UNESCO announced today that Cuban punto is inscribed in 2017 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Punto is the poetry and music of Cuban farmworkers, consisting of a tune or melody over which a person sings an improvised or learned stanza of ten octameter verse lines, with a rhyming scheme.
There are two principal variations of Punto: punto libre, a tune of free meter; and punto fijo, which can be in key or crossed. Throughout history, punto has habitually been practiced in the countryside, although variants now exist throughout the rest of the population.
A teaching program is organized in Houses of Culture across Cuba, involving workshops instructed by bearers and practitioners of punto.
Seminars, workshops, contests, festivals and events aimed at safeguarding and revitalizing punto are organized throughout Cuba and an occupational category has now been assigned to the work of the practitioners and bearers, turning this into a way of living for many.
Acclaimed Cuban vocalist Daymé Arocena is set to perform on Thursday, August 17, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. A singer, composer, and choir director, Arocena’s inspiration comes from jazz, soul, classical music, and Cuban musical traditions. This is a free admission concert available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Miky y Repa is an album by a female Cuban duo that goes under the artistic name of La Reyna y La Real. The rappers behind the project are Reyna Mercedes Hernández Sandoval (La Reyna) and Yadira Pintado Lazcano (la Real).
This album should appeal to fans of hip hop in Spanish with a Cuban flavor.
Various Artists – Cuba! Cuba! (Putumayo World Music, 2017)
World music compilation label Putumayo revisits the music of Cuba on Cuba! Cuba!, an album that features a mix of Cuba-based artists and other acts based in the United States.
The collection features a handful of well-known artists along with musicians that are less familiar. The songs selection leans towards the traditional side of Cuban music, including son cubano and guajira music.
Highlights include “Oriente” by Asere, “Caballo Viejo” by La Familia Valera Miranda, “Guajira” by Al Valdés y su conjunto, “El Carretero” by Roberto Torres, “Me Dieron La Clave” by legendary Septeto Nacional Ignacio Piñeiro, the now classic “Chan Chan” by Armando Garzón, and “Puente a Mi Gente” by José Conde y Ola Fresca.
The release of this album, and another one titled Cuban Playground, coincide with the announcement of a partnership with an American company called insightCuba that specializes in Cuban tours for Americans. The first Putumayo Cuba! Cuba! Tour is scheduled for November 6th-11th in Havana, and is expected to feature intimate and exclusive performances with internationally recognized Cuban artists along with other cultural activities.
For more information about the Putumayo Cuba! Cuba! Tour and other insightCuba tours, visit www.insightcuba.com or call 800-450-CUBA.
Singer, guitarist and songwriter Silvio Rodríguez is one of Cuba’s most influential songwriters. He was born November 29 of 1946 in San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba. His mother introduced him to music by singing lullabies, boleros, and sometimes sones.
His first contact with the mass media was at the age of 3, at a radio station. At 16 he took piano lessons. His musical studies were interrupted by his service in the Cuban armed forces as a conscript. Nevertheless, while in the military, he met Esteban Baños, who encouraged him to play guitar. That was the beginning of a new stage in his artistic career.
His poems, combined with his revolutionary ideology and his innate talent at making music, made Rodríguez a leading figure in Cuban music. Together with Pablo Milanés and Noel Incola, he gave birth to the Nueva Trova Cubana movement. His creative work includes hundreds of songs that made him popular throughout the Americas as well as Europe and some African countries.
Sierra Maestra is a seminal son cubano (Cuban son) band from Havana, Cuba. Currently, it’s one of the finest and most popular musical ensembles performing in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean.
Placing themselves apart from other Cuban acts, Sierra Maestra reawakened the traditional style son line-up: tres, guitar, trumpet, bongo, güiro and vocals, emulating the golden days of the 1920s and 30s. Sierra Maestra’s members are pioneers in revitalizing this genre for new generations and its re-introduction into the Cuban mainstream. Sierra Maestra named themselves after the mountain range in the eastern part of Cuba as a tribute to the birth place of son.
Sierra Maestra first performed in 1976 at the University of Havana, where all the group members studied. Their goal, then as now, was to recover this popular Cuban music style of the 1920 that had been all but forgotten.
