Bolero Music: A Memorable Encounter With the Requinto Improvisations of a Trio Romantico
It was a Sunday afternoon in beautiful downtown Watsonville when I felt the all-too-familiar pangs of hunger. “A bit early for dinner,” I thought to myself, knowing from untold years of experience that if I ate before my accustomed hour I would get hungry again before hitting the sack. I considered sucking down a couple of brews to keep my stomach from digesting itself for a while, but the pangs were nagging enough that I decided to go ahead and eat, since there just happened to be a fine Mexican restaurant right across the street.
Why not drink a couple and eat?
I realize that most people eat dinner at an earlier hour than I do, so it did'nt surprise me to find that there was a pretty good crowd sitting around as I strolled into El Alteňo. The proprietors and staff were busy and hardly bothered to look up at me. This did not offend me. Mine is a familiar face there, so I just helped myself to a seat at the bar.
El Alteňo had been built a mere three or four years previously specifically to house this restaurant. Its architecture models the Mexican hacienda with the high ceilings and a cool, airy atmosphere. Everything was fresh and new and sparkling clean. Even while visibility was perfect, no harsh light offended the eye. I found the surroundings extremely pleasant, and, as was obvious from the contented expressions, the smiles and the laughter, so did everyone else.
From the spacious, open-air courtyard could be heard the soothing harmonies of Trio Alborado. Even though the doors leading to the courtyard were closed, my ear was tickled in a spot that only a requinto can reach.
I knew that the troubadours would soon work their way indoors, so I settled down to order a meal and enjoy a couple of Bohemias.
As I ate, the ensemble came indoors and began to make the rounds. They meandered from table to table indulging the patrons to their requests or, if none were put forth, making an offering they deemed appropriate. Their selections tended to be short and sweet — no more than three minutes per song.
It occurred to me that their music was perfect for the occasion: it was not music that assaults and tries to overwhelm, but entices and cajoles. One may either willingly surrender to it fully or concentrate on other things while still enjoying it in the background.
La Barca - Los Tres Caballeros
Trio Alborado, like all trios romanticos, specialize in the bolero. The bulk of their repertoire consists of songs made world-famous by the legendary trio Los Panchos.
Sin Ti - Trio Los Panchos
Trio Alborado is a bit of an anomaly, as trios romanticos go, in that their first voice plays the maracas rather than a guitar. To my taste this works fine, and from the delighted response the group received, it was obvious that most people agreed. The second voice plays guitar, and of course, no trio bolero would be complete without the requinto. I noticed as they made their rounds that the group was keenly aware of its audience. Because the majority of their audience was Anglo and did not speak Spanish, the trio occasionally performed numbers not normally associated with an ensemble of their type. They performed De Colores, for instance, and Jose Feliciano’s version of Feliz Navidad, knowing that their audience could relate to these songs.
When the trio got to me, we shook hands amiably, and I suggested they take a break, offering to buy them a beer. I occasionally run into these guys at the local cantinas and, less occasionally, sit across the poker table from them--except, of course, for the requinto player who, being blind, wisely chooses to abstain from poker.
They went ahead and took a break, and one of them accepted my offer. I expressed to them how impressed I was at their ability to adapt to their audience, and they agreed that they do find their repertoire constantly expanding and in a state of flux. They have learned some songs in English. It’s a matter of survival.
“A ver, qual es tu gusto?” they finally asked--What is your pleasure?.
There is nothing more beautiful to me than a good bolero performed by an accomplished trio: the enchanting melody, the soaring harmony punctuated by dazzling improvisations on the requinto, the poetry of the song itself, all combine to produce an unsurpassable musical experience. And there are so many unforgettable songs to choose from.
I settled on El Reloj and La Barca. They sang their hearts out.
As I sat and savored the beer, savored the music, and savored the moment, I looked around at the delight on the faces around me. Good food, good company and good music. I did not want the moment to end.
Reloj, deten tu camiiiiiinooo….