Tuesday, December 01, 2009

"Son Rumbe'ao" and "Changó ta vení"

A fascinating characteristic of rumba is that songs of many different styles can easily be arranged as a guaguancó. Mexican Rancheras, American Pop tunes, Argentine Tangos, Brazilan Sambas, even Peruvian Waltzes have all been turned into great rumbas.

Yet I'm still always a bit surprised when I find out that a song I normally think of as a son or a mambo actually started out as guaguancó.

When the son craze swept Havana in the 1920s, many rumberos began joining sextetos where they could hope to get a steady income from playing music.

Maria Teresa Linares has written that as the demand for son recordings and competition from other son groups began increasing, the soneros were searching for new songs and naturally the rumberos began adapting the rumbas they knew into son arrangements.

Ned Sublette and Cristobal Diaz Ayala once had a conversation (here) about what happened next:

NS: (...) When the son arrived in Havana, I say it became a son "rumbeao," a rumba-ized son. Coming to Havana, it takes on a different character. The people who play bongó are the same people who play rumba, who play batá. They also play arará, maybe. I say that, although they didn't record the rumba of the solar [tenement] at that time, if you want to know how it sounded, listen to the son records. And although they didn't record the coros de clave, if you want to know how they sounded, it's there. You know that what always caught my attention about the Septeto Habanero is -- those records are weird! They sound strange!

CDA: It's an acquired taste, the Habanero. What you're saying is true. It all comes together in the emblematic figure of Ignacio Piñeiro, who gets rid of the four monotonous verses of the original son and replaces them with décima; who mixes the son with the guajiro style, et cetera. And also Ignacio Piñeiro was Abakuá, Ignacio Piñeiro was in the coros de clave. That is, the son kept evolving.

There are many examples in old son recordings of songs that are actually rumbas. (There are quite a few very interesting ones on the Tumbao CD of María Teresa Linares and Rafael Zequeira, "El Legendario Duo De La Trova Cubana: Grabaciones Historicas 1916-1924.")

Here we have a nice versión of the classic "Changó ta vení" by Orquesta Riverside. There's also the added bonus of the great Gonzalo Asencio, "Tío Tom" introducing his composition, which is normally attributed to Justi Barreto, another great rumbero and prolific composer.

Now here's El Goyo singing "Changó ta vení" as a traditional guaguancó. He includes an extra verse I hadn't heard before:

E, Changó ta vení
Changó ta vení
Changó ta vení

Ya empezó el bembé
Oye la tambó ta soná
Ya empezó el bembé
Oye la tambó va soná

Si Sarabanda mayombe
mundo va acabá
Con un machete en la mano
tierra va a temblar

E, a

Changó ta vení
Changó ta vení
Changó ta vení

Coro: Sarabanda Changó ta vení

Thursday, July 09, 2009

María la O, ¿quién es?

Rumba lyrics are filled with allusions to colorful and evocative characters, mostly anonymous: Pregoneros, gossips, chinos, la china con diente de oro, to name just a few.

Then there are some who have names: Poor Severa and her godmother Latuá, José Nasario who doesn't know where the sun comes up, Maria las Nieves with her strange fear, our friend Arturo and his watch.

But there is one name that appears more than all the others: that of María la O.

Has there ever been a rumba at which her name hasn't come up at least once? Despite the many references, there is scarcely a hint of any personality behind the name. No guaguancó dedicated to her, no details of her life, nothing but a name.

She was destined to be given an honored place in rumba, in one of those "never fails" coros; later in the montuno, whenever the energy starts to drag a little bit, someone will inevitably call out:

¡María la O, kuenda!

¡Kuenda, María!

And time after time, the rumba obeys the bantú command "kuenda" (to go, get a move on, ¡camina!), and suddenly the spirit lifts, the tempo picks up again, and the rumba continues even stronger than before.

There is another refrain heard once in a while, as in the song that goes

Era un domingo cuando yo la ví
Iba coqueta, iba por allí
Iba cantando bajito
Un dulce canto que decía así:
María de la O,
María de la O,
María de la O...

But none of these tell us anything about a particular person with that name. So who was she? Is it possible to know?

The Story of (de la) O

"Maria la O" is a shortened form of "Maria de la O," is a surname, not uncommon in Spain.

The origins of the surname are somewhat obscure. There are basically two theories, that it came from the Catholic feast S. Maria de la O or is a Spanish corruption of the French, "de l'eau."

In a discussion on the blog languagehat.com, commenter Roger Depledge writes:
The Catholic Encyclopedia, under Feast of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, says "The feast of 18 December was commonly called, even in the liturgical books, "S. Maria de la O", because on that day the clerics in the choir after Vespers used to utter a loud and protracted "O", to express the longing of the universe for the coming of the Redeemer (Tamayo, Mart. Hisp., VI, 485). The Roman "O" antiphons have nothing to do with this term, because they are unknown in the Mozarabic Rite. This feast and its octave were very popular in Spain, where the people still call it "Nuestra Señora de la O". [Juan Tamayo de Salazar, Martyrologium Hispanum (Lyon, 1651-59)]

Daniel de la O, writing at http://cafedelao.blogspot.com/ says:
Finally, my research has pointed one of the origins of the surname in France, in the region of la Vierge de l'eau. Which means Virgin of the Water, this place is famous because the Virgin Mary apeared over a water spring. Someone took the surname De l'eau, -probably happened around the 1485 by orders of the Vatican (long story)- and consequently when he or she moved to Spain the name changed from eau to O, because the word eau is pronounced exactly like the letter "O" in spanish. I'm sure that the ones of you who speak spanish will understand it better. After one or two generations the name became De La O, hiding it's relation to the virgin. This may be the origin of De La O and it would say that your surname actually means: of the Water...

Our resident francophile Patrice finds this last explanation a bit dubious, and I do as well, mostly because I haven't been able to turn up a single person with the last name "de L'eau."

But none of this probably matters anyway. Although "de la O" is a surname, there is some evidence to suggest that when combined with "María" it's always a given name.

An immigration database at BYU has a link to a document (downloadable here) on Spanish combined given names (such as Juan de la Cruz, Miguel Angel, María (del) Carmen and María de la O) and states:
"Extensive research and study of naming customs indicate that when any of the combinations of names on this list appear in a record they are given names. Some of the names, such as de la Cruz are also used as surnames but not in the combinations listed here."

