Couple of Cuban farmers with typical clothes around a country house

The Country, Sex and the Sucu Suco

Tradicionales de los 50 take into your consideration a journalist and poet Luis Sexto’s article about the most regional and indigenous expressions of the Cuban popular music, the sucu suco. Born in the Isle of Youth (former Isle of Pinos), it has a special way to be played and keeps a familiar touch with the son being born in the west of the big isle.

Unfortunately barely the sucu sucos were heard on the radio or not even in the repertoire of the current Cuban bands, nevertheless, this form constitutes a real Cuban musical heritage, its sticky melodies and particular cadence, makes once it’s heard, it’s difficult to be forgotten.


The Country, Sex and the Sucu Suco.

By Luis Sexto

Mongo Rives and his lute
Mongo Rives the most renowned sucu suco singers

The sucu suco still sounds in the shoes of the dancers. It still vibrates in Mongo Rives’s lute, farmer of high-pitched voice and it’s in force a rhythm that’s born in the Isle of Pinos, in the middle of the XIX century. The sucu suco is the mould of the traditional episodes, the chronicle a little satirical of the daily life.

The composer Eliseo Grenet, author of Mamá Inés, put the o instead of u in the last word, when in the 40s the magic wand of his talent let the music from the Isle of Pinos flew away through the stages, dance floors, the gramophones, the radio in Cuba and other countries where the people listened and danced with the Cuban music. But from the beginning it wasn’t called sucu sucu or sucu suco. It emerged to 1840 known as rumba or rumbita. In 1910 it was called cotunto and from 1920 on, the people renamed it like sucu suco.

There’s still a disagreement on the classification. The people from the Isle consider the sucu suco as a new rhythm originally, but with the montuno son inside.  They say that is a different son or “misplayed”.

The difference is appreciated in the percussion. The drum and the bongos, where the rhythmical cells beat, those sound in a different way in the sucu suco. The studious, however, classify it as a variant of the son. It’s unknown what the first was exactly. They’re much related. In 1840 the first sucu suco was sung. The final name came from the Americans. They, the new settlers of the Isle of Pinos, wondered when listening to the rhythm the reason of that “suc, suc”. And that onomatopoeia was the scratch produced by the feet on the floor when dancing the rumba or the cotunto, and the sound that the instruments gave off, among them the machete of work rubbed with another metal.

One of the most famous sucu sucos is Felipe Blanco’s. Grenet made it popular with another lyric. And she inspired to be taken as a sexual metaphor “Conozco a una chiquita, /alegre y sandunguera/que está medio loquita, / caramba por ver el majá… ya los “majases “no tienen cuevas / Felipe Blanco se las tapó, /se las tapó, /se las tapó, /que lo vide yo”. (I know a girl, happy and sandunguera, who’s a little crazy, gee to see the snake…the snakes don’t have caves. Felipe Blanco covered them, covered them, covered them, I saw it myself.)

According to the tradition Felipe Blanco informed on the fighters who led the 1896 uprising in the Isle of Pinos, and they’ve sheltered in the caves. The Spanish used to say: “The snakes” don’t have caves / Felipe Blanco covered them, /covered them, /covered them, /I saw myself”. And the fighters replied: “Felipe Blanco betrayed you/ betrayed you, betrayed you, /betrayed you seen by myself”. And another line followed: “Martínez Campos had a flower/and Maceo took it away, /took it away, took it away /I saw myself”.

There, in the current Isle of Youth (former Isle of Pinos), to the southwest Cuba, Mongo Rives is being cared and worshipped like a local valuable heritage. Dancers christened the troubadour with the nickname “The King of sucu suco” again. Anybody goes to him to propose to fix any incident in music.

Once in a cafeteria in Nueva Gerona, they were serving tea and coffee in no handle cups. A client watching the troubadour as a resigned consumer invited him: Hey, Mongo Rives put this in a sucu suco! «So it’s done», he replied. Back home, the lines of the chorus were spliced, then the rest of the lyrics and the music as well: “the cup doesn’t have a handle/ and I can’t grab it, /if I keep this cup/finally I’ll get burned…”


Source: “Historias de bolsillo”, Luis Sexto. Pablo de la Torriente Publishing House, 2015.

Photos: y

Pedro Calvo with an unmistakable feature; his big hat

Pedrito Calvo: beyond the level

By: Sonia Sánchez

He loves waking up every day, runs to be trained, dances, laughs as if it depends on it (Who could say the otherwise?), celebrates his decades in the land which saw him  being born, and thanks his call of natural man, simple and sincere to who helped him to become  a singer, musician, composer and specially sandunguero. Life itself has made him justice, his own band and above all, the Cuban people. Pedrito Calvo knows about it and he loves who loves him. And there are plenty.

2016 embraced this popular “charanguero”, enduring voice from Van Van band for 30 years and director of his own band La Nueva Justicia today (The New Justice Band), devoted himself with all his artistic fulfillment in the promotion throughout the country of his new dancing CD “Que Humanidad”, subscribed by EGREM, after bearing the burden the successful presentation, last January, together with Karamba, the Cuban Latin pop rock band in the Hay Festival, in Cartagena, Colombia, where the press qualified him like “The badge of a legendary style of the Cuban music”.

Pedro Calvo and José Roberto Rodríguez enjoying Tradicionales de los 50 show
Pedro Calvo and José Roberto Rodríguez enjoying Tradicionales de los 50 show

There was in the ancient the Aduana Square (Customs Square), in the same Historical Center of the city, vallenato, cumbia and emblematic vanvanero songs among these “Se acabó”, “Para que tú lo bailes”. “El negro está cocinando” and some others that he sang in Juan Formell band. Before the event, Jorge Luis Robaina, Karamba director, had said to RCN Radio: we’re starting from this world new song, a link between Pedrito Calvo and us; because the real truth is that this is the first time that it’s happening on a stage level. It’s going to be a very motivating concert, very energetic. It’s going to be all that, the popular and the huge that has been with Pedrito along. And reality made him to be right.

But not even the fame that to him you need to live it naturally like eating or sleeping, or plenty of women who he’s loved his 21 sons, his great proud, made him forget when he came into the world in 1941, “the haunted town”, as his hometown Guanabacoa was baptized because of the obeah practices, the babalawos and the roll of drums that live there. Singing with his soul as a kid (how come not feeling it, having a housewife mom so in tune), although being a cobbler as a need, he went to the prestigious radio contest La Corte Suprema del Arte in 1957 (The Court Supreme of Art).

He was in other programs until being taken in his band, his father, violinist, Pedrito Calvo, in 1960. The “old man” needed a leading voice in his group and who knows if he suddenly said: Shit, my son is a singer. His professional life began from there, this singer of a sandy tone, some say, acute, others, that after drawing on the rhythms from the Riviera, by Elio Revé, Jovenes del Feeling, Julio Valdés band, Ritmo Oriental band, he comes to give a peculiar style, never forgotten by the audience to the so called “tren de la música cubana” (The Cuban Music Train), Los Van Van, by Juan Formell.


Photos: Nelson Costa for and José Roberto Rodríguez



: Cuban vedette Rosita Fornes and host José Antonio Alonso in The Supreme Court of Art
Cuban vedette Rosita Fornes and host José Antonio Alonso in The Supreme Court of Art

The development of the radio as a mean of communication had its beginning in North America and Europe during the two first decades of the XX century. The first radio stations in The USA broadcasted mainly news without the presence of any publicity, although in 1922 the radial transmissions sponsored by commercial brands began to appear, mainly dedicated to sports, musicals, interviews and…talent scout programs, also known as “talent shows”. Cuba inside the Hispano-American scope had also the most important show of this kind, born in 1937 and led by three brilliant communicators and business men, Ángel Cambó, Miguel Gabriel (both the program managers) and José Antonio Alonso as a master of ceremonies. Daily about a period of 6 years contestants of all ages came and went, including children, singing forms like Spanish zarzuelas and Cuban songs, but above all being afraid of the sound of the bell, signal that indicated that the candidate hadn’t won the audience sympathy, the jury in this case. With the pass of the years, the program as such, called “The Supreme Court of Art” would expand, going from the original CMQ radio station plant to others, sponsored by different commercial brands so in 1956 made the final leap to the TV channel 6, by the way, let’s remember that Cuba was one of the first countries in the American continent to have this technology. We wouldn’t be so exaggerated if we said that the half of the most famous stars that we enjoy along the decades of the 40, 50, 60 and to a lesser extent in the 70 from the XX century came from this talent show, let’s mention Rosita Fornés, Olga Chorens, Rita Montaner, Elena Burke, Xiomara Fernández, Moraima Secada, Tito Gómez and a big etcetera of great names. The program kept active until 1960.

