Suavecito: The anthem-making love song

Suavecito: The anthem-making love song

The band Malo’s song Suavecito, which became a popular success at a period when Latinos made up a small portion of the US population, was released 50 years ago this year. According to Diane Bernard, the love song evolved into a potent emblem for Latino Americans.

Jorge Santana, Carlos Santana’s younger brother, joined Latino-American singer and composer Richard Bean on stage for a free outdoor event in Los Angeles on Cinco de Mayo in 1980. Before the two started playing it, Bean didn’t realize how well-known a song he had written called Suavecito had become. The 20,000-person throng in the city’s Lincoln Park roared as the languid groove poured over the speakers.

Four enormous Chicano (Mexican-American) guys entered the stage behind the band as Bean was singing to the audience and unfurled a large green, white, and red Mexican flag, according to BBC Culture. He explains that the flag was so big that it required the four men to hold it. The roadies started yelling, “Get them off the stage,” said Bean. Get rid of them. The four, though, stood tall. They replied, “No, not until the song is over. No, not till Suavecito is finished. Bean started to cry as he turned to face the enormous flag behind him and the audience, which was entirely Latino. He claimed that it wasn’t until that point that he realized Suavecito, known colloquially as the “Chicano National Anthem,” truly lived up to its moniker as a representation of Mexican-Americans and other Latinos in America.

The band Malo’s song Suavecito, which became a popular success at a period when Latinos made up a small portion of the US population, was released 50 years ago this year. Suavecito, which was performed for 50 years at nuptials, quinceaneras, weddings, and low-rider car gatherings, became one of the most enduring classics of the Chicano rock era and came to represent Latinx pride and advancement at a time when Mexican-Americans and other Latinos were battling for equal rights in the US.

Even so, not many people are aware of Bean, who composed the song and provided the main vocals but never attained broad notoriety and lost his chance at greatness. The song was created by Bean while he was enrolled in an algebra course at San Francisco’s Mission High School. He was aiming for a soul classic and was influenced by 1960s R&B artists like Smokey Robinson, Sam and Dave, and Sam Cooke. He claims, “That music had a significant impact on my life. He believed he was in love in the late 1960s. Bean laughs and says, “I actually failed algebra because I was writing poems to her.

Competition was fierce in Latino rock bands because they threw just bits and pieces for opportunity within the Latin rock world – Ruben Amaro

The relationship with the girl didn’t work out, but Malo’s song about his passion for her became a hit, peaking at number 18 on the Billboard charts in 1972. By performing at Woodstock and having significant singles like Oye Como Va and Everybody’s Everything, which peaked at numbers 13 and 12, respectively, in 1970 and 1971, Santana paved the way for Chicano musicians to enter the mainstream. Malo was heralding the arrival of Chicano rock with Suavecito.

Major Latino acts like Bad Bunny and Pitbull, and before them, Gloria Estefan and Los Lobos, have sold a ton of records and filled arenas during the previous 20 years. Santana was the only Latino band to top the US charts in 1972, despite the fact that there are many Spanish-speaking people in the world. According to Ruben Amaro, a musician based in Los Angeles, “it appeared like the industry could only support one Latino talent at the time.” Because Latino rock bands only pitched bits and pieces for opportunities within the Latin rock arena, the competition was severe.

A few months after Jorge Santana, who later joined the group in 1971, died in 2020, Malo featured Bean, who composed, sang, and played the timbales, as well as singer Arcelio Garcia. Abel Zarate played guitar, Pablo Tellez played bass, Luis Gasca played jazz trumpet, and Roy Murray played trombone. Roy Murray passed away in October 2022. The Malibus, a late 1960s San Francisco Mission District band that featured Bean, Garcia, and Santana, gave rise to Malo. For the R&B and soul-heavy The Malibus, Santana played guitar while Bean played saxophone and performed lead vocals alongside Garcia.

An updated bolero

You are thrust into a smooth, steady groove of congas, timbales, and soul rhythms as soon as Suavecito begins, with its dreamy electric guitar chords softening into an ethereal trombone solo. Latino rock legend Carlos Santana tells BBC Culture that the song is “wonderful.” Together with Abel Zarate, Jorge, Carlos’s younger brother, played guitar on the song, adding light, melodic notes. Bean sings, “Laaaah, aah-aah.” I’ve never encountered a girl like you in my life, “Never, no, no, yeah.” The tune has a romantic vibe because to Bean’s vocals, and the melancholy lyrics actually make it more endearing.

It brings to mind the Afro-Cuban groove of the Young Rascals’ 1967 hit single Groovin’. Felix Contreras, co-host of NPR’s Alt.Latino show, which highlights Latin music and culture, claims that Suavecito has a distinctively Chicano-American sound that combines San Francisco rock with Mexican flourishes and sophisticated horn arrangements. According to Contreras, “Suavecito is a modern bolero for our time.” Boleros are a type of passionate love song that was first performed in Cuba in the 1800s and later expanded throughout Mexico and Latin America.