So it seems safe to assume that whoever our subject was, "María la O" was merely her given name and not her full name.


The name "María de la O," so strange to anglo ears, is not as uncommon as it seems, and has appeared in Cuban music, particularly in references to blacks or mulatas, since probably well before the 1860's. María Teresa Linares writes:
The composer Sebastián Iradier [(January 20, 1809 – December 6, 1865) ] made the Habanera universally famous when he wrote La Paloma, and many others, among them La Nenguita, which has as its refrain an old Cuban guaracha:

“Me llaman María La O
y no hay negra como yo
más bonita sí la habrá
pero más graciosa no."

The name also appears in a song by Rosendo Ruiz called "El Maine," a line from which was picked up by the Sevilliano cantaor Pepe de la Matrona who spent time in Cuba around 1914, for his song "Recuerdos de La Habana."

"Allá en el muelle
Está mi china que me espera.
Se llama María la O
Ay no, ay no.
Y esta china tiene rabia, por Dios.
Esta china tiene miedo
Que yo al muelle la llevara
Y la metiera en el barco
Y en el barco la dejara
Y esta es la china
De quien te hablo
A mí me gusta El anís del diablo."

Researcher Huib Buillet provides more detail on the origins of the reference:
The source: “Rosendo Ruiz Suárez”, in the magazine Música, Serie Nuestros Autores, n° 3, Biblioteca Nacional José Martí, La Habana (1985).

The article has an interview with Rosendo Ruiz, here is the excerpt:
Sí, el Cangrejito es una rumbita mía que yo no inscribí y que luego este músico respetable, Alejandro García Catarla, hizo un danzón con él y lo inscribió a su nombre… Enumerar todas mis composiciones sería muy difícil porque tengo más de trescientas. Esas rumbitas yo las hacía por embullo, pero no soy sonero, ni guarachero, soy trovador. El Maine sí fue un son muy popular:
Allá en el Maine
Hay una china que me espera,
se llama María la O
Ay Dios!
esa china tiene rabia por Dios…

Los Papines recorded a guaguancó called "María la O," but that song, a Spanish zambra written in the 1930's by Salvador Valverde, Rafael de León y Manuel López Quiroga enjoyed great popularity, having inspired at least two film versions in Spain by the time Los Papines recorded it, and still quite popular in the repertoire there.

María de la O
Que desgraciaíta, gitana, tu eres
teniéndolo tó’
Tu quieres reir
hasta los ojitos los tienes morados de tanto sufrir
Maldito parné
que por su culpita dejaste al gitano
que fue tu querer ¡Castigo de Dios!
¡Castigo de Dios!
Es la crucecita que llevas a cuestas
María de la O

Lecuona's María la O

Probably the most famous María la O is that of Ernesto Lecuona's zarzuela, which premiered in Havana on March 1, 1930.

In his thesis on the zarzuela, Henry MaCarthy writes:
There are two sources for the libretto of María La O. The first is based on a real
mulata that allegedly lived in Santiago de Cuba sometime during the mid nineteenth
century. Edwin Tolón, a theater impresario and close friend of Lecuona, who presented the original production in La Habana, relates an anecdote, in turn taken from oral narratives collected in the Annals of Santiago de Cuba:

[…] en esos años residía en esa ciudad un notable músico catalán llamado Juan Casamitjana. Estaba él recostado en la baranda de la ventana de la casa en que vivía cuando vio venir una numerosa comparsa que dirigían dos famosas mulatas de rumbo, una era María La O y la otra María de la Luz, que cantaban y bailaban una música electrizante. Impresionado el compositor por su baile fue al piano y repitió de memoria los compases de dicha música anónima pasándolos después al papel pautado (49).

[…] around those years in that city, there lived a Catalan musician named Juan Casamitjana. While leaning in the window of his house, he saw a large comparsa directed by two famous mulatas de rumbo, María La O and María de la Luz, singing and dancing an electrifying music. The composer was impressed by the dance and repeated the anonymous melody by memory in his piano, later transcribing it to music paper.
"Cuban Zarzuela And The (Neo)Colonial Imagination: A Subaltern Historiography Of Music Theater In The Caribbean" by Henry W. MacCarthy

The second source was the Cuban novel "Cecilia Valdés" by Cirilo Villaverde. Lecuona had in fact set out to write his zarzuela based on this book, but when the Villaverde family refused to grant him the rights to the work, he and his librettist began revising the work.

Yet despite this tantalizing reference to a real-life Mariá la O, given that Casamitjana was writing the music for himself and that the incident occurred in 1836, 59 years before Lecuona was born, and nearly one hundred years before his operetta's premiere, it seems likely that the only definite "inspiration" the María la O from Santiago provided was in the use of her name for Lecuona's leading lady.

I also found one other curious reference by colonial music scholar Zolia Lapique. Speaking about the recurring popularity of the conga santiaguera, she says:

Algo similar a este fenómeno contemporáneo de la conga santiaguera ocurrió en 1852 cuando vino a La Habana la comparsa del Cocoyé con sus dos guías, las mulatas María de la O Soguendo y María de la Luz, junto al enanito Manuel que bailaba con el Anaquillé, muñeco de carnaval.

"Soguendo" is indeed a surname, if rather uncommon. Further research is needed to determine if the the surname of María la O from Santiago is known or has been lost to history. If it turns out to be Soguendo, I think a case could be made that the chorus "María la O, kuenda" is a corruption of her name. Until then though I believe the reverse is more likely to be true, as seen here.)

This article was inspired when I was trying to confirm the words to the coro in the video clip at the beginning, which contains another occurence of María la O that I was unfamiliar with, sung by Juan de Dios:

María la O
María la O
Banderillero africano
María la O, ¿quién es?

During the course of the discussion, a Cuban friend of ours, José Luís Gomez, made a great remark, which we will use to close for now (since topics like this are never truly finished):

"In the folklore and general music world in Cuba it has been a tradition to get inspired by personalities and characters that gave and still give color to our way of living... So maybe
she existed or not and at the end of the day I don't think that it's that important. The rumba María la O is a killer, the coro is fantastic and Juan really brings it in con chambo y mucho ibiano and that is what counts."

