Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Finding Inspiration: Breaking Down the Songwriter's Muse

If you ask most songwriters where they draw their inspiration for their songs, you'll never really get a straight answer.  That's because the idea for a song can spring from a multitude of different emotions and experiences.

For me, writing a song is a lot like having a family member from another timezone who always seems to call during the most inconvenient time of the day.  Usually, it happens when I least expect it to: during the middle of the night, in the shower or on the road.  The worst part is that once I pick up the muse it's almost impossible for me to put it down.

Just like when my grandma calls.

That is why quiet moments late at night and throughout the day are so dangerous.

When Charlie Rose asked singer/songwriter Billy Joel if he could hear the music in his head he said, "Yes, sometimes I dream it, and I wake up with music in my head and I can't get rid of it."  This was especially true of his song River of Dreams which actually came to him "in the middle of the night".

Mexican composer Armando Manzanero recounts being inspired to write "Esta Tarde Vi LLover" (This Afternoon I Saw it Rain), while sitting on a bench by himself.  He had walked out of a restaurant when out of nowhere it started to rain.  As he watched the people running for cover, the lyrics started to form in his mind.

When I first felt the muse to write my single "I Saw You Today/ Hoy Yo Te Vi", I was waiting at a stoplight.  But in my usual fashion, it wasn't till I got out of the shower that I started to write the lyrics.

Although many song inspirations are born out of real life experiences, a lot of the time this isn't the case.  A famous example would be Consuelo Velasquez's "Besame Mucho" (Kiss Me A Lot).  She was only 15 at the time she wrote it and ironically enough had never been kissed.

With songwriting as well as other forms of creative writing, experiences in the imagination can be just as real as the ones that happen in the outside world.

For me personally, a song always starts as a feeling.  Kind of like having an itch and trying to scratch it in a way that feels just right, a good song always begins as the desire to find the right words to convey a certain emotion.

Although it's not the most "inspirational" way to describe it, sometimes a strong muse can feel a lot like eating a bad burrito.  You can sense it in the pit of your stomach and you just know that you won't feel better until you get it out of your system.

Most of the times, these end up being the best songs.
That's why there's nothing like knowing that other people appreciate your music.  When someone enjoys your song, they are identifying with part of how you experience life.  I love singing live because there's something special about seeing the way that people interact with music.  It's different from any other art form.  For example, you never see a crowd of people dancing to a painting or singing along to a sculpture.  Music produces a kind of immediate happiness that is contagious. 

This is what makes going to concerts fun.

So if you're in search of inspiration, don't worry about what people will think or what sounds good.  There's always time for improvement later.  Just be honest with yourself.

What do you want to say?

Once you know the answer, your inspiration will find you.

Images credit:

"Guitar Dog","Grandma", "Kissing""Snoop Dog Crowd", "Where can I get a bone"

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Identity Crisis? Growing Up Between Two Cultures

While I was growing up, my grandma who was from Cuba barely knew how to speak English.  So whenever my sister and I wanted to communicate something to her in English that we didn't know how to say in Spanish we would "Cubanize" it for her to understand.  That is, we would say the word the way she would pronounce it - with a thick Cuban accent.

This was especially true with brand names and retail stores.  For my grandma, Wal-Mart sounded like "Whol-mar", McDonald's like "Mac-donahl", and way back when Big Lots used to be Pic 'N' Save we would call it "Peek-an-say" (my personal favorite).  

Every time we would do this, it was amazing how she would just "get it".  

We used to love going to "Chokee Chee" with Grandma

After starting school, I also felt the need to "Americanize" certain Spanish words that didn't have English translations. For example, I would pronounce carne asada the way most Americans would say "car-nay ah-saw-duh".  Doing this however, would occasionally result in some interesting miscommunications.  

I never forget the time my first grade teacher asked me who my favorite singer was.  During the late '90's, my mom enjoyed listening to an Argentinean Evangelical Singer named Rabito and would always play his CD in the car. Because a lot of his songs were fun and upbeat, I considered him my favorite too.   

NSync had nothing on Rabito

So when my teacher asked, "Is your favorite singer Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera?".

I answered, "No, I like Rabito.".

My teacher paused, gave me a strange look and said, "Rabbit Toe?".

As a kid, being bilingual can feel a lot like living between two worlds Compared to everyone else at school, I listened to different music, ate different foods, and spoke a different language with my family.  

When I started to realize that I was unlike most kids, I began to sense the pressure to "be normal" and to only speak English at home.

However, my mom who had also grown up bilingual would always tell me that speaking Spanish and being familiar with the Hispanic culture was something that would benefit me in the future.  Validating the old saying"mother knows best", the latest science today couldn't agree more with my mom.  

The most recent research on the subject shows that although the early years of growing up with another language may cause some children to experience temporary "identity issues", the rewards of retaining a second language will more than make up for it in the long run.  Being bilingual helps the brain think faster, process words more effectively, and even prevent Alzheimer's disease later in life.  

As I got older, I began to see the benefits of maintaining both cultures.  Many times teachers would ask me to interpret for them in order to communicate with students who couldn't speak English.  As a result, I became good friends with the kids who were usually the ones outcasted by others due to language barriers.

Knowing another language not only changes the way you understand speech, but also the way you understand people.  

I hope that my music will inspire other young Latinos in America to stay in touch with their language and heritage. We come from a rich and vibrant culture that is meant to be celebrated, not forgotten.

No matter where we're from, we all have roots that are worth exploring.  Sometimes digging them up means that we have to encounter a few "rabbit toes" along the way.