We have a bit of advice for those of you who will be curating a Valentine’s Day mix. It’s a safe bet to say that many of you will take an easy route with known and obvious selections such as Luis Miguel’s “Besame Mucho,” Café Tacvba’s “Eres,” Leo Dan’s “Como Te Extraño,” and about a million other obvious choices. That’s not to say they’re bad songs (because they‘re not), but they’re quite expected selections; it’s sort of when you’re like, “Oh hey, you bought me socks for Christmas again. How thoughtful.”
Besides our very own “Free Valentine’s Day Playlist,” we’d also like to throw in another recommendation for your Valentine’s Day mixtape to up the ante: “Perfume De Gardenias” — a classic yet almost rare ballad. The song is one of the thousands that Puerto Rican composer/multi-instrumentalist Rafael “El Jibarito” Hernández Marín (1891 – 1965) wrote in his lifetime. His work covered tons of genres from romantic ballads to patriotic tunes, boleros and even lullabies. The man had romance oozing out of every pore as evidenced by many of his compositions: “Cuando Nace El Amor,” “Cuando Nos Besamos,” “Si Me Quisieras,” “Enamorado De Tí,” and more. To put simply, Hernández is the pimp of romantic ballads that time may have forgotten.
Hernández wrote “Perfume De Gardenias” in New York City but didn’t compose/copyright it until 1936 when he lived in Puebla, Mexico. There are very few lyrics to the song but it still does a great job of functioning as a compliment factory that churns out romance at every syllable — “Perfume de gardenias tiene tu boca, bellísimos destellos de luz en tu mirar… Tu cuerpo es una copia de venus de ciprés que envidian las mujeres cuando te ven pasar.”
It roughly translates to “lips perfumed with the scent of gardenias, and a body that’s the envy of all other women”… Woah. An online source claims the song was originally written as a poem and later converted into a song. I can’t verify this as true but I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out to be so.
Many artists have covered the song in different styles as well. Check out a few of my favorites below.
This version is my personal favorite well because, I’m a huge fan of Ibrahim Ferrer. I first learned about “Perfume De Gardenias” while browsing through the Cuban crooner’s discography. His vocals, as always, are excellent and to the point where you could throw this one on a cappella and it would still sound just as great. Pair this one up with his Buena Vista Social Club track “Dos Gardenias” and you’ve got yourself a garden of lust to frolic in.
Los Tres Reyes
Is a love song still a love song if there isn’t a Trio Bolero recording of it? Thankfully, that’s something we don’t mull over with “Perfume” because Los Tres Reyes — the last of the great trios románticos — covered it.
Not to be outdone is Javier “El Rey del Bolero” Solis with his mariachi-fied cover. Check out those pipes. Like Ferrer, you can throw this one on a cappella and get the same effect. Bonus points if you sing this outside your lover’s window.
Granda is on this list based on his mustache alone. Just look at it! The guy was a Cuban, facial-hair Samson who was famously known as El Bigote Que Canta. Anyway, his version is less “romance” and more “dance floor” thanks to a faster tempo. There’s no word on how he was able to smell the scent of gardenias through that janitor-broom thick bigote but I’m sure he figured it out.
Lila Downs released her version of “Perfume” on her album La Sandunga back in 1999. It sounds like she took a page from Capitan Bigote as her version is also a bit faster but no less beautiful.
Finally, let’s end with Tio Chente’s progeny, Alejandro Fernandez. Alejandro dips into his mariachi roots for this one. I asked one of my lady friends for her opinion about this version and all she did was sigh longingly and smile. Okaaay!