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Cover Versions on Encanto Tropical

Episode 36 is about salsa cover versions. It broadcasts on June 13th.

Cover songs are common in the salsa world; much of what you hear is not an original composition but rather an adaption or rearrangement of an another song, whether an earlier salsa song or one of an older style, such as a son, guaracha, or mambo. It could be a cover of a Spanish-language song of a different genre or a salsa version made from popular music in English. Even material from classical music has inspired a few salsa covers. Instrumental covers certainly exist, too.

Encanto Tropical 36 with Angel Figueroa (World Salsa Radio)
Some of the music on Encanto Tropical 36 'Versions'

Cover songs can vary in the way they adapt the original. Areas to consider are vocals, key instruments, lyrics (if translated or changed), tempo, pitch, and other arrangements. Knowing the original allows you to identify both the similarities and the differences in the newer version. More importantly, learning about cover versions can expand horizons and shed light on the art of interpretation, which is a rewarding part of music appreciation, whether or not it is salsa music.

Especially interesting can be the background story or context of a cover version. Since salsa includes many songs that can be identified as covers in one way or another, it would not be difficult to make a two-hour session of such songs. However, the curation in Episode 36 is an attempt to find particularly rewarding examples of context in cover versions.

An example is the song “Volare” by the Puerto Rican band Rafael Cortijo y Su Combo (feat. Ismael Rivera) released in the late 1950s (or 1960). Also notable is the 2000 tribute song of the same title by Son Boricua, with Jimmy Sabater on vocals. Compare these with the popular jazz ballad of “Volare” by Dean Martin, who sang in both English and Italian while Cortijo's and Son Boricua's are in Spanish. Notably, the Spanish lyrics do not appear to be the same as the original Italian although they are similar enough to say that -- along with an identical music score but at a higher tempo -- the song keeps the spirit of the original.

However, the title of the song somewhat hides the original tune by Italian singer and songwriter Domenico Modugno, who jointly shares credit for the Italian lyrics with Franco Migliacci. The title is "Nel blu, dipinto di blu”, which translates as “In the blue [sky]”, and the word volare is the main chorus. It was released in early 1958. A timeless hit both in its native Italy and around the world, numerous versions in different languages came into being over the years. A French instrumental version by Ben sa tumba et son Orchestre (labeled as a mambo) uses a direct translation for its title: “Dans le bleu du ciel bleu” (see video below). Among other transformations is the foray into the Spanish Americas by Cortijo, under the same title as Dean Martin’s version in the US which was released in August, 1958.

"Volare" is not in the playlist for Episode 36 "Versions", but the song selection includes brief contextual information that is hopefully as enlightening as the story behind "Volare". Some tracks are remakes of an earlier salsa song, some are adapted from classic styles, and others are cross-genre covers, which are especially interesting to note. One song in particular is a rare gem: a salsa version of a bolero originally sung by Hector Lavoe. Tune in to find out what it is!

While listeners may be familiar with most songs, it may come as an interesting surprise to understand their origins. Share the journey of discovery with me on June 13 on World Salsa Radio. Feedback and commentary are always welcome.

Sources: Wikipedia / Discogs / YouTube


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