GIFTS FROM HER FATHER

by Deborah Medley

Melodiaʼs father, Raul Mendoza, was a musician, a very good musician. He was a self- taught Latin percussionist who specialized in Latin Jazz, Salsa and Latin Ballroom. He played beautiful rumba, mambo, samba, cha-cha and bossa nova, and this is what first attracted me to him. Eventually we married and had our daughter, Melodia.

Raul lived and breathed his music. In our little beach house in Ecuador he had an extensive library of wall-to-wall LPʼs of all the greatest jazz, classical and rock music of his time and before. For him, his music collection was his greatest material possession. Though there were hundreds of albums in his music library, he knew exactly where each one was kept. He had perfect recall for what was in his collection, and he took pleasure in taking care of it.

In our house there was music from the time we woke up until the lights went out at night. Sometimes it served as background music for the normal goings-on of daily life, the cooking and house cleaning, the bargaining with the fishermen who brought us the live catch for our meals, Raulʼs hammering and sawing as he worked on his building projects (a playhouse for Melodia, a spare bedroom, new floorboards to replace the ones the relentless equatorial termites had been feasting on). The sounds of Raulʼs congas, bongos, cowbells and assorted percussion instruments added an upbeat accompaniment to our work and to Melodiaʼs play.

Sometimes the music was lyrical and light. One of our favorites was Debussyʼs “Afternoon of a Faun”. This was Melodiaʼs nighttime falling asleep music. Raul was an expert at creating mood and atmosphere through music. His most powerful mode of communication was through his music, whether he was making live music or playing recordings of others. When he wanted to smooth things over with me after a tiff, he chose samba or bossa nova. I got the message. It almost always worked. Raul and I were hopeless romantics, and as I well know, for romantic types, itʼs the music, the poetry, the unspoken language of love, heartbreak and passionate making up that works its magic. When he wanted to entertain friends (and strangers, too) Raul broke out the beers and put some hip-shaking, booty-swiveling salsa on the stereo. He took his seat at his three conga drums and played along energetically to the beat of Latin musicʼs best. This is when everyone of all ages gathered to dance. Raul liked Melodia to be in the middle of it all. And I allowed it until the later hours of the evening when the adults liked to play their adult games (you get the picture).

Because there was music in our house, there was dance. Lots of dance. Raul was an expert salsa dancer. His favorite musical activity after playing and listening to music was to dance. When we were first dating, he made a point of giving me dance lessons. I remember him telling me the Latin movement is subtle, in the footwork, that the arms float effortlessly at the sides of the body and hips quietly follow. In our little beach house in Ecuador, when the guests were lively, the music was hot and the beer was flowing, with Melodia in the middle of it all, we saw our little dancer grooving to the music that her father made for us all.

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