El Manisero (The Peanut Vendor)
Words and music by Moises SimonRodriguez
a. Rita Montaner, vocal
Recorded November, 1927
b. Don Azpiazu and his Havana Casino Orchestra
Recorded May, 1930
This double entry marks both the origin and the popular success of this tune, the first Latin dance music to sell more than a million copies. In fact, this number has been recorded close to 200 times over its lifespan.
The words and music were set down in 1922 in Cuba, issuing from the pen of composer Moises Simon. “The Peanut Vendor”’s words were based on those of actual street vendors, the kind of song called a pregon. The underlying rhythm is that of the son, so the technical name for the song type is son-pregon.
In America it was classified as a “rhumba” (the English spelling of the more correct rumba), and it set off a craze for Latin-American music. This was an entry point for Latin-American culture – a narrow one indeed, with many Latin-Americans of the day facing prejudice and lack of opportunity. For the general public, the lands south of the border were exotic locales filled with smiling, happy musicians making merry.
The tempo of the original 1927 recording is stately; in the 1930 version the pace picks up, and the rhythm is more driven, in fact absolutely compulsive. It makes you want to move. Julio Cueva’s punchy, muted trumpeter propels and ornaments the piece. And, underneath it all, are the complex polyrhythms typical of the genre. (My favorite version? Anita O’Day’s.)
The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Up next: the first transatlantic telephone conversation.