Cuba has made the world happy with its music

Cuba has made the world happy with its music
Fecha de publicación: 
17 January 2024
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As days pass by, we get closer to January 22nd, when the world premiere of the concert Estrellas de Buenavista and others will take place. The venue will be the Covarrubias Hall at the National Theater. Prominent musicians from a new generation of soneros will perform as well.

Talking to maestro Pancho Amat, in exclusive interview to Tribuna de la Habana newspaper, allowed us to dig deeper into the work of one of the leading exponents of Cuban traditional music, not only as a virtuoso in the mastery of the Cuban Tres guitar, as a chord instrument, but his creative, intellectual potential and ability to lead a band that will set a pattern in the preservation of the legacy of the traditional music in Cuba.

-How would you rate the influence of Cabildo del Son, in a scenario permeated by fusions of musical trends that are intended for a market more than for the continuity of the traditions of Cuban music?

-Our goal, in every Cabildo’s performance, is to make trova sound like son, and vice versa. So, the son has been enriched a lot from the singing of trova. Note that those son songs played by Septets and Sextets were performed in two-part voices as is the traditional Cuban song: Trova Santiaguera.

“And on the other hand, the songs, also, at some point, brought to the dancing public, needed to incorporate – after being performed – a montuno, a chorus to make them perhaps more enjoyable, more adapted to the places where people went to dance.

“We are working, performing Trova and Son; taking into account that our fundamental roots are transparent. It does not mean that we dedicate ourselves to carrying out museum-like work on Cuban music. It is not exactly a museum, but it is a music that once you listen to it, the points of origin are clear. “On the other hand, we take great care of the lyrics. Trova has always been very close to the world of literature, of poetry and so on. Even the picaresque-like songs we make, full of customs, of popular phrases, we always try to permeate them in good speech, good language.

“Hence, this is the way we have found to perform before our fans and right now, not only us (El Cabildo del Son), all of us are interested in doing our job with respect for our traditions and the language and everyday life, the human…We are not like what is becoming “fashionable” these days.

“It becomes fashionable for a basically business interest. Those who dedicate themselves to making that sort of music, I do not believe – and I am absolutely crystal-clear – that there is a spiritual need, to make in-depth art, something that satisfies, to make beautiful music…

Art, actually, is the way of describing the everyday life with beauty. I don't think beauty prevails anywhere. I don't see any interest in that regard.

“Unfortunately, it has an important breeding ground. Sometimes when we see these things happening, how they proliferate, musical objects (if you like) because they rely on music to spread it, we think about the weakness of bodies responsible for spreading good music. If you look into the world of music, composers, musicians, you will not find the roots of this type of music there. Those who do it are on their own. They take good advantage of the social networks. That is the place where they communicate.

“You turn on the radio and television and you don't watch or listen to those nonsenses, that can be listened to anywhere, not only in Cuba, but in the world. There are censorship commissions in those countries, out there. You zap through the channels and you don’t see it. Censorship commissions ban it. However, it is widely spread on the streets. This thing about social networks is a hand grenade in the hands of people who have no artistic talent, no cultural interest, to say the least to classify it with elements closest to art. They lack humanity. They show a lack of respect for society.

“El Cabildo aims to make pleasant music, to reach the public. I have no experience of performing a concert of mine and people leave. Quite the opposite, whoever passes by, this person enters, and then stays, and then enjoys. Songs are sung like poetry set to music; or songs are sung in a way we aim to get closer to poetry or a popular saying. I don't think we should go this far (to banality) to win the public’s ok.

“If the issue is approaching the public, which should not be underestimated, when making art, you must take into account what you are doing and how the public is going to receive it. You must take into account what people want, or the ability of the people, at a given time, to understand the message.

“When I was studying pedagogy, my physics didactics teacher forbade me from saying to the students: Do you understand? He suggested me to say: Did I make myself understood? Because according to Bertolt Brecht, the biggest lack of respect towards the public is underestimating their wisdom. "You don't have to embrace gossip and lack of respect to make music that people supposedly understand."

-In your definition of the concept of Culture, you show great concern for our identity and Cuban roots. This was endorsed in a brief television spot, a little over two years ago, in the midst of the Covid 19 pandemic. Do you think there is progress or regress?

-Right now, I don't have the answer. I should know what is being transmitted, study. But the truth is that there is a fight, those of us who try to defend our culture, our good manners, and the authenticity of our music, work hard, with love, because we feel attacked somehow. You can be certain we are fighting.

-There is a line of work that links each stage of your work in different musical groups. From Manguaré, with a marked influence of South American music, the work with Adalberto y su Son, which shows an ascending point of your work, to what you defend in El Cabildo del Son in present days. In fact, does that name summarize the concept of strength to protect the authenticity of the Son? That Son as an essential and evolutionary part of Cuban music?

-Manguaré was there in December 1972, when Nueva Trova was founded. We were practically born as a musical group and I was also born as an artist. I was lucky to be there, to meet the great stars of Cuban song. That left an imprint on me. I was already curious. One thing is to be curious and other different thing is being by the side of those great musicians who fueled that thirst for knowledge and confirmed why I thought the way I did.

