Tag Archives: boleros

Artist Profiles: Antonio Machin

Antonio Machín

One of the early legends of Cuban music, Antonio Machín led his own acoustic band in the 1920s, and eventually emigrated from the island, first to the United States, and finally to Madrid (Spain), just before World War II. Machín lived and recorded in the Spanish capital for several decades until his death in 1977.

Antonio Lugo Machín was born in 1900 in Sagua La Grande, in the province of Santa Clara, on the northern part of the island nation of Cuba. His mother was a colored Cuban and his father was European, a Spaniard from Galicia.

Machín’s early years were very difficult and he was forced to work at the age of eight to help pay some of his father’s numerous debts. One day, he was in the street by his house singing quietly. A priest that walked by heard him and immediately encouraged him to sing at a party. He sang Ave María by Schubert. From that day on Machín was determined to become a singer.

Machín’s ambition was to sing opera, but this was very difficult for a poor colored Cuban at the beginning of the 20th century. Thus, he focused on singing popular music.

At the age of twenty he had become the idol of the young women in his neighborhood. Machín would sing them serenades under the moonlight. He worked as a mason. Machín also traveled across Cuba as a singer. In 1926 he moved to Havana were he met a Spaniard named señor José, who helped him get a contract to sing at a small cafe in Havana.

Living in Havana, Machín was exposed to many kinds of music. He joined several quartets and sextets. One of the most important ones was Trío Luna, which he formed together with Enrique Peláez and Manuel Luna. In 1926 Machín formed a duo with the famous guitar player and singer Miguel Zaballa. They performed at various night clubs and live radio shows. Their fame was such that in 1927 Don Azpiazu, leader of Orquesta Habana, added the duo to the performances held at the Casino Nacional de La Habana.

At the age of 27 Machín became a vocalist at the Casino Nacional of Havana, the first singer of color ever to do so. The Casino Nacional was the place where you could find upper class Cuban and American land owners, movie stars, millionaires and diplomats, who danced and sought romance.

In 1929 Machín and his friend Daniel Sánchez founded a sextet that also included Alejandro “Mulatón” Rodríguez. They made several recordings. A year later, Machín toured the United States with the Casino Nacional orchestra. On April 26 the band played at the Palace Theater in New York. Machín sang El Manisero (The Peanut Vendor), the first Cuban song to become a national hit in the United States.

In New York, Machín proved to be a prolific artist, recording over 400 songs with the legendary Cuarteto Machín, comprised of claves, tres, guitar, and trumpet. Although the members of the band varied, Machín was frequently accompanied by his old friend, guitarist Daniel Sánchez, who sang duets with him on the majority of the recordings.

Machín is one of the finest Cuban bolero singers that ever lived. Several compilations of his work, covering various phases of Machín’s career are available from various Spanish and American labels.

Discography;

Las 50 Mejores Grabaciones de Antonio Machín en Discophon (1903-1977)
Tributo Al Bolero Cubano
Antonio Machín, Sus 20 Grandes Éxitos

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Artist Profiles: Tania Libertad

Tania Libertad

Tania Libertad de Souza Zuñiga was born in the small coastal town town of Zana in northern Peru, of a Portuguese father and a Peruvian mother of indigenous and Spanish descent. Her musical travels have taken her to Cuba and to Mexico, which she now calls home. She made her first public appearance as a singer at the age of 5 in Chiclayo, Peru, cheered on by her nurse mother and policeman father, performing the beautiful bolero “La Historia de un Amor.” “I started to sing to at the age of five, performing songs in the vals (Peruvian waltz) style and boleros – Latin ballads – both accompanied by the cajon (a Peruvian percussion instrument that was developed from fish boxes).”

African influence was present along Peru’s Costa Negra (Black Coast), among the descendants of slaves brought there four centuries ago, through other Peruvians and the rest of the world paid little attention to it. Though she’s not black herself, Tania was raised there. “I was nurtured in the coastal area, so my contact with Afro-Peruvian music started right at the beginning of my life,” she recalls. Tania remembers that, “All the music of that area had very strong elements of African instrumentation and melodies, and I always had contact with the black musicians from the towns.”