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Martha Galarraga about to be expelled from France by the French State: an absurd cultural scandal…

Martha Galarraga is no ordinary artist: she's the daughter of Lázaro Galarraga, one of Cuba's greatest akpwones, reknowned as a major artist in the USA.
Considering her career and talent, Martha is one of the most famous afro-cuban akpwonas, like Amelita Pedroso, Caridad La Bembona or Teresa Polledo.
Martha went to live in Europe in 1998, first in Germany, without any problems on a permanent residence permit. Then she came to live in Paris in 2002, where she did not have any problems until 2008.
The Préfecture de Paris (French local authorities) then transferred her case for inquiry to the French DDTEFP (Direction Départementale du Travail, de l'Emploi et de la Formation Professionnelle, Authority for labour and employment), which is part of the French Ministry of Work, Social Relationship, Family, Solidarity (what a nice word!!) and Town.
On September 29th 2008 they refused to renew her work permit. The DDTEFP demanded a permanent work contract for at least three months by one single employer. Martha did find one (we believe it was from French association Odduara) that guaranteed 43 gigs in 12 months, which the DDTEFP refused to validate. They put the limit even higher, demanding a minimum six months contract, that Martha also obtained: and was denied again. What zealous state servant can be dull-witted enough to ignore that a musician in France only very seldom obtains such a contract, unless he works with a major artist or a theater or dance company able to tour for six full months??

"On the 26th of May Martha's resident card has been seized by the 6th bureau of sous-direction for foreigners of the Préfecture de Paris. Martha no longer has any right to work".

Here are the disastrous consequences in sequence:

-1° Martha becomes a "paperless" worker
-2° She won't get any money from French ASSEDIC (unemployment insurance)
-3° She can't leave French territory: farewell to the London Lukumí Choir of which she's the director.
-4° She lost every job in France, including her job in Paris ISAAC where she was a teacher.
-5° She lost her job with the Ensemble Nord-Sud that had a tour in Brazil
-6° She has to wait 1 or 2 years a decision from French Tribunal Administratif
-7° She can be sent off back to Cuba at any time: return to point zero.
-etc, etc…

What is Martha suspected for? How can such a right, sane, human, joyful and serious person be disliked to such a degree by (supposedly) competent authorities?
Some sources say Martha would "change too often her employers". What kind of crime is this? Others say Martha "wouldn't pay enough taxes" and "wouldn't have a sufficient professional activity".

Who could have the right to crush so absurdly the international career of any foreign artist whoever s/he is? Martha has not got any problem with anyone, not with the Cuban state - is she accused of communism? Would the French state prefer she asked for political asylum? Martha does not want any arranged wedding, nor does she want any scheming to obtain a resident card. She's a right and honest person, and she's tired of so many fights with absurd authorities which decided to make her an outlaw.

Martha has nothing to fight back with other than cultural weapons. Her case has to make enough noise to reach French new Ministre de la Culture, Mr Frédéric Miterrand, for he alone can save her.

Journalists, writers, scholars: it's up to you!! Martha's lawyer needs media stuff to consolidate her defense.

Let's remember a big petition in Europe signed by 1300 people did not sway the French institution one single second.

(Martha with Mark Lotz in Holland)

Let's now try to answer to the argument saying:
"Martha Galarraga wouldn't have a sufficient professional activity":

  • just try "Martha Galarraga" in a Youtube search and you'll get 18 results. Martha can be watched there in many different contexts (which proves she's a polyvalent artist not being locked up in one single musical style), in France, in Cuba, in Mexico, in Martinique…
  • try "Martica Galarraga" or "London Lucumí Choir" (11 answers), or 'Galarumba".
  • try "Martha Galarraga" in Google and you'll get… 18,100 results!!
  • try "image search" and you'll get… 6 470 results.

Here are some discographic elements in Martha's career (there are many others):

(Cuba: Lázaro Ros - Olorun)

(Cuba: Oba-Ilú - Santeria)

(Cuba: Yoruba Andabo - Del Yoruba al Son)

(Cuba: Afrekete - Iyabakuá)

(Holland: Mark Lotz - Cuban Fishes Make Good Dishes)

(Germany: Bayuba Cante - Cheba)

(Germany: Bayuba Cante - Orunmila's Dance)

(USA: Omar Sosa - Sentir)

(USA: Omar Sosa - Prietos)

(USA: John Santos - La Guerra No)

(France: Madomko - d'Ouest en Ouest)


(With Bayuba Cante in Germany)

-Martha was born in 1969 in the barrio of Luyanó, Havana.
She's the daughter of master drummer and singer Lázaro Galarraga, co-founder of Conjunto Folklórico Nacional de Cuba, one of the greatest akpwones of all time.
-In 1990, aged 21, she entered Conjunto Folklórico Nacional, for eight years, as a dancer, then solist-singer.
-At the same time, she sings in many Yoruba rituals in Havana.
-In the late 1990s she came to Europe. First in Germany where she worked in her first musical productions in Europe, together with the Rotterdam Conservatory, and in a salsa group « Macumbachè » in Frankfurt. Then she came to Paris, teaching at the ISAAC (Institut Supérieur des Arts Afro-Cubains).
-She entered Omar Sosa's group, one of the world's main Latin-Jazz artists, playing one concert at Carnegie Hall. In 2000, her meeting with Omar Sosa will carry her to USA, Japan, Morocco, Puerto Rico, and Brazil, for 4 years.
-She formed her own group in 2003: Martha y su Galarumba.
-Since she came to Europe, Martha has taught in many masterclasses in singing and dancing in Germany, England, Holland and France.

(with Conjunto Folklórico Nacional
in the film "In Cuba they're still Dancing")

(with Lucumí in Tony Gatlif's film)

(in Havana with Rumberos de Cuba)

(In Darmstadt, Germany)

(in Germany again)

(with Bayuba Cante)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Saludando: Raúl González Brito "Lali"

"Lali" in Madrid, June 2009
(photo: Barry Cox)

On a recent trip to Spain we had the great fortune to meet Raúl de la Caridad González Brito, known as "Lali" to his friends and legions of students around the world.

We hung out for a bit and had a great time, listening and talking about rumba over some jamón, queso, olives, and a couple of cold "Mahou" beers. He patiently helped us resolve quite a few long-standing doubts we had about some rumba lyrics, for which we are extremely grateful!

