Benny Moré or the meds of the soul
When I think I’m going into a quick depression or when some of the stones of my faith, overwhelmed, begins to fail because of the long way and the lack of light at the end of the tunnel, when I feel I’m about to curse, disappointed, this intangible job and unique of being Cuban that it comes to me because it does and it’s what I want to be and not something else, then I don’t take a Valium not even to corrupt my anguish with a priest or a psychologist, but I hurry to play a Benny Moré’ s CD.
A 1985 afternoon, all of a sudden I figured out that was the best medicine for a so confused soul with wings of disillusion of any kind flying over the ashes of lots of sleep.
The first time I listened to Benny was in the social center, in the early 60s where my father used to go on Sundays, there in Baguanos, to drink a couple of beers with his friends, apart from drinking endless jars of beer so that I could listen “El platanal de Bartolo” or The Septeto Nacional, or Lucho Gatica saying then the sunlight is fading he’d be there, waiting, Benny’s voice was mixing of a singular way, like leaving a scar behind without a previous wound, with the sunset, breaking the colors of an old glass, but you can see through other doors, a yellow color losing its intensity, taking a gold fading in fade out silent, in alchemy leading straight to the shadow.
I don’t know if it’s because of the soundtrack of my childhood or maybe because I understood that voice involved, unanimous, so many people’s soul throughout the country, in fact I’ve never wanted or been able to be so much away through that dark prairie where I’m used to going with my eyes closed, always inviting.
Bartolomé Maximiliano Moré
He was born, everybody knows it, in Santa Isabel de Las Lajas, on August 24th, 1919. From a humble home, his compadre Enrique Benitez has told me the times that they had to go away to God’s worlds to look for a piece of sugarcane, a job where to find some money, there in Vertientes. Bartolo always in the mood, waiting for life to give him his chance, not eating properly, kind and caring, joking around and creole, with a such a voice given by God’s hand.
In 1940 he decided to come to Havana to try his luck or it could be found working, because he did everything in the capital: he loaded the world from one place to another, and at nights, with his old little guitar, used to go flirting in a run-down or good bar he found, singing anything for tips, who used to hustle like everybody, at the end of every song, with a “help the Cuban artist…”
I imagine how many no money nights, no food in the stomach at the time of sleeping, where I’m sure I’d dream of great stages, with an audience shouting him gratefully, getting everybody’s care and being rolling in money, which he had later, to help himself and the others. Mainly his mom, Virginia Moré who stayed in her loving Santa Isabel de Las Lajas, in her everyday routine and with the joy to relax the hard life in the Casino de los Congos.
The street is a school, if you know how to take the secrets of life, and Bartolo, so as Benitez tells and the ones who used to see him every night, he was getting a little fame, because he used to make it big, tuned and with a sense of the rhythm that made his voice seemed like a tulle falling, or like a flooded river, something from the nature, direct as a sudden heavy shower.
In 1945 Miguel Matamoros is 51 he’s been singing with Siro and Cueto for 20 years. Sometimes he made the structure wide and has Repilado and other musicians who fill the sounds for dances and presentations in the theaters. Bartolo has his place in The Templete, on Puerto Avenue, a good place for tips.
That year Miguel has a contract to travel to Mexico and he doesn’t want to call the tune. Mozo Borgellá had told Cueto about a boy who was singing with him, with a voice of sweet wire and Cueto tells Miguel who asks Borgellá to listen to the boy and from there he was hired for the tour, that’d be the first entrance to immortality, that always has some invisible entrances, obviously, some false.
After Mexico performance, when they’re about to be back, Bartolo tells Miguel, he’s staying there. The city altitude doesn’t make Miguel good. At that time, taking the size of things, the little guajiro from Lajas began to know what he wanted, he had it in his hands and he was decided to go for it. Miguel didn’t make a move. He stared at him and said he stayed on his own. He gave him his cut of the earnings and wished him luck. With this fine natural humor he always had, Siro recommended him to change his name because in Mexico the goats were called Bartolo…
It wasn’t easy for him at the beginning of those days
Along with his friend Chicho Piquero, he was making his living, with Ninon Sevilla’s help and other Cuban, until he got a place to do some recordings with a band made by Humberto Cane, with Arturo Nunez’s band and others, so he gets some fame till he gets to Perez Prado’s band. There he consolidates his position with hits that go beyond Cuba, but he decides to come at the end of 1950, when he’s in his full top and there are still recordings that will go into the market without his presence in Mexican ground. The rest is known history.
