I am currently doing some fairly tedious work. To pass the hours I listen to music (and podcasts). Because my mp3-player is somewhat unreliable, I also use my wife’s ipod (yes, we are a few years behind in terms of technology). Apparently quite some music on that ipod was also loaded by my sister-in-law, so that I can’t make my wife fully responsible for the content.
That’s why I am listening to quite a few Latin love songs, mostly sung by crooners from the Dominican Republic and Spain. They sing of falling in love, of promising eternal love, of desire, of losing love, of loneliness, of the fear of losing love, of not finding comfort in the arms of another woman. It is clear that for the singer and the listeners love is passionate, bodily, that it is for ever, that it is intoxicating, faithful, sometimes difficult, and that its loss is a disaster. Of course, there are also “love” games, which are not really seen as “true love”.
I hadn’t listened to many of those songs closely before, but I had heard them. You hear them everywhere in these Latin countries. The relationship between man and woman forms the basic, most elemental narrative in these countries. It informs children when they grow up, the interaction of young people, the formation of families, how people lead their lives. Even the language reflects these sentiments. Indeed, Spanish is a language that is uniquely suited to speak of eros, an eros with a deeper longing. The language is reinforced and reinforces societal attitudes.
The concentration on the male-female relationship in these societies has to be seen in the context of a macho culture. While there are economic differences between men and women, gender roles are not so much defined by economics, but rather by romance. The mindset is changing in those countries, with modern gender ideas gaining ever greater influence. The music, and with it societal attitudes, is also adjusting to that of countries further north, particularly hip-hop and rap exerting significant influence.
Even though classic Latin love songs are corny and sometimes close to creepy, they are also refreshing. They are an unashamed celebration and exploration of erotic love – passionate, joyous, full of life. What a contrast to the North American music I heard: the gangster music was crudely bodily, where chicks are used only for the male’s quick pleasure; the high-brow music was mostly depressing, had little body references and always was so poetical that it was confusing; the run-of-the-mill popular music was full of cliches. I did not hear the colourful, but clear metaphors that make Latin love songs interesting. I heard nothing of the passion, nothing of the duration of love, nothing of the sky, rain or sun under which kisses are snatched. Maybe Latin love songs just use more evocative metaphor, and use it more effectively.
I would criticize the assumption in those Latin love songs that without an erotic love, life is hardly worth living. Nor would I think that love is only about the man and woman and not all the other people who might talk about them. In actual life, and particularly in Latin countries, family and community are important in any relationship. Latin love songs give a slightly distorted version of reality, but is it less distorting than the ideologies which want to push the man-woman relationship to the edge of society, as only preferences that may be lived out in economic relationships and pornographic consumption? After all, these ballads are based on an inheritance going back thousands of years. For the love between man and woman has been celebrated in song across the ages, even though there have been abuses and lapses into the crude. Meanwhile, I am enjoying listening to these songs exactly because they are beautiful in their own culture, but would be considered inappropriate in another culture. That is the fascinating stuff!
Even when listening to love songs, I have to become philosophical.
Readers’ Digest Version: If my daughter were listening to Latin love songs, I certainly would talk to her about how reality differs from their world. Would I allow her to listen to them? Certainly, and I would make sure she gets her hands on them somehow. I want her do dream. And there are dreams that are a lot less beautiful.