Here's a bit of his background.

Lali was born on January 14, 1949 on Calle San Gabriel between Magnolia and Florence in the Cerro barrio of Havana. Later he moved to the Calzada de Buenos Aires # 419 between Paz and San Julio, where he has lived (and held rumbas) for years:
Verdaderamente es una peña de la rumba en el Cerro de hace muchos años inclusive de ensayos de comparsas, rumbas con Los Papines, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, Yoruba Andabo, Los Chinitos de Jacomino, Chucho Valdes, Chavalonga, Los Aspirina, Juan de Dios, El Goyo, Pancho Quinto, Rumberos de Cuba y por supuesto Clave y Guaguancó y muchos más que no tendriamos tiempo para enumerarlos. Mi casa es la casa donde se ha hecho mas rumba en toda Cuba! 
Lali currently lives in Madrid with his wife who is there working for a Cuban company.

Lali's main inspiration in Cuban percussion was his cousin Alejandro Brito Publes, with whom he began playing tumbadora at 14, and then batá drums, becoming Omo-Añá during a tambor fundamento at which Alejandro played.

In 1970 he founded a group of rumberos in El Cerro, called the Estrellas de Guaguancó. They played the Cabaret Parisien at the Hotel Nacional, along with several groups like Pello El Afrokán, Los Papines and Changuito.

Lali was a co-founder of Juan de Dios' "Raices Profundas," and was with them for three years.

After that he entered the group of "Tato de Atarés" with Puntilla, and then the group Wemilere Jonas Bombarlé, and Luis Chacón Mendivel's group Alafia. He also was director of the group Ero Ayé.

Since 1970 he's had his own group to play religious events (batá and cajón espiritual, guiro and even violín a los Orichas) and rumba, called: la Fundación Babalú Ayé.

He traveled to Italy with the group of Omo de Akokán.

He worked with one group Aché where the director was the poet Olga Navarro, and in another group Aché directed by "Sarita" Reyes.

He worked with the Orquesta América under the direction of bassist Jorge Machado, the saxophonist "El Chino" Lang's group, in several cabarets, and in the group Caracol directed by "Nacho."

Laly graduated in Cuban Percussion (medium level) and in 1980 was evaluated in the Conjunto Folklórico Nacional, then with Danza Nacional and in Música Popular with Orquesta América.
For three years he taught technical classes at the ENA.

He joined Conjunto de Clave y Guaguancó in 1988 (along with Alejandro Publes) where he remained as percussionist, singer and administrator until 1992. There he recorded the group's first album, "Cantaremos y Bailaremos," released in the states as "Songs and Dances." The disc is a true classic containing the first "official" recording of the style known as "guarapachangueo."

While in Clave y Guaguancó, Lali was involved in a quick side project called "Rhythm and Smoke" that resulted in three killer and never-released tracks that we are happy to share with you here. About those sessions Lali tells us:
"Eso fue en el año 1990 , con un proyecto que se llamó "Ritmo y Humo" financiado por unos japoneses y Chuck Silverman "Palito" que vive en California, profesor de percusión y muy amigo mio estaba a cargo de este proyecto, se grabó música en formato de "charanga", son, changüí, música campesina, batá y por supuesto rumba. Palito se me presentó en la casa un jueves y me dijo, "El sábado estas en los estudios de "Sono Caribe" para que grabes lo que tú quieras." [Laly cuenta un poco de su vida a Palito aquí. — Ed.]

Pués sólo tuve tiempo de buscar la gente y pensar ¿qué? iba a grabar ya que quería hacer algo fuera de lo que siempre se hace y recopilé fragmentos de algunas rumbas callejeras de autores anónimos; aunque algunos pedacitos son conocidos, y sin ensayar fuimos para el estudio ya que no podía perder la oportunidad de grabar algo ideado por mí.

La muchacha que canta se llama Inés Carbonell, ella cantaba en Danza Nacional de Cuba y después Carlos Embale la buscaba para que le hiciera la voz tercera en sus grabaciones. "Cotó" está tocando el trés, a pura improvisación, "El Chispa" en el bajo, improvisando igualmente,"El Chino" en la percusión y Regino el que canta rumba conmigo y yo tocando y reforzando las voces."

"That was in 1990 with a project called "Rhythm and Smoke" funded by some Japanese and Chuck Silverman "Palito" who lives in California, a professor of percussion and a good friend of mine, was in charge of this project. They recorded music like charanga, changüí, música campesina, batá and of course rumba. Palito came by my house on Thursday and told me, "Saturday you are booked in the "Sono Caribe" studios to record whatever you want!" [Laly tells Palito a bit more about his life here. —Ed.]

So I only had a short time to get some people together and think about what I was going to record. I wanted to do something different than what is normally done and so I collected fragments of some "rumbas callejeras" by anonymous authors, although some pieces are known, and with no rehearsal we went into the studio, I didn't want to miss the opportunity to record my ideas.

The woman who sings is Inés Carbonell, she sang in "Danza Nacional de Cuba" and then Carlos Embale sought her out to do the "voz tercera" (high harmony) on his recordings. "Cotó" is playing the tres, pure improvisation, "El Chispa" is on bass, improvising too,"El Chino" on percussion and Regino is singing and I am playing and singing to reinforce the voices."

These really are some great examples of rumba mixed with tres and bass, among the finest I have heard. So here for your enjoyment, with special thanks to Lali and Chuck Silverman, are the three tracks from Lali's All-Stars:

Se vende un corazón

El Trovador y su musa

La rumba es cubana

Download them all here.
If you'd like to get in touch with Lali his contact is: nereraul2004 (at) yahoo (dot) es

Lali's Groups:

-Estrellas de Guaguancó
-Raices Profundas
-Wemilere de Jonas Bombarlé
-Alafia de Luis Chacón Mendivel
-Ero Ayé
-Fundación Babalú Ayé
-Omo de Akokán
-grupo Aché de Olga Navarro
-grupo Aché de "Sarita" Reyes
-Orquesta América
-grupo del Chino Lang
-grupo Caracol
-Conjunto de Clave y Guaguancó
-Alejo y sus muchachos
-Tripulación Salsera
-Cuarteto Adagio

Lali's Compositions:

Lali's Discography:
-Conjunto de Clave y Guaguancó "Cantaremos y Bailaremos" (Xenophile GLCD 4023, 1990)
-Orquesta América (números del autor colombiano Hernando Vasquez), re-editado en "Las Leyendas de la Música Cubana - Orquesta América with Cuban All-Stars" (Tumi Gold)
-Lalí All-Stars
-Ensalada Musical
-Ritmo y Humo
-un disco de Conga premiada (dir. Pello el Afrokán)
-Popurrit Picaresco (Homenaje al Pícaro Evaristo Aparicio)
-Quiero ser yo (con Marlin Ramazzini)

Lali's Filmography:


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Viva Amalia, viva Italia

Amalia e,
Yo soy de Amalia
Amalia, Amalia e

I've often wondered about the words Amalia, and Amaliano, and why they come up so often in rumba lyrics.

