I had the coolest teacher in the world in my tenth grade Spanish class. She wasn’t young, she wasn’t funny, she wasn’t what the boys would call a looker, and she certainly wasn’t an easy grader – but she was the epitome of cool, because she made us learn all the words to “Oye Como Va”.
One day, she says, “class, I have a surprise for you”, and she puts a record on the portable record player that we normally used to listen to conversational Spanish, and much to our astonishment, out comes the searing hot sound of “Oye Como Va”. Needless to say, the class went berserk – high fiving and doing that pretend-cha-cha-cha-thing with our shoulders and fists. You know the fake-dance, right? I’ve been doing it all day, listening to Santana on the kitchen Bose while making fajitas and guacamole for dinner.
Anyway, when the song ended, Mrs. Street set about teaching us the lyrics. She did this by passing out a sheet with the words along with their meaning in English, then walking around the class, wearing her glasses with the chain accessory (I know that’s a teacher-cliché, but I’m not kidding), clapping in time as we all spoke the words, then getting us all to clap too…ready?…here we go…clap, clap, clap….oye-como-va-mi-ritmo. I can only imagine how laughable we were, speaking the words in our drawly, southern voices – a bunch of kids clapping in unison and going, “oiyaaay-cuumoohh-vaaahh-meee-reeetmoohh”.
We learned that the words were basically saying “hey, listen to my rhythm, it’s great for having fun”. And I agree with that assessment. The song was written by Tito “The Mambo King” Puente in 1963. In the Santana version, the guitar takes the melody part that is carried by the flute in the original version. Being a flutist (I claim the right to call myself that – I did six years of flute playing in a marching band, in the Mississippi heat, in that uniform, and in that hat) and an admirer of the electric guitar, especially when played by a master like Carlos Santana, I love both versions.
At the end of the year, we had a party in the classroom, and we got to listen to Abraxas in its entirety. I got Abraxas on eight track and it travelled with me in the floorboard of my car all through college, plus I had the album. We know what fate the album met (see post titled something like “Why the !@#$ did I give away my albums?”). We’ll talk about the fate of the eight track later. For now, let’s just eat our yummy fajitas, do the fake cha-cha-cha, and have fun with the great Carlos Santana.
And here’s the original, by Tito Puente.
Comments? Santana fan? Puente fan? Please share!