David Byrne Rei MomoListen to this track by once-big suited Talking Heads frontman turned Latin music enthusiast David Byrne. It’s “Loco De Amor”, or in the English “Crazy For Love”, don’t you know. The track appears on Byrne’s 1989 solo record Rei Momo and his first, put out when Talking Heads was on something of a hiatus (they’d break up officially in 1991), and when his artistic mind turned outward from North American radio play to locales and sounds further to the south.

In addition to the salsa and reggae touched on here on this tune, the record as a whole explores a whole gamut of musical styles common to the Caribbean and South America, with Byrne’s post-punk voice at the center of it all. Stark contrast has always been a big part of the post-punk ethos of course. And there’s plenty of loopiness here that makes the tune as lyrically interesting as much as it is sexy and danceable. “Loco De Amor” contains one of my favourite similes in music: “Like a pizza in the rain/No one wants to take you home …”. So, Byrne was still writing David Byrne songs, just as he’d done while with Talking Heads.

Yet when the song was written, it was with another musician in mind, and several miles away from the world of Talking Heads, too.

The album in many ways was not just a pop record for Byrne, who’d been interested in Latin music for a long time. New York, where the CBGBs scene developed and of which Talking Heads were a part, was also a Mecca for salsa music, thanks to immigration from the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. The salsa clubs in New York helped to usher in the disco era in the 1970s, when Latin music was married to American soul music, and became something entirely new much like it had in the 1950s when jazz musicians began adding Latin textures to be bop.

It was a musical phenomenon with which Byrne was very familiar; that salsa, mambo, merengue, and other Latin American music was very adaptable to musical fusion. So, this record of Byrne’s was something of an act of curation on his part, with liner notes explaining outright the traditions around which each song was arranged.

Yet this is not a traditional roots record by any stretch. As mentioned, Byrne is still following his star, with lyrics that wouldn’t have seemed out of place on a Talking Heads record. The artistry here is the tension between the traditional playing and arrangements, and Byrne’s unique musical signature. “Loco De Amor” illustrates this perfectly, with authentic salsa and reggae textures that remain uncompromised, and are instead complemented, by Byrne’s individual approach to songwriting.

Celia Cruz in 1980 (photo: Lionel Decoster)

Before the album was released, “Loco De Amor” was featured in the 1986 film Something Wild, and sung with Celia Cruz, a bona fide salsa singer and innovator of the form. The song was written especially for the soundtrack, commissioned by filmmaker Jonathan Demme (who directed Stop Making Sense, of course). And when Byrne wrote it with legendary Dominican salsa producer, bandleader, and musician Johnny Pacheco, he did so with the proviso that he could write it as a duet with Cruz.

Here’s what he said of Cruz upon her death in 2003, having been a fan, and having sought to meld his own musical voice with hers:

I appeared with her on stage a few times in New York, and, most notably for me, at a benefit for an AIDS hospice in Mexico City. I was incredibly nervous, and probably not very good, but her generosity — trying to help a gringo rockero find a way into her music, and playing concerts for a myriad of causes — was an inspiration. She obviously wasn’t doing it for career advancement — she already was the Queen — but as a way to bridge cultural gaps. I only wish that more rock & rollers could have discovered the intensity, passion, and soul in her music. Maybe someday. Viva La Reina. (read the whole article).

Quite clearly, the salsa angle was not just an angle. Celia Cruz had a fan in David Byrne. And the founding of Byrne’s label Luaka Bop would establish a new stream of pop music in his body of work, and showcasing the work of others informed by the Latin music, and other folk forms around the world.

For more information about what he’s up to next, check out David Byrne.com

Enjoy!

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