Tuesday, March 22, 2011

TUNES FOR TUESDAY - Salsa Genome - Son Cubano

Last week I briefly mentioned Salsa's music genome. Before moving on, and not wanting to leave this topic as another lose end, I wanted to explore it a little more in today's post. So, as we travel through history, let's make our mandatory stop in Cuba. Why? Well, remember that Salsa builds upon aging Cuban rhythms.

During the Spanish Colonization of the New World, Spanish immigrants brought to Cuba music and dances they had adopted from other places in Europe. Among these is the Contradanse, which had made its way to Spain from Versalles, and which arrived in the New World as la Contradanza. It is possible, however, that during the same period, French immigrants brought La Contradanse to Haiti, and that Haitian immigrants took care of moving it to La Habana. Either way, in Cuba, La Contradanza lost its collective nature and became a dance for couples as Cubans created their own version of La Contradanza by mixing the European music with the well established rhythms of African slaves.

The Africans had been able to retain many of their religious and social traditions by confounding the Padres. Where the Priests saw acceptance of the Catholic Saints, the African Slaves saw a way to assimilate their Orishas into the new faith. Thus, Africans from Cuba and Haiti blended their vocal traditions and contagious drum beats with the Contradanza to create at the end of the 19th Century the music that would give birth to the Son Cubano.

The Trovadores (traveling musicians, loners and usually guitar players), contributed to the creation and spread of the Son through cities such as Santiago de Cuba and La Habana. Think of the Son Cubano as the equivalent to the Blues in the United States: a basic rhythm, rooted in deep cultural traditions.

The Son became popular among Caribbean working classes because it was a simple, portable rhythm. It only required a guitar and some form of hand made percussion. When played at a slower tempo, it is called Son Montuno. Both rhythms made it to the US in the baggage of Americans who during the 1930s flocked to La Habana (yes, Havanna) evading Prohibition.

There are more recent examples of the Son, but since we are talking history, here's a song that became the first Cuban hit in New York as well as in Paris and other European cities around 1928. A classic:

El Manicero by Moises Simmons.

Simmons, born in Cuba, was the child of a Basque musician. El Manicero, The Peanut Vendor, was first performed by Rita Montaner, and is sometimes attributed to her. Here it is performed by those who introduced the song to the United States, The Don Azpiazu's Orchestra:

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