Open Thread: CRI-CRI SONGS!

Cri-Cri the character, Francisco Gabilondo Soler the songwriter, and Vern performing in SJC 2011

Well, I am squeezing a lot into two hours at my concert this Saturday at 5, at the Anaheim United Methodist Church (1000 S. State College, with singers Annemarie Randle-Trejo and Fred Sigala Jr.) I figured the high point would be Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, which ends with the Great Gates of Kiev (Victory to Ukraine!) There’s other classical/romantic composers (Bach, Chopin, Debussy), rock songs (Led Zeppelin, Radiohead, Neil Young) and jazz (Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck.)

But many people seem to be most excited that we’re performing five songs by the great Mexican songwriter/radio personality Francisco Gabilondo Soler, better known as “Cri Cri,” the singing cricket that Mexican children (many without TVs) grew up hearing on their radios from the 30’s to the 70’s. It was really hard for me to choose just five – there are at least two dozen of them that I think are masterpieces, as good as any Beatles songs. We may have to do more in the future.

It might warm the hearts of Anaheim rebels, with our own fraught relationship with Imperial Disney, to know that Walt tried hard to buy the Cri-Cri character to put into his 1940 “Pinocchio,” and Francisco (FGS) wouldn’t sell his character for any price. “Cri Cri belongs to the children of Mexico!” FGS proclaimed. So Walt changed it a little bit to Jiminy Cricket, whom he taught to sing “When You Wish Upon a Star” and FGS celebrated his own defiance with the song “El Ratón Vaquero” – the Cowboy Mouse who speaks English and wields two pistols, which misfire as the mouse stands forlornly in a mousetrap. Fred’ll be singing this one:

The song I’ve performed for years is “El Ropero” in which a child begs his grandmother to open, once again, an old closet that’s filled with things that tell him about his long-lost parents and grandfather. It’s layer upon layer of nostalgia with this child of the 1940’s wanting to relive his grandparent’s early-20th century era (also the time of strongman Porfirio Diaz.)

I love the last lines, with the child saying (in my translation) “Hand me that ancient book with a thousand illustrations – I want to open it! Kids these days like those old stories too, you know.” I call that “KIDSPLAINING” – when kids try to explain to grownups what it’s like to be a kid “in these days.” My sons used to do that too.

Here’s me doing that song in San Juan Capistrano on a painted piano – part of the Pacific Symphony’s 2011 “OC Can You Play” project. Look at all the nice comments I’ve gotten from all over the world, about this song!

When old Mexicans hear me do that song, the first thing they ask is if I can do “La Muñeca Fea,” a beautiful waltz-time song about an UGLY DOLL. This doll has been left in a dark corner forever with a bunch of junk, and feels sorry for herself that nobody loves her. But also in that corner is a mouse (definitely not the Cowboy Mouse) who consoles her:

“Don’t cry, silly, you’re just wrong… your friends are here in this corner:
The Broom and the Dustpan love you.
The Duster and the Shaker love you.
The Spider and the Old Suitcase love you.
And I love you too, and I want to see you happy!”

Don’t worry, Fred will be singing that one!

Annemarie will be singing one of these too! (More than half of Cri Cri’s songs featured a trio of female singers.) Annemarie will sing “La Negrita Cucurumbé,” about an Afro-Cuban girl who wants to be white, and goes to stand in the ocean, hoping that it’ll bleach her as white as the sand, the shells, the foam of the waves. THIS time the deus ex machina isn’t a mouse, but a FISH in a BOWLER HAT, who jumps out of the sea, tips his hat, and tells La Negrita Cucurumbe how beautiful she is, just the way she is naturally. Francisco grew up near Veracruz, which is near Cuba, and not only knew a lot of black people, but was also familiar with danzon, the Carribean dance craze of the time, of which this song is an example.

Then I had to wrap up the set with “Las Canicas,” not one of Cri-Cri’s more famous or popular songs, but the ONLY song I know of about marbles bouncing down a staircase – an inexcusably neglected topic! “Desde el desvan” – Down from the attic tumble the marbles from step to step!” LIBRES Y LOCAS! So many that NOBODY can follow them! “TEN, TWENTY, THIRTY, FORTY, MORE THAN A HUNDRED!” “En alegre libertad!!!”

Saturday’s concert (Facebook event here) will cost an optional donation of $10. But it is free for:

  • kids,
  • people who can’t afford $10,
  • and anybody who can sing a Cri Cri song.

See you there! And this can be your open thread…

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official political troubadour of Anaheim and most other OC towns. Regularly makes solo performances, sometimes with his savage-jazz band The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.