The song’s romantic tale and the passion behind it are both appreciated by Carlos Santana, who sang it live with his brother while on tour. Unlike Tony and Maria in West Side Story, this particular moment between a lover and his adored is not Irish or New York Puerto Rican, according to Santana. It originates from San Francisco’s Mexican Mission neighborhood and is fundamental to pietas, low-riders, and cruising.

Louis Perez, singer, and songwriter for the well-known Latino rock band Los Lobos, which formed in Los Angeles just a year after Suavecito’s release, is another Suavecito fan who believes that the film is also a reflection of the Chicano movement, which was led in California at the time by farmworker union organizer Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huertas. According to him, you didn’t need to stand on a picket line to be affected by the Chicano Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, as reported by BBC Culture.

According to Mario Garcia, professor of Chicano Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara and author of The Chicano Movement: Perspectives from the 21st Century, “the Chicano crusade, from 1965 to 1975, fought to establish a union for farm workers not just for higher wages but also for a sense of dignity.” According to him, the struggle of the farmworkers “had a very substantial impact, especially on the younger generation in the cities.”

In order to challenge teachers’ misconceptions that Mexican-American pupils were intellectually and physically inferior to white students, Chicano students in East Los Angeles followed the lead of agricultural laborers and organized a citywide boycott of public schools in 1968. The largest anti-Vietnam War demonstration by any US minority in the country, including black Americans, was organized in 1970 by the Chicano movement. About 25,000 Latinx protesters assembled in East Los Angeles to oppose the war, and LA County officers brutally beat them. Suavecito was the pinnacle depiction of this expansion in art, music, and literature. These actions gave rise to a rebirth of Latino representation. According to Perez, “We kind of climbed out of a melting pot and took joy in everything that was Mexican.”

West Coast bands like Malo, Tierra, and Azteca all of a sudden started adding Latin-American instruments and styles into their US rock music by 1970, drawing inspiration from their Mexican ancestry. Malo toured the country in 1972, gaining a fanbase while performing on TV programs like American Bandstand when Suavecito grew to fame and became a true classic.

According to Contreras, “The band was musically more accomplished than some of the other Latino bands that were out there at the time.” “Rock and Afro-Caribbean music interacted in a more natural, less awkward way. Additionally, the horn arrangements created their unique Latino funk sound by drawing inspiration from bands like Chicago and Tower of Power.”

“We are not a niche,”

The song’s popularity contributed to the mainstreaming of Chicano pride. However, Malo never shared the spotlight with Richard Bean, who composed the song and performed as the lead singer on the recording. He was expelled from the band by the manager the day after he finished recording Suavecito. According to Malo guitarist Abel Zarate, “I was stunned, completely shocked.” “Because I thought the song was incredibly amazing once we finished recording it. He left the following day as well. Bean believes his poor percussion performance was the reason he was fired. They had a better percussionist in mind, and considering that I really only wanted to sing, it could have been a factor, he claims. “To be dismissed from the band, yeah, It hurt me,” says Bean. Although difficult, it didn’t break me.

According to Alan Hernandez, a retired professor from the Bay Area and co-author with Jim McCarthy of the book Voices of Latino Rock, Malo didn’t follow Suavecito with additional hit songs. According to him, Malo found it nearly impossible to continue touring due to the expenses of a large band and a traveling crew, and the frequent replacement of musicians made matters worse. He also notes that, except for Santana, the rock music industry wasn’t eager to promote many Latino acts. Hernandez tells BBC Culture, “I think they would have been more successful if Bean had continued in the group. “He produced hits,” The band Sapo, which Bean later founded with his brother, became well-known on the West Coast. After Jorge Santana left Malo, Bean worked on his 1978 self-titled solo album and went on tour with him from 1978 to the beginning of the 1980s. Then Bean continued with Sapo, a band that briefly featured Mike Judge of Beavis and Butthead fame on bass during the 1980s.

In 1990, Garcia asked Bean to rejoin Malo, which was still playing on the West Coast, putting his ego aside in the process. Bean says, “It was a great gesture. He thus consented, and they have been playing together for the last 30 years. In most of the gigs he performs for both bands, Bean continues to sing Suavecito. He has never mentioned which female Suavecito was intended for. He tells BBC Culture, “I’ll take it to my grave.” In 1998, Bean, at last, saw a glimmer of national recognition. Bean was invited to Los Angeles to participate in the late-night TV chat show Vibe, hosted by comedian Sinbad and created by the legendary Quincy Jones.

The song featured Bean singing harmony with Ruben Amaro and the house band. He claims that although Bean might have missed the opportunity to perform his national treasure on American Bandstand, 26 years later he finally got his chance.

When we harmonized on that gorgeous song, it felt transcendent because of the amazing studio sound, according to Amaro. The love song is significant now, according to Contreras, since it serves as a reminder of Latinos’ position in the larger culture. According to him, it “shows that we’ve always been here.” “We’re not a niche or a sidebar,” the speaker said.

Suavecito wasn’t a protest song, which was one of its really cool aspects, according to Perez. “More so, it was about Chicano pride. It was a lovely moment for us because it was like a big, warm Mexican hug to all of these young folks. It had the impression of being an old tune.”

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