The group slightly increased the original instrument line-up with extra percussion (congas and maracas) and replaced the tradiitonal marímbula with electric bass. Some of the guaracha rhythms were sped up in a move away from the slow, close pair dancing of the 1920s.
This revitalization of son with a modern attitude was a sensation for the new generation of Cubans, and Sierra Maestra quickly became popular, playing the annual festivals at the universities around the island of Cuba, capturing first place prizes in their first three years. They were also appearing regularly on national TV.
In 1978, Sierra Maestra was asked to represent Cuba a the “Festival Mundial de la Juventud y los Estudiantes” in Havana. Their first album, “Sierra Maestra llegó con el guanajo relleno” recorded in 1981, received a silver disc award for outstanding sales, spectacular popularity and critical reception. They also won individual prizes for best recording, most popular song and highest record sales. Also in 1981, they launched their first foreign tour to Nicaragua.
Sierra Maestra recorded their second LP, “Y Son Así” in 1982 and was awarded the Girasol prize for the year’s most popular group and finished the year with tours to Angola and Nicaragua.
In 1983, Sierra Maestra won the “Benny Moré” dance music prize at the Benny Moré festival and took part in the IV Song Festival held in Helsinki, Finland. They then traveled to Sweden and France and to the International Film Festival in Spain (where they’ve enjoyed playing over the years).
Also in 1983, Sierra Maestra recorded the soundtrack to the Cuban TV series “Las Impuras” and their song “A los rumberos de Belén” was used in Robert Redford’s film, “The Milagro Beanfield War”. Since then, Sierra Maestra has attracted international audiences in Europe, Africa, Asia and the United States. They have recorded numerous albums, singles and appeared on over seven compilations.
Sierra Maestra also have a French feature film called “Salsa” that was released in February of 2000 in France. It’s a feature film, written by Jean-Claude Carriére and directed by Joyce Buñuel, released by Universal Studios.
The ensemble’s arrangements generally use the classic formula: introduction of trumpet phrases over the basic melody of the song (this usually following A-B or A-B-C-A scheme) and then the montuno, based on vocal or trumpet solo improvisations with chorus work. Sierra Maestra also play Cuban rumba, a different clave -2/3- that accompanies a totally different dance to that of son.
Sierra Maestra’s leader for many years, Juan De Marcos González Cárdenas (vocals, tres, musical director) left the group to create the Afro-Cuban All Stars and Buena Vista Social Club. And Jesús Alemany, the band’s charismatic trumpet player for many years, left to form his group Cubanismo.
Born in the island of Cuba, Paquito D’Rivera began his career as a child prodigy, playing both the clarinet and the saxophone with the Cuban National Symphony Orchestra He eventually went on to premier several works by notable Cuban composers with the same Orchestra.
A restless musical genius, Mr. D’Rivera formed and performed with various musical ensembles as a teenager and became one of the founding members of the Orquesta Cubana de Musica Moderna, which he subsequently conducted for two years and was also founding member and co-director of the innovative musical group Irakere, whose explosive mixture of jazz, rock, classical music and traditional Cuban music had never been heard before. The group toured extensively throughout America and Europe, won several Grammy nominations and a Grammy.
In May of 2003, he received a Doctorate Honoris Causa in Music, from the Berklee School of Music, adding this to his many numerous awards including a Lifetime Achievement Award for his Contribution to Latin Music along with Dizzy Gillespie and Gato Barbieri.
In addition to his awards and recognitions, including six Grammys, Paquito made history for being the first artist to win Latin Grammies in both Classical and Latin Jazz categories, for Stravinsky’s Historia del Soldado and “Brazilian Dreams with New York Voices” in 2003, the other historic recipient is Wynton Marsalis.
In 1996, he received a Grammy for his highly acclaimed recording, Portraits of Cuba. In 2000 for his Tropicana Nights, along with a nomination in the classical category for his Music from Two Worlds, featuring compositions by Schubert, Brahms, Guastavino, Villa Lobos, and by Mr. D’Rivera himself.