If you like the Talent Shows, there are reasons for it…

When the owners of radio stations and TV networks realized about the economic benefit that these types of shows brought, nobody could stop their making anymore, now focused on a new media, all-powerful and so far unbeatable, the television. The emotional devices that were handled in a naïve way at the beginning, today they have a respectable commercial back up behind the scenes, marketing and communication experts explode the privilege to see the beginning of the artist careers that become loved and admired afterwards. The economical aspect is of a great importance, not only for the minutes of advertisement that advertisers have but certain characteristics shared by programs that have a real base, be talent shows or their cousins, the “reality shows”: their production is really cheap than the traditional programs, so their profit range is huge.

The most popular current talent shows are

  • The Voice / La Voz
  • American Idol
  • America’s got talent
  • Britain’s got talent
  • The X Factor

As a funny note we’ll tell you that opposite to many people think, “La Voz” wasn’t born in The USA but in Holland in 2010. Barely a year after the American franchise appeared, followed by a real mass of copies in countries so different like Afghanistan, Korea, Cambodia, Argentina, Equator, France and many others reaching more than 50.

What happened in Cuba after The Supreme Court of Art?

Sergio Farías circa 1980
Sergio Farías circa 1980, winner of television show “Todo el Mundo canta”

Amid the unremarkable tries of a little artistic importance, the two seasons of “Sonando en Cuba” have been outstanding lately, a scout talent program conceived by Paulo Fernández Gallo, destined for those who defend the different forms of the popular music in its dancing side. If we believe that it has resemblance with foreign shows or on the contrary we’re in the presence of a previously unknown product, it would an issue for another comment, so it’s worth highlighting the work and above all to make the young people known, the most valid and genuine Cuban music. Although we personally prefer, not feeling nostalgia for the past, the time of “Todo el Mundo Canta”, program that brought Cuba to a halt during some of its seasons from 1980, and which Tradicionales de los 50 keeps a special relation because one of the soloist singers of this project, —Sergio Farías—, was awarded in this TV show, with demanding juries and real experts of this matter, people who from their mastery, taught people that singing can be on fashion, but above all, it’ll always be Art.

“Corte Suprema del Arte” EcuRed, 2016
“70 años atrás”: La Corte Suprema del Arte, un fenómeno comunicativo sin precedentes (II parte), by Mayra Cue Sierra in Digital Cubarte newspaper (12/05/2007)
“The Roaring Twenties: 1920 to 1929”, by Rodney P. Carlisle, book, (2013)
“The Best Talent TV Shows” in, (2016)
“The Real History of Reality TV or, How Allen Funt won the Cold War” by Charles B. Slocum in Writers Guild of America, West, digital website, (2016).
Fotos: Pedro J. Herrera y


50’s Decade. Spanish environment cool Cuba (Second Part and Final)

Three ases to the throws

Lola Flores fumando un cigarro
Lola Flores

The three Spanish names that made a hit during that decade were Lola Flores, Pedrito Rico and the well-known Sarita Montiel.

The first, nicknamed as “La Faraona”, the Cuban audience was bewitched by her Andalusia charm.

Here she acted in the non-existent Montmartre cabaret, from O Street, Vedado, and in her voice on the radio, the people thanked her songs of La Zarzamora, Pena, penita, pena, Lola Puñales, Limosna de amores, Tanto tienes, tanto vales and others.

An Angel in Havana

Pedrito Rico’s popularity in this capital could be summarized with the recognition that was granted here, receiving the Golden Record in 1958.

From a Spanish origin, his really first success was with Romería Company when he sang in Avenida theater, in Argentina in 1956 where he was awarded with the alias “The angel from Spain”, later being used as a title as a star in one of his films.

Witnesses of his presence, they assure that he broke all the records, upon the ones got by Libertad Lamarque and Jorge Negrete. Silk handkerchiefs and printed skirts with the face of the singer were sold on the streets.

Julián Mariño, correspondent from the south-east newspaper in Alicante, recalled in a writing how the girls waited in a endless line, went on stage to try to kiss him, to take his clothes off, any remembering. Even a Pedrito Rico fan club was founded, giving trophies, medals and even a golden scapula that always wore on him.

Many songs are added to his list of popular but we only mention Mi perrita pekinesa, La campanera, Mi escapulario and  Dos cruces.

