Tag Archives: cuba

40. Mambo No. 5 – Pérez Prado – 1950

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Mambo No. 5” is a mambo and jive dance song originally recorded and composed by Cuban Dámaso Pérez Prado in 1949.

The song’s popularity was renewed by German artist Lou Bega‘s sampling of the original, released under the same name on Bega’s 1999 debut album A Little Bit of Mambo.

Trivia

  • Pérez Prado is often referred to as the King of the Mambo.
  • His orchestra was the most popular in mambo. His son, Pérez Prado, Jr., continues to direct the Pérez Prado Orchestra in Mexico City to this day.
  • His mambo records and the joyous dancing they caused, are described in a later chapter of Jack Kerouac’s seminal novel, On the Road (1957).
  • Many artists covered variations of Bega’s version, including Radio Disney and Bob the Builder.
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22. Guantanamera – Joseíto Fernández – 1941

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Guantanamera” (Spanish: “from Guantánamo [feminine]”, thus “woman from Guantánamo“) is perhaps the best known Cuban song and that country’s most noted patriotic song. In 1966, a version by American vocal group The Sandpipers, based on an arrangement by Pete Seeger, became an international hit.

The music for the song is sometimes attributed to José Fernández Diaz, known as Joseíto Fernández, who claimed to have written it at various dates (consensus puts 1929 as its year of origin), and who used it regularly in one of his radio programs. Some claim that the song’s structure actually came from Herminio “El Diablo” García Wilson, who could be credited as a co-composer. García’s heirs took the matter to court decades later but lost the case: the Supreme Court of Cuba credited Fernández as the sole composer of the music in 1993. Regardless of either claim, Fernández can safely be claimed as being the first public promoter of the song, through his radio programs.

Trivia

  • Given the song’s musical structure, which fits A-B-A-B (sometimes A-B-B-A) octosyllabic verses, “Guantanamera” lent itself from the beginning to impromptu verses, improvised on the spot, similar to what happens with the Mexican folk classic “La Bamba“. Fernández’s first use of the song was precisely this; he would comment on daily events on his radio program by adapting them to the song’s melody, and then using the song as a show closer. Through this use, “Guantanamera” became a popular vehicle for romantic, patriotic, humorous, or social commentary lyrics, in Cuba and elsewhere in the Spanish speaking world.
  • The general tune of this song is an extremely common English football chant, such as “There’s only one (insert player name)” or “You only sing when you’re winning”.
  • It was only when US folk icon Pete Seeger recorded Guantanamera in 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, that the rest of the world came to know this song.

7. El Manisero – Don Azpiazú and His Havana Casino Orchestra – 1929

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El Manisero (The Peanut Vendor) is a Cuban song based on a street-seller’s cry, and known as a pregón. It is possibly the most famous piece of music created by a Cuban musician. The Peanut Vendor has been recorded more than 160 times, sold over a million copies of the sheet music, and was the first million-selling 78rpm of Cuban music.

The score and lyrics of El Manisero were by the Cuban son of a Basque musician, Moises Simons (1889–1945). It sold over a million copies of sheet music for E.B. Marks Inc., and this netted $100,000 in royalties for Simons by 1943. Its success led to a ‘rumba craze’ in the US and Europe which lasted through the 1940s.

Trivia

  • This version of the song kicked off the worldwide ‘rumba craze’.
  • The lyrics were in a style based on street vendors’ cries, a pregón; and the rhythm was a son, so technically this was a son-pregón. On the record label, however, it was called a rhumba-fox trot, not only the wrong genre, but misspelled as well. After this, the term rumba was used as a general label for Cuban music, as salsa is today, because the numerous Cuban terms were not understood abroad. Rumba was easy to say and remember.
  • Because of its cultural importance, in 2005 The Peanut Vendor was included into the United States National Recording Registry by the National Recording Preservation Board.
  • Groucho Marx whistled the tune in the film Duck Soup (1933); Cary Grant sang it in the film Only Angels Have Wings (1939); Judy Garland sang a fragment in the film A Star is Born (1954).
  • Perhaps its most lasting influence was in West and Central Africa. Azpiazú’s imported 78s went down so well there that it is thought this is how the ‘rumba congolese’ got its name. For the rest of the century ‘El Manisero’ was required repertoire for any large African ‘orchestre’ in that enormous region.

4. Lágrimas Negras – Trio Matamoros – 1928

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Trio Matamoros

One of the most influential groups in the development of Cuban son, Trio Matamoros were founded in Santiago de Cuba in 1925 by guitarist and singer Miguel Matamoros. Matamoros also wrote their songs, which combined sophisticated but accessible lyrics with simple, unforgettable melodies. One of his most famous compositions is Lágrimas Negras (Black Tears).

Matamoros was inspired to write the lovesick meditation on rejection when he overheard a woman crying near the residence where he was staying while visiting Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. He first composed it as a tango, but the version he recorded is considered to be the first example of a new genre, a fusion of son and bolero, called, understandably, bolero-son.

Trivia

  • The Trio Matamoros were one of the most popular Cuban trova groups. Formed in 1925 by Miguel Matamoros (Santiago de Cuba, 8 May 1894 – 15 April 1971; guitar), Rafael Cueto (Santiago de Cuba, 14 March 1900 – 7 August 1991; guitar) and Siro Rodriguez (Santiago de Cuba, 9 December 1899 – Regla, 29 March 1981; maracas and claves). All three were singers and composers.
  • The Trio Matamoros played boleros and son. They toured all Latin America and Europe and recorded in New York. In 1940 Guillermo Portabales performed with the trio. Matamoros expanded the trio into a conjunto for a trip to Mexico and hired the young Beny Moré as singer from 1945 to 1947. They recorded many 78rpm records and LPs; some of their output is available on CDs. The group were renowned for the harmony of their voices, and the quality of the lyrics.
  • Matamoros was one of the greatest and most prolific composers of the Cuban son; his first hit was El que siembra su maiz (literally, he who sows his corn). Lágrimas negras (Black tears) and Mamá, son de la loma / y cantan en llano (Ma, they’re from the hill, and they sing on the plain, meaning, they’re from Oriente and they sing in Havana). The group, whose members stayed together for 35 years, disbanded in 1960.