“And I chose a path that in terms of the way of making music, Son and Trova, if you remember the Manguaré of those years, the songs that we performed in the Adolfo Guzmán Music Contest were troubadour songs. Since then, I have been coming up with that concept.

“Later I worked with Adalberto and his band for a while. Adalberto is possibly the most troubadour of the soneros who made dance music. In other words, we had a very great empathy.

“I'm going to tell you where the name of El Cabildo del Son comes from. Interviewers had never asked me that. It turns out that I was putting together the project, sitting at home, when a friend from San Antonio de los Baños, who has already died, who was a babalawo, a very good friend of mine, Mundito, an extraordinary human being, arrives and tells me: Pancho, when are you going to Güira (from Melena, current province of Artemisa)? I already lived in Havana. On Sunday, I replied. He tells me: “Come by the house, we are going to have a Cabildo meeting.” A Cabildo? I answered. Yes, yes, about African culture, he added. But I'm not exactly a direct professor, I say. What we do is not something liturgical, it is quite the opposite. What we do is a meeting, he confirms.

“When I arrived, they were there; but also the cousin, the uncle, the relative who were not religious of the brotherhood, and they had a party, secular music with African roots. I asked him: What is the purpose? And he answered: May the tradition not be lost. Then I said to myself, wow, what I'm doing is a Cabildo; but from Son. And the purpose is for young boys to come and the tradition not to die. That's where the name of our group came from.”

-Estrellas del Buena Vista and others. A new starting point in the work you do for the preservation of traditional Cuban music and a sign of its evolving capacity?

-On January 22nd, at eight o'clock at night, in the Covarrubías Hall of the National Theater, you will be able to see how the sound of these Estrellas del Buenavista and others resembles to that of Pancho in Manguaré and Pancho y Adalberto.

“Man, I did it effortless! I am a transparent man and Estrellas de Buenavista and others is nourished by the same source I have nourished and respected all my life: the essences of Cuban music and Cuban Trova. The only thing that they are panned, they are conceived -a little aesthetically-, concept of the choirs, singing as a duet, clearly showing a little more vocal work, getting closer to a sound that is a little more contemporary -than what Buenavista could have done at the time. Well, in any case, I may have some influence there. But the raw material, in this case, that of Buenavista, is the same raw material of Adalberto y Manguaré: the essences of Cuban music, the roots of Cuban music, where each person's personality always shines through.

“We are going to have a concert where, with this Estrellas de Buenavista and others project, the public understands that when they hear something that reminds them of Buenavista, it is done with all intention. But when you hear something that does connect with that sound of Buenavista, you feel like you're hearing something different and that's what we're talking about.

“We have the same starting point. We defend the same concept, the same aesthetic principles, but obviously, each person's personality will always be revealed. A great Cuban researcher, Leonardo Acosta, said: “Sometimes when we talk about a composer, a great performer, all the value is given to him (…) It is generalized that the value of his work was conceived by his talent and by its management and it is not like that.


“If you want to play music in the style of Ignacio Piñeiro's Septet, you have to see how Lázaro Herrera played the trumpet - he had a very particular way of playing the trumpet. If you want to play in the style of Arsenio Rodríguez, you can no longer play the bongo as it was played in Ignacio Piñeiro's Septet.

“When we make a song in the style of Ignacio Piñeiro's Septet, we respect the starting point, which is also very rich. In my opinion, we don't have to modify that. It has tremendous richness: We just need to delve into it, do an in-depth study of that treasure and bring it out. And when you perform a song by Arsenio, the same. And when you want a song by Arsenio - which has a Tres solo - to sound like him, you have to play like Arsenio, who had a very particular way of performing. “I try to do it, but I will never be able to do it exactly like that musician who lived fifty years before me. But you will find resources, schemes that Arsenio used, that I use, that I feel make my way of playing legitimate when I focus on Arsenio.

“We are going to have a lot of surprises in that concert. I advance some of the guests names: Mayito Rivera, Alaín Pérez, María Victoria Rodríguez... Look, new performers, new soneros, but followers of the legacy of Chapotín, Celina González, Arsenio Rodríguez, Matamoros. All of us will prove the continuity of the Cuban music, which has always existed.

“I really think the future is guaranteed with these young performers. Do you get it? We are fighting. We are working hard. It is a double claim: from those who bequeathed that music and that of the world. Years ago, you went to perform in Mongolia and people told you: take all the instrument with you. There is no large conga drum in Ulan Bator. Now you arrive in Ulaanbaatar, in Thailand, in Poland, and you don't have to bring those instruments with you anymore, because there are large conga drums and bongos.

“Cuba has made the world happy with its music. And the world waits from Cubans to bring them music. What a joy for Cubans in this turbulent world, to have a tools that unites and generates friendship and spiritual fulfillment for humanity.”

 Translated by Sergio A. Paneque Díaz / CubaSí Translation Staff

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