Sarita in person

In 1958, two films starred by Sarita Montiel were famous in the movies: La violetera and El último cuplé. The last one was three weeks totally crowded in three movies of the capital, when in September the visit of the artist was received.

She came hired by the clever Gaspar Pumarejo  and from October 1st, during nine days in a row, she talked and sang in the television program from channel 2, with intervals to announce the sponsors: the Competidora Gaditana cigarettes and Pepsi Cola softdrink brand.

Pumarejo, a baron from the small screen, gave her a small attention: they were together in Tropicana cabaret, on her tour in La Época department store, which had the exclusive of her records and in the post of mayor of the city where she was named Havana Adoptive Daughter.

October 5th, she made a concert at Blanquita Theater (Karl Marx today) and in nine movies from the capital, some of her films were on, with similar success.
The admiration wasn’t only from the audience even from the press, like the journalist Ramón Becali Jr., who wrote in El País newspaper: “Sarita Montiel, excellent actress and the one, who has spread, dressed and gave an aristocracy the cuplé”.

Curious, isn’t it?

Sarita Montiel personified a nice Cuban country girl in the film Frente al pecado de ayer in 1955. She was a girl in love with the administrator of a farm, starred by the Cuban heart-throb Alberto González Rubio, while the movie bad guy was also starred by the Cuban Alejandro Lugo.

But, in 1953, she had worked in another film together with Cuban actors: Piel Canela. There she shared her roles with Rosita Fornés, Celia Cruz, with the bands: The Sonora Matancera and Julián Gutiérrez. She sang Perfidia, Bobby Capó’s bolero and Agua tá caé, Alejandro Mustelier’s afro.

She recorded some songs from Cuban composers like Quiéreme mucho by Gonzalo Roig, Lágrimas Negras by Miguel Matamoros, Toda una vida (one of her movies’ title), Quizás quizás, Tres palabras and Acércate más by Osvaldo Farrés.

Some of her cuplés were taken to Cuban rhythms by soloists and bands from the island. The Aragon band (Ven, ven, Clavelitos), Celeste Mendoza accompanied by Bebo Valdés’s band (El relicario, Sus pícaros ojos and Balance, balance), Pototo and Filomeno funny duet recreated Fumando espero parody, with theMelodías del 40 band.
La violetera was recorded in a rhythm of guaguanco, a variant of the rumba by Paulina Álvarez, the Danzonete empress.

Sources: Cubanow, Sara, la Cubana, Ariel Sigfredo’s article published in 2013.


The Black Goddess made the earth shake

By Sonia Sánchez

The Black Goddess, The major Show Woman or Juana La Cubana, as she’s known in the culture world, the singer Juana Bacallao able to keep on loving despite her 9 decades and while life keeps shinning for her, she’s on the Cuban stages and the world, just like that. She’s indeed, the queen of the cabarets, with her own guarachero humor, her occasion wigs and sequin shine.

“I retire when death comes”, the diva has quoted several times. “I grab a drum and begin to sing and I continue being Juana Bacallao. I don’t put on creams, I have a divine complexion and live happily, because what you more have for your health is that here…evil is not worth”, Juana shows a smile that in some occasions seems like a grimace or her disproportionate cry, any other electrifying  gesture or makes a step there or another one here.

She was discovered in her humility as a janitor during her youth “very hard especially when your parents die”, by the remarkable composer, piano player, music studious and Cuban bands director Obdulio Morales. From a real name Nerys Amelia Martínez Zalazar (Cayo Hueso, Havana, May 26th, 1925), in her large career, she has presented along with prominent personalities like Nat King Cole, Bola de Nieve, Celeste Mendoza, Ninón Sevilla, Cantinflas, Rita Montaner, Rosita Fornés, Omara Portuondo, Rafaela Carrá, Benny Moré, Chano Pozo and Elena Burke in different parts of the orb like The States, France, Mexico, Venezuela, The Dominican Republic and Spain. Today she shines together with other outstanding figures, especially on the Havana and international cabarets and the show “A Cuban Night in the 50’s”, which is held at Rosalía de Castro Society in Old Havana for the Tradicionales de los 50 project.

