The street known as calle Calma, marked at Baldorioty de Castro and Loíza street in Santurce with a sign that carries the name of Ismael Rivera, is not as quiet as it used to be two decades ago. And yet, it has yet to lose its sense of clave. The branches of the almond trees and the flamboyanes shake mischievously to the airs of the guaguancó and the plena that still blow in this section of Santurce. The sun shines more brightly there than in other neighborhoods of San Juan. And even though the Caribbean is punished by global warming, the coquí refuses to be silent. At dawn, it sweetens the lives of the construction workers who make a living building houses for the rich. ...MORE >
The street known as calle Calma, marked at Baldorioty de Castro and Loíza street in Santurce with a sign that carries the name of Ismael Rivera, is not as quiet as it used to be two decades ago. And yet, it has yet to lose its sense of clave. The branches of the almond trees and the flamboyanes shake mischievously to the airs of the guaguancó and the plena that still blow in this section of Santurce. The sun shines more brightly there than in other neighborhoods of San Juan. And even though the Caribbean is punished by global warming, the coquí refuses to be silent. At dawn, it sweetens the lives of the construction workers who make a living building houses for the rich. In the afternoon, wandering nightingales add music to the affairs of the youngsters who are killing time with their doings.
It is almost as if the spirit of El Sonero Mayor was strolling around the street corner where the mural of Jofre, in La Perla, still honors his memory in spite of the inclement weather.
There, the painting of Doña Margot, mother of this master singer, stands as a pictorial monument. Even though it may be erased at some time, it will remain in the memory of the people - waiting for Leonel from Llorens Torres to give it a loving touchup.
Calle Calma, the heart of the bohemian Villa Palmeras where the bomba, the plena and the rumba flourished, the place that gave birth to Rafael Cortijo, Pellín Rodríguez, Gilberto Monroig and Rafael Cepeda - refuses to forget Ismael, in spite of the cultural hurricane that has been devastating the artistic values of Puerto Rico's soul.
At the Villa Palmeras cemetery, his graveyard continues to deteriorate. His music is not heard on the radio anymore - a decision justified by programmers with the excuse of the feud between the ACEMLA organization and a number of radio stations and record labels that keep the works of songwriter Tite Curet Alonso sequestered in federal court.
True, Ismael did record over a dozen songs by Tite, but he also recorded songs by Pedro Flores, Bobby Capó, Plácido Acevedo and other songwriters.
Ismael died on May 13, 1987. And the island's cultural institutions have attempted to bury his memory in oblivion. Still, Maelo lives on - the paradigm of a nation that pines for social justice. It's true: calle Calma has changed, just like Puerto Rico and the world in general have changed. But Ismael's heart remains the same.
If he was still alive, the island would be a different place, culturally speaking. This compilation, part of Emusica's HERITAGE series, is a tribute to his valuable legacy, perpetuating his memory for the gain of a new generation, whose soul pines to gain access to knowledge of its history and idiosyncrasies.
It has been well established that following the recording of the plena “El Charlatán” with Lito Peña's La Panamericana, Maelo joined the orchestra of Rafael Cortijo. Their winning combination revolutionized the radio, television and cinema of its time - seducing both the working class and high society with the Afro flavors of rumba, bomba and plena.
The mistakes of his youth distanced him from the music scene. He reunited with Cortijo in 1966 and, following the albums Welcome and Con Todos Los Hierros, he founded the group Los Cachimbos in New York.
Born and raised during the struggles of Don Pedro Albizu Campos and his Nationalist Party, Maelo knew how much people had suffered during the postwar years. He witnessed the betrayal of the ideals established by the independence of Luis Muñoz Marín.
The legacy of El Sonero Mayor - a name given to him by El Bárbaro del Ritmo, Beny Moré - is his music: a treasure trove of soneos which, by defying metrics and playing with the clave on the montunos, are his contribution to the motherland, just like the patriotic discourses of Ramón Emeterio Betances, Eugenio María de Hostos and Don Pedro Albizu Campos.
Their words were not carried away by the wind. Same with Maelo's singing.
Space limitations make it impossible to go into the social context of each song included in this collection. For all those who have yet to discover the importance of the man's songs, this is a golden opportunity.
“Controversia” finds Maelo celebrating the virtues of the streetwise montuno and guaguancó, which fill his life with joy by allowing him to express his feelings - like a painter's brush or a writer's pen.
“Incomprendido.” Who hasn't felt misunderstood? On Tite's “Profesión Esperanza” he sings about the solidarity that should unite all Puerto Ricans. To the beat of guaracha, bomba and bolero, he suggests that the seed that could destroy a society is antagonism between its children - exactly what is happening in the new millennium - on a society polarized by socioeconomic, ideological and religious differences.
On “Carimbó,” his voice resonates strongly against oppression and racial prejudice. “Borinquen” talks about the nostalgia that he felt during the years that he spent in jail. “Colobó” greets the humble people from the Loiza Aldea community in Puerto Rico
These are eternal songs, in which the voice of Ismael Rivera reveals the colors, smells, dreams, the tears and the laughter of an island that has yet to lose its clave and hope. The heritage of a timeless singer who distills the feelings of Puerto Rico and, like a thunder, shatters the national consciousness.
Coño, say it after me... ¡Ecuajey!
Liner notes written by Jaime Torres Torres
Historian and Communicator