The Peanut Vendor
The Peanut Vendor (original title: "El Manisero") is a Cuban song based on a street-seller's cry, and known as a pregón. It is possibly the most famous piece of music created by a Cuban musician. "The Peanut Vendor" has been recorded more than 160 times, sold over a million copies of the sheet music, and was the first million-selling 78 rpm of Cuban music.
- Maní, maní, maní…
- Si te quieres por el pico divertir,
- Cómprame un cucuruchito de maní...
- Maní, el manisero se va,
- Caballero, no se vayan a dormir,
- Sin comprarme un cucurucho de maní.
The score and lyrics of "El Manisero" were by the Cuban son of a Basque musician, Moises Simons (1889–1945). It sold over a million copies of sheet music for E.B. Marks Inc., and this netted $100,000 in royalties for Simons by 1943. Its success led to a 'rumba craze' in the US and Europe which lasted through the 1940s. The consequences of the Peanut Vendor's success were quite far-reaching.
The number was first sung and recorded by the vedette Rita Montaner in 1927 or 1928 for Columbia Records. The biggest record sales for "El Manisero" came from the recording made by Don Azpiazú and his Havana Casino Orchestra in New York in 1930 for Victor Records. The band included a number of star musicians such as Julio Cueva (trumpet) and Mario Bauza (saxophone); Antonio Machín was the singer. There seems to be no authoritative account of the number of 78 rpm records of this recording sold by Victor; but it seems likely that the number would have exceeded the sheet music sales, making it the first million-selling record of Cuban (or even Latin) music.
The lyrics were in a style based on street vendors' cries, a pregón; and the rhythm was a son, so technically this was a son-pregón. On the record label, however, it was called a rhumba-fox trot, not only the wrong genre, but misspelled as well. After this, the term rumba was used as a general label for Cuban music, as salsa is today, because the numerous Cuban terms were not understood abroad. Rumba was easy to say and remember.
On the published score both music and lyrics are attributed to Simons, though there is a persistent story that they were written by Gonzalo G. de Mello in Havana the night before Montaner was due to record it in New York. Cristóbal Díaz says "For various reasons, we have doubts about this version... 'El manisero' was one of those rare cases in popular music where an author got immediate and substantial financial benefits... logically Mello would have tried to reclaim his authorship of the lyrics, but that did not occur."  The second attack on the authorship of the lyrics came from none other than the great Fernando Ortíz. For Ortíz, the true author was an unknown Havana peanut seller, of the second half of the 19th century, who served as the basis for a danza written by Gottschalk. Of course, it may well be that elements of the song were to be found in real life. The English lyrics are by L. Wolfe Gilbert and Marion Sunshine; the latter was Azpizú's sister-in-law, who toured with the band in the U.S.A. as singer. The English lyrics are, in the opinion of Sublette, of almost unsurpassed banality.
The Peanut Vendor had a second life as a hit number when Stan Kenton recorded it with his big band for Capitol Records, in 1947. This was also a great and long-lasting hit, re-recorded by Kenton twice with the band, and played by him later in life as a piano solo. The Kenton version was entirely instrumental, with the rhythmic pattern emphasised by trombones.
Legacy and influence
The Peanut Vendor has been recorded more than 160 times. Because of its cultural importance, in 2005 "The Peanut Vendor" was included into the United States National Recording Registry by the National Recording Preservation Board, which noted:
- "It is the first American recording of an authentic Latin dance style. This recording launched a decade of 'rumbamania', introducing U.S. listeners to Cuban percussion instruments and Cuban rhythms." The song was inducted into the Latin Grammy Hall of Fame in 2001.
Several films included versions of "El Manisero". It appeared in The Cuban Love Song by MGM (1931), with Ernesto Lecuona as musical advisor; Groucho Marx whistled the tune in the film Duck Soup (1933); Cary Grant sang it in the film Only Angels Have Wings (1939); Judy Garland sang a fragment in the film A Star is Born (1954). More recently, it was featured in the Carnaval scene of Jose Luis Cuerda's La lengua de las mariposas (Butterfly 1999). The Peanut Vendor was played by Ska legend Tommy McCook and used in such classic reggae songs as "Top Ten" by Gregory Issacs.
Of the 160+ recorded versions, these are perhaps the most significant versions:
- 1928 Rita Montaner for Columbia records. This was the first recording. Tumbao TCD 46.
- 1930 Don Azpiazú and his Havana Casino Orchestra Victor Records. The version which started the rumba craze; singer Antonio Machín. Harlequin HQ 10.
- 1930 Antonio Machín with the Cuarteto Machín. Harlequin HQ 24.
- 1930 California Ramblers. Columbia 2351. First recording by a U.S. group.
- 1931? Sexteto Okeh (Los Jardineros) Okeh 14027.
- 1931 Louis Armstrong and his Sebastian New Cotton Club Orchestra OKeh 41478. First version by a U.S. jazz group; also on Parlophone PMC 7098.
- 1947 Stan Kenton. The second largest selling 78rpm version. First significant instrumental version.
- 1949 Django Reinhardt
- 1961 Alvin "Red" Tyler. Instrumental. Used in the 5th episode of season 2 of the acclaimed TV series Breaking Bad, "Breakage".
- 2001, Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba included his version on the album Supernova.
- Giro, Radamés 2007. Diccionario enciclopédico de la música en Cuba. La Habana. vol 4, p147
- Listed in Díaz Ayala, Cristóbal 1988. Si te quieres por el pico divertir: historia del pregón musical latinoamericano. Cubanacan, San Juan P.R. p317–322. [list fairly complete up to 1988]
- Orovio, Helio 2004. Cuban music from A to Z. p202
- Simons' own account: see Díaz Ayala, Cristóbal 1988. Si te quieres por el pico divertir: historia del pregón musical latinoamericano. Cubanacan, San Juan P.R. p238
- Sublette, Ned 2004. Cuba and its music: from the first drums to the mambo. Chicago. Chapter 17, p399.
- Probably the latter date: the issue cannot be resolved from surviving records. Díaz Ayala, Cristóbal 1988. Si te quieres por el pico divertir: historia del pregón musical latinoamericano. Cubanacan, San Juan P.R. p235
- 1931 in music#Top hits on record. Helio Orovio, in Cuban music from A to Z (2004 translation, p36, top) describes it as "selling a million copies for the RCA Victor label"; Don Azpiazú's son Raul suggested it sold 5–10 million copies: liner notes to Harlequin HQ CD 10 Don Azpiazu. However, this is not definitive, and the text is more reserved.
- perhaps to represent the Spanish pronunciation of 'u'.
- Díaz Ayala, Cristóbal 1988. Si te quieres por el pico divertir: historia del pregón musical latinoamericano. Cubanacan, San Juan P.R. p238 [rough transl. by contributor]
- Ortiz, Fernando 1954. In Revista Bohemia, March 14.
- Sublette, Ned 2004. Cuba and its music: from the first drums to the mambo. Chicago. Chapter 17, p398.
- This claim is not correct, though it may be the first one noticed by the National Recording Registry!
- "Latin GRAMMY Hall Of Fame". Latin Grammy Award. Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences. 2001. Retrieved August 19, 2014.
- for the full list, consult Díaz Ayala, Cristóbal 1988. Si te quieres por el pico divertir: historia del pregón musical latinoamericano. Cubanacan, San Juan P.R. p318 and following.
- "Supernova — Gonzalo Rubalcaba". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved April 12, 2013.