Obdulio Morales made her on her way to success in her 90 – year career. She got the popularity at the Havana Martí Theater, cradle of the most famous Cuban artists from the XX century with that sticky guaracha that she could only sing mischievously and freshness:

“Yo soy Juana Bacallao

Yo soy Juanita Bacallao

La negra que en el bembé

Salpica pa´ no mojar…”

Beyonce kissing Juana Bacallao hand during a performance at Gato Tuerto night club
Juana Bacallao and Beyonce at Gato Tuerto night club

Later to be just the way she can be, Juana, la Cubana, the Cuban nightclub star or Havana nights, where she has reigned like no one else, away from the media and record companies that considered her a representant of a minor art, of a vulgar, inappropriate and tasteless subculture. While with her outgoing nature, her chin really up, challenged and imposed to the prejudices…who else but Juana to show it. And when she shows up in some vulgar interviews on the domestic TV media where she’s called like the diabolic doll, she continues shut away to the kingdom of cabarets with a very special gathering on Fridays in the legendary Gato Tuerto where she gives guarachas, salsas, sones and boleros and provokes some and other Cubans or foreigners, who get so quickly the double meaning thanks to her surprising moves, the radiant shine of a look that the years couldn’t be able to slip away and her smile full of hidden stories.

“I don’t go out at the daylight because the stars only go out at night”

Yet time old – fashioned prude show up around there who dare to call her a foreign woman because of her singular wigs and unusual outfits in which boots and gloves can’t be apart but Juana is, simply, the prolific daughter of Cuba to the world. She wins hands down among who love her like has happened in the last times together with her band “Tiembla Tierra” in the American city of Miami or among the Catalan people at the well – known Jamboree Jazz Club at the II and III Ron Palma Mulata del Bolero International Festival sponsored by the trademark of the same name, where other famous from the island popular music have taken part, among them the percussionist José Luis Quintana (Changuito), the musician and band conductor José Luis Cortés (El Tosco), Martirio, Javier Colina, Pepe Rivero, the girls from Gema 4, Elsa Rivero, Telva Rojas accompanied by The Jamboree Big Latin Band, Yuro Leyva together with Javier Massó (Caramelo) and Raúl Rodríguez. Shows where Ernestina Lecuona, Isolina Carrillo, Ela O’Farril, Marta Valdés, Olga Guillot, Aída Diestro, Elena Burke, Omara Portuondo, Portillo de la Luz, José Antonio Méndez, Angelito Díaz and Bebo Valdés’s music have paid a tribute to it.

“I know life, poverty and wealth. Nothing scares me”, said once in an interview with the AP press agency, the genuine humble daughter from Cayo Hueso neighborhood, today popular Palacio de la Rumba headquarters. With that existential philosophy and her thousand experiences who knows if Juana la Cubana surprises us with a centurian making the earth tremble.


In Cuba, Pancho Amat is called the tres*

By Sonia Sánchez

With his Cuban hat, his “guarachera” smile and the three stringed instrument which has given him an international well-known name, the tresero Pancho Amat went to the Eastern Cuban province of Ciego de Avila in these days of April to start the part and make the followers move their feet of the Traditional and Fusion Piña Colada Festival as a guest of honor though, and it’s always said, he’s without pompous titles that embellish him the “Rápido of Güira de Melena”. Who dares to take away from him that alias won in every of his presentations with his agile, melodic and comfortable cadence that start to the tres, the one that should simply call him, Pancho Amat in Cuba.

“The problem is that you have to make the people, the main characters. Not the audience”

“You have to become people into accomplice. Let the people know that they’re part of the concert. What we have to accomplish is the people put a big catchy eye on the band to make an impact and remains in the memory in that little moment”. He quoted in an interview a long time ago and he keeps being the challenge when it goes among the dancers of this island and overseas who witness how the son is raised to a bigger art, among these, the most recent ones The United States and Holland, where he showed off in Amsterdam with the Nederlands Blazers Ensemble and the Cuban singer Yusa Mar.

After graduating in 1971 as a teacher (some had him on the lead of Physics and Chemistry classes) at Havana University and then to finish studies of music at Ignacio Cervantes school of music, majoring in classic guitar, this born sonero, was born in the western area of Güira de Melena on April 22nd, 1950, under the influences of the Trova, the Afrocuban roots, the bachata and other Latin-American traditional musical trends, from the jazz, the pop, the symphonic rock and different forms named cults, today it goes through the ways of the Cuban music with the “Cabildo of the Son”,  septet he runs.

