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Tu Cárcel: A Tale Of Working Men, Los Bukis and Lila Downs

Posted by Gomez Comes Alive!, January 29, 2012 11:59pm | Post a Comment
Los BukisMy guiltiest pleasure in Latin music has to be the songs written by Marco Antonio Solis during the years he was fronting Los Bukis. There is not a time when a Bukis song comes blasting out of a car or jukebox in a Mexican restaurant/bar where I don’t smile inside. Solis was the master of the balada, or ballads. Although Los Bukis music will forever be dated by their matching suits and that stock 80’s Latin Pop sound, the core of his songs were brilliant.

I didn’t always feel that way. One of my first jobs out of high school in the late 80's was working at a warehouse that custom cut various pieces of foam for Aerospace companies. It was there I discovered a few things. The first thing I discovered is that manual labor sucks. The pay was bad and so were the early work hours for someone who was in the mist of his partying years. The upside is that I had no stress. I lived cheaply and the hours of mindless repetition of cutting and rolling foam around a tube left my mind free to be creative. I wrote songs and stories frequently in my head, sometimes writing my ideas quickly on any scratch piece of paper during my fifteen-minute break.

Los Bukis Album I discovered that this foam we had called Temper-Foam, was great to sleep on. It was used for the Space Shuttle for shock absorption. We used it to nap on during our half an hour lunch break. I would immediately knock out once I laid down on it. If I had a late gig the night before I wouldn’t have time to sleep. I’d go straight to work and that 30- minute nap made me feel like I slept all night. We now know it as Tempur-Pedic, the company that makes expensive beds and pillows.

Another thing I liked were my co-workers. All of them were great guys coming from all parts of Mexico, South and Central America. There was Marco, who had his first child when I first started, then proceeded to knock up his wife every year after that. By the time I left the job he had five kids. Naturally, he always looked tired but took care of me like a little brother. He made sure I was always fed, which was something I couldn’t seem to do for myself being so young and stupid at the time. There was his brother-in-law, Beto, who was training to be a radio announcer. He eventually got a job in Texas as a radio host for a Regional Mexican station. There were the guys my age, Arturo and a kid we called “El Morro” Then there was Segundo (Yes, that was his real name) from Argentina who ironically was the laziest worker at the job. The Mexicans got a kick out of that because it validated all their preconceived notions about Argentineans. There was Oscar from El Salvador, escaping the war torn country in the mist of the revolution. He was one of the toughest guys I knew. He had to be to escape the war. Then there was my personal favorite. We called him "El Bombero" (The Fireman) because he was a certified fireman in Tijuana. He kept his certificate in his wallet. He resembled Super Mario, with the mustache and the overalls. I’d imagine him as Super Mario trying to fight a fire in TJ, climbing the video game ladders with a pixilated water hose while jumping over the flaming rolling barrels.

Marco Antonio Solis Los Bukis All day was the usually workingman’s banter. We would make fun of each other. We make fun of each other’s country or small town if someone was from the same region. We questioned each other’s sexuality, we brag about crap we did or didn’t do. It male- bonding that only one could understand if you worked in sweat shop conditions. It didn’t matter if you were an intellectual and above it. It didn’t matter if you went to school and well read. It didn’t matter if you treated your wife, girlfriend and kids with the utmost respect once you got home. You talked a lot of crap all day just to get through the day.

Musically I was in my extreme phase. It had to be gangster rap, hardcore punk, free jazz or noise bands or I didn’t like it. My co-workers couldn’t have been more different. We listened to KLOVE on the radio all day. KLOVE is Los Angeles biggest Latin Pop station then and still to this day. To be subjected to KLOVE “Radio Romantica” for eight hours a day was a shock to my system. The endless baladas by likes of Luis Miguel, Ana Gabriel, Ricardo Montaner, Juan Gabriel and other pop sensations used to make me physically ill, I kid you not. What’s worse is that KLOVE usually repeats every song once every couple of hours. I would hear the same saccharine romantic ballads at least four or five times a day. Anytime I grumbled my co-workers would laugh at me and say, “What’s wrong, you’re not a romantic?

Lila Downs Pecados Y Milagros While listening to the same play lists multiple times a day, I started to know all the lyrics. When Los Bukis would come on the radio, my jokes on how such macho guys could love such pansy music subsided. That Marco Antonio Solis, he sure could write a song. Yes, Los Bukis music was filled with bad fluffy synth sounds that made them sound like a slightly tropical version of Air Supply with those awful 80’s Linn drum rolls. But to me, hearing a Los Bukis song on the radio were like a breathe of fresh air while working in a sewer. It all smelled of sewer but for three minutes and thirty seconds you could swear you smelled the forest.

So why did I take you on a trip down my memory lane? While checking out the new Lila Downs CD, Pecados Y Milagros, out on 1/31, I noticed she covered one of my favorite Los Bukis songs, “Tu Cárcel”. although there are many versions “Tu Cárcel”  covered by such artists as Los Enanitos Verdes, Marisela and Tito Nieves, none are as stripped down as Lila Downs version. It’s acoustic guitar, bass, slight horns, harp and her big voice. If you didn’t know the original version, you could swear it was an old ranchera done by the likes of Jose Alfredo Jimenez or Chavela Vargas. It’s a fine treatment of a song that I always liked but was embarrassed to admit that I did. Pecados Y Milagros as a whole is one of Lila’s best work in quite some time. You can compare both versions of “Tu Cárcel” by going here and here.

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Lila Downs (7), Los Bukis (2), Marco Antonio Solis (1), World Music (118)