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By Rocío de Lucía (Cuban Musicologist)

One of the most iconic Cuban songs is undoubtedly “Chan Chan.” Many people can immediately identify that simple but delicious composition just by entering the four chords on which the song is based, authored by another of the great symbols of Cuban culture: Máximo Francisco Repilado, better known as Compay Segundo. Star of the Buena Vista Social Club, Compay achieved world fame with this traditional Cuban Music project. However, he was more than 70 years old and a respectable figure, an authority in Cuban Trova and Son music.

Compay Segundo never had academic musical training, but he brought an innate gift with which he would captivate everyone. One morning he woke up with the harmony in his head, to which he put the lyrics of one of his childhood anecdotes. He said he dreamed of the melody of “Chan Chan,” like many of his compositions. 

The song tells the story of Juanita and Chan Chan, two young lovers who wanted to get married. As they lived in poverty, they went “to the sea to sift sand” to find gold and thus be able to become independent. When the young Juanita entered the sea, her dresses got wet and clung to her body, so when she wiggled while she “shook the jibe,” the sensual movement of her figure caused “pain to Cha Chan.”

The author recreates this story that hides a subtle double meaning and turns it into an adventurous artwork, with some very well-suggested touches of eroticism, but never explicit or vulgar. The verses accompany a singular tumbao, not the typical Cuban son. It is a Phrygian turn in rhythm with such a peculiar cadence, resulting in an extremely simple and irresistible song. 

In other verses, he sings: “the love I have for you, I can’t hide it from you, the drool comes off, I can’t avoid it anymore.”

compay-segundo-chan-chan-cover

The journey of the song

Being a troubadour from the tip of his hair to the end of his feet, Compay Segundo begins his song by recounting one of the popular tours he used to do in his wanderings as a musician. The first verses of the single describe a route that includes several towns in the Holguín province, located east of the island of Cuba: “from Alto Cedro, I go to Marcané, I get to Cueto, I go to Mayarí.” Finally, the last verses are related to this introduction: “clear the straw path, that I want to sit on that log that I see, that I cannot get there.” Knowing the good humor of Cuban musicians and their propensity for double meanings, a second meaning related to the history of Juanita and Chan Chan can also be added to these final verses.

“Chan Chan” became known during the jam sessions of the Cuarteto Patria, directed by the great musician Eliades Ochoa, around 1987. Eliades says that the same year he had met Compay, and Compay had given him a cassette with his compositions, asking him to formally record them with his quartet so that he could earn some money from copyright. In that cassette came a son that Eliades drew attention to since the tumbao was quite unusual. That son was Chan Chan, to which Eliades Ochoa would later add his mastery to finish the bill for the song. 

The song was performed for the first time at the Casa de la Trova Santiaguera by Compay himself and the Patria quartet. The single immediately hit the public with its contagious cadence and natural grace. The composition was recorded on the Buena Vista Social Club album in March 1996, and its international premiere was on September 16, 1997.

Pope Juan Pablo Segundo invited the Compay Segundo group to give an exclusive concert in a small room below the papal office. There they performed “Chan Chan,” among other great classics of Traditional Cuban music. Even in the Vatican, they enjoyed this legendary song. This exquisite composition shows that simplicity is an exact path when you want to communicate something honest and meaningful. 

Experts could analyze the success formula of “Chan Chan”  endlessly. Yet, without a doubt, its pertinent arrangement has been an emphasized factor in helping the spontaneous flavor of its rhythm and harmony to shine and make even the most skeptical dance.

If you like this traditional Cuban music we recommend you to check out our Spotify Playlist Cuban Traditional Songs. There you will find one of the “Chan Chan” versions and many other beautiful Cuban songs that you will certainly enjoy.  

Cuban Dance 101

By Rocío de Lucía (Cuban Musicologist)

We want to start by saying that perhaps contrary to what many expected, all Cubans do not dance like salsa professionals; not even all of them like to dance. For some, it could be an evident axiom; for others, not so much, so it is worth the clarification. Although, Cubans have alternatives for any dancer. If you prefer slower and more relaxed types, you can practice danzón or son. But, if you desire faster and more energetic movements, you can try the casino, conga, rumba, and even reggaeton with its extreme sensuality add-on. In general, Cuba is full of options when you ask about dance styles. That’s what we want you to learn from our article today. Let’s find out what are Cuban dances like?