From the first tres to the founder of Manguaré

When he shows on the stages, that artist of singular and spontaneous charm, maybe inherited from his roots in the Cuban countryside, that child born in Güira de Melena village in 1950 had to be remembered, whose mother, a housewife and his father, a charcoal street vendor, was registered as Francisco Leonel Amat Rodríguez so the world called him simply, Pancho. The one who was caught by the musical programs that accompanied the daily household chores of his mother, who realized the child’s dazzling performance, he was given a modest can and a spoon with full pleasure, to try to invent the first sounds although he made his mother’s eardrums explode. Luckily, that’s the way it can be called, it came to the boy’s hands made in a Tres, like a pay back from a client to his father due to some money debt contracted with the family business. This would be the instrument that put him on the art way.

There are moments in life that similar more to a tornado than a calmed sea.

In one of its whirlwind Pancho Amat fell into until to integrate the Manguaré band in 1971 who founded in the last year of his career ran for 17 years after being drawn on the indigenous way of making music in some Latin-American countries. He came to Cuba to rehearse the rhythmic chords of the quena, the charango, the legüero bombo and the cuatro venezolano together with other typical instruments from the region, time characterized by the Cuban song interpretation, the one with the social content and the son. After the purest influences of the creole music came with an emphasis on the rumba and the Afrocuban elements.

Multiple influences, as a base, the Cuban classics.

Pancho Amat on stage
Pancho Amat on stage

Pancho Amat, the absolute owner of the tres, who has given it national identity borders, son lover, the trova and attentive to the dancer’s cunning, he took from the beginning experiences of the best musicians like Félix Chapotín, Miguelito Cuní, Carlos Embale, Tata Güines or Richard Egües. When he’s remembered his work through a career, so hard to him, but never improbable, he speaks about his interchanges with Silvio Rodríguez and Pablo Milanés: “from there my training is so eclectic: the trova, the musicians of a basis training and those with a great technical mastery”, and the advice found in the well-known piano player, Frank Fernández and the director and violinist of the Aragón band, Rafael Lay, who he thanks for his training in harmony without leaving apart those who contributed and led him to success, shared on stages with Oscar D’ León, Joaquín Sabina, Cesaria Évora, Andy Montañez and other famous people.

The “Rápido de Güira de Melena”, 2010 Music Award in Cuba and prizewinner extensively, assures when he’s interviewed, having learned a lot from the dancer’s psychology in Adalberto Álvarez’s band, where he was from 1988 to 1995 and finally to create his own band, known as Cabildo del Son nowadays. Who remains quiet when he’s seen and (heard) to tear up the strings of his tres with a feline’s skills at a time that he smiles so sure and serene, that only the talented ones can give to the audience?

His skillful performance on stage in all the continents awakens the most enthusiastic applauses and the piled up recordings is a firm support of a solid work with records that shape the virtuous performance of the biggest tresero from Cuba, among them “Son por Tres” (1995), National Award of the specializing Critic in Cubadisco, the Record Industry Fair on the island, “De San Antonio a Maisí”, his second solo album, a route through the different traditional forms from the bolero and son montuno to the Afrocuban music, “Llegó el tresero” (2007), “Yo traigo un son” (2008), “Mis raíces” (2010), Cubadisco The Greatest Award, “Herencias. Pancho Amat” (2014), “Haciendo son en otro jazz” (2015).

He’s announcing to his friends and fans, another large record that would tribute the band of Changüí Guantánamo for their 70 years of foundation: “Now, get ready for the surprises because the album will show how the Changüí has gone beyond the borders of his hometown Guantánamo and has followers in all the country even overseas, besides, also foray into the loud world of chorus and the symphony orchestra, and I will say no more because then there won’t be surprise. This is only to make your mouth water…” he published in the social networks.

It’s true, whoever makes his mouth water when “El rápido de Güira de Melena” tears up the tres to play a son, a rumba…any of these rapid rhythms that nobody is better than him and after that the “cum-bacachum-bapa-qui-tinpu pum”. That’s real Cuban.

*tres: musical instrument very alike to guitar but only with three strings.


El Benny y Olga Guillot

The Cuban music in four anecdotes and several surprises

College Mambo?

A few know that during the 50’s from the last XX century, one of the places where the new rhythm Mambo sounded better, attributed to Perez Prado, was at Havana University.After the university band’s strict rehearsals, its director said good bye to all his students, José Ramón Betancourt. This man didn’t know is that after his leave-taking, the scores of the sticky rhythm flew from music stand to music stand and an unforeseen musical “descarga” took place in a university stadium place.

