Musical Notes

The rainbow journey of the song ‘Cucurrucucu Paloma’

Caetano Veloso’s rendition of the Spanish song bares the souls of men in love in ‘Happy Together’ and ‘Moonlight’.

In Barry Jenkins’s coming-of-age movie Moonlight, drug dealer Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) drives from Atlanta to Miami to meet his school crush Kevin (André Holland). As he coasts through an empty stretch, the camera follows his car. Brazilian legend Caetano Veloso’s rendition of the Spanish song Cucurrucucu Paloma plays in the background.

Chiron has reconciled with his estranged mother when he sets out to meet Kevin, and he is filled with hope. In Wong Kar Wai’s Happy Together (1997), Cucurrucucu Paloma comes in the first 10 minutes of the film, as Ho Po-wing (Leslie Cheung) and Lai Yiu-fai (Tony Leung Chiu-wai) embark on a road trip through Argentina to visit the Iguazu waterfalls and add some excitement to their mundane romance. The two men become disillusioned with each other and break up on the highway.

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Happy Together (1997).

The bridge between the sequences, one about a possible link-up and the other about heartbreak, is Velaso’s soulful voice. The short sequence in Moonlight is a direct homage to Happy Together. “Even the way we framed the car driving down the highway is the same,” Jenkins said in an interview.

Cucurrucucu Paloma (it means the cooing dove in Spanish) was written by Mexican singer and composer Tomás Méndez in 1954. The tune has appeared on numerous film soundtracks, including Escuela de vagabundos (1955), The Last Sunset (1961), Le Magnifique (1973), My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? (2009), The Five-Year Engagement (2012). The 1965 Mexican film Cucurrucucú Paloma takes its name from the song.

Harry Belafonte, Joan Baez and Julio Iglesias are among the artists who have recorded the song, but it is Veloso’s version that has endured, becoming something of an anthem for films about unrequited love.

One of the song’s most moving film appearances is in Spanish director Pedro Almodovar’s Talk To Her (2002). Veloso performs the onomatopoeic “cu cu rru cu” refrain himself in the sequence. The listeners include two weeping men, both of whom are reminded of the women they love. The ability of Cucurrucucu Paloma to suggest both bereavement and hope makes it a favourite of directors the world over.

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Talk To Her (2002).
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London then and now – As experienced by Indians

While much has changed, the timeless quality of the city endures.

“I found the spirit of the city matching the Bombay spirit. Like Bombay, the city never sleeps and there was no particular time when you couldn’t wander about the town freely and enjoy the local atmosphere”, says CV Manian, a PhD student in Manchester in the ‘80s, who made a trip to London often. London as a city has a timeless quality. The seamless blend of period architecture and steel skyscrapers acts as the metaphor for a city where much has changed, but a lot hasn’t.

The famed Brit ‘stiff upper lip, for example, finds ample validation from those who visited London decades ago. “The people were minding their business, but never showed indifference to a foreigner. They were private in their own way and kept to themselves.” Manian recollects. Aditya Dash remembers an enduring anecdote from his grandmother’s visit to London. “There is the famous family story where she was held up at Heathrow airport. She was carrying zarda (or something like that) for my grandfather and customs wanted to figure out if it was contraband or not.”

However, the city always housed contrasting cultures. During the ‘Swinging ‘60s’ - seen as a precursor to the hippie movement - Shyla Puri’s family had just migrated to London. Her grandfather still remembers the simmering anti-war, pro-peace sentiment. He himself got involved with the hippie movement in small ways. “He would often talk with the youth about what it means to be happy and how you could achieve peace. He wouldn’t go all out, but he would join in on peace parades and attend public talks. Everything was ‘groovy’ he says,” Shyla shares.

‘Groovy’ quite accurately describes the decade that boosted music, art and fashion in a city which was till then known for its post-World-War austerities. S Mohan, a young trainee in London in the ‘60s, reminisces, “The rage was The Beatles of course, and those were also the days of Harry Belafonte and Ella Fitzgerald.” The likes of The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd were inspiring a cultural revolution in the city. Shyla’s grandfather even remembers London turning punk in the ‘80s, “People walking around with leather jackets, bright-colored hair, mohawks…It was something he would marvel at but did not join in,” Shyla says.

But Shyla, a second-generation Londoner, did join in in the revival of the punk culture in the 21st century. Her Instagram picture of a poster at the AfroPunk Fest 2016 best represents her London, she emphatically insists. The AfroPunk movement is trying to make the Punk culture more racially inclusive and diverse. “My London is multicultural, with an abundance of accents. It’s open, it’s alive,” Shyla says. The tolerance and openness of London is best showcased in the famous Christmas lights at Carnaby Street, a street that has always been popular among members of London’s alternate cultures.

Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)
Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)

“London is always buzzing with activity. There are always free talks, poetry slams and festivals. A lot of museums are free. London culture, London art, London creativity are kept alive this way. And of course, with the smartphones navigating is easy,” Shyla adds. And she’s onto something. Manian similarly describes his ‘80s rendezvous with London’s culture, “The art museums and places of interest were very illustrative and helpful. I could tour around the place with a road map and the Tube was very convenient.” Mohan, with his wife, too made the most of London’s cultural offerings. “We went to see ‘Swan Lake’ at the Royal Opera House and ‘The Mousetrap’ by Agatha Christie. As an overseas graduate apprentice, I also had the pleasure to visit the House of Lords and take tea on the terrace.”

For the casual stroller along London’s streets today, the city would indeed look quite different from what it would’ve to their grandparents. Soho - once a poor suburb known for its crime and sex industry - is today a fashionable district of upmarket eateries and fashion stores. Most of the big British high street brands have been replaced by large international stores and the London skyline too has changed, with The Shard being the latest and the most impressive addition. In fact, Shyla is quite positive that her grandfather would not recognise most of the city anymore.

Shyla, though, isn’t complaining. She assures that alternate cultures are very much alive in the city. “I’ve seen some underground LGBT clubs, drag clubs, comedy clubs, after midnight dance-offs and empty-warehouse-converted parties. There’s a space for everybody.” London’s cosmopolitan nature remains a huge point of attraction for Indian visitors even today. Aditya is especially impressed by the culinary diversity of London and swears that, “some of the best chicken tikka rolls I have had in my life were in London.” “An array of accents flood the streets. These are the people who make London...LONDON,” says Shyla.

It’s clear that London has changed a lot, but not really all that much. Another aspect of Indians’ London experience that has remained consistent over the past decades is the connectivity of British Airways. With a presence in India for over 90 years, British Airways has been helping generations of Indians discover ‘their London’, just like in this video.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of British Airways and not by the Scroll editorial team.