|Desi Arnaz in 1950 (Public Domain)|
Long before the world loved either Desi or Lucy, Babalu-aye was considered by many West Africans to be "Father, lord of the Earth."
Babalu-aye is an Orisha, which in the Yoruba religion is a "spirit or deity that reflects one of the manifestations of God." Wikipedia explains that Babalu-aye is associated with both healing and disease. He is loved as well as feared because he will reward people with health, yet punish them with disease.
Some are so wary of Babalu-aye that they will not call his name out loud for fear of invoking an epidemic. Desi Arnaz was not one of these timid folks. In fact, his frequent renditions of Margarita
Lecuona's song "Babalu" yielded him the nickname "Mr. Babalu."
Arnaz would not only sing this Cuban song as written, but he would also add his own special touches to it. Wikipedia reports that whenever he and his band would perform "Babalu" live, Arnaz would end it "with an extended conga solo and chorus-refrain section…"
The lyrics of this song directly refer to Santeria, a blend of West African, Roman Catholic and Caribbean religious practices. Things mentioned include Babalu-aye, the cross, a cigar, and aguardiente (similar to
the English term "firewater").
Could Babalu-aye have been involved with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows that "Mr. Babalu" experienced? We humans can only guess at the answer to that.
Copyright October 15, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke All Rights Reserved