I think after his stay with Perez Prado is that Benny sees clearly, and very clear and fully what he must do, and he will. He doesn’t want to a singer of any band, and he’s over the two Cuban with a job in Mexico before him, Kiko Mendive and Vicentico Valdes. Coming back to Cuba was a goal: being a prophet is honored in his own country, getting the applauses already won in Mexico in the landscapes where he was seen working as a wheel barrow man in Havana or a sugarcane machetero in Vertientes. Coming and leaves for Lajas, his favorite loving site, and after a while there he leaves for Santiago where Marciano Merceron makes a place in his band. In this city a man says he’s not Benny More, the singer he’s seen, claims, he’s short and fat and thin like him. He dubbed his voice in a version with a vitrola and everybody is convinced that he’s the one.
In 1952 he’s in Havana, with Bebo Valdes band, that it’s launching its batanga rhythm. The RCA Victor was still playing Mexican recordings, but in September of that year he’s in the wizard Ernesto Duarte’s band, and begins to hit recordings made here, in his land, among them Como fue? How was it? By his own Duarte, that remains as a hit till the time and the memory are over.
Next year, knowing what he needs to know, his talent developed during the years, singing in all stages, he makes his tribe, his Banda Gigante.
There he begins his last famous stage, increasing, with recordings winning popularity to stay on the top, like stars in the constant sunsets of the history. But Benny who composes with a feeling, he opens his doors to other authors, even unknown like Ricardo Perez, to whom he recorded two songs that will be success, “Tu me sabes comprender” and “¿Qué te hace pensar? And from the famous people from long time ago, it’s found “Como un arrullo de palmas” by Lecuona who leaves the song in the popular memory on this way and it’s not possible that the palm trees hold in another voice otherwise his. It’s, like Retamar said, a 10-force hurricane, that’s moving around, destroying, as an amazing way of a teenager about what life can give with success, how to get to Varadero and know happiness, the peace and believe that everything is true. The truth is that Benny gets with no classification. He’s wanted everywhere and he’s going in, with a careful random, his informal myth: “if he’s coming or not?”, even where he’s not hired, and his name is worthy to attract crowds.
It’s a very violent rhythm, above all if it’s a much mistreated body because of hunger and the hard work from childhood. And that unstoppable drinking, until it begins to end him.
Benny doesn’t know about theory of music, but he does his own theory of music. He doesn’t do arrangements, as it’s said and repeated, in a literal sense; he sits Generoso in a bar, in front of two shots of aged rum, and he says what he wants: the trumpets are doing this (and he makes it with the mouth), the piano will do this…and Generoso copies what’ll sound as taken out from a high technology device.
The time Benny records has limits, according to ours, about sound techniques. Medardo Montero was a genius about setting people in Radio Progreso studio, and getting sound levels about: “stay farther John Doe”, making the mic gets the magic of the whole setting parts by an intuition that makes a method.
As Gardel, it’s said that the Benny sings better every day. But and Diaz Ayala tells me that’s top secret, he has some talking problems that the band covers at the end of phrases, showing over the voice that’s fading.
Maybe the problems of his new teeth make him fail a sound, but there he is, despite everything, against everything, without singing out of tune, although he gets to the studio feeling a hangover (alcohol and life), singing those high-pitched, high notes that rebound high in the studio and stands on end because of their intensity, or when he plays the piano (and with is hands leads the band to do the same), or when he says to , the best singer that the Spanish language has had, when the Mexican asks if he has scores for a duet recording, to start, he follows. And as he followed, that January 10th, 1957, when both stars let their voices recorded, fit like if the entire life they would have been waiting for that moment.
Life played bad on Benny More and to all the Cuban, when it got him sick, making him weak, and despite of all the efforts, all the cares, it let he passed away on February 19th, 1963, when he had reached his best definition.
With Benny More, like with Silvio o Pedro Luis, as it happens with unlimited-top artists like Lecuona, Eliseo Diego, Saumell o Lezama, who give shape and focus on, make the national, you can play the transcendental, rise us over the moment, fly to reach all the balances, touch the essence of life, full Cuban life, and return to simple, to the every day, with the same energy transmitted.
Through that transit to death: Way, no term, as Marti knew, he was located in the unspecific and unyielding of the myth and, in fact, he sings better every day, he’s the most essence of the Cuban, metaphor of the little and poor nation able to reach the highest star, the lonely one located in the triangle and the stripes. That’s why when I’m sad, or when the wings of the heart fall, as a heart sufferer who runs to get his pill, I run to play Benny More’s CD.
Monday, December 8th, 2008.
Pictures: Stills of the documentary “Salut les cubaines” by Agnés Varda, 1963.