Tag Archives: Dominican Republic

A reader from New York writes, on “No hay cama pa’ tanta gente”….

17 Mar

“What do you mean? The Coronavirus? Homelessness? Or the sadistic refugee disaster [in the Mediterranean]?” [my emphasis]

Smart question. I guess I mean in the “End Times”. Never know. Pack a bag.

No hay cama pa’ tanta gente is one of the Gran Combo‘s — perhaps the most famous salsa band of all time — greatest hits. “No hay cama pa’ tanta gente” there aren’t enough beds for all these people!

The song is about a party where so many people show up that they trash your house — a Hispanic or Mediterranean problem; white folks need not worry. And anyway, a mob of guests inviting themselves to your house is a bracha.* Things can be replaced; shit happens; and, of course, you’ve made more food than any amount of people could possibly eat, so open-door to every-any-body: queens and publicans and rich, young princes and harlots. It is Christ’s b-day after all.

And the opening line is the moving: “En Navidad fui invitado a la casa de David…” “This Christmas I was invited into the House of David for a tremendous feast…” If you don’t know what the “House of David” means, I don’t have time just now; sorry; you’re not invited. :)

The song though is a plena, not salsa. Plena (“fullness”) was a purely percussive genre — like the Cuban rumba was in its beginnings — in that way that Africans can make stupendous walls of sound and music out of just percussion — from the very Black southern Puerto Rican city of Ponce, from the very Black barrio, even more specifically, of San Anton. In the 50s and 60s it had started moving from a folk genre into a big band, orchestrated style and commercial, vinyl world. But the form’s development got cut off by the tsunami of New York salsa that wiped everything else away in the 60s.** (Like crappy too-fast-to-dance-to merengue and the shitty vallenato out of Colombia later did in the late 80s — one of New York’s richest vernacular cultural traditions destroyed.)

SALSA IS FROM NEW YORK. Let me say this again: SALSA IS A MUSICAL GENRE CREATED IN NEW YORK CITY; and easily defined, in fact: an amalgam of Cuban genres, son and mambo and guaracha especially, combined with American jazz big band and nascent be-bop orchestration, formed and played by PUERTO RICANS in New York, and danced to in a particular style by the first load of New-York-born children of Eastern European Jews — only in New York. And don’t let anyone else tell you any different.

The two songs I posted into this piece about A0C’s comments on “bootstraps” were very famous socialist-minded plenas, a good example of the wry, socio-economic content of much plena. Here again; sorry; you can look up and post translations for us:

But at Christmas, Puerto Ricans like to remember their folk past, so plena is heard more often and everywhere to the point that it has come to be considered, like “No hay cama…” Christmas music for Puerto Ricans; though their other Christmas megahit and the PR Christmas national anthem is salsaLa Fiesta de Pilito and its piercing, austerely spiritual lyrics:

“A comer pastel***, a comer lechón, arroz con gandules, y a beber ron, que venga morcilla, venga de to’, y que se chave to’ compay, olvidemos to’ ok…”

“Let’s eat pasteles***, let’s eat roast pig, rice and pigeon peas, and drink rum, bring on the blood sausage, bring it all on!!! And fuck the rest, my man, forget about it all, ok?”

It’s not Christmas. Quite the opposite, in fact, or in tone, it’s Lent. But the Gran Combo’s tone seems more apposite in these times of panic we seem to relish falling into. So deja que se chave to’ compay… Please.

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* bracha: Yiddish/Hebrew for “blessing” — probably the same root as Barack, Mubarak, Akbar. (I think…)

** The chicken-or-the-egg dilemma between salsa and the hustle is an interesting one, given how they both came to popularity in New York culture at around the same time, perhaps with the hustle at a slight delay between the two, and with the conduit between the forms being Hispanics, African-Americans and gay guys. I don’t know if there’s any work been written on the subject. Somebody look it up.

Ha, see. Wiki says:

Early hustle was a 5-step count with no turns, created by Puerto Rican teenagers in late 1972 as a direct result of Puerto Rican Elders objecting to young teenagers doing a grinding slow dance known as the 500. Created in the South Bronx among Puerto Rican teens it was originally done at house parties, hooky gigs and basements club dances in the South Bronx.

(And Jesus was of the House of David, in case you didn’t know.)

*** “Pasteles” are like Mexican tamales, except that instead of cornmeal, they’re made of mashed guineos (a type of unripe plátano), filled with peas and salt pork and chunks of chicken and green and red peppers and olives…and not as spicy as Mexican tamales can be. They’re yummy and can be eaten any time of the year, but for PR-ans, they are practically synonymous with Christmass, like an English plum pudding is for a Brit, and really delicious. And not necessarily with the Royal Copenhagen porcelain shown in the pic.

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