Young Tania also came under the influence of boleros, romantic ballads with creators in Cuba, Mexico, Panama and across Hispanic America. Tania copied lyrics from the radio at home, with the cooperation of her mother, who phoned in multiple requests (using different family names) from her workplace. By the age of eight, Tania had 300 boleros in her repertoire. “There were two important kinds of music to me, bolero and rock,” she says, “because they’ll both be with us forever. The bolero is an excellent genre to express all bad and good situations of love. Even when I was eight I would sing dramatic stories, a funny thing in a child, but I was always interested to sow deep emotions.”

When she moved to the capital city of Lima as a teenager, to pursue a career in music, Tania began to cultivate friendships with a strong community of composers and performers who were deeply involved with Black music. “At that time,” she recalls of the 1970s, “the nationalistic government encouraged the growth of Peruvian culture, and even established an Afro-Peruvian Ballet company.”

Her father, who had impelled his daughter to serenade his mistresses, became her manager when she was in her early teens, and accompanied her through her first contract with RCA Victor and her first national hit, but then insisted that she get an engineering degree. As soon as possible, Tania began acquainting herself with urban pe?as (nightclubs), but she felt uncomfortable with the racism and sexism she encountered there.

She moved on to the sort of protest music germinating out of the casas de trova of Chile and Cuba, and sang in universities and union halls alongside such legends as Victor Jara and Omar Portuondo. In 1978, Tania decided to seek out the fabled musical opportunities of Mexico. Penniless on her arrival, she eventually landed a contract with Polygram from whom she mixed sessions of trova, black Peruvian music, salsa and bolero.

Over the next couple of decades, Tania established her place as a titan of bolero from her adopted Mexican homeland, sharing stage with the likes of Rub?n Blades and Mercedes Sosa. She recorded an amazing variety of duets with Hispanic and Brazilian greats Miguel Bose, Willie Colon, Djavan, Vicente Fernandez, Ivan Lins and Cesar Camargo Mariano. But she also toured extensively in Europe and the Americas, recording a rock-bolero album with Phil Manzanera in London and a live album at the Blue Note jazz club in New York City. In New York, encouraged by a producer friend Joseph Papp, she performed in Central Park. And in 1997, she was declared an Artist for Peace by UNESCO.

Always eager for exploration, Tania surprised her fans recently with an album of operatic arias, whose subtitle translates as, And Why Not? But her heart kept turning towards an important source of her identity in the variety of black musical style of Peru. In the music of Cesaria Evora, from the islands off the west coast of Africa, Tania heard hints of the roots of black Peru. It was with Jose da Silva, Evora’s producer, that Tania finally found a guide back to the Costa Negra.

I could compare what happened with black music after 500 years with my Peruvian roots,” Tania reported about her experience in making Costa Negra. “And when I showed songs to African musicians from Cameroon, Senegal, Madagascar, Cape Verde and Paris, all of them felt the Peruvian rhythms in a very natural way. It was an easy connection for me.” Much easier than when Tania’s repertoire had stumped a pickup band of jazz luminaries at the Festival Miami Beach.

I’ve learned in all the countries I traveled through that Latin America is one, that we all have the same parents, so it’s easy to adapt other kinds of songs to Peruvian rhythms,” Tania pointed out.

On Costa Negra, there’s the Argentine song “Yo vengo a ofrecer mi corazon” and the Cuban “Ay vida mia,” reborn as landos, with a highly sensual rhythm traceable to Angola. The signature “Historia de un amore,” Panamanian in origin, is changed to a lamento peruano, darker and slower, while “Poderoso rey de copas” is a more light-hearted marinera. Richly arranged, instrumental and choral textures place these folk-based form in a sophisticated array. The heartfelt bolero “Historia de un amor,” on the album Costa Negra, resonates across the four-decade scope of singer Tania Libertad’s career.

On Costa Negra, Tania was joined in another rendition of “Historia de un amore” by Cape Verdean diva Cesaria Evora. Thiss recording, made in Paris and Senegal, incorporates African musicians from Madagascar to Cape Verde, as well as musicians from Peru, Mexico and Cuba. Tania feels she had reunited with “the roots onto only of black music but of all Latin American music.”

There is, Tania pointed out, a very special kind of dialogue between musicians, singers, and those who dance to the rhythms. “There are only about 15,000 Afro-Peruvian families in the country, but their cultural influence is very strong,” she added. “Not only the music of these coastal people is special; many of their customs are also distinct.”