Amalia, este su nombre
Qué lindo nombre de mujer...

As the song tells us, Amalia is a feminine given name. It seems it was never extremely popular but not uncommon either, especially among the Dutch, Germans, Finns, Spanish and Italians. It seems to have been most popular in the 1800's, declining rapidly after that.

A report from the Netherlands gives us some background:

The name Amalia goes back to Amalia van Solms (1602-1675), the wife of Frederik Hendrik and mother of King Willem II. According to historians, she was a strong woman who did not shun political influence. Amalia in ancient Germanic cultures stood for exertion, particularly in battle.

It is said to derive "from the Germanic 'amal' meaning 'work, labor, effort, strain', and also "may be taken as a variant of the Hebrew Amalya, meaning "work of the Lord"."

So how does an ancient Germanic or Hebrew name become so common in rumba?

Dicen que en Jesús María
Hay una comparsa
Que tocan tambores
Cantamos, tocamos tambores
Para que la gente baile
¿Bueno y qué?
¿Bueno y qué?
¿Qué les hacemos a esos?

Nosotros los Amalianos señores
Sabemos divertirnos
Por eso los invitamos
Para que vengan a gozar
A mi Amalia

So it seems Amalia is linked to the barrio of Jesús María. But why?

It's probably impossible to know for certain, but Yamira Rodríguez Marcano tells us one version of the story here:
Poblado hacia la segunda década del siglo XVIII, con el nombre de San José del Astillero, debido al establecimiento de este último, el barrio de Jesús María, en La Habana antigua de extramuros, continua siendo hoy uno de sus términos más populares.

En 1753 en la Calle Real de Jesús María, hoy Revillagigedo, fue levantada una ermita a Jesús María y José que le dio nuevo nombre a la barriada.

Con esta calle se asocia una de las leyendas más vivas de Jesús María.

Cuentan que en ella vivió una negra llamada Amalia, protectora de revolucionarios y esclavos perseguidos por las autoridades coloniales, los escondía y les facilitaba la salida como polizontes hacia Haití u otras tierras, era además la Madrina de los centros ñáñigos del barrio, lo que hizo que los humildes habitantes ayudados por ella, se autonombraran, hijos de Amalia.

Así se conocían en el siglo XIX y de ahí que se derive que a los de Jesús María, se les llame amalianos.

In the second decade of the 18th century, a barrio known as San José del Astillero began to grow up around the extramural shipyards of Havana. In 1753, an hermitage called Jesús María y José was built on the Calle Real de Jesús María (today Revillagigedo), thus giving the neighborhood a new name, "Jesús María."

This street is linked to one of the barrio's most vivid legends.

They say that a black woman named Amalia lived there, who protected revolucionaries and fugitive slaves, hiding them and helping them escape as cops (?) to Haiti or other countries. She was also the madrina of the Ñañigo centers in the barrio. The humble inhabitants whom she had helped began calling themselves "hijos de Amalia" (children of Amalia).

That's how they were known in the 19th century and that's why those from Jesús María are called amalianos.

So phrases like "yo soy de Amalia," "yo soy amaliano" are just the rumberos' way of saying they are from the barrio of Jesús María, and paying tribute to their own "strong woman" who in her own way was doing "the Lord's work," helping the oppressed find their way to freedom.

About another frequent and curious occurrence of Amalia in rumba, El Goyo adds:
La frontera entre Jesús Maria y Los Sitios La avenida Italia, que actualmente se llama Monte. Los rumberos de Los Sitios dijeron: si los rumberos de Jesus María dicen que son de Amalia, entonces nosotros somos de Italia. Es por eso que cuando un rumbero dice "Viva Amalia, viva ITALIA", esta diciendo: "Viva Jesús Maria, viva Los Sitios".

The border between Jesús María and Los Sitios was Avenida Italia (today known as Monte). The rumberos of Los Sitios said: If the rumberos of Jesús María say they are from Amalia, then we are from Italia. That's why, when a rumbero says "Viva Amalia, viva ITALIA, he's saying, "Viva Jesús María, viva Los Sitios."

Monday, June 15, 2009

Conjunto Folklórico Nacional: Début Program on Scribd.com

Just wanted to let you know that the Conjunto Folklórico Nacional début program we posted in July of 2007 is now available for viewing and downloading through scribd.com:

cfncatalog cfncatalog guarachon63 Catalog for Conjunto Folklorico Nacional debut performance.

We hope to be uploading more rare documents relating to rumba at this site in the future.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Ibbae: Jesus Alfonso Miró

I guess by now everyone has heard the sad news, so I will just post this here for the record, along with a video showing the man and his art at its best.


A las 6 y 45 minutos del día de hoy, 3 de junio de 2009, a los 60 años de edad, falleció en su ciudad natal, Jesús Alfonso Miró, director musical de Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, compositor y percusionista excepcional.

Hijo de padres matanceros, único varón de la familia Alfonso Miró y padre de 8 hijos, todos dedicados a la rumba como músicos o bailarines. Dos de ellos han sido parte de esta agrupación y en la actualidad Freddy Jesús Alfonso Borges, dotado también de la destreza de su padre, es el quinto del grupo y ya comienza a seguir también su camino como autor de sentidas rumbas.

Como músico de Los Muñequitos Jesús conoció casi todos los continentes; donde quiera que estuvo sembró amigos, discípulos, brilló en cada escenario, pero nunca olvidó su raíz y vivió toda una vida orgulloso de su estirpe rumbera, saboreando cada esquina de su barrio: la Marina.