In 2001 Grammy for his Quintet’s recording of Live at the Blue Note. He was also nominated in the Classical Crossover category for The Clarinetist, Vol. 1. In 2002, he won again as a guest artist on the recording of the Bebo Valdes Trio.
While Paquito’s discography includes over 30 solo albums in Jazz, Bebop and Latin music, his contributions to classical music are impressive. They include solo performances with the National Symphony Orchestra, and with Brooklyn Philharmonic, the London Royal Symphony, and the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra. He has also performed with the Bronx Arts Ensemble, the St. Luke’s Chamber Orchestra, the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra, the Costa Rican National Symphony, and the Sim?n Bolivar Symphony Orchestra, among others.
Paquito also keeps busy by frequently touring around the world with his ensembles: the Chamber Jazz Ensemble, the Paquito D’Rivera Big Band and the Paquito D’Rivera Quintet, and in the 2005 with the guitar duo of Sergio and Odair Assad, in “Dances from the New World”.
In his quest to bring the Latin repertoire into the forefront of the classical arena, Paquito has successfully created, championed and promoted all types of classical compositions!, including three chamber pieces composed by Paquito, recorded by Yo-Yo Ma and Paquito, live at Zankell Hall, Carnegie Hall, September, 2003.
In addition to his extraordinary performing career as an instrumentalist, Paquito has rapidly gained a reputation as an accomplished composer. His works often reveals his versatility and widespread influences, which range from Afro-Cuban to the dance hall, to influences encountered in his many travels, and back to his classical origins.
In 2002, The National Symphony Orchestra and the Rotterdam Philharmonic commissioned Paquito, to write a concerto “Gran Danzon” (The Bel Air Concerto) for the acclaimed flutist Marina Piccinini under the baton of Maestro Leonard Slatkin at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
A gifted author, Mr. D’Rivera’s book, My Sax Life was published in Spain by the prestigious literary house, Seix Barral and contains a prologue by Guillermo Cabrera Infante. It’s been translated into English, published by Northwestern University Press. You can also listen to it in Mr. D’Rivera’s own voice by Recorded Books in Spanish available in the Internet and in libraries alike. His novel Oh, La Habana is published in Spain by MTeditores, Barcelona.
The Orquesta Aragón is truly one of the most historic names in Cuban music. Founded in 1939, Aragón has been performing throughout the world with their irresistible form of Cuban roots music.
One of the pioneer charanga style bands, a type of ensemble that uses violins and flutes over a swinging rhythm section, Orquesta Aragón is responsible for many classics of the Cuban repertoire.
Orquesta Aragon’s extraordinary adventure started on September 30, 1939, when acoustic bass player Orestes Aragón Cantero brought his small charanga to Cienfuegos, the third largest town on the island, for their debut.
The band featured violins, piano, flute, percussion and a singer. Charangas were specialized in the danzón, a style that was then about fifty years old with its vocal variant, the danzonete, it was quite the rage at the time.
The group, which called itself Rítmica del 39, then Rítmica Aragón before settling on its final name of Orquesta Aragón at the end of 1940, also played waltzes and fashionable Spanish tunes.
The band was just one of a number that played at dances and parties, but its founder’s personality was to make all the difference. He held advanced social ideas (he was active in the popular socialist party, with communist allegiances), so he declared war on stardom.
Performance fees were to be shared out evenly between all the musicians. It was out of the question that the lion’s share would go to the director, or a star singer. “I want to found a musical family”, he said. “I’m not looking for virtuoso players but musicians with human qualities.”
Aragón was to conduct the band that bore his name for nine years, until a serious lung infection forced him into early retirement in 1948. Aragón appointed violinist Rafael Lay, who was only 20 years old but had already played for seven of them in the band, to take up the baton.
On Lay’s instigation, Orquesta Aragon gave its first concerts in Havana, which to provincial musicians had always been held up as an impenetrable fortress. In 1953, when the vogue for cha cha cha swept out the mambo, the Aragón seized its chance. It clinched a recording contract with American label RCA Victor, that was very active in Cuba, and in no time had a string of successes.
