Bruno Montuno

I have a playlist where I collect songs that have similar musical components, but I know nothing about musicology. I’m slowly trying to change this. 

This Week’s Sound-Alikes

  • We Don’t Talk About Bruno (2021)
  • L’Via L’Viaquez (2005)
  • Diablo Rojo (2006)
  • Bamoléate (1967)
  • Chan Chan (1984)
  • Lamento De Un Guajiro (1971)

My parenting channels are still abuzz with adoration and gratitude for Encanto. I’ve seen some folks call it Disney’s first movie about generational trauma, and I “movie cried” (my kid’s term) through the whole thing. At my youngest kid’s preschool, the kids are all singing “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” probably the movie’s catchiest hit and a great example of why I hope Lin Manual Miranda keeps making movies forever, and especially with Disney. This particular song is blowing up everywhere, including Tiktok, and even the New York Times is gushing about it. NYT quotes the director, commenting on how Miranda wrote the song: 

“We could see Lin thinking, and he looked at us and said, ‘It feels like a spooky ghost story, like a spooky montuno,’” Howard said, referring to a Cuban musical pattern.
My family was listening to “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” while eating dinner the other night, and my husband said it reminded him of the Mars Volta song, “L’Via L’Viaquez,” which has this fantastic, thick and slinky piano breakdown at 2:33. I like to imagine Miranda might be a fan, but until catching that link to the phrase “spooky montuno” I had no clue about any of the terminology I might use to describe the similarity between the songs. NYT links to a World Cafe conversation about montuno where they describe it as a “syncopated piano vamp,” and I cannot think of much piano that sounds more vampy than this Mars Volta bit. World Cafe offered some examples to illustrate montuno, and tracks 3 and 4 on my playlist are via them. These are admittedly much faster than the Mars Volta song, but the mood feels sympathetic. The fifth track is an old favorite from Buena Vista Social Club, although it was written prior to their recording and falls into the category of son cubano, but I selected it to sit alongside because it’s a bit slower and darker, to my ear. And finally, surfaced to me by WhoSampled, is a 1972 track by Orchestra Harlow & Johnny Pacheco. This is where it all comes together, and if I’d looked at the song credit more carefully I would’ve caught it sooner, but Larry Harlow, a huge figure in American Latin music, and big influence on Mars Volta’s Omar Rodriguez-Lopez performed that thick piano breakdown on L’Via L’Viaquez [more on that]).

Further Reading

Song of the Week – L’Via L’Viaquez, The Mars Volta.” Rock n Roll Remnants, 8/30/2014.

Rodrigo y Gabriela Review by Thom Jurek.” All Music, accessed 2/11/22.

Bamboléate.” Ernesto Lechner, Fania, accessed 2/11/22.

Chan Chan (song).” Wikipedia, accessed 2/11/22.

It Happened One Night at the Cheetah.” Larry Rohter, New York Times, 8/19/2011.

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