Desde los siete años hasta la fecha, participó como músico y bailarín en la Comparsa La
Imaliana, fundada por su padre y por Félix Vinagera. Por un tiempo fue integrante de la Orquesta de Música Moderna de su ciudad y el grupo de Papa Goza. Desde 1967 es Director Musical y quinto del grupo Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, agrupación a la que amó profundamente y dedicó la mayor parte de su vida.

Como compositor fue imprescindible en el repertorio de esa agrupación, siendo conocidas sus obras en el mundo entero, como autor de Congo Yambumba, la Llave, Chino Guaguao, Lengua de Obbara, Saludo a Nueva York, y muchas otras que ya son clásicos de la rumba cubana. Muchos intérpretes prestigiosos como Eddy Palmieri dan cuenta de la sabrosura y popularidad de sus obras, incluyéndolas en sus discos y mencionándolo como un imprescindible en la música de nuestro continente.

Siendo aún muy pequeño de edad, junto a otro de los grandes de Los Muñequitos: Ricardo Cané, Jesús Alfonso partió a las montañas de Cuba para alfabetizar a los campesinos, graduándose más tarde como joven maestro revolucionario. Por sus grandes aportes a la música y a su pueblo, le fue conferida la condición de Hijo Ilustre de la Ciudad de Matanzas.

Jesús Alfonso, perteneciente a la sociedad matancera Efí Irondó Itá Ibekó, respetuoso portador de la regla de Osha, será recordado por todo su pueblo y muy especialmente por los rumberos de todo el mundo. Su nombre nunca será olvidado, su recia voz indicando cómo tenía que vibrar la música y el sonido de sus manos en el cuero, perdurarán en la memoria de todos los que le
conocimos y le reconocemos como uno de los más insignes músicos de todos los tiempos, porque Jesús fue a la rumba como Cuní o Chapottín al son. Jesús le dio a la rumba su vida toda. Su nombre está sin lugar a dudas, junto a Chano, Tata, Papín y todos los grandes de la música cubana.

Su cuerpo se encuentra expuesto en el lugar donde cada día ensayan Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, en la calle del mismo nombre de la ciudad, número 7906, entre Contrera y Milanés. Se le honrará como merece hasta que sea sepultado en horas tempranas del día de mañana.

A su esposa Dulce María Galup, a sus hijos y demás familiares, a Diosdado Ramos y todos sus compañeros de rumba que tanto le han admirado y hoy están sintiendo profundamente su pérdida, les expresamos nuestras más sentidas condolencias.


* * *

For immediate release:

At 6:45 a.m. today, June 3 2009, at 60 years of age, Jesús Alfonso Miró, musical director of Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, exceptional composer and percussionist, died in his home town of Matanzas, Cuba. The only son of the Alfonso Miró family, he was the father of 8 children, all dedicated to the rumba as musicians or dancers. Two of them have been members of the
Muñequitos and at present, Freddy Jesús Alfonso Borges, a practitioner of his father’s art, plays the quinto of the group and has begun to follow as well in his path as the composer of heartfelt rumbas.

As a musician of Los Muñequitos Jesús traveled to almost all the continents. Wherever he went he left friends and disciples. He shone on every stage he played on, but he never forgot his roots and lived a full life, proud of his lineage as a rumbero, enjoying the flavor of every corner of his barrio, la Marina. Beginning at the age of seven, he participated as a musician and dancer in the Comparsa La Imaliana, founded by his father and by Félix Vinagera. For a time he was a member of the Orquesta de Música Moderna of his city and of the Papa Goza group. From 1967 he was musical director and quinto of Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, a group which he profoundly loved and to which he dedicated the greatest part of his life.

As a composer he was indispensable to the repertoire of the group, with his works known worldwide. He was the author of “Congo Yambumba,” “La Llave,” “Chino Guaguao,” “Lengua de Obbara,” “Saludo a Nueva York,” and many others that are now classics of Cuban rumba.

Prestigious interpreters including Eddie Palmieri took note of his sabrosura and the popularity of his works, including them on their records and mentioning him as indispensable to the
music of our continent.

When Jesús Alfonso was still very young, together with another of the great figures of Los Muñequitos, Ricardo Cané, he went to the mountains of Cuba to teach literacy to the people of the countryside, graduating later as a young revolutionary teacher. For his great contributions to music and to his community, he received the title of Hijo Ilustre (Illustrious Son) of Matanzas.

Jesús Alfonso, member of the Matanzas society Efí Irondó Itá Ibekó and respectful observer of the regla de Osha, will be remembered by all his community and especially by rumberos around the world. His name will never be forgotten. His strong voice and the sound of his hands on the skins will remain in the memory of those who knew him and recognize him as one of the most celebrated musicians of all time, because Jesús was to the rumba as was Cuní or Chapottín to the son. Jesús gave his entire life to the rumba. His name is next to Chano, Tata, Papín, and all the greats of Cuban music.

Viewing will be in the place where Los Muñequitos de Matanzas rehearse every day, at 7906 Matanzas Street, between Contrera and Milanés. After respects are paid, he will be buried in the early hours tomorrow.

To his wife Dulce María Galup, to his children and other family members, to Diosdado Ramos and all his compañeros in the rumba who have so much admired him and are today feeling his loss, we send our heartfelt condolences.


Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Story of "Cajones Bullangueros"

(Versión en español aquí.)

My very first post when I started this blog was a link to some recordings by Yoruba Andabo I call "Cajones Bullangueros." A friend gave me a cassette copy of the recordings a few years earlier and it quickly became one of my favorite rumba records.

I digitized the tape, put the tracks on a CD and designed a little cover, calling the whole thing "Cajones Bullangueros," which I thought was an apt title, considering the instrumentation used and the inclusion of a standout track by that name. (Most of the other songs were later released (in different versions) on their classic "El callejón de los rumberos.")

The homemade cover

But as great as the recordings were, there was surprisingly little information about them out there. Although they appeared to have been professionally recorded, they didn't appear in any discography I could find.

There were only a couple of clues to go on: I noticed that parts of some of the tracks had been used in the films "Quién Baila Aquí" and "En El País de Los Orichas," and the fact that the engineer's voice could be heard announcing the track names suggested that these were tapes for a recording that had never been released.

