Enriched Memories

By: José Manuel Simián

Producing a mixtape-like covers album is disappointingly easy. Making it worth it, making those songs your own, is the tricky part. And that is exactly the feat that Puerto-Rican-American singer Ani Cordero pulls off with her personal Latin American songbook Recordar.

Cordero’s trip started from memory: a few years ago, she fell in love with Piero’s “Tengo la Piel Cansada de la Tarde” only to discover that her mother had played the tune over and over when she was a child. From that discovery, she went on a quest to find and record, as the (extended) title of the album says, songs of love and protest that had defined the second half of Latin America’s 20th century. The wide range of her musical tastes, from Atahualpa Yupanqui and Violeta Parra to Os Mutantes reveals a restless soul; not a musical snob (there are no obscure tracks here) but the child of a truly bicultural upbringing connecting the dots in the sky.

And Cordero does it with grace and bravery. In the case of Parra’s often-covered “Volver a los Diecisiete,” for instance, Cordero succeeds by not trying to make a worshipful version of the song: she takes it apart from within to see what it can tell us now. In the case of songs like Yupanqui’s “Nada Más” and Chavela Vargas’s “Macorina,” she lets their naked beauty shine by giving them a light indie touch. And when her Spanish version of Os Mutantes’ “Panis Et Circenses” comes around (Sergio Dias is a producer in the album), Cordero gives it a fragile, urgent feel that’s not present in the 1968 original.

Recordar is not a nostalgia trip. It’s the sound of an artist enriching her childhood memories with the stories and adventures she encountered as she came of age. A fine collection of the kind of memories, half remembered, half made-up, that truly make us who we are.

LOGISTICS: Recordar by Ani Cordero, available now

José Manuel Simián is the Executive Editor of Manero. He used to be a lawyer and is probably listening to Bob Dylan as you read this.