For many years,” Tania explains, “the music was performed mostly out of sight, behind closed doors in close-knit Afro-Peruvian communities. Peruvian high society considered the music profane. But then, about 70 years ago, the rhythms began to emerge, style by style, and eventually grew into the popular form it is today. Now it is widely embraced as a music that’s emblematic of the best of Peruvian culture.”

In 2004 she released another Afro-Peruvian recording, the eclectic Negro Color. “I am not a folklorist,” she said without apology. “Negro Color is my latest experiment. Costa Negra saw the return of an acoustic style. But I don’t like to record an album that sounds like something else I’ve done. All of my albums are different. In Negro Color, we didn’t use any samples or synthesizers. But as all the world sings boleros, so I decided to do boleros, but with other rhythms, not the standard form. For instance, on the Armando Manzanero song “Por debajo de la mesa,” we used the lando rhythm. It’s a beautiful song, and it gains a lot by being performed to the lando style.”

Negro Color is a collaboration among my music director, my guitarist, and myself,” Tania explained of the special synthesis of talent that came together to produce this album. The guitarist, Felix Casaverde, performed with Chabuca Granda in Peru years ago, but arrived to Mexico with Libertad in 1980. With Cuban-born pianist and music director Sonia Cornuchet, Tania had a special collaborator. “We’re searching,” she said, “for the point that links Cuban and Peruvian music.”

But it is the Afro-Peruvian sound that dominates Negro Color, even when Tania sings in Portuguese with Brazilian vocalist Eder da Rosa the poignant Chico Buarque song “Funeral del Labrador” (Funeral of the Laborer). “Afro-Peruvian music is more sensual than the African-derived music of other countries,” Tania explains. “Rhythms like lando create a very special air – a unique quality – that doesn’t exist in the Black styles of Colombia, Central America, Puerto Rico or Cuba.”

Discography:

Con La Orquesta De Andres De Colbert ‎(RCA, 1968
Mejor Que Nunca ‎(RCA Victor, 1969
Soy Peruana ‎(RCA Victor, 1970
Despertar ‎(Virrey, 1971
En Primer Plano ‎(Virrey, 1972
La Contamanina ‎(Virrey, 1973
Concierto En La Voz De Tania Libertad ‎(Virrey, 1974
La Dulce Voz De: ‎(Virrey, 1974
Alguien Cantando Philips, 1982
Como Una Campana (De Cristal) ‎(Philips, 1984
Me Voy Pa’la Pachanga ‎(Philips, 1986
Nuevamente… Boleros Mercurio, 1987
TrovaTrovadiccion ‎(NGS, 1987
Alfonsina y El Mar (CBS, 1989)
Mexico Lindo y Querido (Columbia, 1989)
Razón De Vivir (CBS, 1989)
Mucho Corazón (CBS, 1989)
Canta A José Alfredo Jiménez (CBS, 1990)
Boleros de Hoy (Columbia, 1991)
Africa En America ‎(Sony Music, 1995)
Amar Amando ‎(Sony Music, 1995)
Himno Al Amor ‎(Dende Records, 1997)
Armando La Libertad ‎(Azteca Music, 1998)
La Libertad De Manzareno ‎(Columbia, 1998)
Costa Negra (Lusafrica, 2001)
Negro Color (Lusafrica, 2004)
Arias De Opera – ¿Y… Por Qué No? ‎(Telmex, 2010)

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Straight to the Heart, the Passionate and Depressive Side of Macha

Macha y El Bloque Depresivo – El Bloque Depresivo (Barbès Records, 2018)

El Bloque Depresivo is the debut album from Macha (Aldo Enrique Asenjo Cubillos), the lead singer of acclaimed Chilean cumbia and roots music band Chico Trujillo. As the melancholic band name indicates, this project founded in 2012 specializes in the most depressing, slow songs that Macha and his colleagues performed during Chico Trujillo’s live sets. The idea was to sing passionate boleros and romantic despair ballads to soothe overexcited audiences.

Bloque Depresivo’s song set is intensely rooted in the traditions of Valparaiso, Macha’s birthplace. Valparaiso is a port city where you’ll find musical influences from across the South American region and overseas. Songs about longing, romance and rebellious happiness of poets and sailors.

