NICARAGUA: Tuyo Lo Que Soy - Salvador Cardenal Barquero
Updated: Jul 23
The first and only solo studio album from one of Nicaragua's proudest sons, catchy tunes and bittersweet lyricism are on full display
Hailing from the world’s most triangular country, Nicaragua, singer-songwriter, painter, and environmentalist Salvador Cardenal Barquero has many albums to his name, but his 2000 album Tuyo Lo Que Soy is the only studio album that was released during his lifetime. Cardenal Barquero made his name in the 1980s with a series of albums he recorded with his sister, Katia Cardenal, under the name Dúo Guardabarranco, named after the national bird of Nicaragua, which in English is known as the motmot. The duo gained much fame in their native Nicaragua, as well as a steady reputation across the world music circuits. Their music was in the style of Cuban nueva trova, a kind of stripped back folk music that dealt with political and social themes, often with revolutionary overtones. That such music would gain huge popularity and adoration during the Nicaraguan civil war that dominated the 1970s and 80s is understandable, but Cardenal Barquero knew how to move with the times, as well as react to them. By the turn of the millennium, with the civil war having been finished for a decade, Cardenal Barquero, like his country, seems to have mellowed out, and the music reflects that, with a large proportion of the songs on Tuyo Lo Que Soy (which translates to ‘yours is what I am’) being romantic in nature.
“By touching on politics, social iniquities, and the human condition, Cardenal Barquero is demonstrating his connection to the music that he started out making, as well as highlighting the causes, like peace and environmental activism, that he was passionate about.”
This album is immensely charming. The opening track, Mi Canción, begins with a Cuban style rhythm on the bongos and congas, as well as a guitar track that wouldn’t be out of place on a Buena Vista Social Club album. Cardenal Barquero’s smooth, relaxed vocals really manage to draw us in to his first solo effort. Busca el Amor is another beautiful track, with a catchy, simple chorus, and a bittersweet tone to it that dominates a lot of the album, as the gentle acoustic guitars and lento vocals manage to evoke a sadness as well as a joyous feel. Though it is hard to pick a favourite song, it could very well be Cuando Éramos Chavalos, an upbeat nostalgic number that reflects the feeling that many of us have about recalling a simpler time in one’s youth where all you needed were the simple pleasures that Cardenal Barquero mentions, such as ‘frutas del campo y la comida de la casa’, fruits of the field and homemade food. The chorus has a catchy tune, and Cardenal Barquero is successful in evoking that lingering nostalgia that lives in all of us through the simplicity of the lyrics.
His lyrics always seem well thought out, with a song like the melancholic Colibri demonstrating this nicely. A mournful, almost funereal song, he sings about a hummingbird smelling a beautiful flower in the garden of heaven, who then goes traversing across the Earth in search of it, across ‘campos de paz y guerra’, fields of peace and war. When he is unable to find it, he begins to cry, at which point the narrator reveals that the flower, when on Earth, lives in his heart, though he is unable to see its beauty or feel its love, and this profound sentiment is what makes his work resonate more than just your average singer-songwriter singing about love. This is because occasionally he is unafraid to tackle deeper topics, and like good poetry it is open to wide interpretations, from the futility of trying to find perfection on Earth, to recognising the power and love within us all, to recognising the destruction done to the world in both times of peace and war. By touching on politics, social iniquities, and the human condition, Cardenal Barquero is demonstrating his connection to the music that he started out making, as well as highlighting the causes, like peace and environmental activism, that he was passionate about.
The music is catchy, warm, and breezy, and simply wonderful to listen to. Cardenal Barquero also had a great ear for an earworm, and many of these songs could easily get stuck in your head. Cardenal Barquero understood the cardinal rule of good pop songwriting – above all, make it truly entertaining. For those who understand Spanish, a close listen to the lyrics is also highly recommended. The album is a lovely introduction to Cardenal Barqueros work and inspired lyricism, but even if you’re unaware of all of that and unable to speak Spanish, it is still worth your time as it is engaging, full of fun tunes, easily listenable, and a prime example of Latin folk. Sadly, Cardenal Barquero’s glittering career was cut short in 2010 at the age of 49, after suffering for nearly a decade with a rare blood disease. It makes a song like Duerme Salvador, a song that is a lullaby to his son, even more poignant. However, Cardenal Barquero’s legacy lives on, and more than a decade since his passing he remains an icon of Nicaraguan music, with a yearly festival and a museum dedicated to his memory. Over the course of his career, he wrote songs that made an impact amongst the people of Nicaragua, and he lives on in their memory. Listen to Tuyo Lo Que Soy, and you’ll have an idea as to why.