Then a few years ago I was introduced to Elio Ruiz, the director of "Quién Baila Aquí" and "En El País de Los Orichas," who had just moved to New York. I learned that it was he who had made these recordings, specifically to use on the soundtracks of those films. He was surprised to find that the recordings had somehow made their way out of Cuba and were now circulating around the world.

So the mystery was solved but as time passes these recordings just keep getting better. They offer an all-too-rare glimpse of a moment, a group, and a style that have passed into history but remain as a touchstone for current and future generations.

Compared to many of the latest rumba releases, so obsessed with percussion pyrotechnics and "guarapachangueo" (which in my opinion has now come to mean "a license to overplay" more often than not) the playing here is more straightforward.

Although the performances are all strong, energetic and confident, and the cajones are indeed "bullangueros," there is a feeling of relaxed understatement throughout. Truly this is "rumba sin alarde" — no showing off from anyone.

The production quality is refreshingly natural, with none of the over-produced, cast-of-thousands coros like in recent recordings, which lose in "sentimiento" whatever they may gain in harmonic perfection.

Another thing it has going for it is a great repetoire. There are no weak songs here, all of them are first-rate, and in a variety of styles: besides guaguancó and columbia, there is Protesta Carabalí with its Abakuá section, and the first recording as a guaguancó of Pedro Flores' bolero "Perdón," a true stroke of genius, presumably on the part of Malanga, the group's vocal director.

And finally, to me it's important for remaining the most complete documentation we have of the voice of Calixto Callava, one of the great rumberos of all time.

I recently spoke with Elio.
I was happy to hear that he is planning a 20th anniversary DVD edition of "Quién Baila Aquí," and plans to release a remastered edition of these historic recordings as a bonus CD. I asked him to tell me the story behind "Cajones Bullangueros," and here is his reply:

Dear Barry,

I wanted to reply briefly to your request to tell the history of the recording you've called "Cajones Bullanqueros." Here's how it happened.

In the summer of 1989 we were involved in the production of a documentary (later to be known as "Quién Baila Aquí: La rumba sin lentejuelas") with the Cuban "rumba de cajón" group Yoruba Andabo.

Cover of VHS edition of
"Quién Baila Aquí"

This effort, being without a budget and against the tide, without a doubt demanded all the love and altruistic willpower possible from the visual and musical production team.

Only one civil servant aware of the cultural importance of the topic, Mr. R. D., helped us with the teams that were under his administration, over the objections of the others who followed orders only reluctantly.

Elio Ruiz, during the filming of the
"rumba de solar" sequence in "Quien baila aquí"
Solar "La Madama." Cayo Hueso, Havana, 1989.

Foto: Courtesy Elio Ruiz

Even so, every day of recording was a battle and a conquest, exactly what is now called, in the jargon of independent cinema production, a "guerilla production."

One of my difficulties as producer of this project was to find a free studio where we could adequately record Yoruba Andabo.

Suddenly, the solution arrived thanks to one of our friends at the Escuela Internacional de Cine y Televisión de San Antonio de los Baños, in Havana Province. A Mexican named Samuel Larson Guerra, at the time a student and now a distinguished professional of sound design and cinema post-production in Mexico.

Escuela Internacional de Cine y Televisión
de San António de los Baños

This friend had the idea to make an "unauthorized incursion," that is, "guerilla-like," into the facilities of the school to make a clandestine recording of the soundtrack.

We feared that if we followed the more correct route of making a formal request, we would be rejected, the project dealing as it did with the "rowdy" rumba, made by "marginals."

In those days, national folklore was not so politically palatable as it was later, when the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union unleashed a real frenzy of afrocuban mysticism in the supposedly atheo-communist island.

Consuequently, the voice we hear identifying the tracks of this historic first musical production of Yoruba Andabo (which, by the way, will turn 20 this year) is that of "Sammy" Larson, as he was known by his friends in San Tranquilino, home of the EICTV.

The members of Yoruba Andabo called him "El Azteca." They had faith that he would make them famous. In a certain way this happened, but it was because they insisted in perfecting their work.


"When I arrived in Cuba in December of 1986, as part of the first generation of students of the Escuela Internacional de Cine y Televisión, I had a pretty vague idea of what was Cuban.

Back then, as a "chilango" (Mexico City native), my favorite popular music was rock. From Cuba I heard mostly Nueva Trova and as a classical guitar student I was a big admirer of Leo Brouwer.

On the other hand, it was common back then at parties in Mexico to dance to Los Van Van's "Ven y Muévete." But outside of that, I must confess I was mostly ignorant of the richness and variety of cuban popular music.

I didn't know for sure what a guaguancó was, much less a "rumba de cajón." In those times, for me, the Caribbean was still something to be discovered, because although I liked reggae a lot and Bob Marley was one of my idols, the notion of the importance of Africa in Caribbean music and culture was not yet substantiated by direct, daily knowledge.

Towards the end of my first year in Cuba, I had the pleasure to meet Elio Ruíz, and after finding we had many common interests we quickly became close friends.

And so it was that we began our incursions of the streets and solares of Centro Habana and Cayo Hueso, places of ill repute, which some warned us to stay away from as places infested with anti-social and marginal types.

Nevertheless, for a group of students of EICTV, our stay in Cuba was spent in good measure between the school (an hour from Havana) and those Habanero neighborhoods where on any corner or in the patio of any solar one could run into a rumba de cajón, a vital and powerful expression of Cuban music in it's most African form.

In those solares and rumbas, I learned to appreciate and understand the clave and the tumbao, the vitality of the cultural sincretism of African tradition, the love of dance and the party, anyway, what ended up being for me, the heart of "cuban-ness."

It was in this context that I met Yoruba Andabo. When Elio suggested we record them in the sound studios of EICTV, where I was taking my first steps as a soundman, I immediately agreed.

The original recording was made onto 1" tape using a Studer 8-track machine.

Microphones were mostly Beyer M80, and probably some other lapel or tie-clip mics were used as well. As best I can remember no effects of any sort were used in the recording nor in the mixing. We sought to record the group in the most natural manner possible, which fortunately we were able to do. Nevertheless there was no mastering of the mix.

Studer 8-track machine

The original 1" tape was lost in the shuffle of school life and I have to say that when I looked for it and couldn't find it, I was very sorry not to have taken better care of it. The recording that remains is the stereo mix.