Local dances that Cubans like

The last three decades of history have changed the music-dance scene in Cuba quite a bit. Although many people tend to think that people from Cuba only dance casino (salsa style), rumba, and danzón, the truth is that Cubans nowadays practice a diverse and modern variety of dances. The cultural opening of the Island revived its link with international trends, a connection quite similar to other regions of the Caribbean and Central America such as Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Mexico, among others.

Like in other Caribbean contexts, reggaeton has become the favorite musical genre among the youngest and most of the Cuban population. However, even when Puerto Rican reggaeton is widely consumed by the Latinxs community everywhere, Cubans have their own style, different and particular. Without the intention of doing a far-fetched musicological dissertation in this regard, we will comment that this Cuban reggaeton is distinguished by a specific rhythmic cell based on the Cuban clave.

Cuban reggaeton also uses and generates a lot of local slang. Some of the most popular reggaeton names are Chocolate MC, Yomil y el Dany, El Chacal, Divan, El Taiger, Harrison, El Kamel, etc. Then, the dance has particular characteristics and patterns, totally different from the rest of the geographical area.

Besides reggaeton, the other most danced genre is timba, with its casino dance. Timba is a mix derived from Afro-Cuban jazz, similar to son (original type of salsa), but faster and more aggressive. Cubans started calling it casino dance since its widespread use in casino clubs during the ’50s. The style sets the basic rhythm of the salsa, but it does not do it linearly but freely.

This style allows greater freedom of improvisation and more spontaneous and rhythmic movements. You can dance in pairs and around, hence the famous “Ruedas de Casino” (Casino Wheels, a type of casino danced in a group). Among the most popular orchestras of this timba genre are: Alexander Abreu y Habana de Primera, Bamboleo, El Noro y Primera Clase, Alain Pérez, Pupi y los que Son Son, Adalberto Álvarez y su Son, and Manolito Simonet y su Trabuco.

In addition to these dances, we found Rumba dance, a folkloric style that remains strong among Cuban peopleThe Rumba style is divided into YambuColumbia, and Guaguancó. The dancers’ energy and flavor explosion is their central characteristic. Despite its more than a hundred years of history, this “mestizo” style continues to captivate generations and generations of Cubans. 

The dance varies according to the style of each dancer and the type of variant. You can dance in pairs, separate people, or in a group. You can find rumba dance at both public and private parties, as well as in cultural or recreational centers. One of our favorite places to dance rumba is the Callejon de Hamel.

Another folkloric Cuban dance very vivid on the Island is conga. This genre has a marked African influence, where percussion plays the leading role. This style is a single type of dance, but in a group: the musicians play the congas (drums) and horns, and the dancers follow them through the streets, setting a basic rhythm with their feet. It’s also common for Cuban people to dance at least one conga at private parties and Carnivals.

Other styles danced in Cuba.

Cuba has been working hard to preserve a few other famous but “old school” styles among the popularity of many modern dances. “Classical” orchestras are a big part of this effort, groups that have essentially made Cubans dance for decades. Los Van Van and La Orquesta Aragón are two of these bands highly prestigious in the national and international music scene.

Los Van Van developed a music/dance style called Songo, where the Cuban son’s essence is interpreted with a particular rhythmic base and a charanga style of music format. The most faithful follower of this genre has been Maikel Blanco y Su Salsa Mayor. Another of the most beloved by the Cuban people, La Orquesta Aragón, also uses a traditional charanga music format. They mostly performs danzones, chachachás, boleros, and sones.

However, we must point out that these music and dance genres are reserved for most adult populations. In the same sense, you must know that even when it seems paradoxical, the Buena Vista Social Club and its exquisite repertoire are icons currently reserved mainly for tourism and not the Cuban people. But, that doesn’t mean that they won’t enjoy it every time someone plays it. 

On the other hand, it is essential to talk about foreign dance styles currently popular in Cuba, like merengue and bachata. For the youngest, electronic and pop music also appear in their tastes. These styles have become very famous after the abundance of more modern music festivals on the Island. In this realm, we need to add a special mention of a phenomenon called Cimafunk. This band has made the funk style fashionable and danceable among Cuban youth, mixed with Afro-Cuban rhythms and other indigenous stylistic features.

Where do Cubans like to dance? 

As a general rule, family celebrations, national anniversary dates, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Christmas, the New Year, school graduations, religions, and the reception of friends or relatives who live in other regions are often top reasons to organize a party. Food, drink, and dance music will not be missing in these celebrations. We must add that, in reality, there is not always a reason for this kind of event; many times, Cubans meet only for leisure and recreation.

Yes, socialization and partying are essential elements in Cuban society. To better illustrate the Cuban character on this topic, note that some dates indicated as “International Worker’s Day” or “International Women’s Day” are usually commemorations of struggle and protest in other world regions; in Cuba, they are holidays. In addition, we will mention events such as Festivals and Carnivals, different spaces that occur regularly, and where music and celebration abound.

So, if you are looking for a community where you can find cultural parties, not so much in clubs, but spontaneous and artistic events, full of traditions, culture, and joy, Cuba is one of the best places for it. However, you can also find all kinds of venues around the Island with excellent music and an impressive number of people dancing. 

 

If you want to learn more about Cuban dance, we highly recommend the Music Education & Cultural Cuba Tour

Cuba, a benchmark for dancers

We could list hundreds of reasons in favor of travel, and about the benefits of visiting and interacting with new cultures. One of these, without a doubt, is that knowing a new city allows us to confront stigmas and stereotypes usually built around culturally different communities. Cuba has not been exempt from this condition. That is why it is necessary to talk about these common stigmas related to Cubans and their culture.

If you like to dance, undoubtedly, Cuba will not disappoint you, especially since the conceptions of dance tend to be more accessible and without so many rigid structures of interpretation. As a general rule, Cubans value the atmosphere, the energy more than the virtuosity of the movements. Their celebrations are full of life and flavor, a friendly spirit, and communion. Even if you are not a dancer, but you like to enjoy this type of environment, in Cuba, you will have unforgettable experiences, and you will indeed be infected with the joy and warmth of its people.

The Cuban Salsa festival in Havana, Cuba is one of those events where you won’t stop dancing for a second. The event brings together the most relevant famous music orchestras from all over the Island. It is an explosion of music and energy never experienced before.

The highlight of this Festival is the salsa music genre, better known in Cuba as “son” or “timba” -one of the most modern and popular variants of Cuban son. Hence, the possibility of enjoying the rhythmic-melodic combinations of contemporary Cuban popular music.

Since the first versions of the Havana Salsa Festival, the presence of Afro-Cuban rhythms, rumba, Salsa, and casino dance in different modalities has been shocking, such as concerts, showcases, conferences, visits to places with relevant musical history, etc.

The Cuban pianist and composer Maykel Blanco plays the primary host of the event, together with his Salsa Mayor orchestra and Cuban cultural institutions such as the Centro Provincial de Espectáculos y de Carnaval de La Habana (Provincial Center of Shows and Carnival of Havana), and other music businesses like Artex, Paradiso, Musicalia, Clave Cubana, Instituto Cubano of the music.

The festival headquarters is the Club 500 of the José Antonio Echeverría de Palmares Recreational Complex, besieged in the heart of one of the most central and popular neighborhoods in Havana, Vedado. The space includes a large stage with an extensive area conducive to enjoying good music and dancing with your friends.

Every year, the famous Cuban Salsa festival welcomes important Cuban groups such as Pupy y los que Son Son, Adalberto Alvarez y Su Son, Alexander Abreu y Havana D´Primera, and the legendary Los Van Van orchestra. In addition to national artists, the Salsa Festival has had the presence of international musicians such as the Puerto Rican salsero Victor Manuelle.

For 2022, Festival de la Salsa organizers presented another tight Line-Up, including the famous Cuban orchestras mentioned before. Let’s check it out!

2023 Tour Dates are February 21st-March 1st, 2023

 

Check our special Cuban Salsa Festival playlist if you want to get in tune with our Cuban Salsa Festival Tour.

The Buena Vista Social Club Today

 

By Rocío de Lucía (Cuban Musicologist)

When we talk about The History of Buena Vista Social Club Part 1 and The History of Buena Vista Social Club Part 2, we find that Buena Vista Social Club was the name of a Social Club where the best “soneros” of the 50s used to sing in Cuba. Then, it was a song that paid tribute to those sublime encounters and musical sessions of the homonymous Club. Later, the song would give the name to an album, a project, and finally to a musical artistic concept, with a particular style and format, founded on bringing together the glorious musicians and songs of previous decades. All that is Buena Vista Social Club.

The project traveled the world always changing the members of the orchestra. Although, it is true that some figures achieved greater popularity, becoming a kind of Buena Vista icon. Many of these original interpreters passed away a few years ago, others are now of advanced age. Let us remember that, by the creation date of the project in the 90s, the vast majority of artists were over 65 years of age.

What happened in Cuba? 

Currently, in Cuba, the legacy and principles of the Buena Vista Social Club continue to be exalted, in a project called Tradicionales de Los 50. Because the original name is the intellectual property of the record company that recorded the homonymous album, the longest-lived figures of the Cuban son, they meet every night at the Rosalía de Castro Club. Located in the heart of Old Havana, there those songs that for years have brightened the lives of all those who enjoy them are honored.

Former members of the Sonora Matancera -the orchestra with which Celia Cruz recorded her first two musical albums in Cuba and a legend of Latin American dance music of the last century-, along with other great stars of the Buena Vista Social Club and Afro-Cuban All-Stars have been part of this project since 2002.

Among the most prominent figures who have collaborated, we find Julio Alberto Fernández, Barbarito Torres, Amadito Valdés, “El Guajiro” Mirabal, Julienne Oviedo Sánchez, Carlos González Cárdenas, Lázaro Villa, Rosa Fornés, Rolo Martínez and Manolo del Valle. These names are joined by other great personalities of the Cuban music scene: Rolito, Armandito y Navarro, Feliz Baloy, Hector Téllez, Alfonsí Quintana, Caridad Hierrezuelo, Hilda de la Hoz, María Elena Pena, Xiomara Valdés, Teresa García Caturla, Ela Calvo, María Victoria Gil, Amparito Valencia and Luis Téllez.

The current stars, all stand out for an important musical trajectory, of excellence within Cuban music. There we will find Rolando Montero, Mundito González, José Valladares, Jorge Mulet, Migdalia Hechavarría, Jose Luis Arango, Sergio Farías, Raquel Hernández, Flora Max, Pablo Santamaría, Millán Zuaznabar, Leonor Zayas, Feliz Bernal, Yanko Pizako, Emilio Ramos, Adalberto Ávila “Candela”, Martha de Santelices, Andrés Sánchez, Maria Elena Lazo, Alfredo Rodríguez, Laura Rodríguez and María de Jesús López.

The wide versatility of the project and its classic sound make this show a jewel of Cuban cultural heritage. A repertoire that ranges from the great classics of Miguel Matamoros, Miguel Cuní, Benny Moré, Compay Segundo, Celia Cruz, and Sonora Matancera -among others-, continues to transport us to the golden age of Cuban music, with the particular timbres and styles of each interpreter.

All of them preserve that old and delightful essence that allows us to enjoy, even in the XXI century, those glorious moments that made the Havana nights of past decades shine. An enjoyment turned into a privilege to get a live glimpse of the flavor and talent of the musicians who have made the whole world dance and distinguished the name of this beautiful island through passion and art.

