NAT ‘KING’ COLE / “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás”

Judging from a quick spin around the internet this morning, I’m not the only one who came across Nat ‘King’ Cole’s Spanish-language records in a roundabout way, by which I mean via Chinese director Wong Kar-wai’s In The Mood For Love. The film is about a pair of would-be lovers who never get to actually seal the deal. I’m not giving anything away in telling you that because it’s obvious virtually from the opening frame that their relationship is never going to get past the hints and implications stage. Ah, but what gorgeous hints and implications! The movie features cinematography by the always fascinating Christopher Doyle—an Australian magician of a cameraman who was also behind the lenses for my all-time favorite movie, Last Life In The Universe. Wong’s stately pacing combines with Doyle’s sumptuous shots to create the slowest movie you might ever watch while sitting on the edge of your seat. It’s a period piece (set in the fifties, if I remember correctly…it’s been a while) and apropos to the time, there’s a lot in the way of stolen glances, long dresses, cigarette smoking and things left half or unsaid. nat king cole 22.jpeg To top it all off, Wong somehow decided to feature the impeccably smooth voice of Nat ‘King’ Cole throughout his film. The choice shouldn’t work: the movie is set in Hong Kong; all the principles are Chinese; and the rest of the soundtrack is made up of (I’m guessing) traditional Chinese music. In the world of the film, Nat’s music should sound strange and out of place; instead, it sounds like it was custom-made for the purpose. Stranger still, this is Nat’s Spanish-language music we’re talking about. For me, it was both bizarre and thrilling to sit there reading English subtitles as the characters spoke Mandarin and the principle voice on the soundtrack sang in Spanish with a half-ironic American accent. The movie has a slight time-out-time feeling, as if the entire thing is being remembered or dreamed instead of actually happening at the moment. Nat singing in Spanish only adds to the mood. in the mood for love.jpg If the movie gets to you the way it got to me, you’ll see pictures from the movie each time you here Nat’s songs. The director repeats and repeats the music until the songs become an integral part of the characters’ world. And vice versa. At the end of “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás,” Nat inserts a couple of little pauses between his words. Those pauses virtually sum up the meaning of the film. Taken literally, “perhaps, perhaps, perhaps” means, “Maybe.” In the context of the film and taking into account the way Nat pronounces the words at the end, it means, “I’ll see you next lifetime.”

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I’ve mentioned before that I don’t like listening to people sing in languages that aren’t their own and listening to these songs, it’s obvious that Nat’s pacing and smoothness leaves a lot to be desired. (For all I know, he may even be having a go at it phonetically.) But for some reason, I like these songs anyway. I was trying to figure out why when I saw this comment from someone on talking about one of Nat’s Spanish-language LPs.
I remember as a kid living in Colombia when this album came out. Some of the songs were current at the time and several others were old Latin American classics. Nevertheless, what made this album so great was Nat "King" Cole's terrific voice and his phonetic Spanish with a very heavy American English accent, which made it that much more appealing. Every song was beautifully rendered. Great memories from a bygone era!
So there you go. Nat ‘King’ Cole is such a great vocalist that even his deficiencies sound good.
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Songs by Nat ‘King’ Cole: All four of these songs are available on the Nat ‘King’ Cole compilation Mis Mejores Canciones: 19 Super Exitos (EMI Latin, 1993). Alternately, the first three are available on the soundtrack for In The Mood For Love. I’ve never heard the soundtrack, but judging from the ecstatic reviews on Amazon, lots of people dig it. —Mtume ya Salaam
            How we become who we are…             
  Mtume and I don’t talk a lot about our individual lives. He does what he does, I do what I do. But then these coincidences happen, our paths cross (often after running parallel). 1. I’m a big, big Nat King Cole fan. Huge. Approaching him from the jazz side. I’ve got hours of his early trio music. Have early film shorts he made. After I ran Nat’s version of “Besamé Mucho” last week Mtume mentioned something about liking what Nat did. I said yeah, he had two or three albums he made in Spanish that were huge hits south of the border. Mtume mentioned something about not only in Latin America. I let it go. So this week, Mtume drops Nat in Spanish but his entry point is not the Spanish albums per se but Wong Kar-Wai’s movie In the Mood For Love. 2. I teach digital video to high school students. I make movies with some of my students. Mtume was at our house a few weeks back and I was picking out a couple of movies from him to check out and we got to talking a bit about Asian cinema (I’m into Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese movies, in that order of preference). Mtume surprised me. He was up on a lot of the Asian movies and had even seen a few that I had not. You gotta understand, I have over 500 DVDs stacked up in the small room that is my office. It takes a lot to mention some hip cinema I don’t know anything about or don’t have. 3. Mtume’s write up made me pull out my 2-DVD special edition of In the Mood For Love. Turns out soundtrack cues are included along with a linked essay explaining the musical choices. BTW some of the songs are contemporary compositions although there are a number of traditional Chinese songs as well. I don’t know when I would have got to checking out the soundtrack info if Mtume had not mentioned the soundtrack music in this review. It’s truly an “ahhh” moment when your son gets you to re-examine something you were already into and in the process, tells you something about yourself. When I look at him, I’m looking at a lot of me. Me in a parallel universe. Me but not me. Because a lot of him is not me. But if I had been born when he was born and reared on Tennesse Street in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, aka CTC (“cross the canal”), had I been Mtume, I am beginning to see what I would have been like. It’s a weird feeling. Puts you in all kinds of moods. Maybe our individual lives are not so much unique as they are time-and-circumstance bound variations of a few archetypal existences. Maybe the differences between us is not what identifies one of us from another. Maybe there are only so many possibilities before we are simply soloing over the same changes, dancing to similar rhythms. Like today (or was it yesterday afternoon) while going somewhere, a car stopped in front of me at the red light. A young lady jumped out the back door, hopped on the neutral ground (what non-New Orleanians would call a “median”) and commenced to “catching the wall,” hyper-bouncing her butt, except there was nothing but air in front of her outstretched hands. I had my music up loud, so I didn’t hear what music she was bouncing and butt-shaking to, but whatever it was it must of been some hard-ass beats. Maybe for eighty seconds or so. And then she jumped back in the car. The light turned green and the car pulled off. I smiled. We used to do that. One particular time was on Claiborne Avenue headed uptown at the light at Elysian Fields. Aretha Franklin was singing “Respect.” Up real, real loud. And we, if I remember correctly at least three of us, was in the street. Looking back, I smile. I’m sure some upright, uptight wanna-be was embarrassed by our display of nasty dance steps back then. I smile. It’s weirdly wonderful when you see yourself in the actions of people decades younger than you. —Kalamu ya Salaam P.S. The essay about In The Mood’s music is written by Joanna Lee. Here is the relevant part about Nat King Cole. nat king cole 26.jpg
There are strong Latin rhythms in much local popular music—familiar, romantic, yet exotic to Hong Kong audiences. The song arrangements are typical of those nightclub bands—romantic, soaring strings and ballroom dance rhythms (for those dancing patrons). After all, social dancing ruled that era. To recapture another segment of popular music in Hong Kong of the 1960s. Wong also used the songs of his mother’s favorite singer, Nat King Cole, whose recordings were imported and broadcast on the radio. Cole recorded many of his songs in Spanish: “Green Eyes” as “Aquellos Ojos Verdes” — “Magic Is The Moonlight” as “Te Quiero Dijiste” — “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps” as “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas.”
The director, Wong Kar-wai notes that: “We had a lot of Western music in Hong Kong at that time, and most of the band musicians were from the Philippines, so there was a lot of Latin music. In the Mood for Love feaures many songs popular in that period.”  

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