"Susana" by Mariachi Ghost
(This post is based on the script Mark David Stallard wrotefor The Invisible Song Club live show.)
Note: I’m not going to comment on the lyric because it was written in Spanish, which I don’t understand and certainly can’t speak. And because no one should trust google translate to relay emotion, poetry, and word pictures from one language into another.
“Susana” is an epic emotionally charged modern take on classical Mexican music.
It starts with a lead guitar playing a slow, haunting melody, with trumpets playing in the background. This creates a depth to the atmosphere of the song, that other genres would find hard to come close to. The music seems to hang in the air, expectantly. I’m immediately reminded of 1970s Westerns.
The vocals come in, clear and smooth. The drums playing soft triplets on the hi-hat in the background with an occasional tap on the snare. A rhythm guitar provides a soft Latin groove (which I think is a 4 string Mexican guitar, though I’m not sure of its proper name). Backing vocals join in, mirrored by a horn, and the sound grows in volume and body. The lead vocals reach up, and in unison everything crescendos...
And then it stops.
The 4-string guitar rings out a deliberate rhythm. This is joined by what is either claves or the drummer playing his sicks on the snare rim, a fast, irregular Latin rhythm.
(“the tapping sound is a ‘tarima’, a raised stomping box used in Veracruz mostly, to dance on, and stomp rhythmically, not unlike tap dancing.” From a note Angela received from Rafael Reyes from The Mariachi Ghost)
Then, quite suddenly, the electric guitar rings out a quick flourish and the drums comes in providing a more rocking beat. This section would not be out of place in a fast-paced action movie. The vocals come in, strong and up front. Not smooth as it was before, but fitting with the pace and drive that the song takes on. A powerful guitar lead rings out, melodic, and emotional.
Then the song backs off again, and several voices join in drawing us again in a short respite. But then the lead guitar comes back, this time modulated, with a slower more deliberate melody, which increases in intensity. The song builds and again, before coming down one last time.
The vocals bring the song to a close, ooh-ing the melody played in the intro by the guitar.
This song feels huge. It takes us on the whole gambit of emotions, the highs and the lows. It also hits us with energetic sections, then slows us down, only to bring us back up again--somehow keeping us a little off balance, in an odd satisfying way.
“Susana” is, in many respects, a real roller coaster of a song.
-- Mark David Stallard