Cover me, slowly

If you think you can escape the Summer Song of 2017 — Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito” (pop crossed with rap) — you’re probably mistaken. Yes, you can do the obvious: avoid Puerto Rico and Latino-heavy sections of the US, stay away from Mexican, Salvadoran, Cuban, etc. restaurants, all that sort of thing. But you could flee far away, to the Balkans, to Ireland, to Southeast Asia, to Hungary, and it will be in vain: the song will haunt you, in instrumental versions on piano, cello, violin, bamboo flute, oud, you name it; with words in French, Chinese, Gaelic, Croatian, Malay, whatever; performed by one man, one woman, two men, a man and a woman, on up to crowd-sized choruses; as heavy metal, as Romantic-style classical music, as jazz, and so on; as a sweet and softly romantic song, as hard-driving bump-and-grind music, as an enthusiastic anthem, or as flat-out parody; with fresh choreography in almost any dance style imaginable.

I didn’t appreciate the scope of the phenomenon until Kim Darnell sent me a video of Peter Bence (a 25-year-old Hungarian pianist and composer) doing a jazz-inflected piano version (channeling Keith Jarrett), and watching that led me to all this other stuff.

Peter Bence has made a career of doing covers of pop music: of Michael Jackson’s “Bad” and “Smooth Criminal”, Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now”, Sia’s “Cheap Thrills”, and more.

(#1) Peter Bence performing “Despacito”

Remarkably, there’s another young Hungarian pianist named Peter who’s done a cover of the song: Peter Buka, 20 years old, with a more gauzy Romantic-style rendition, roughly what Louis Moreau Gottschalk might have done with it.

(#2) Peter Buka at the keyboard

What is there about Budapest?

Before I go on to a random sampling of other covers, a few words about the last Latin pop/dance craze to sweep the US, “Macarena”. From Wikipedia:

“Macarena” is a Spanish dance song by [the Spanish pop duo] Los del Río about a woman of the same name. Appearing on the 1993 album A mí me gusta, it was an international hit in 1995, 1996, and 1997, and continues to be a popular dance at weddings, parties, and sporting events. One of the most iconic examples of 1990s dance music, it was ranked the “#1 Greatest One-Hit Wonder of All Time” by VH1 in 2002. The song uses a type of clave rhythm.

… The song was originally recorded in 1992, and released in 1993 as a rumba. This was the first of six versions of the song that can be associated with Los Del Rio. Another version, a new flamenco rumba pop fusion theme with fully Spanish lyrics, attained significant success in Spain, Colombia and Mexico. It also became popular in Puerto Rico because of its use as an unofficial campaign theme song for then-governor Pedro Rosselló, who was seeking reelection under the New Progressive Party of Puerto Rico’s ticket. Being the base for many cruise ships, visitors to the island were constantly exposed to the song during their stay in Puerto Rico. This may explain how the song spread to — and became a hit in — cities with sizable Latino communities in the United States, particularly Miami and New York City.

(#3) In the midst of the dance (video here)

Note Puerto Rico as the vector for the spread of the craze.

Now back to “Despacito”.

On cellos. Continuing the theme of classically trained musicians covering the song, there’s a wonderful performance by the duo 2Cellos, which you can watch here. From Wikipedia:

(#4) 2Cellos on “Despacito”

2Cellos (stylized 2CELLOS) is a Croatian cello duo, consisting of classically trained Luka Šulić and Stjepan Hauser. Signed to Sony Masterworks since 2011, they have released four albums and play instrumental arrangements of well-known pop and rock songs as well as classical and film music. The duo perform internationally and have been featured on several US TV shows…

Hauser, born in Pula, Croatia, and Šulić, born in Maribor, Slovenia, to Croatian father and Slovenian mother, both classically trained musicians, met at a master class in Croatia while still in their teens. Šulić — the younger of the two by a year — attended the Academy of Music in Zagreb, and then studied in Vienna. Šulić later entered London’s Royal Academy of Music. Hauser attended the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, after completing his studies at Trinity Laban in London.

The duo rose to fame after their cover of [Michael Jackson’s] “Smooth Criminal” became a hit on YouTube

By teenagers, in Gaelic. Great enthusiasm, energetic dancing (plus some acrobatics), lots of fun to watch.

(#5) Irish lads singing

Two covers in French. One by a female singer (viewable here), one by a male singer (viewable here).

More instrumentals. There are several covers on the Vietnamese bamboo flute — one viewable here, one viewable here. A lyrical version on the electric violin by Madrid musician Jose Asunción, viewable here. And a soulful Oud version by Ahmed Alshaiba (a Yemeni musician living in NYC), viewable here.

More languages. A solo version in Chinese, viewable here. A group version in Malay, viewable here. And the group Nemo Croatia, performing a Croatian salsa version on the Istrian beach, viewable here.

Two pieces of exotica. First, a heavy metal cover by Norwegian artist Leo Moracchioli, viewable here. And then, remarkably, the KPOP group KNK doing a dramatic reading of the lyrics in Korean translation, viewable here.

Yes, there’s more, lots more.

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