In 1954, flutist Richard Egües brought his stunning virtuosity and unequaled sense of improvisation to the band. Orquesta Aragón meant cha cha cha, and the world over people danced to the rhythm of the band from Cienfuegos.
In that ten-year period, the Aragón sang “I’m going to the moon for my honeymoon”, and treated Cuba to its first demonstration (home-made) of stereophonic reproduction.
Audiences were invited to tune into their radios and televisions simultaneously, and heard the sound of Egües’ flute or Lay’s violin pass from one speaker to the other. There was a succession of trips: Panama, Venezuela, United States, right up to 1959 and the triumph of the Revolution.
Embedded with its founder’s left-wing ideals, the band placed itself at the service of the new regime. All of Cuba’s musicians became State employees and were awarded the same salary, which boiled down to extending to the whole of the profession the co-operative principle instituted in the past by Orestes Aragón.
Since then, the Aragón served the people, to get them to dance but also instruct them, introduce them to their musical heritage. The band traveled the length and breadth of the country, which had just tasted agrarian reform and one of the largest ever literacy campaigns ever undertaken, to play in sugar cane production complexes, villages, factories, schools and hospitals.
The revolution knew how it could turn music to its advantage to spread its message. It was fast to form the habit of sending musicians abroad to act as ambassadors for Cuba’s culture and new values.
In 1965, the grand Cuban Music Hall tour brought the Aragón to France for the first time, where the musicians were mobbed throughout their three-week residence at Paris’ Olympia Theater.
In November 1971, the Aragón discovered Africa, long after Africa had discovered the Aragón. The countries of Black Africa had lived through the end of colonialism and access to independence to the accompaniment of the cha cha cha.
The Cuban models had far-reaching influence on modern African forms, starting with the Congolese rumba. To Africans ears, the Aragón was “the” standard by which Cuban music was judged and almost everywhere it went, the band was given a welcome befitting a head of state.
Africa in return left its mark on the group’s music, with musical pieces such as Muanga, by Franklin Boukaka from the Congo, and later the Bembeya Jazz National.
In the 1980s the Aragón went through a difficult period. Rafael Lay was killed in a car crash in 1982, Richard Egües left the band in 1984, and the musicians who had been there from the very beginning (timbalero Orestes Varona) or played during its golden age, followed each other into retirement.
Today’s Aragón consists of a mixture of old and new members, including the children and nephews of the original legends. Rafael Lay Jr, the son of original front man Rafael Lay Sr, now leads the group. While they maintain the classic sound of the past, they also incorporate the new flavors in Cuban music.
Orquesta Aragón’s hits include such classics as Sabrosona, Cachita, Bodeguero, Nosotros, Esperanza, Pare Cochero.
For over 50 years, Orquesta América have been one of Cuba’s most recognized and prized bands. Their road to fame and popularity began in March 1942 when Enrique Jorrín, America’s founder and director made a change to a danzon number and incorporated the rhythms of the cha cha cha. This arrangement proved so popular that Jorrín decided to create entire songs with the new cha cha cha genre.
Along with Aragón, Conjunto Chapottin and Benny Moré’s Banda Gigante, Orquesta A merica were the main musical exponents in Cuba during the 50’s golden era of music. As the years went by modern orchestras became increasingly more and more popular and the love for traditional music faded but by the mid 90’s European audiences became increasingly aware of the beauty that lay in the traditional music of Cuba.
It was at this point that Mo Fini, Tumi Music’s founder decided to bring the legendary Orquesta America back to prominence and recorded the seminal 4CD box set entitled Orquesta America with Cuban All Stars – Las leyendas de la Música Cubana. The success of Las Leyendas de la Musica Cubana made Orquesta America, once again, one of the most sought-after live bands on the Cuban music circuit. Today they play in Havana’s most prestigious venues.
Omara Portuondo is one of Cuba’s greatest vocalists and has been very popular from the day she started singing professionally in the late forties. From 1950 through the late 1960s, she was Cuba’s top performer of songs in the filin style (the word is taken from the English word feeling, and describes music inspired by the performances of Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme, and Glenn Miller, among others). At the height of her popularity, Portuondo sang with a number of different groups, always with great success.
Omara Portuondo Pelaez was born in Cayo Hueso (Havana) in 1930. Omara’s mother came from a rich Spanish family and was expected to marry into another society family. Instead she ran off with the man she loved, a tall, handsome baseball player from the Cuban national team. Moreover he was black and in those days mixed race marriages were still frowned upon in Cuba. “My mother always hid the fact that she had married a black man. If they bumped into each other in the street they had to ignore each other. But at home they recreated what society denied them – a haven of peace and harmony. They loved each other very much,” Omara recalls.
They had three daughters and as in any Cuban household there was music. There wasn’t a gramophone – they didn’t have the money. Even as a small child, Omara showed a natural aptitude for singing, picking up both melody and harmony lines from listening to her parents singing together. Her father was a good aficionado singer. He had gone to school with the songwriter Eliseo Grenet, and they remained friends, so that music was a constant in Omara’s childhood home. Omara remembers her parent’s favorite music, which included songs by Ernesto Grenet and Sindo Garay’s “La Bayamesa”. They were her first informal singing lessons and the songs remain in her repertoire to this day.
During her schooldays, she sang in choirs and studied music. When her older sister Aidee became a dancer at the famous cabaret Tropicana, Omara soon followed her – by accident. One day in 1945, the ballet troupe found itself short when a dancer dropped out two days before an important premiere. Omara had watched her sister rehearse so often that she knew all the steps and was asked to stand in. “It was a very chic cabaret but I said it was out of the question,” Omara recalls. “I was very shy and I was ashamed to show my legs.” Her mother told her that she couldn’t let them down and thus began a career as a dancer, forming a famous partnership with the dancer Rolando Espinosa. Today she still performs at the Tropicana as one of its star singers.
On weekends Omara and Aidee would sing American jazz standards with a bunch of friends which included César Portillo de la Luz, José Antonio Méndez and the blind pianist Frank Emilio Flynn. They became known as Loquibambla Swing and the style they played – a Cubanized version of the bossa nova with American jazz influences – became known as “feeling” or “filin” as it was often written in Spanish. On their radio debut Omara was announced as “Miss Omara Brown, the fiancé of filin.” The Anglicized name was soon forgotten, but she is still known by many Cubans as “la novia del filin”.
Omara, her sister Aidee, and Elena Burke (who got Omara her first real gig) decided to form a quartet with three female and one male voices, but after meeting with Aida Diestro, they approached Moraima Secada, and formed the Cuarteto d’Aida, with Diestro directing and playing piano, and four female voices harmonizing. “We toured America and Aida’s vocal arrangements were very innovative. We were acclaimed everywhere and when Nat King Cole played the Tropicana we sang on stage with him,” Omara remembers. The group was an immediate success.
Her debut solo album, Magia Negra, appeared in 1959. It was an adventurous project straddling Cuban music and American jazz, and included versions of ‘That Old Black Magic’ and Duke Ellington’s ‘Caravan’. Yet she remained with the group and two years later was with Las D’Aida singing in a Miami hotel when the Cuban missile crisis caused the rupture in relations with America and began Cuba’s long period of isolation. Omara immediately returned home while her sister Aidee stayed in the United States of America. She continued with a revamped Las D’Aida until 1967 when she left to pursue her solo career. “So many singers had gone into exile that there was a gap to be filled,” she says.
Representing Cuba at the Sopot Festival in Poland – a communist version of the Eurovision Song Contest – she sang ‘Como un Milagro.’ It was written by Juanito Márquez, with whom she also made the album Esta es Omara Portuondo. Eventually Márquez also went into exile in Miami and a quarter of a century later was the man Gloria Estefan turned to when she needed some traditional Cuban-style arrangements for her 1993 Spanish-language album ‘Mi Tierra.’
The early years after the revolution were difficult ones in Cuba’s history, cut-off from the west as Castro pursued his socialist vision. In 1967 Omara remembers almost the entire Cuban people being conscripted in an attempt to break the sugar cane harvest record. “People from the cities were sent to cut cane in the fields and as artists we were sent into the fields to sing and entertain them while they worked,” she recalls.
