Last Thursday, Pistolera drummer and Cordero lead singer, Ani Cordero, celebrated the world premiere of her solo disc titled, Remember. The album, an homage to her Puerto Rican roots dedicated to her family, features 11 covers of folk and revolutionary songs from across Latin America—the soundtrack to Ani’s childhood. NYC’s Joe’s Pub was the perfect setting for this intimate show that seemed to place us in the Cordero family living room, circa 1975.
On stage, Ani moved from instrument to instrument, at one point playing the guitar, singing, and pedaling the kick drum at the same time. Erich Hubner from Man or Astroman? joined her on electric guitar and Pistolera bandmate Maria Elena was on accordion and bass. Show highlights included a Spanish version of Os Mutantes’ “Panis et circenses,” a somberly moderato cover of Chavela Vargas’ “Macorina,” a cajón-accented “El flamboyán,” and Ani’s take on “Choferito,” which caused a riotous audience sing/clap along.
In the audience, her mother and aunt proudly waved Puerto Rican flags and snapped pictures, particularly during an impromptu “Qué Bonita Bandera” interlude. As press-pass luck would have it, I ended up sitting at the same table as Ani’s family, so I decided to chat with Ani’s mom and musical influence after the show while she sold CDs for her daughter.
Ani’s mom is named Milagros Cordero but everyone calls her Mili because “los Americanos no saben decir ‘Milagros.’” Ani’s parents met at La Universidad de Puerto Rico, where they played in a “tuna” or “estudiantina,” which are groups of college students who play folk music together. She played the guitar and Venezuelan cuatro and he played mandolin and bandurria.
Her parents moved to Boston to continue their studies and that’s where Ani was born. “From the time she was a little girl, Ani loved rhythm. She would pull the rhythm out of anything that fell into her hands.” This was during the ’70s, a time marked by the tail end of the Vietnam War, as well as the Nueva Trova song movement in Latin America. Despite living so far away from Puerto Rico, Mili did her best to expose her daughter to this new protest music with artists like Haciendo Punto en Otro Son, Danny Rivera, and Piero. “It wasn’t just about Vietnam, it was about human rights. Both my husband and I have a background in health and so that’s what we wanted—health as a human right. ‘Yo quiero un pueblo que ría y que cante; yo quiero un pueblo que sea saludable,’” Mili said, improvising her own lyrics to Danny Rivera’s classic song, “Tu pueblo es mi pueblo,” a cover that Ani ended the night with. It was not recorded for Remember but Ani learned it three days prior to sing for her mother.
I asked Mili if she thought things had actually gotten better since the ’70s and she said that they had, that the music and the activism had not been in vain. “But then we relaxed and became indifferent and now things are bad, which is why this is the perfect time to revisit these songs. These days we are too individualistic. The most important thing is to keep your neighbor in mind; how we can help our neighbor and how can we regain that sense of a community once again.”
Though the album includes a cadre of great musicians such as Sergio Dias of Os Mutantes and Charles Giordano of the E Street Band, the minimalism of the live show gave the music a nostalgic air and poignant simplicity. By bringing these songs into the present, Ani reminds us of their power and relevance. This collection shows that there is nothing glib about these tracks, and that the artists who authored them were brave for doing so. It takes a lot of strength to be an idealist. As history has shown us, one must be relentless.