Ani Cordero’s Recordar Celebrates Freedom Fighters and the Anthems That Kept Them Going
Ani Cordero has a backstory as eclectic as her Puerto Rican heritage. She got her start as a drummer in a Man or Astroman cover band and then switched gears about as radically as a drummer can, propelling darkly cinematic Brooklyn rockers Bee & Flower for a few years. Since then she’s also played drums with both a reconfigured version of Os Mutantes as well as in Mexican-American janglerockers Pistolera while also leading her own increasingly jangly, tuneful band, Cordero, in which she plays guitar. Her new album Recordar: Latin American Songs of Love and Protest puts a new electrified spin on songs from across the Americas from the 30s through the revolutionary nueva cancion movement of the 60s. She and her sensational band – including but not limited to Springsteen keyboardist Charles Giordano, trumpeters Kelly Pratt and Omar Akil Little, Vieux Farke Toure percussionist Tim Keiper and Modest Mouse cellist Brent Arnold – play the album release show on May 1 at 9:30 PM at Joe’s Pub. Cover is $15.
Cordero is as good a choice as anyone to tackle such a daunting if potentially exhilarating project, considering that she was mentored in college by Juan Allende, the nephew of murdered, populist Chilean President Salvador Allende. She opens the album with a gently brooding accordion-and-horn-fueled arrangement of Victor Jara’s pensive 1966 anthem Deja la Vida Volar, delivering its bittersweet carpe diem message with a calm-before-the-storm clarity. She reinvents Argentinian crooner Piero’s 1969 hit Tengo la Piel Cansada as a darkly lingering tango sicodelico, much in the same vein as Las Rubias Del Norte.
Cordero discovered Bobby Collazo’s 1948 Cuban bolero La Ultima Noche via cheeseball songbird Eydie Gorme’s version; this one gets a careful, dreamy but uneasy reading with echoey electric keys and resonant brass. Cordero’s lilting take of the Gilberto Gil/Caetano Veloso hit Panis et Circenses (Bread and Circuses) looks less to the Os Mutantes version than the 60s American paisley pop that influenced it. Then she picks up the pace with a brisk take of the popular, homesick 30s Puerto Rican plena standard, Choferito.
Macorina, a gorgeously jangly lesbian love song from 1968 Mexico recorded by Chavela Vargas, gets a lushly tender interpretation that does justice to the bravery of the original. Cuarteto Mayari’s 1942 Puerto Rican hit El Flamboyan is recast as a bouncily percussion-driven shout-out to Cordero’s great-great-great grandfather, a freedom fighter for Puerto Rico against the Spanish occupation. Aunque Me Cueste la Vida, a 1954 hit in the Dominican Republic for Alberto Beltran (Piero’s dad) has a gravity that more than hints at a possible subtext (music there was ruthlessly censored under the Trujillo dictatorship).
Cordero recasts Violeta Parra’s 1967 Chilean lament Volver la Los 17 as moody, echoey trip-hop inflected art-rock. An aptly dusky, skeletal version of Argentinian folksinger Atahualpa Yupanqui’s Che Guevara homage El Primer Verso (Nada Más) hauntingly suggests that sometimes you have to die in order to be reborn: “If you don’t believe that, ask Che Guevara,” is the punchline. The album ends up with a resolutely marching take of Ali Primera’s 1978 Venezuelan revolutionary anthem Una Cancion Mansa Par Mi Pueblo Bravo.
The implication of the album as a whole (the title means “remember”) is that all of this could happen here, whether that be a coup d’etat, a revolution or music celebrating it: perish the thought that we would forget this lest we repeat the same ugly cycle. And you don’t have to speak Spanish to appreciate the songs’ alternately delicate and rousingly plaintive music (Cordero’s meticulously articulate vocals are enormously helpful for those of us who didn’t grow up speaking Spanish).
So where can you hear this gem? Right now, live; it hasn’t made it to Spotify or Bandcamp yet.