Gabriel Garcia Marquez will forever be remembered as a man of letters; a literary icon almost without equal, and the originator of the Latin American literary ‘boom’ with whom he is synonymous. However, what many people may not know is that music was as much, if not more, of a part of his life than literature. He once said: “Home is where your books are, they say, but for me it’s where my recordings are. I’ve got more than five thousand of them.” He even once admitted that he would like to have written salsa classic, Pedro Navaja.
His love of music originated in his Colombian Caribbean upbringing, surrounded by the sounds of salsa, cumbia, and, above all, vallenato. The sound of the accordion was a strong memory of his childhood and his happy years spent as a youth in Aracataca, Cartagena and Barranquilla. In fact, when he first came up the Magdalena River to the capital, the cold air and lack of dancing made a young Garcia Marquez pine for the coast of his youth. Yet his musical taste was rich and varied, developed and inspired by his years living in Paris and Mexico City, and his colourful and cultural group of friends and acquaintances.
So here are some of the maestro’s favourite songs, in celebration of his memory. We can choose to mourn the great man any way we like, but I get the feeling that a few aguardientes and the vallenato of his youth might be one that he would have appreciated. His love of music was deep and varied, and his musical loves were too numerous to list here in their entirety, but here is just a sample of the music Garcia Marquez loved.
“More than any book, I think what opened my eyes was music, vallenato songs.”
Gabo often wrote and spoke of his passion for vallenato. This music was the sound of his youth and his family. One song he specifically mentioned was La Gota Fria, a classic 1938 vallenato song. It is seen as a Colombian classic, and was originally performed, as seen in this video, by Emiliano Zuleta. Gabo proclaimed it, in a 1983 interview, to be “the perfect song.”
“No matter what, nobody can take away the dances you’ve already had.”
In his classic memoir, Living to Tell the Tale, Garcia Marquez recounts his days as a young man living in a brothel in Barranquilla, trying to write, and, above all, dancing the night away. In one passage he recounts an evening spent dancing and singing mambos and boleros, and describes feeling a “wave of liberation.” The song he specifically recalls is ‘Mambo Numero 5’ by Perez Prado, whom he once called once of his “oldest and most tenacious idols…immortal.”
“When I was writing One Hundred Years of Solitude in Mexico, I wore out Beatles’ records, which I listened to in order to stimulate myself.”
The novel One Hundred Years of Soltude is legendary: the novel that made Gabo’s name and confirmed his literary genius. Fans might not know though that, besides the tropical music of his youth of which he wrote so eloquently, Gabo was no luddite when it came to modern pop music. He especially appreciated The Beatles. He never really spoke of any specific song, so here’s a track from their classic 1966 record Revolver, which came out whilst Gabo was fervently working on his finest literary statement.
“Manzanero is one of the greatest true poets of the Castilian language.”
Armando Manzanero is a Mexican musician and composer, and is widely considered one of Latin America’s most iconic musical figures. He was a particular favourite of Gabo’s, who considered him a true poet, and one of the finest writing in Castilian. He once said that he had tried to write a bolero equal to one of Manzanero’s; that he had tried for at least a year. He described it as the hardest thing there is and stated that in the five or six lines of a bolero, you can see true literary prose.
“What music would I take, if I could only take one record, to a desert island…”
In a 1982 interview with El Pais, which focused mainly on music, Gabo answered a question he claimed to be asked on daily basis: his desert-island disc. He said that his answer was without any doubt: “Bach’s cello Suites; and, if I could only choose one of them, I would choose Number One.”
Enjoy this music and these wonderful songs, and remember El Gabo whilst you listen to them. Rest in Peace, Maestro.