As it is used to happening, the voice was running and the musicians, with a little technique but so willingly to play, learned the bars of the most famous songs of the sticky mambo.

Benny: An unmistakable voice among a thousand ones

The called Benny Moré “Banda Gigante” wasn’t so big; it just had four trumpets, a trombone, and five saxes plus the piano, the bass guitar and the percussion.

Pointing out, before having his band, Benny was offered to record for Panart records with the famous Sonora Matancera, the same band that accompanied Celia Cruz during a good time of her career. Benny declined, because to his thinking “such Sonora had never sounded well to him”, the huge Benny’s charisma set the Banda Gigante as the most popular in Cuba, to be fair, this didn’t have the detailed precision of Perez Prado’s band, and it wasn’t a “Show-Band” like the Orefiche´s Havana Cuban Boys.The issue was Benny himself, was so strong attraction, that just a few were needed to the formula.

Toma chocolate y paga lo que debes… (Have some chocolate and pay what you owe…)

Benny More’s most brilliant soloist of the band was “Chocolate” Armenteros, so much, that he got a contract with Mayito’s Cuban-New Yorker band, but the musician had debts in Havana, one of them about 300 pesos (a fortune then) with Enriquito, a worker from Atlas Tailor’s, where all musicians had their suits made. There was no way that Chocolate ran away from Enriquito to the US without paying the debt, so famous his percussion was, some people say that a song sang by The Aragon band first came out from it and later recorded by Nat “King” Cole, the known chorus: “Toma chocolate y paga lo que debes…”

The Cuban Music is one of the most demanding of the world.

Because of its different clefs, sincopas and setbacks, the Cuban music requires special gifts; you need to be born to play it. If you make a mistake, just as small it is, there’s no way to enter again, having the people of trained ears to realize about the blunder, that’s why, playing the compasses of a Cuban form, becomes into a real challenge for Europeans and American musicians. To Benny More was so natural like breathing. However, there’s a little to say about the famous bolero woman Olga Guillot’s musical ear, her lack of “cuadratura” even made the members of some bands to follow her or hold the step. This supposed, also, a real torture for the directors, who with the headphones on, sweat, trying to correct the musical passages.

Source: “Elige tú que canto yo” by Leonardo Acosta


Freddy, a unique case in Cuban music

Loyal to our habit of remembering famous Cuban figures, we can not overlook Freddy, who along with other stars like Celia Cruz, have put in a deserved rightful place the name of the Cuban song.

By Rolando Aniceto

Freddy arrived with the Havana night and was gone before dawn. With his unusual pitch seemed to be made and listened together with the breeze, the stars and the tropical moon.

Noche de ronda, El hombre que yo amé, Vivamos hoy, ¿Debí llorar?, and many other Latin-American songs remind us of her, it’s been more than half a century, a way to sing the song that nobody knew.

According to the musician Helio Orovio, when we were used to feeling other styles, that woman with her vocal registers that moved from the plain to the upper one, we all were overcome with that sonority of contralto.

Her life of privations and a sad childhood were out of her soul.

Freddy’s case is unique in the Cuban song, when she was at her height, she was reaching the artistic dedication and years of poverty and privations were behind, death played a dirty trick on her. “I’m a woman who sings to relieve my sorrows”, said in a night club.

Unexpectedly the star fell down at two o’clock in the morning in “Celeste” bar, on Infanta and Humboldt, in 1959.

The journalists Néstor Baguer and Carlos Palma with the maestro Adolfo Guzmán were in the place.

Baguer tells that a 260 pound young black woman, wearing sandals asked Freddy to pay her a drink.

About ten minutes, the people were overcome with her song Noche de Ronda; she was the fat woman who sang in the corner of the bar.

Baguer tells that the maestro Guzmán told her she was a wonder, so decided to take her to The Capri Hotel. At the following day, in the luxurious place, that woman contrasted the environment.

When the director saw her, he said to Baguer: “Have you been out of your mind?”, but when Freddy sang, the American man’s words were “How much?”

Freddy in the kitchen
Freddy cooking

Fredesbinda García Herrera, (Freddy), from Camagüey, was the doctor Arturo Goicochea’s cook, professional baseball leader, where she earned 40 pesos per month, and she got to be the most lasted artist in Capri’s list.

The music was written by Rafael Somavilla, and between music and clothing, the cabaret invested ten thousand pesos.