El Bloque Depresivo features a number of the finest musicians in Chile and several guests including Chilean vocalist Álvaro Henríquez of the band Los Tres; Mexican band Son Rompe Pera; Brazilian artist Luciano Cardoso, better known as Maluco de Café con Leche; and Argentine actress Juli Laso.

Buy El Bloque Depresivo

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Artist Profiles: Bola de Nieve

Bola de Nieve

Cuban singer, pianist and songwriter Ignacio Jacinto Villa Fernández, was born born September 11, 1911 in Guanabacoa, Cuba. He was best known by his nickname Bola de Nieve.

He was a remarkable singer and though not a prolific composer, his few songs are jewels of Cuban music. Among his great compositions, “Si me pudieras querer” truly stands out.

Bola de Nieve died on October 2, 1971 in Mexico City, Mexico.

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Length & Time: Soledad Bravo

I will be writing a column on Length & Time in music, in each presenting an album and its strategies that pertain to addressing Length & Time. 

What does it mean to be a woman? What did it mean to be a woman? Una Mujer? Une Femme?

That both the ancient Greeks and to Christianity, both so important to our modern world, believe that Pandora on one hand and Eve on the other opened a box, a door, to something terrible, something nothing like what living was, is exactly the issue at hand. However, to both, women are givers, and nurturers, of life. The issue is that the life that we speak of is not civil life but domestic life – to them women were born to serve and not to be free.  To her civilization, who is a woman who sings songs that power may not like? Songs that she loves? Must she dare?

The same can be said about the cultures of pre-columbian tribes and of African tribes: though women were prominent in many, man sought to subject women to his will for the most part.

In 1980, Soledad Bravo released her boleros, turning the world to where she is the debonair Cuban male who holds a guitar and sings to passer-byes, sitting hearts on fire. In 1980, there were 9 more years until the Berlin Wall would fall. The world was it war in every society (the left vs. the right) and each society now counts its dead.

The album was named Boleros, simply. It was an act of love, but also an act of faith – faith in that those who surround her would want to feel her boleros. Bravo is best known for singing Hasta Siempre to the dead Che; her boleros were her sentiments boleros’ rich in purpose.

[editor’s note: The original album is out of print. A 3-CD set includes the boleros material: Boleros, Tangos y Algo Más]

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Songs of Exultation and sorrow through the Flamenco Prism

Josemi Carmona & Javier Colina – De Cerca (Universal Music Spain, 2016)

Flamenco meets jazz in this intimate collaboration between flamenco guitarist Josemi Carmona and jazz bassist Javier Colina. They are joined by Bandolero on percussion and palmas (Flamenco handclap percussion).

Ever since Carles Benavent adapted the bass to flamenco, Spain has produced a series of excellent bassists with a jazz background who adapt perfectly to flamenco. Javier Colina is one of these musicians. Former Ketama guitarist Josemi Carmona provides his own flamenco compositions, including alegrías, seductive tangos and a granaina.

In addition to flamenco and jazz, the musicians venture into the sounds of Latin America, incorporating versions of boleros and salsa songs. Wind instrument master and regular flamenco collaborator Jorge Pardo appears as guest on flute on “El incomprendido” (the misunderstood), a tribute to the late flamenco rumba star Antonio González, “El Pescaílla.”

Even though the majority of the album is instrumental, Spanish soul vocalist Amparo Velasco “La Negra” participates in the classic bittersweet bolero “Verdad amarga” written by Mexican songwriter Consuelo Velázquez.

Carmona and Colina define De Cerca as an album directed to the heart featuring music that tell stories of joy and heartbreak.

Josemi Carmona was born in Madrid in 1971 within a family of flamenco artists (his father is famed guitarist Pepe Habichuela). He was one of the founders of the groundbreaking flamenco fusion band Ketama. After playing with Ketama for twenty years he worked with artists as diverse as Paco de Lucía, Miguel Bosé, Alejandro Sanz and Rosario. Josemi recorded an earlier flamenco guitar-jazz bass duet album titled “Sumando“, with bassist Carles Benavent.

Javier Colina was born in Pamplona in 1960. He has performed jazz and flamenco and participated in the iconic album “Lágrimas negras” by Cuban pianist Bebo Valdés and flamenco vocalist Diego “El Cigala.”

De Cerca is an excellent collaboration by two of the finest musicians in the world of flamenco fusion.

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