This is one of those alternative Battles that sometimes find their way in. The song is Ojalá Que Llueva Café, by Juan Luis Guerra (1989), and we're pitting that original against a cover by an off-the-beaten-path band from Mexico called Café Tacuba (officially spelled Tacvba, the old Castilian way).
Juan Luis Guerra is a household name in Latin America, but it wouldn't surprise me at all if some in this blog's mostly non-Latin audience have heard of him, maybe even know a few of his songs. He's an extraordinary musician, both composer and songwriter (many would say poet) who graduated from the Berklee College of Music (Massachusetts), and although he's famous for his merengue and bachata songs, he makes a point of infusing everything he produces with Conservatory-level quality.
Café Tacuba might not be quite as big as Mr. Guerra, and certainly not as prolific (they work for years on any new album), but they've also transcended borders; their latest release, in 2012, topped the Latin charts. They've become known not just for the high quality of their music but for its diversity; no two of their albums ever sound the same—unlike, for instance, Maná, who have preferred to cultivate image rather than artistic quality. (Yeah. Not a fan.)
As for the song, Ojalá Que Llueva Café (literally, 'I wish coffee would rain down') makes a powerful—if subtle (and, some might argue, using an upbeat melody as disguise)—political and social statement on poverty in the third world. This isn't a 'manna from heaven' chant of transferring responsibility to a higher power; it is a cry of desperation, all the more poignant because of the cheery beat, in the face of the impossibility of making a living, not even decent but simply enough, outside the cities of Latin America.
Ojalá que llueva café en el campo
(I wish coffee would rain down in the country...)
But why? Why do we hope for coffee from the sky?
Pa' que la realidad no se sufra tanto
(So that reality doesn't hurt so much...)
First up: Señor Guerra's original.
The contenders have a completely different take on this. Where Guerra's cumbia is quintessentially Caribbean, Café Tacuba, true to their style, infused it with absolute Mexicanity. Cumbia has become fandango—which you'll probably recognize from that Los Lobos version of La Bamba. (Fandango, sometimes called Son Jarocho, is a musical form—composition, lyrics, dance—typical of the Mexican state of Veracruz.) Unfortunately there's no studio recording of this, so I hope the audio quality won't put you off too much.
There it is, folks. What do you think? Which version had you dancing? Which version felt like something you might want to listen to more than once? What do you think about songs with serious content and 'happy' beats? Is it a detriment to the message, or does it help bring it home?
I'll be back on Friday to tally the votes, add mine (which I often forget to do... sorry about that), and post the results. Looking forward to how this one plays out!
In the meantime, hop on over to the other #BoTB participants when you get a chance; 'tis the week for spectacular music!
Janie Junebug Righting & Editing (Back in May)