The TV program “Jueves de Partagás”, got used to take before the cameras models of little figure, paid her 300 pesos just for two songs.

The unimaginable

The doctor Fernando Ortiz Campoamor tells in his reports, that in the CMQ television studios, they rehearsed under the direction of the renowned González Mántici, when Freddy stopped singing, the maestro, surprised, asked her why she stopped singing, so she replied that the band didn’t play well.

When some thought that it was about a crazy woman, the conductor smiled and addressed the drum man and told him that he hadn’t beaten the rhythm written in the paper.

Among 25 maestros, the cook, without knowing music, refused to sing uneven.

During a year and a half of luminous art, that domestic visited Venezuela, México and Puerto Rico. During one of his tours in this last country, passed away, victim of a heart attack at the age of 23 from a heart attack, who didn’t withstand her 138 kilos of weight.

It was too much happiness for a heart so humble.


The Cuban music and you: The “Yes “or “No” that defines the way you are

According to the well-known humorist Héctor Zumbado (1932), the attitude before listening to popular forms of the Cuban music will reveal what kind of temper you have…this is a special recommendation of Traditional of the fifties to their readers.
(Text taken from the book “Riflexiones (2)”, Unión Editions, 1985, Cuba).


Obviously the Sociology just like other branches of science, besides having its professionals, its graduates, its candidates, its doctors, it also has its natural and sympathetic who are graduates, candidates and doctors to their own ways.

Because we all are a little bit sociologists and psychologists and some ethnologists and a little anthropologists and a lot of anthropoids, as well.

It turns out, sometimes; one of these natural enters life with the eyes open and an open mind, and states and makes excellent imaginative theories, hypothesis, confirming that scientific creativity can come from anywhere and at any time, in short, the problem is having the agile pupil and a living thinking.

Suddenly, saying this, surprisingly, a Creole approaches to me, bringing shinning eyes that offer the postgrads acquired on the street – first-handed sociological sensitiveness, the first information and tells me that people seem to be divided in, unless, two categories, in two defined blood groups: people are one of two things: or they’re positive or negative bongos.

Explaining it’s just a matter of attention. Watching the character’s reaction when the air is in the music playing around, sounding catchy, bringing the Yoruba and dahomeyanos, Congos, Mandingoes and Carabalies chants, mixed, melt with Cadiz and Seville salt cellar, of gypsy moor people and African American, tambourines, castanets, bagpipes and drums from West Africa, altogether and generally mixed in a great musical Ajiaco.

It’s just a matter of watching the character when that cadence and sandunguera music is played. If the character doesn’t make a move, if he listens to it with an uncertain indifference, if he’s insensitive to the guiro, to the guitar or to the kettledrum, that character is, definitely, negative bongo.

But if the character sets the rhythm stepping the floor with his shoe, with the hand on the table or tilting the head, with a shoulder, the elbow, an eyebrow or just even with a turned-up nose so that character is with no doubt, positive bongo.

And one ´riflects´* if this two – bongo thesis (bongo sounds less rhythmic, maybe the right thing to say would be: ´if thi’ bonga thesi’**) doesn’t adjust to the musical context, it goes beyond, covering attitudes and personality traits in general.

Will the character be nicely indolent, apathetic, insensitive and passive negative bongo who goes through life just passing, to the rhythm of the contradance when a forceful guaguanco is being played?

Will his opponent be positive bongo? It means, the character who leads the conga, elbowing his way through the crowd to the rhythm of a drum and bell, singing happily (singing to the negative bongo)

…step aside of the sidewalk
Look I knock you down…***

Well, the thesis is highly interesting.

And, by the way, are you negative or positive bongo? Well with the help of a specialist in psycho-social tests, we’ve prepared a simple one, of only a question, that’s not conclusive but an indicator indeed.

The test has been called:

Know your bongo yourself
If you’re in a meeting where nonsenses
are being spoken, do you get excited? Yes_____ No_____

If you replied No, you have the chances to belong to the positive bongo group. If you said yes, we think it would be convenient to sing that guaracha that said:

….change your step
Your dress gets broken….****

*Riflect: Neologism invented by the author who refers to reflect about something, getting a bullseye, a word taken from the link of a rifle and reflection.
**Impersonates the slaves’ way of speaking during the colonial times in Cuba.
***Popular Conga verse.
****Verse of the song “El Paso de la Encarnación” (The Encarnation Step) very popular by the Aragon Band.