Inner Michael » A Little Latin Jackson

A Little Latin Jackson

It translated perfectly to Latin. It lost nothing in the translation but indeed gained a kind of unfamiliar joy that made sitting still difficult. Some in the audience couldn’t sit still but jumped up to Salsa in the aisles. If the sitting was difficult, the melancholy was impossible. It was equally hard not to break into a smile from the sheer energy of it.

No, it wasn’t a Latin Mass. And yet maybe it was. It felt like worship. Not of the singer himself, although he is obviously painfully missed, evidenced by the raising of eyes to the heavens as the tribute singers acknowledged a brother, now passed, sometimes addressing him by name. The reverence for the cultural impact of his music in its time was palpable. Michael Jackson is loved. The Festival’s Curator Donald Thoms beamed about the upcoming show assuring the audience “you’ve never heard this kind of Jackson” that Succar says retains classic Jackson with a little Latin spice — it’s all about unity and love.

Tonight Public Broadcasting Corporation’s Arts Fall Festival presented a Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson. It would have been difficult to imagine Jackson’s music Latinized decades ago but now it seems a natural transition and translation. Would Michael have approved? It’s likely; in fact one could almost see him lurking behind the stage curtain listening intently, chuckling and grinning as he realized the rhythms work in many musical “languages.” He would have been tickled, not so much from the obvious nod to his talent and legacy, but from the Latin signature and how it changed the music.

The tribute began with Billie Jean as one wondered initially, how to you Latin-ize an iconic Pop song, so American in its origins in the awkward and easy ballads of the eighties? How do you translate from “dance on the floor in the round” to salsa in the round? Well, they did as they added a layer of richness that adhered like varnish to an emblematic song.

“Smooth Criminal” lends itself more easily to a Latin beat– beats between the already dark anticipation beat of some sort of sleight of hand. Somehow Annie seems more OK. The blasts of the horn section “testify.”

Five years in the making, Tony Succar pulled it off with Jean Rodriguez, Michael Stuart, Angel Lopez, Obie Bermúdez, Kevin Ceballo, Jon Secada, Judith Hill, Jean Rodriguez and Jennifer Peña along with the genius of Sheila E.

How fitting that they chose Judith Hill- not a Latina- to sing Michael’s opus “Earth Song. I’m not sure anyone else could have given it the emotion that it begs and deserves. In concerts it constituted Michael’s most authentic and expansive emotional delivery followed by “Man in the Mirror.” Hill was with Jackson right up until he died. She was part of the cast and crew of “This Is It” This performance and all the rehearsals had to take her right back to the moment when she heard of Michael’s passing. Revisiting grief like that is not easy. She has spoken before of how haunting it was to go back to that stage, suddenly meaningless and empty because it’s shining star was gone. She remembers the boxes. Stunned, she watched them packing up a performance and a life and removing the boxes. Her performance echoed that sentiment. It’s as if she channeled her best pathos of self along with Jackson’s. She certainly would know it. She performed as if her life depended on it, confirming Michael’s eye and ear for new talent and how Michael chose well those new voices and faces to champion toward their introduction to a hungry public. She championed him in that performance as if it was infinitely urgent to return the favor. The score is now even.

Wearing a dress scattered with rainbows, itself a fitting tribute to the world’s most visible humanitarian, she sang directly from her heart as she belted out the tenets of stewardship and responsibility to all life on the planet. It is said that when Jackson, who customarily sang at the studio mic in the dark, roared the chorus of “Earth Song” it sounded like a lament from the very lungs of the planet. Judith Hill conveyed that same deep melancholy that accompanies the act of standing on the edge of something knowing that moment will never repeat itself and should it slip by and into mediocrity or distant memory, the tragic nature of it would live beyond words. Or beyond worlds.

“Black or White” come from those who are brown, was a testament to how iconic that song is. “I ain’t scared of no brother/I ain’t scared of no sheets/ I ain’t scared of nobody… it don’t matter if you’re black or white, red or yellow, or rainbow… It is as if Jackson was reading tea leaves of not just the past but the future and affirming “Black lives Matter;” “All lives Matter.” “We are,” after all, “the world.”

And how would a Jackson tribute be complete without “Man in The Mirror?” The camera, panning the audience, caught sight of thousands of lighters and lights lit not only in memory and tribute, but in solidarity with a man who understood that the world can change when each of us does. “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” And that is what he lived.

There is something about the sound of congas and a full-bodied horn section behind a Latin singer that amplifies the feeling of grounding and earthy joy that comes through the cultural tradition that is Latin music. It is the mark of a great artist to bring shoes to the story so you can walk in them and understand. But when you bring skin to the story– and make me live inside yours, well then…. I experience.

Michael would be surprised. Michael would be delighted. Michael would be proud. And Michael, living for a bit inside the music… would be something he loved, sought and cherished… “the other.” Michael would be Latino.






One Comment

  1. Dalia said . . .

    The universality of the message and the genius of the notes made by a genius like him, makes it adaptable to all musical genres. It’s beautiful that people keep remembering him.

    Posted October 28, 2015 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *