In 2006 I played with a 9-piece Cuban charanga band at a big corporate event in Washington, D.C. where the master of ceremonies was a Cuban-born gentleman. During the show this fellow jerked and gyrated wildly to the music displaying no rhythm whatsoever, let alone any Cuban swing. This took the band by surprise given how before introducing the band he had really talked up his lifelong enthusiasm for music and dancing. My friend Hector Torres, who was playing timbales that day, remarked how it just goes to show that someone is either born with rhythm or they’re not. ”You know when the newborn babies in the hospital get hooked up to those monitors that go beep-beep-beep?” he explained, “For kids with real swing those things beep in clave!” I thought this was hilarious and came up with the chorus of the song right there. And though we joked about it all the way back to New York, I told Hector that I thought there was really a song in there somewhere and that if I ever managed to record it that I would have him play on the track. The result was “El Niño Tiene Clave,” a song about a baby whose Afro-Cuban heartbeat left the doctors scratching their heads and all the nurses in the newborn ward dancing in the halls. And as promised I had Hector come in to sing backup and lay down the bongo track, which included a scorching solo near the end of the tune.
Written in Spanish, English translation coming soon
El dia que yo naci Los medicos se reunieron Porque en mi cunita oieron Una irregularidad Una peculiaridad Como una arritmia cardiaca Me sacaron una placa Y me tomaron la presion Y cual fue la situacion La que a mis padres los enfermo No sabia que hacer conmigo Porque mi clave les confundio Vees que mi cardiomonitor Monitoreando mi corazon Mientras los otros hacian "Pi-pi-pi" El mio decia asi De pronto las enfermeras Se empezaron a alborotar Y en la sala de recien-nacidos Comenzaron a bailar Mandaron especialista Cardiologo pediatra Y en lo que solto la pata Llego a esta conclusion Coro: Ese niño tiene swing, Ese niño tiene clave Ese niño tiene swing, camara Ese niño tiene clave Eso niño tiene la sangre negra Tiene ritmo pa'guarachar Ritmo nativo de guaracha y guaguanco Eso niño ya lo sabe Mira que el niño tiene un swing cubano Que servira para bailar, pa' montunear y pa' improvisar Y como dice el tres, tu vees