By Daniela Serrano
Despite all my literary aspirations I spend more time listening to music than actually reading. Commuting used to be my reading time but given the choice of having to find a way to hold onto a chair and a book or music, I will choose music. Listening to music, for me, since I moved to Boston, has been something that while calling it political would be stretching the word too much, it certainly is deliberate. In one of the essays in Known and Strange Things Teju Cole says about music: “The music you travel with helps you to create your own internal weather.” When I read this I felt that flash of soul validation one feels when someone else puts into words what we have been struggling with. By putting on headphones and listening, always on repeat, oftentimes mumbling along–in a volume I am certain has made more than one commuter uncomfortable–every once in awhile softly dancing by myself, to the songs I like and the rhythms I wished were more common in Boston I am cocooning myself in this space where I am most me in a city that asks for too much assimilation.
Choosing a definitive list of favorite songs is slightly ridiculous. There is far too much music in the world to try to do something as nearsighted as a “definitive list of songs.” In an exercise pulled directly from High Fidelity one of my most favorite, problematic books I decided to cluster groups of songs when they suited different needs.I organized the songs by seasons because I found I need some of these songs with more urgency during certain weathers. Music has also helped me navigate this new phenomenon. Seasons. This radical and rather violent changing of the weather every set of months. We don’t have this where I come from (Yes, Colombia doesn’t really have seasons, No, Colombia is not hot all the time, we’re not the caribbean). How do people not go insane in living with such an inconstant partner. Anyways, music, my own personal selection of music, has served as a stabilizing weather.
With its temperate weather and ontological confusion: is it its own season or just some taunting relapse of winter? It´s a time when I need something soft, but also something sweet. During Spring’s warmer days I like to waltz around the city feeling as if everything belongs in a Jorge Drexler song. In particular this song. I also like to listen to pop-y reggae that reminds me of warm nights and drinks and the promise of people.
2. “Dulcito e Coco” – Vicente García Junto a Kumary Sawyers
Spring music, like the season itself should blend into the background and make the days bearable without quite marking them. I love in particular listening to Piel Canela, even when I believe it to be “Aunt Music” because it feels redeeming while living in a language that does not have the proper words to describe my skin. I think about this a lot.
Although I know Alt-J is the one odd duck in the list, I still find myself returning to this song and band often. I like the music I like for the same reasons I like the people I like: porque sí and because there is something weird and appealing about them. This song is strange and soft and sometimes even I need a dose of English.
I both love and am terrified of Summer. The hours are too long and oftentimes there is too little to do. For me, at least, this particular Summer has involved two things that make me extremely uncomfortable: idle hours and writing. So even though I might front a lot about listening to music in Spanish, I can only write while listening to indie-singer/songwriter-type of music.
To be honest, had you looked into my most repeated songs three or four years ago it would have been all Indie Coffeehouse Playlist™.
I´m all about Belle and Sebastian, I can not not pay attention to anything Father John Misty puts out. Guys, this is a big confession: Indie music is my biggest guilty pleasure. I tag it as guilty pleasure just because I know. I KNOW. I have seen first-hand the level of pettiness and self importance that inflates people who usually like this music. I still like it. The writing is pretty and the singing is mumbled enough i don’t feel tempted to sing along so it does not distract me from writing.
I end Summer with Tú Sonrisa Inolvidable because it might be one of my Top Five favorite songs, and it deserves a spot somewhere.
8. “Tú Sonrisa Inolvidable” – Fito Páez
Fall might be my favorite season for extremely sartorial reasons. It is the perfect season for cute dresses and cute jackets. It is also the weather most similar to home, I think.
I like to listen to melancholy music here.
They grey of the city does not get more colorful by listening to the always masterful old-school Shakira, but it is brighter. There are some people who, when extremely happy, only like to listen to really sad music. It is something like that.
9. “Que Me Quedes Tu” – Shakira
Things are never “bad” but they can always get better by blasting Me Dediqué a Perderte in my room as if it were a karaoke night after the worst breakup recorded by mankind.
Two years ago, as I was preparing to go into the first real winter of my adult life I created a playlist I decided would cure me from any Seasonal Affective Disorder. Sort of a musical equivalent for those sunshine lamps. Since I am the only person who has listened to the playlist I can not claim it “scientifically” works, but it has certainly kept me together. And I believe it has kept me together due, only, to the extremely trash reputation of the music I chose.
On the first night we went out with my two American roommates, as we were asking each other the questions meant to paint an accelerated picture of this-person-I-am-agreeing-to-pay-to-live-with, we talked about music. I told them I was very glad neither of them had any of the social context to judge the trash I listened to. They didn’t understand how what I listed could be trash if all Latin music is dancey and fun. But it´s not. Some of it is vallenato, and although it is Intangible Cultural Heritage according to UNESCO it is also reminiscent of drunk, misogynistic men getting drunk off Old Parr.
Some of it is reggaeton or salsa. An inordinate amount is champeta that I listen and dance to and sing badly both in private in public because walking about the city with Kevin Florez blasting in my headphones feels like keeping a unique kind of secret.
I am aware that the lyrics in most of these songs are problematic at best. But, in all my reading, and lord knows i read a lot, few genres provide such catchy and immediately satisfying lines as “Hay un chorro de bobos que te tienen ganas / pero dile que tu eres Del Rey como Lana”.
13. “Si Tu Novio Te Deja Sola” – J. Balvin ft. Bad Bunny
At the end of the day what I listen to falls squarely within the realm of things that are my problem. And I will listen to anything and everything that makes me happy, and smile, and reminds me that I used to live in a place where, if I wanted to, I could have gone out dancing every week. And I never did, because I never liked it that much. Until I missed it.
Listen to full playlist here:
Daniela Serrano is a Colombian editor and translator currently based in Boston.