A Havanan Stave

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by: Joanna Castillo

Music is more than itself and can represent not only its own existence, but also it can give meaning about other things. According to Teresa Montoya:

The written text constitutes, together with its musical support, an aesthetic, sensible and concrete representation of reality where it origins; it is individual, singular, unrepeatable. Through its prism the composer gives us his experiences, rich in perceptions, ideas, emotions, etc., all depending on the social context where he develops.[1]

Cuban music can be studied to shape a map about Cuban reality and constitutes an alternative space to think about identity, in that case, of Havana. Something that seems stale and trivial it is necessary to look at it critically to be able to find interesting phenomena that explain why the capital is an important axis to understand the Cuban imaginary, his daily ups and downs and his joys, his inertias and his progresses.

Cuba has a wide and amazing range of musical genres. Many of them were created specifically, in the Havanan context, by musicians from the capital as well as other places of the country that lived in Havana. Another very important group of foundational rhythms of our music were created in different regions of the Island, but unquestionably they reached its splendour in Havana.

Example of this is the son whose origin is located in the western provinces of the country, specifically in the region of Guantánamo-Santiago de Cuba-Holguín. In this context, during the 19th century, some cultural and socio-economic circumstances occurred, which secured that the mixture Afro-Spanish-Cuban, with ingredients from Haiti, fulfilled this musical rhythm. At the beginning of 19th century the son gained a lot of fans. The year 1909 is set as its entrance to Havana. From that period are the groups La créme de vie and Los Apaches, which played mainly son. Another important group that played that genre in the capital was the famous Sexteto Habanero, founded on 1920, and later was called Septeto Habanero. Another musical group that, like the Habanero, is still working nowadays is the legendary Septeto Nacional, founded by Ignacio Piñeiro.

The son kept developing over the years. It is outstanding to mention in the Havanan scene, on the 50´s, groups like Conjunto Chapotin, Benny More with his Gigante band, the Conjunto Casino, the Riverside orchestra and the Aragon orchestra. Since the 70´s to our days, groups like Juan Formel and the Van Van, Adalberto Álvarez and his son, Pablo Milanés, within the genre of songs, among others, keep revolutionizing the Cuban genre with an unquestionable success. Son themes that sing about Havana or choose her as scenery of their stories are: “Tú no me calculas”, by Paulo FG; “No tiene telaraña” by Rosendo Ruiz Quevedo, played by the Reve Orchestra; “Aquí el que baila gana”, by Juan Formel and the Van Van; “Yo si como Candela”, by Félix Chapotin, sang by Omara Portuondo and Adalberto Álvarez and su Son; “Que se sepa, yo soy de La Habana”, by Chucho Valdés, performed by Irakere.

Another important rhythm whose origin is located on the late 19th century is the guaracha. At the beginning, it was part of the musical structure of comedy plays in Havana. Its first features were the festive and satirical atmosphere of Cuban people, which used its structure to criticize, mocking, the colonial governing class and the situations caused by it. At the end of the century, the guaracha varied its structure to create a mixture with the son; many musicians have performed it. In Havana many groups included it n their repertoire like Conjunto Kubavana, Conjunto Casino, Benny More and his Banda Gigante, and more contemporary singers and song writers like Pedro Luis Ferrer and Alejandro García, Virulo.

In Cuba, music, as an artistic manifestation, has approaches many times the subject of Havana. A great amount of songs of different rhythms are examples of that. In the genre of song writing it is important to mention “Sábanas blancas”, by Gerardo Alfonso; “Andar La Habana”, by Ireno García; “La Habana mía”, by Amaury Pérez; the instrumentals “Danzon Habana”, by Lucia Huergo and “Parraga”, by Maraca. In the area of dancing music we could refer to, among others, “Los Sitios entero”, and “La expresiva” by NG La Banda and “La Habana sí”, by Juan Formell and the Van Van.

Cuban Music and its exponents offer a wide range of chances to analyze that huge subject matter that is Havana. The speech goes from elegiac and rebellious tones like the instrumental music and the New Song Writing up to the light-hearted and carefree tones of dancing popular music.  

Joanna Castillo

 

[1]Teresa Montoya Hernández: “the genre violence in the social construction of femininity from the language of Cuban singers of timba and reguetón”, Tortuga “Reguetón, timba and violence towards women”, La Haine, 2009.

 

 

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