Back in 2003, Pau Donés, the guitarist, singer and songwriter of Spanish pop/rock act Jarabe de Palo, released “Bonito,” an album full of positivity, highlighted by the single of the same name. The track, a sparse ditty set over strumming guitar and percussions was all about happiness. Take the lyrics, for example: “Pretty. Everything seems pretty. Pretty morning. Pretty place. Pretty bed. How pretty the day that just started. Pretty life. Breath. Breath.”
Donés, a thoughtful, beloved artist whose music had the soul of a troubadour — a mix of soulfulness, earthy sounds, acoustic guitars and story-teller lyrics — died Tuesday (June 9), at 53, after battling cancer for years.
More than 10 years ago, when we spoke about “Bonito,” he told me the song was the result of “waking up one day and realizing that I was under siege. I read the newspaper and the information is negative. I walk down the street and people are angry. I was being attacked by a flow of negative information that almost made me want to stay in bed. I thought the world couldn’t be doing so badly. We had to have some virtue. So I said, ‘Let’s write something that doesn’t have a bad vibe.’ And that’s the direction it took.”
In that same interview, Donés also tackled the lack of solidarity and empathy between people of difference origins, a subject he sang about in “Los Cruces de Tijuana.”
“Traveling around the world should be an obligation,” he said ruefully. “It would make us all more tolerable of each other.”
Donés, an eternal optimist, was working on new material at the time of his death. And as recently as April, had discussed his comeback. In his honor and memory, here are five essential Jarabe de Palo tracks, including some of his biggest hits.
1. “La Flaca” (1996)
Jarabe de Palo’s breakout hit about his “Skinny” Cuban love interest — 100 pounds of skin and bones and salsa — only reached No. 38 on Hot Latin Songs and No. 9 on Latin Pop Airplay, but was a hit throughout the Spanish-speaking world. So much, that years later, it was covered by Santana and Juanes.
2. “Agua” (1998)
This melancholy ballad set over guitars and percussion reached No. 4 on the Latin Pop Airplay chart. The black-and-white video (all videos from that album were black and white) of arguing couples is a powerful testament to Donés’ artistic point of view.
3. “La Quiero a Morir” (2001)
Featuring Alejandro Sanz, this powerful rock love anthem struck all the right notes even if it never made it to U.S. charts. “I love her to death,” Donés and Sanz repeat in one of our all-time favorite Jarabe de Palo tracks.
4. “Déjame Vivir (2008)
Donés’ pairing with Mari of Chambao was sultry, slightly surreal and beautiful. With minimum accompaniment, touches of flamenco and beautiful harmonization it drove home a message of individuality.
5. “Bonito” (2003)
Oh yes, “Bonito.” Get ready to celebrate a life well-lived.