6th September, 1986
Y así empieza nuestro viaje. Promisingly, I think, though I’m curious how people deeply invested in the then-current Latin pop scene heard this.
For example, did it sound old-fashioned? Rocío Dúrcal was a Spanish singer who had been a hitmaker since she was a teenager in the 50s; the success of this song (written and produced by the massively popular Mexican singer-songwriter Juan Gabriel) is a bit like Petula Clark having a US number one with the assistance of Bruce Springsteen. In 1986. Which now that I say it, sounds TOTALLY AWESOME, but not exactly what (say) a teenage Madonna fan would have wanted at the time.
The production here is very 80s, even very mid-80s, in that not-exactly-cutting-edge way that Latin pop tends towards, at least to Anglophone ears. The combination of the rather traditional oompah tempo and mariachi melody with the drum-machine-and-plastic-guitars instrumentation makes for a pleasant tension; and the trick of strategically placing waves-and-seagulls sfx for dramatic effect is a very classicist pop move which you don’t much hear anymore.
Speaking of narrative. The lyrics are pretty great, a kind of imagistic story of a woman who’s had her heart broken sitting on the beach, then meeting a totally awesome dude in a boat and going off with him into the sunset. The guirnalda of the title (lit. “garland”) is a wreath of bougainvillea flowers he gives her, and which in the heightened romantic language of the song, makes her his queen and makes her feel divine. It’s total romance-novel guff, even to the man’s green eyes (“clear like seas, like lakes”), but Dúrcal delivers it in the correct spirit, matching the breezy, pastel feel of the instrumentation with a mostly-light tone. You can hear more in her voice than she’s giving it, but this isn’t the place to pull out the full tragic-diva stops, and so she doesn’t.
So how is this as a beginning point? I like that it gestures towards the past, or anyway towards traditional Mexican music, with the stiff-backed rhythm and the flowing length of the melodic lines. It gives a bit of solidity to where we’ll be going from here: a rooted baseline for the multiple branches and weird dead ends that are the best feature of any chart voyage. But it’s also missing almost everything that excites me about current Latin pop — it’s not particularly danceable, there’s no real fusion of global musics aside from the synthesized production, and there’s no youth-oriented attitude whatever. It’s mom music, basically, which isn’t a bad thing, but also isn’t generally what we think of as pop. Which means, of course, that there’s nowhere to go from here but the future.