SONG: El Manisero
ARTIST: Don Azpiazu and His Havana Casino Orchestra
Listen to it here:
I’m sure many of you will do the exact same thing I did when listening to this song the first time, which is to exclaim “Ohhhh! The Peanut Vendor! I know this song!” This is a Cuban son-pregon (a street-seller’s song), which was written by Moises Simons. It’s been recorded over 160 times, and was the first ever million selling 78 of Cuban music. This song is also the culprit behind the “rumba craze” of 1935. Yes, we all remember this from our history books.
A small, nit-picky but important thing is that on the album, the song was labelled as a rhumba fox-trot – which is wrong. And spelled wrong. The right genre is a son-pregon, which any Cuban would be able to identify right away. The pregon means that the lyrics are in the style of a street vendor song, and the son identifies the rhythmic pattern this song follows. Both of these terms were new to me, but it’s super interesting to see how different cultures categorize their music, and how/when cultures treat the combinations of different styles and cultural influences. I guess for non-Cubans, it was easy to label every Cuban song as a rhumba at the time, and nowadays this also happens with the term salsa.
Both the music and the lyrics were attributed to Moises Simons, and because it became an instant hit, it was one of the first instances of a composer/lyricist to get paid handsome royalties almost immediately. There are english lyrics written by 2 white guys and which are described as lyrics “of almost unsurpassed banality.”
Like many of you, I know the song more for the 1947 Stan Kenton arrangement for big band. If you want to familiarize yourself with the “son” rhythm, it’s the trombone part of the big band arrangement.
Don Azpiazu was born Justo Angel Azpiazu in 1893 in Cuba. Little is known of him before he became the director of the Havana Casino Orchestra in the 1920s. His goal was to introduce authentic Cuban dance music and Cuban musical instruments to North American audiences. His band travelled for the first time to New York City in 1930, where he recorded El Manisero. The Havana Casino Orchestra had a few star musicians in it, including trumpeter Julio Cueva and singer Antonio Machin.
This song shows up in movies a lot:
- In The Cuban Love Song
- Groucho Marx whistles it in Duck Soup
- Cary Grant sings it in Only Angels Have Wings
- Judy Garland sings a bit of it in A Star is Born
I really love latin music (especially Afro-Latin, but anyway) and I found myself not able to stay still while listening to this song – had to move my body and dance around! I listened to the Stan Kenton version, but I think speeding up the tempo did the song a big of a disservice – Don Azpiazu had it right!
I love it! I really love the mariachi trumpet sound; so weirdly bright. You can tell why this recording was such a big hit around the world, it’s catchy, the singing is great, and it’s so high energy. I am also obligated to point out that this is the first recording on our 1,001 songs adventure with a bari sax in it!
Average mark out of 10:
*A mark of 8/10 or higher means this is definitely worth buying!
Other notable versions of this song:
Stan Kenton Big Band:
The Beatles goofing around:
Listen with us!
Link to 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist:
This spotify playlist contains only the songs that Holly and Kelly have given an average mark of 8/10 or higher to: