Hom­bres sin­ceros

Tradi Son’s Cuban groove

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - Paul Wei­de­man Son

he pop­u­lar tra­di­tional mu­sic of Cuba is fun and en­gag­ing and of­ten ram­bunc­tious, but it is not sim­ple to de­scribe. “There are var­i­ous names for the tra­di­tional Cuban mu­sic that has roots in Spain and Africa, and many of them orig­i­nated in east­ern Cuba,” said Miguel Delgado, orig­i­na­tor of the 20-year-old group TradiSon. “We have son, bolero, changüí, guaracha — the guaracha is usu­ally a lit­tle faster than the son and usu­ally the lyric is hu­mor­ous. And son mon­tuno, which is the moun­tain, coun­try son. There’s also punto gua­jiro and danzón, which is from the Euro­pean in­flu­ence in the 1890s and early 1900s; and, from the Isla de la Ju­ven­tud, sucu-sucu mu­sic.”

TradiSon is firmly grounded in son, the em­i­nently dance­able Cuban va­ri­ety of Afro-Latin mu­sic, but the band wan­ders into many of these re­lated styles, and even per­forms The Bea­tles’ “A Hard Day’s Night,” ac­cord­ing to Stu­art Ash­man, who with his wife, Peggy Gaus­tad, and Santa Fe res­i­dent John Vasquez brings TradiSon for a se­ries of con­certs as part of the 2017 Santa Fe In­ter­na­tional Folk Art Mar­ket. Ash­man, who is cur­rently the direc­tor of the Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, grew up in Cuba and acted as trans­la­tor in a re­cent in­ter­view with Delgado.

“They in­ter­pret the mu­sic of other au­thors, but there will be a few new songs that are on their new al­bum that they will in­au­gu­rate for their con­cert on the Plaza,” Ash­man said. “They do some songs by Polo Mon­tañez, who ba­si­cally re­de­fined the mu­sic of western Cuba. We heard him play 25 years ago in some lit­tle thatched-roof res­tau­rant and he was un­be­liev­able. The one thing that char­ac­ter­izes all of the types of Cuban mu­sic is the rhythm and it de­rives from African drum­ming, which is very com­plex. That Cuban rhythm is unique. If you turn the ra­dio on and you hear Latin mu­sic, you can tell what’s Cuban and what isn’t right away.”

fun­da­men­tally evolved from the mar­riage of African rhythm and Span­ish gui­tar. Those cul­tural fla­vors re­flect the fact that Cuba was “dis­cov­ered” in 1492 dur­ing the Spain-spon­sored voy­ages of Christo­pher Colum­bus and was then a Span­ish colony for cen­turies, and the fact that Spain trans­ported large num­bers of African slaves to Cuba for the pur­pose of ex­ploit­ing the is­land’s su­gar and cof­fee re­sources. Ash­man re­lated an in­ter­est­ing story that re­fers back to the United States’ role in Cuba’s 1898 in­de­pen­dence. It has to do with the origin of the punto gua­jiro name. “Gua­jiro is the word for some­one from the coun­try, and that mu­sic genre is more im­pro­vi­sa­tional. I was just at a wed­ding in Cuba and the fa­ther is a punto gua­jiro singer and he got up there and sang a phrase about the wed­ding; it’s sort of like the Amer­i­can talk­ing blues. It’s very sweet and sim­ple, but it has evolved to have a lot of im­pro­vi­sa­tion.” He said the gua­jiros are the only group in Cuba that have ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites re­lated to the Taino In­di­ans and that the peo­ple have fa­cial fea­tures re­sem­bling those of Apache or Navajo In­di­ans in the Amer­i­can South­west, along with unique mu­si­cal and culi­nary tra­di­tions. “There is lore that in the 1860s, when the Cubans first re­volted against the Span­ish and the U.S. Marines were there, these gua­jiros were com­ing down from the moun­tains and the Marines said, ‘What the hell is that?’ and they were an­swered, ‘Those are war he­roes.’ ” (That term sounds quite like the Span­ish pro­nun­ci­a­tion of “gua­jiros.”)

Punto gua­jiro is one of the Cuban gen­res that fea­tures the tres, a gui­tar that has three pairs of strings, each pair tuned to the same note but an oc­tave apart. It is a dif­fi­cult in­stru­ment to master, and the play­ers of­ten wax im­pro­vi­sa­tional. The

tres is Delgado’s in­stru­ment. The other mem­bers of TradiSon are Guillermo Linares, bass and song ar­range­ments; Gil­berto “Cuquito” Nor­iega, vo­cals; Amaury Ro­driguez, per­cus­sion and vo­cals; and Ben­ito “El Beny” Tor­res, gui­tar. Delgado said all of the mu­si­cians, who hail from San An­to­nio de los Baños and

TradiSon is firmly grounded in son, the em­i­nently dance­able Cuban va­ri­ety of Afro-Latin mu­sic, but the band wan­ders into many re­lated styles.

Guira de Me­lena, about 20 miles south of Ha­vana, started play­ing mu­sic se­ri­ously at about age twelve.

Ash­man em­pha­sized that there are all kinds of mu­sic in Cuba. “Flute and cello are both im­por­tant in­stru­ments. In east­ern Cuba, they have the Cuban marimba [marím­bula], which is like a gi­ant ver­sion of the the African thumb pi­ano and serves as the bass in­stru­ment. Then they have the che­queré, a gourd with beads on a macramé net. On the jazz end, you have Chu­cho Valdés and the Afro-Cuban All Stars, and ev­ery mu­nic­i­pal­ity has a pro­fes­sional choir and they all sing Cuban num­bers as well as baroque mu­sic. A lot of the Cuban mu­si­cians you hear in bars and clubs there are clas­si­cally trained. You’ll see buskers on the street and they re­ally, re­ally know how to play.”

“Every­body grows up hear­ing these songs and learn­ing to play and sing the songs. It’s a very mu­si­cal coun­try,” said Gaus­tad, who has made 16 trips to Cuba since 2012 for the Folk Art Al­liance. She and her hus­band first brought TradiSon to Santa Fe for the 10th an­niver­sary of the In­ter­na­tional Folk Art Mar­ket. “Way back in 2009, I went with the then-di­rec­tors of the mar­ket, Judy Espinar and Char­lene Cerny, be­cause we wanted Cuba to be part of the mar­ket. We wanted to see what was avail­able, what was hap­pen­ing in Cuba, folk art-wise, and be­cause of the em­bargo what we could bring. I knew the one thing we could do on that ini­tial trip was find a band to bring to the next year’s mar­ket.

“I re­mem­ber that Judy said when we landed, ‘How will we find a band?’ I said there’s mu­sic ev­ery­where and when I hear it, I’ll know it.” The Santa Feans were in Cuba at the in­vi­ta­tion of the na­tion’s min­istry of cul­ture, and one day, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the min­istry took them to lunch at La Bode­guita del Medio, the Ha­vana club that is renowned as hav­ing been a fa­vorite haunt of Ernest Hem­ing­way. “When the band started play­ing, I said, ‘I think this is it.’ That was TradiSon, and I said to them, ‘We’re go­ing to bring you to Santa Fe in July.’ The lead singer, who’s this kind of crusty older guy, looked at me like, How many ine­bri­ated tourists have said some­thing like that to me? He was not the least bit moved by my state­ment. Now they’ve all be­come re­ally good friends. When they came in 2010, Stu­art was still sec­re­tary of cul­tural af­fairs for Gov­er­nor Bill Richard­son, and Stu­art ba­si­cally be­came their driver for the week­end. I think it was the first time since he left Cuba when he was twelve that he was just hang­ing out with five of these guys, and he was in heaven.”

“These guys know a lot of songs,” Ash­man said, “and they ar­range ev­ery­thing to their in­stru­ments and to their voices. Their har­monies are im­pec­ca­ble. If they in­ter­pret a guy like Car­los Pue­bla, who was the premier writer of po­lit­i­cal folk mu­sic — but who was very loyal to the revo­lu­tion — they’re talk­ing about a song called ‘Hasta Siem­pre, Co­man­dante,’ an homage to Che Gue­vara. That is al­ways re­quested by tourists, as are ‘Cha Cha Cha’ and ‘Guan­tanam­era.’ ”

Af­ter the men­tion of Pue­bla, we asked Delgado if TradiSon some­times sings songs with lyrics that are po­lit­i­cal. No, he an­swered, their mu­sic is more about fun. “So that peo­ple will feel good and be­cause of that, we feel good.”

TradiSon, from left: Guillermo Linares, Miguel Delgado, Gil­berto “Cuquito” Nor­iega, Ben­ito “El Beny” Tor­res, and Amaury Ro­driguez

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