By: Rafael Lam
The full-length film Orquesta Aragon: La Charanga Eterna (Aragon Orchestra: The eternal Charanga), by filmmaker Ileana Rodriguez had its premier at the Luisa Cinema of Cienfuegos, just when the great orchestra from this city arrives at its anniversary number seventy and in the middle of the Benny More International Festival of Folk Music.
We could enjoy this material for more than two hours in which we found the memory of the most famous and important orchestra of the Cuban music and culture. Our eyes filled with tears on seeing the idols of our youth. It is the Eternal Charanga, the one that all Cubans followed, as a retaining wall before the invasions of foreign bands and rhythms.
The Aragon faced periods of wars, avalanches of national as well as international rhythms: danzon, mambo, cha cha cha, guaracha, bolero, rumba, rock and roll, pop, beat, rock, tango, samba. They faced all; they passed it through the filter of people’s likes and turned it into a system of their own.
What the Aragon touched became gold. The versions could not be beaten; for example themes like: Noche azul, Pare cochero, Nosotros, Cachita, Silencio, El organillero, Osiris, Angoa, La Reina Isabel and many others.
The long documentary film about the Aragon Orchestra shows us some of their performances, in photos or videos, in colossal world theaters like Disneyland; Olympia, in Paris; Palladium, La Tropical. The ecstasy and the collective frenzy of the international public for our music is shown on these stages.
Through interviews with musicians of the past and the present, we can have a vision of the Aragon concept and sound, which in essence is the whole orchestra together. They sound like a tutti; though there are three essential pillars: the voices (Pepe Olmo, Felo Bacallao and Rafael Lay Apesteguia. Fernando Alvarez takes part in some of the recordings). The flute played by Richard Egues and the direction of Rafael Lay (junior).
I think that the voice of Pepe Olmo requires a chapter apart. His sweet voice, his youth elegance, his sharp high-pitched voiced that turned him into a legend, made him a phenomenon of the music and song in Cuba. A character imitated by many. Without the voice of Pepe Olmo, the Aragon would have been something else, and without the flute of Richard, the tone would be different. Richard was the musical leader that the orchestra should follow in that high pitch, of Charanga-like avant-garde. The chorus of the Aragon was like one voice alone, everything even, simple like a flute. They were natural, street voices, but without an astonishing excellence.
I consider that this long documentary film can be reduced to an hour, since that way it would be very good to take it to television, to present it at schools of art, music and Art Instructors. Young people would know the authentic music of Cuba. It is like a school, a music academy, to know Cuban musicians and orchestras like the Aragon, Benny Moré, Arsenio, the National Septet of Ignacio Piñeiro, the Matamoros Trio and Group.
What radio program in Cuba dedicates a daily space to the Aragon or to the Cuban charangas, a typical format of our music? The Aragon has a repertory of about a thousand recordings, how is it possible then that so much culture is wasted by saving it as if it was in a safe box?
The homage for the 70th anniversary of the Aragon Orchestra and the 90th anniversary of the birth of Benny Moré deserved a big party all over the nation, a national tour, an international charanga festival. It was worth filling the large Rampa Avenue with orchestras, as it is done in Cali (Colombia). Music is made to be shown, to be spread and to be loved; it is the mirror of our nation.
We hope for new showings of this full-length film by Ileana Rodriguez, so that the Aragon keeps sounding better each day.
Source: Cubarte. Translation: Yusimi Rodriguez (Cubarte)