Given my limited experience, I think the result was surprisingly good, largely due to the high musical quality of all the members of the group, since everything was accomplished in a single session in single takes. And later, in the mixdown, thanks to the strict supervision of Giovanni and Malanga.

Back then I didn't give to much importance to the subject, I was just happily helping out my friend Elio, since the music was for "Quién baila aquí," the documentary he was making at the time, and also helping Yoruba Andabo, a group which for me represented all the wonderful things I had discovered in the streets and solares of Centro Habana."


Today many people know this recording—there are even those who have taken economic advantage of it, exerting no more effort than making pirated copies—without knowing the whole story, and what this friend Sammy risked to make it happen. When the directors of the school found out, they threatened to take disciplinary action against him.

Luckily these were no more than threats. As for me, I was prohibited from returning to the facilities of the school. Being able to put a name on the "black" list would be sufficient to soothe their "white" bureaucratic consciences.

The original group Yoruba Andado was formed by workers from the port of Havana, many now passed away.

They were:

Chan [Juan Campos Cárdenas]
Giovanni [del Pino]
[Pedro Celestino] Fariñas
†"Pancho Kinto"
†"El Chori" [Jacinto Scull Castillo]
†Callabas [Calixto Callava]
†Marino [Justo Marino Garcia]
"El Chiqui" [Ricardo Campos Lastra]
"Palito" [Orlando Lage Bouza]

and the musical director at the time was †"Malanga" [Rolando Rodriguez Oliva] (the other one, that is, the percussionist of the Orquesta Jorrín, and not the legendary rumbero from Matanzas [José Rosário Oviedo]).

The session at San Tranquilino was pure jazz, pure swing, that smooth "sentimiento manana," although still showing a few "defects" of a group which was not quite professional.

Listening to it today, I can evoke those times...

I can see Pancho Kinto with the only tooth left in his depopulated jaws, striking the cajón, the floor, and a bell, all with a spoon, a utensil I had never seen or heard used before in such a magical way.

I can see "El Chori," with his eyes closed, deep into the fabric of the rhythm, searching for the exact spot to place the drum stroke which, followed by more, make the quinto an instrument similar to the drumset in jazz, when performing a solo in the tiny space of 15 square centimeters. (After all, the rumba is the authentic Cuban Jazz, and it wasn't in vain that a Cuban rumbero like Chano Pozo made that relationship obvious.)

Giovanni, the leader of the group, I can see him too, raising the voices and playing the claves with impeccable time.

Chan, putting the flavor of aguardiente on his floreos, at times even surrealistic.

The smiling Fariñas, always smiling the same if he was singing a solo or in the coro.

And the unforgettable Calixto Callava, himself a classic, for his elegance and his composition of boleros and rumbas, with an unmistakable voice, yet in which one can hear the weakness form the lung cancer with which he was suffering. [Calixto Callava died a year and a half later, on December 19, 1990. — Ed.]

The real beauty of this tape perhaps is that it represents a style of rumba very close to that which these rumberos played themselves almost daily after getting off work at the docks, either on the counter of the bar at "Two Brothers," or with the drawers of a piece of furniture found in a solar where one of them lived.

Due to the clandestine circumstances of production, there was no opportunity to repeat takes. All the tracks are "Take one." The unrivaled distinctive characteristic of rumba de cajón is that it can be started up with anything that makes a sound when it is struck. The hood of a car will do, as will an empty pot. The cajón was, in its time, a substitute for the drum—when the drum was banned but the spanish authorities—and ended up being a unique form of its own.

So, in honor of the departed (Ibaé) who are present on this tape, I think it's very good that you make it available to all those lovers of rumba who want to download it from your page. It is the least we can do to avert the unscrupulous pirating of whoever thinks they have more rights than the others. Let it be for the enjoyment and benefit for all.

Thanks for your effort in spreading the rumba and helping rumberos cubanos on the island. They need it. It's encouraging to me to see the love that you have for this genre of cuban music.


Elio Ruiz

Elio Ruiz is a Cuban filmmaker living in the United States. He has written for theater, television, movies and the print media. He has participated in productions in Cuba, Germany, Mexico and United States. In addition, he has taught drama, screenwriting workshops, and has been an acting coach for several institutions, including Cuba’s International School of Cinema and Television, the Universidad Autónoma de Mexico (UNAM), Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica (known as C.C.C.), the Lumière Institute, the Cuauhtémoc University of Puebla, and Cinecipac, Mexico.

As screenwriter, filmmaker, and producer, he was recognized with several national and international awards and honorable mentions in the categories of Documentary and Documentary Mini Series, including the “Caracol” Award from Cuba’s Writer and Artist Union (UNEAC). In 1989 and 1990, he received the “Coral” Award at Havana’s International Film Festival for Miniseries Documentary and Documentary, respectively. Besides, he has received the “Pitirre” Award from Cine San Juan, Puerto Rico Film Festival, for best producer and documentary director for “Quien Baila Aquí (la rumba sin lentejuelas)”, “Who Dances Here (rumba without spangles)”.

His creative and journalistic writing has been published in Cuba, Mexico, Spain, Argentina and United States. Currently, he is working on several new projects. He is preparing a documentary movie about the Diaspora of Cuba’s professional boxers and former World Boxing Champion Sugar Ramos (member of the International Boxing Hall of the Fame in Canastota, New York State).

The 20th Anniversary bilingual version of "Quién Baila Aquí" will be available soon. The soundtrack will be included as a bonus CD.

Samuel Larson Guerra was born in Mexico City in 1963. In 1982 he enrolled in the Escuela Nacional de Música. From 1984 to 1986 he worked in the Cineteca Nacional in the Departamento de Documentación e Investigación. From 1987 to 1990 he studied cinematography at the Escuela Internacional de Cine y Televisión (EICTV) in Cuba.

Since 1991 he has worked professionally in film as Sound Designer and Editor, and also scored original music for films.

He worked as an Editor on the television documentary series "Mujeres y Poder" which won a National Journalism Award in 2000 for best television documentary series. Since 1991 up to the present he has taught classes and workshops in sound and editing for filmboth in Mexico and abroad. He is an active member of the Academia Mexicana de Artes y Ciencias Cinematográficas since August 2008.