You can find Parts 1 and 2 of this blog trilogy in the following links:

THE HISTORY OF BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB PART 1: THE VINDICATION OF CUBAN MUSIC

THE HISTORY OF BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB PART 2

The life story of glory

Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso, more widely known as Celia Cruz, was a famous Cuban singer and left a footprint in history as one of the most popular Latin artists of the 20th century. Often referred to as Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz‘s biography and history are very rich, intriguing, and full of accomplishments. Therefore, let‘s explore and discover the history of the legendary Cuban singer in 4 steps that are made simple, to take you back through one of the most illustrious music careers in Latin America‘s history.

Step 1: Early Life Footprints

According to Catalina Alfonso Ramos, her mother, Celia Cruz began singing as early as 10 months of age!

Celia Cruz was born at 47 Serrano Street in the Santos Suárez neighborhood of Havana, Cuba while her father, Simon Cruz, worked as a railway stoker and her mother was a housewife who took care of a big family of 14.

What started early continued every year for Celia Cruz. She sang practically everywhere: in school during the Fridays’ actos cívicos, in her neighborhood ensemble, Botón de Oro, and in cabarets as a teenager when her aunt took her there to perform.

Yet, still, Celia Cruz originally intended to become a literature teacher, but it was that critical victory in a
talent show where she interpreted the tango piece „Nostalgia“ in a bolero tempo that became life-changing, making her pause her studies to pursue what became an elusive music career.

celia-cruz-promo

Step 2: The Rise Of Musical Career

Her musical breakthrough started here in Cuba with her first recordings made in 1948 and 1950 when she began singing with the celebrated Cuban orchestra Sonora Matancera.

Celia Cruz sang regularly in Cuba with the ensemble on radio and television, made extensive tours, compiled full-length albums, headlined Havana’s Tropicana nightclub, and even appeared in five films that were produced in Mexico.

Unfortunately, after the Cuban revolution of 1960, Havana’s nightlife came to a standstill which made her leave Cuba.

A journey that changed her life and career forever.

celia cruz and band

Step 3: Commerical Success In the USA

When the revolution started sweeping over Cuba, Sonora Matancera with Celia Cruz was touring Mexico and decided to cross into the United States instead of coming back home to Cuba. This led Cruz to become a U.S. citizen by 1961, settling in New York City while enraged Fidel Castro forbade her to return to Cuba‘s soil.

In the beginning, as expected, she was relatively unknown in a new country, with a presence only in the Cuban exile community. In the mid-1960s she started gaining exposure and momentum after joining Tito Puente Orchestra which had a strong following across Latin America.

Not only did she become the face of the group, but Cruz captivated audiences with her enthusiasm, sparkling attires, and crowd entertainment, skyrocketing her musical career into new heights that not many could have predicted, forming one of the greatest music legacies in Cuban history.

celia cruz

Step 4: Strong Legacy & Death

Celia Cruz passed away in New Jersey on July 16, 2003, at the age of 77.

Her legacy left behind still goes strong to this day, and it encompasses so many areas that she was able to touch with her fascinating 40-year musical career.

As Celia Cruz continued to perform throughout the years, she made over 75 records of which 23 went gold, winning multiple Grammy & Latin Grammy awards. But that‘s only the tip of a legacy iceberg that still floats around today, approaching 2020.

The singer made an appearance in several movies, stamped a star on the iconic Hollywood Walk of Fame, and received an award of the American National Medal from President Bill Clinton. The highest recognition an artist can receive from the United States government. Cruz is remembered as one of the 20th century’s most beloved and popular Latin musicians with many tributes made for her over the years, including music schools being named after her, television series, and many many more.

However, Celia Cruz did manage to return to Cuba in 1990 after she was invited to make a presentation at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. After that, she took a few grams of earth from Cuba with her.

An epilogue in her autobiography notes that, in accordance with her wishes, Cuban soil which she had saved from a visit to Guantánamo Bay was used in her entombment. Returning her home, forever.

Image links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celia_Cruz#/media/File:Celia_Cruz,_1957.jpg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celia_Cruz#/media/File:Celia_Cruz_y_La_Sonora_Matancera.jpg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celia_Cruz#/media/File:Cruz_and_Ros-Lehtinen1992a.jpg