The late 1960s saw the end of popularity for the filin style of singing, and the beginning of what is known as nueva trova. The 1970s found Omara singing with the top charanga ensemble Orquesta Aragon and she traveled widely, often to other Communist countries, although she also sang in France and Japan. One of her best albums from that era was the one she recorded with Adalberto Alvarez in 1984.
Omara returned to the international spotlight when producer Manuel Domínguez, the owner of Spain’s Nubenegra label, flew Omara to Spain to record a new album, Palabras, in 1995. The album’s artistic producers were Cuban nueva trova duo Gema y Pavel, who had settled in Madrid. On Palabras, Omara was backed by Cuban and Spanish musicians. She gave her unique vocal styling to songs coming from several different eras, the vieja trova of the ‘1920’s and ‘1930’s, the dance music of the ‘1940’s, filin from the ‘1950’s and ‘1960’s, and finally nueva trova from the ‘1960’s and ‘1970’s. She even recorded an old favorite, a Spanish song she had heard in a movie when she was a young girl.
Her 1998 album, Desafios, also on the Nubenegra label, was a collaboration with Chucho Valdés, Cuba’s best pianist.
American musician Ry Cooder had first come across Omara when he was in Cuba in 1995 recording with The Chieftains. The following year, when Cooder returned to Havana with World Circuit’s Nick Gold for the Buena Vista sessions, Omara was by coincidence in the Egrem studios at the same time. Cooder immediately invited her to sing the bolero ‘Veinte Años’ with Compay Segundo, and it became one of the highlights of the album.
Omara went on to become part of the legendary Buena Vista performances in Amsterdam and at New York’s Carnegie Hall, and appeared on the follow-up album, Buena Vista Social Club Presents Ibrahim Ferrer. Her own Buena Vista Social Club Presents Omara Portuondo, was the third release in the series.
Flor de Amor, released in 2004, is a collection of musical love letters and was recorded in Havana’s legendary EGREM studios with a stellar cast of Cuban and Brazilian musicians as well as producers Nick Gold and Jerry Boys, renowned Cuban arranger Demetrio Muniz (Ibrahim Ferrer), and the Brazilian producer Ale Siqueira. The record’s varied set culminates in the tender Portuguese ballad “Casa Calor,” specially written for her by the Brazilian musician Carlinhos Brown.
Guitarists featured on the album include Papi Oviedo on tres (traditional Cuban guitar), Manuel Galban on rhythm, Brazil’s Swami Jr. on seven-string, and Irakere’s Carlos Emilio and Jorge Chicoy on acoustic and electric. Portuondo’s rhythm section features Cachaito Lopez on bass, Roberto Fonseca on piano, and the Cuban maestros Miguel “Anga” Diaz and Ramses Gonzales on congas and drums.
Portuondo won a Billboard Latin Music Award in 2005. In 2008 she won the “Prémio Música Brasileira” Brazilian Music Award for her duets album with Maria Bethania, Maria Bethania & Omara Portuondo.
In November of 2009 Omara Portuondo won the the Best Contemporary Tropical Album or “Mejor Álbum Tropical Contemporáneo” at the 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards for Gracias (World Village, released December 9, 2008). Gracias was also awarded the Cubadisco 2009 Grand Prix in May of that year. Gracias was produced by Alê Siqueira, with musical direction from Swami Jr., and it features such guest artists as Jorge Drexler, Richard Bona, Cachaíto López, Chico Buarque and Chucho Valdés.
In 2010 Omara participated in the Spanish-language version of Disney’s animated film, ‘The Princess and the frog’ (Tiana y el sapo). Omara play’s Mama Odie, a good blind witch who lives in the Louisiana swamps. Omara performs the song ‘Dig a Little Deeper’ together with singer Chila Lynn, who gives her voice to Tiana.
Today Omara lives in a high-rise apartment just off the Malecón in Havana with magnificent views over the sea. She remains a flamboyant fixture on the music scene, singing regularly at the Tropicana, the Delirio Habanen and the Cafe Cantante – one of the world’s great divas who is only now emerging from Cuba’s long isolation to achieve the international acclaim she so richly deserves.