Cachao y su Orquesta: El Manicero
From 7″ (Maype, 1968)

Johnny Sedes: El Manicero
From Mama Calunga (Fonseca, 1969)

Ranil and His Tropical Band: El Manicero
From Ranil’s Jungle Party (Masstropicas, 2010)

“El Manicero (The Peanut Vendor)” is easily one of the best known Cuban compositions in the world, covered many many many times over yet it is a tune I never, ever seem to tire of. I’ve been lax in actually showing proper love even though my intentions have been there for a while: both Cachao and Sedes’ versions had been in the back of my head for future posts but it was hearing Peru’s Raul Llerena’s version tonight that finally forced me to bajar mi culo.

Cachao’s is straight classique, from one of Cuba’s grand masters and while I’d hesitate to call this the definitive version (I’m sure, in fact, it’s not), there’s something about this that sounds like how you ideally want “El Manicero” to sound. Every part of the song is done beautifully, especially as the opening builds from percussion, to guitar, to piano, to horns, and finally to vocals. Perfect.

Finding this song on Sedes’ album was unexpected if only because it seemed like a bit of an old fashioned choice for a song that otherwise sounded quite contemporary but like everything else on the incredible Mama Calunga LP, Sedes and his team murder their version, especially around 2:20 when they downshift in tempo and rework the song into a slow burner of a son montuno only to descarga it up by the end. At five and a half minutes, Sedes gives his band room to play and their joy is palpable in every bar.

Lastly, we come to Ranil and His Tropical Band with a Peruvian chicha twist on the tune. Gotta love the mash-up of styles here, with the telltale surf guitar of chicha playing the main melody, a cumbia beat to rock to, and then, out of nowhere, what most definitely sounds like a few licks of “Mambo Italiano” thrown in! This is off of a killer new reissue that Light in the Attic is helping distribute, bringing one of the lost legends of 1970s Peruvian cumbia to light (I’ll be writing more about this album in the near future).