Sunday, July 31, 2005

No. 6 Tabaco y Chanel - Bacilos

In any top ten list, amongst the songs that have stood the test of time, is allowed one current obession--the song you throw on when you get up in the morning or give one last spin before going to bed, somewhat guiltily skipping all the other songs on what is a perfectly reasonable CD because you just have to hear it one more time. For me, "Tabaco y Chanel" has fallen into this category for a while now, and wins the No. 6 spot on that basis .

Bacilos are a Miami-based trio of Colombian/Puerto Rican/Venezuelan extraction. Over the last few years the band has gone from playing free shows in small Miami bars to being darlings of MTV en espaƱol. Their 2003 album Caraluna won a couple of Grammys and was a big hit throughout Latin America.

Their music is pleasant pop, mixing Beatles and other Anglo influences with a variety of Latin & Caribbean styles. Overall, it's a little slick and middle-of-the-road for my taste. But "Tabaco y Chanel", off their first album, is a genuine classic.

The first time I heard this song was in Ilo, on the south Peruvian coast, about this time last year. For those who read my post about Ana and Frank's wedding, this was the song which the newly wedded couple chose for the first dance of the evening after exchanging their vows. We were told it had been popular in the discotheques of Arequipa at the time they first met, three years ago.

I was already quite moved by the ceremony and, perhaps feeling the effects of the first couple of cocktails, a little susceptible to the emotion of the moment when they got up to dance. But the song was so beautiful, and the lyrics that I could hear so seemingly appropriate, that I swear it brought a tear to my eye. Before moving on to the next cocktail, I made sure I asked what the song was and who it was by.

"Tabaco y Chanel" is a mid-tempo ballad driven by a lilting violin over simple strummed acoustic guitar chords and a syncopated beat. Imagine the Waterboys at their most Celtic and misty-eyed romantic, underpinned by Caribbean rhythms and an extra touch of sexiness. The opening lines:

Un olor a tabaco y Chanel / me recuerda el olor de su piel
Una mezcla de miel y cafe / me recuerda el sabor de sus besos
[A smell of tobacco and Chanel / reminds me of the smell of her skin
A mixture of honey and coffee / reminds me of the taste of her kisses]

The song, it turns out, is another lament about fleeting and lost love, perfect exactly *because* it's lost. If anyone's picking up a trend with the themes of these songs, I suspect it's not just me, but reflects a preoccupation of folk and pop songs through the centuries. These lines pretty much sum it up:

Una rosa que no florecio / pero que el tiempo no la marchita
[A rose that never flowered / but that time does not fade]

That could be a direct quote from Petrarch--perhaps the godfather of the modern love song. Nothing is quite so exquisite as nostalgia.

The protaganist of "Tabaco y Chanel" is constantly asked about his lost love. Even the stars ask him the same question, and beg him to go back for her. He shows no sign of doing so, preferring to wallow in his memories. However, when I first heard the song at the wedding the repeated chorus line "Que vuelva por ella "("Go back for her") struck me as appropriate, because Frank had in fact come back for Ana. I guess even a love song can have a happy ending.

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1 comment:

bwjunkie said...

i love this song too, don't even speak spanish (was married to a colombian) and just could never stop putting this song in my top 50 of all time.