. From my list of the 10 most overplayed songs at a Mexican wedding, California edition.
"Capullo y Sorullo," a fine overview of their trademarks: a
jaunty rhythm, a coy female voice, banter between her and a sotto male
singer, and playful lyrics, this time about tale of a black man
wondering why one of his children is black but the eight others white.
Dig the video that has nothing at all to do with the song's content!
5. "Que Nadie Sepa Mi Sufrir"
This is Margarita's tour de force, a lament of a broken heart, a roar of tears–witness the vengeful horns, the pounded pianos, the Greek chorus, Margarita's soaring cry. And kudos to La Sonora Dinamita for trying to weave a plot amidst the triptych of titillating, um, cans?
4. "El Viejo del Sombrerón"
A classic of motor double entendres ala "Little Red Corvette," this song starts with the perspective of a man who says his "little car" gets him around pretty well and helps him score with the ladies. He tries to pick up a woman, played by Margarita, who says he won't cut it–she's waiting for "The Man with the Big Hat." The spurned man then pays his respects to his competitor, openly wondering how he gets so many chicks. The chick that spurned him responds with a breathless paean to the big-hatted man, who says "me toca el pito"–"he honks at me," but also meaning "he touches my horn." And if you didn't get that, all that horn-honking keeps her "dizzy." Um, YEAH…horns!
3. "Mi Cucu"
Another Vargas masterpiece, this duet is very simple: a man compliments a woman on her nice, "responsible" ass, while said woman says he can't have "mi cucu"–her ass. Sung by La Sonora Dinamita's other great singer, La India Meliyará, along with the group's longtime leader, Lucho Argain, who memorably says, "Come on, don't be a bad girl/Give me a little touch!" Playing the song counts as sexual harassment in all 50 U.S. states.
2. "Mil Horas"
This is actually my favorite Dinamita song, if only because it's so unlike the rest of the other songs in the group's repertoire, from the downbeat piano to the outright anger of the lyrics to the subject matter: a man whose heart's been shattered, who tries to win back his woman by waiting in the rain "like a dog," only to meet his mocking ex-lover, who literally laughs at him for staying in the rain. Bitter? Not much–check out the chicas! Also remarkable for one of the rare times Sonora Dinamita label Discos Fuentes bothered to put, you know, the actual band in one of their own music videos.
1. "A Mover la Colita"
But the undisputed masterpiece of La Sonora Dinamita is another Margarita song of yet another Vargas composition, with a title that says it best: "Let's Shake Our Butts." And the lyrics are even more straightforward–you should shake your but because "it's in style," "it's popular," and everyone shakes their butts, from whales to sharks, seahorses to mermaids, Superman to Wonder Woman to even Donald Duck "when he looks at himself in the mirror." You should also shake your butt, Margarita advises, "so you worries go away/and your heart gets happy." And if you don't move it? Your butt "will get sick."
Greatest. Group. Ever.