Fifty years ago, Mike Amadeo, a composer and musician from Puerto Rico, bought a record shop on Prospect Avenue in the South Bronx and renamed it Casa Amadeo. It’s now a mecca of Latin music and a landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. The street signs out front read “Miguel Angel (Mike) Amadeo Way,” and Amadeo himself, eighty-five, is still behind the counter, six days a week, selling CDs, LPs, musical instruments, and Boricua knickknacks. Cash only, hand-Sharpied price tags, boom box blasting the salsa monga of Víctor Manuelle, El Sonero de la Juventud.
体育投注平台The other day, two members of the band Los Lobos, briefly in town, stopped by for a look. They’d heard some things about Amadeo, but he knew nothing of them. “They’re Mexican?” he said. “Then no.”
Mexican, in a way. One of the visiting Lobos was the percussionist, guitarist, and songwriter Louie Pérez, who had formed the group, in the mid-seventies, in East Los Angeles, with a few high-school classmates, including David Hidalgo. The other was the saxophonist and record producer Steve Berlin, a Philadelphian who joined the band in 1983, while it was recording its first release on a major label, “. . . And a Time to Dance.” Amadeo paid them little mind when they came in to browse.
“More cowbell,” Pérez said, gesturing toward a glass case full of cowbells painted with the colors of the Puerto Rican flag. Another case held bright-hued maracas. “We do the same thing with our cars,” he said.
体育投注平台Amadeo brought out some claves, and he and Berlin compared the timbre of a few, taking turns tapping along with the music on the boom box. Berlin bought a pair, along with some goatskin maracas, a plastic guiro with a scraper, and a CD featuring the saxophonist Chombo Silva. “Sax players are rarely featured in Latin music,” Berlin said. “Chombo was, like, the only one.”
体育投注平台Pérez fiddled with Berlin’s maracas. “Get your own pair,” Berlin said. “Just fourteen bucks.”
Los Lobos started out as a “hippie Chicano” outfit, then passed through an East L.A. punk phase before settling into the Mexican-inflected folk rock that it became known for. Along the way, the group began exploring a wider array of traditional Latin music. Pérez, pointing at the walls of CDs of almost exclusively Caribbean music, said, “We listened to this stuff later on, when we got more sophisticated.”
In October, Los Lobos released an album of Christmas songs, “Llegó Navidad.” They’d been talking about doing one for years but had recently got a nudge from Rhino, their label. They brought in two friends—Gustavo Arellano, who until recently wrote a nationally syndicated column called “¡Ask a Mexican!,” and the writer and historian Pablo Yglesias, a.k.a. DJ Bongohead—to dig up a batch of potential songs. They wound up with a hundred and forty-six; ultimately, Los Lobos recorded and released a dozen. The specimens range from the son jarocho of Veracruz to Freddy Fender Tex-Mex and Venezuelan salsa from the seventies. There are a couple of old novelty hits (“¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?”), a Pérez-Hidalgo original, and, naturally, as a closer, “Feliz Navidad.”
“When it comes to a Christmas hit, all you need is one,” Berlin said. “Look at Mariah Carey. Or José Feliciano.” He wasn’t necessarily expecting one for Los Lobos this time around. “If I make what I spent on my MetroCard, I’ll be happy. That’s, what, two million streams?”
Pérez marvelled at the size of the shop’s section of CDs labelled “Música Navideña.” The vinyl stacks, too, were full of Christmas albums. A random pull: “Navidad en Puerto Rico con Los Millonarios,” which, though undated, looked to be about the age of the shop. The cover was a photo of a woman in a top hat and tails with a pile of presents, including—lookie here—a saxophone. The album’s sixth track was one that Los Lobos had recorded on their album: “Amarga Navidad,” by the old ranchera singer-songwriter José Alfredo Jiménez. (The fifth track on the Los Millonarios album, “White Christmas,” was attributed here to “Berlin-Godino.” “I’m sure Irving Berlin would have been thrilled to share the credit,” Berlin said. He has observed, incidentally, that Latin music and the Hebrew-school music he grew up with share similar distinct minor-chord progressions. He said, “They all come from the same place: Sephardic Spain.”)
After a while, Berlin and Pérez said goodbye and rode the 2 train to midtown. At a touristy Mexican restaurant in the theatre district, they ordered tacos, enchiladas, and guacamole. Pérez lightly chided the waiter, in Spanish, about the absence of agua fresca on the menu, while Berlin tried to identify, over the clamor of the dining room, the music coming from the speakers. “It’s actually Cuban,” he said. “A drummer once told me, ‘If you go into a Mexican restaurant and they’re playing Cuban music, leave immediately.’ ” This time, they hung around. ♦