HONDURAS: Hablo Español - Polache
Pleasant guitar pop with a bit of an edge, Polache's debut album shows us why he is well-regarded in his home nation
To most Western music fans, the popular Latin music that they will probably know best is from the United States. The genre in question is salsa music, which is a mix of many Latin American styles like son, mambo, murga, and Western genres like jazz, and it was largely created by Puerto Rican, Dominican, Panamanian and Cuban immigrants to the US. This kind of hodgepodge genre has deservedly achieved great success across the world, with names like Celia Cruz, Rubén Blades, and Héctor Lavoe all achieving great renown. However, by no means is this all that Latin America has to offer, with the whole continent having thriving music scenes of all stripes in all nations. While the larger nations like Brazil, Argentina, or Mexico might gain most of the attention, there is good music to be found everywhere, such as in the country in focus for this review, Honduras. The Honduran singer-songwriter Polache made his mark with his 2008 debut album, Hablo Español, and has remained since then as one of Honduras’s most popular singers. When listening to Hablo Español, it is easy to see why, as the album is very enjoyable, with several catchy tunes, and an easy, relaxed Latin pop rhythm throughout.
“Polache manages to get across his Honduran identity through the lyrics and the music.”
Polache’s stage name comes from his birth name, Paul Hughes Ramos, with ‘Pol-ache’ being the Spanish pronunciation of ‘Paul H’. His father is British and his mother is Honduran, and, according to the biography section on his website, “he carries with him a mix of European and Honduran roots, rhythms, and traditions”, and this is apparent on his debut album, despite the overt Latin flavour. Songs like Cortala are more in a Western pop vein, albeit sung in Spanish and with a Latin beat to it, while a song like the title track is firmly in a cumbia-esque style. It is one of the best songs on the album, and the lyrics are a slyly satirical slight on the incomprehensibility of Honduran slang to other Spanish-speaking nations, the title itself meaning ‘I speak Spanish’. This pride in his Honduran identity is evident on the second song, Mira Honduras, which translates to ‘look, Honduras’, a rather touching patriotic song with a twist. Instead of disregarding his country’s problems, he sings about them, acknowledges them and asks the listener to “look at Honduras with different eyes”, to see the wealth of possibility that lies within the country’s population, and that the current problems of poverty, deforestation, and corruption can be dealt with if not ignored. The use of a children’s choir in the latter half of the song, singing the chorus alongside Polache, is simple but effective; his message is one he hopes will inspire a younger generation to forge a path forward to a better future.
The album is consistently good throughout its almost one-hour runtime, though the best songs are found in the first half. After Cortala I do find myself losing a bit of interest in the album, but nonetheless it’s entertaining throughout. There is a lack of variety in the album – Polache knows what he is good at and broadly sticks to that – but it does do what it does rather well. He is also a very talented guitar player, and as something of a guitarist myself, I always enjoy listening to guitar music, especially when as detailed and beautiful as it is here. Overall, Polache manages to get across his Honduran identity through the lyrics and the music, even if it mostly sounds like Latin pop that is not necessarily linked to specific country or musical scene. What really does make the album worth a listen is the upbeat energy that permeates the entire piece. Polache’s voice is quite characterful even if he isn’t the next Freddie Mercury, and that charisma carries many of the less memorable songs, and heightens the better ones. So, if you’re curious to know what makes the hit parade in Tegucigalpa, you can’t go far wrong by starting here.