Making It Rain Cafe Con Leche: Latin Songs About Coffee, Sex And Politics

Apr 26, 2013
Originally published on June 17, 2013 11:00 am

Coffee runs through the veins of Latin America. As economically and culturally ubiquitous as it is throughout the continent, it's only natural that it would also be a constant theme in Latin American music. But coffee, present throughout Latin song, is rarely just about a cup of joe: the drink and its colors and flavors are often used as a way to discuss sociopolitical realities.

Whether it's Brazilian music legend Gilberto Gil slamming the landed coffee aristocracy, or Dominican singer Juan Luis Guerra wishing it would rain coffee and food on his economically crippled country, coffee can serve as a way to open eyes to a thousand forbidden conversations.

For even more on the many meanings of coffee in Latin American songs, from sex to socioeconomics to the national culture of the countries where coffee is produced, listen to Alt.Latino's podcast on coffee songs of Latin America.

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OK, when MORNING EDITION began gathering reports for Coffee Week, I'm not sure even we realized how much of the world we'd illuminate by exploring this one drink. We've heard this week about everything from the way that coffee spread through European colonialism to the place coffee holds in American popular culture. Coffee also has a huge place in the national lives of countries that produce it, and that's reflected in the music of Latin America. Here's NPR's Jasmine Garsd.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Coffee runs through the veins of Latin America. And if you listen to Latin music, it's never just about coffee. The beverage has led to political battles. Heartbreak has stewed in it, and many passionate nights have been launched with a single delicious cup of coffee.


JUAN LUIS GUERRA: (Singing in Spanish)

GARSD: Dominican singer Juan Luis Guerra "Ojala Que Llueva Cafe," "I Hope It Rains Coffee," is a Latin standard. Its rapid melody is misleadingly cheerful. It was released in 1989, a time of severe economic crisis in the Dominican Republic. He wishes it would rain coffee, that it would shower yucca and tea.


GUERRA: (Singing in Spanish)

GARSD: Guerra wasn't the first musician to tackle economic injustice through coffee. Back in 1968, Brazil's Gilberto Gil penned "A Falencia Do Cafe," or "The Bankruptcy of Coffee," in which he slams the Sao Paolo coffee landowners.


GILBERTO GIL: (Singing in Portuguese)

GARSD: Brazil is the world's largest coffee producer, and it's an industry that has been as profitable as it's been exploitative and corrupt. Up until the 1930s, Brazil's politics were dominated by what was dubbed "Politica do Cafe Com Leite," or "The Politics of Coffee with Milk." It was an alliance between the two most powerful states, Sao Paolo, the center of the coffee industry, and Minas Gerais, the milk producer.

Here's another seemingly playful song, the traditional Cuban "Ay Mama Ines."


BOLA DE NIEVE: (Singing in Spanish)

GARSD: This is the most famous version, by legendary Afro-Cuban singer Bola de Nieve. It's catchy, but he's singing: Here are all the black folks who come to beg for permission to sing and dance. Ay Mama Ines, all black folks drink coffee. The song reflects the racial politics of 19th-century Cuba, but the stereotype of Mama Ines - a loud, cigar-puffing, coffee-drinking black woman - is still widely known today.


CHICO BUARQUE: (Singing in Spanish)

GARSD: In the '70s, Brazilian music gods Chico Buarque and Caetano Veloso wrote two anthems about middle class restlessness, and coffee was portrayed as a staple in the maddening routine of daily life. In "Voce Nao Entende Nada," or "You Don't Understand Anything," Buarque sings: When I home, nothing consoles me. You set the table. I eat. I eat. I eat. Bring me my coffee. I drink it. You must know that I want to travel the world, feel danger.

But there's no solace for Buarque's caffeinated anxiety. In the complementary anthem, "Cotidiano," Veloso adds: Every day, she does the same. She says she's waiting for me for dinner, and she kisses me with a coffee mouth.


CAETANO VELOSO: (Singing in Spanish)

GARSD: Ah, yes, coffee is also a way to sing about love. The passion comes through in El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico's iconic "Azuquita Pa'L Cafe." They croon: How inspired was the creator when he made womankind, and he gave men the sugar to put in the coffee?


EL GRAN COMBO DE PUERTO RICO: (Singing in Spanish)

GARSD: Hearts will break and mend, revolutions will come and go, but dinner will be at the same time tomorrow night, and it will always be followed by a cup of coffee.


EL GRAN COMBO DE PUERTO RICO: (Singing in Spanish)

GARSD: Jasmine Garsd, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.