Living in Canada it's easy to forget that there is another European influence on North American culture aside from the French and British. In our defense, I'd offer the excuse that since the first settlements from Europe started dotting the St. Lawrence river between Ontario and the Atlantic Ocean in the 1600s, it's been the relationship between the two cultures that's dominated our political landscape. The British North America Act (BNA), which served as Canada's constitution until 1980, written shortly after British troops finally overcame the last French stronghold in North America, began the process of ensuring that Canada would have two official cultures by guaranteeing rights of language, education, and religion to the newly conquered French population.
One of the main reasons for this document was the hope that it would reduce the chances of Quebecers succumbing to blandishments from the new republic to the South to throw off its British masters and join them in independence. Instead of expanding Northwards therefore, America moved South and West and carved chunks of Texas and California for itself from Spain's Mexican colony. Due to American policies at the time of, you are either one of us or not us, the Spanish speaking populations that came with those territories and others did not receive the same consideration as their French counterparts in the North until many years later, if at all. In spite of this, the culture was able to hang on and its influences upon American life can be seen today in everything from architecture to popular music.
While Hispanic influences in popular music have eventually worked there way north across the border into Canada they are nowhere near as ingrained into the structure of the music here as it is in the United States. While Ritchie Valens was obviously the first Hispanic pop star, Spanish influences can be heard in the music of everybody from Buddy Holly to Willy DeVille and everything from country music through pop, jazz, and Broadway musicals. Yet, while their cultural influence has spread, there doesn't seem to be much awareness of Hispanic bands outside of the old territories. Names like Los Lobos, Ricky Marten, and Jennifer Lopez might be known to today's audiences and an older generation may remember Jose Feliciano, but outside of those few there aren't many who have broken through to wide public awareness.
One of those bands that's been making an impression out in California is Los Fabulocos featuring Kid Ramos. While the individuals in the band are all veterans of the music scene; Ramos has played with the James Harman Band and the Fabulous Thunderbirds and lead singer/ accordion player Jesus Cuevas led The Blazers; their self-titled release, Los Fabulocos on the Delta Groove label in mid August of this year was their first disc as a unit. However, there's no way you're going to be able to tell that by listening to it as they sound like they've been playing together for years.
Right from the opening track, "Educated Fool", you realize that you're entering uncharted territory. For while the song starts out sounding like a typical up tempo country rock song, when the accordion pushes itself front and centre on the first chorus, things take on a different complexion. I think, listening to this song, this is the first time I understood the Spanish connection to Cajun music, as the way Jesus pulled notes from the accordion on this track and the one following, "If You Know", sounded like they could have come from New Orleans as easily as from California.
Yet it wasn't quite zydeco either as the guitar pushing the song forward sounded more like it came from Chicago via Texas than anything you'd usually hear in the French Quarter. Of course after hearing their version of "Crazy Baby", sounding like an old fifties rock tune, I pretty much gave up trying to figure out the provenance of the songs and decided to just sit back and enjoy them. Which wasn't what you'd call a much of a chore, as Los Fabulocos continued to be packed full of surprises right to the end of the disc.
For the CD is like a trip through the history of American popular music since the 1950s if Mexico had held onto both Texas and California, or if, at the very least, the Spanish population had wrung the same concessions out of their conquerers as the French did in Canada. It's like the music has been given a transfusion of Spanish blood that's warmed up its stolid Anglo origins. A song like "Lonesome Tears In My Eyes", a country chestnut if I've ever heard one, isn't the type of music I can normally listen to without access to insulin; they're usually so saccharine. Yet there's something about replacing pedal steel with Spanish instruments, and Kid Ramos' vocals, that has made potentially maudlin lyrics ring with genuine emotion.
Okay, perhaps there's a good chance that the Spanish lyrics on the disc have caused me to romanticize some of the other tracks to an extent. But when, if ever, has any Anglo song ever inspired you to romanticize anything? There's a damn good reason Spanish, along with French, Italian, and Romanian, are part of what's known as the Romance language group. Although technically speaking it's because they are all descended from the language of Rome, Latin, they all sound one heck of a lot more poetic and beautiful than English ever could. I mean, when was the last time you ever hear anyone being referred to as an "Anglo Lover" instead of "Latin Lover"?
Putting all of that aside for now, what it comes down to is Los Fabulocos are an extremely talented and versatile band that can play just about any style of popular music, from both sides of the Rio Grande, that you care to throw at them. One moment they can have you up dancing your cares away and the next they'll have you crying in your beer. Or better yet, holding your true love a lot closer to you then you had previously thought possible. Pick up a copy of Los Fabulocos today and experience just how much fun they are. California has been hoarding some great music, but the secret is out and you're going to have to share Los Fabulocos with the rest of us from now on.