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The story behind the sound of the hill

One hundred years later, we already know where the singers are from. We have heard it on many occasions, in the many recorded versions that exist, on the hill and on the plain, whispered by Siro, Cueto and Miguel, who immortalized it, or by any other artist from the dozens who have reinterpreted it. They are from the hill es, next to the bolero-son Lágrimas negras, already the sounds He who sows his corn and Antony's wife, one of the distinguished works by Santiago composer Miguel Matamoros, born on May 8, 1894 and absent since April 15, 1971.

Miguel Matamoros himself, in an extensive interview he gave at the end of the 1960s to researcher and musicologist from Santiago, Alberto Muguercia Muguercia, told the story of his famous son and his real name: 

"The They are from the hill It's not called that, but Mom, they are from La Loma. That number occurred to me in the year 1922; It was a night when I was giving a serenade at Trocha and San Pedro, in front of the La Colonia Española sanatorium; Alfonso del Río was playing and singing with me. Then a lady with her little daughter came out of a nearby house and said: `Sir, sir, my daughter wants to meet the singers, she wants to know where they are from'. I was inspired by that question and that same night I did the rest of the poetry. ʽSound from the hill' it means that they are from Santiago, and ʽsing in the plain' It means that they sing in Havana.” 

Another version very close to the previous one is known. CThey say that after a serenade, already in retreat and anguished for not having a response from the recipient, they heard the voice of a girl who from inside one of the adjoining buildings asked: "Mom, are those singers from Havana?" . To which the aforementioned replied: “No, daughter, they are from here, from Santiago, from the hill…”. After the serenade was over, Miguel composed what the town called They are from the hill

Some researchers have confirmed additional details to this event that everything seems to indicate occurred on Monday, May 8, 1922. The ethnomusicologist Jesús Blanco Aguilar, in his book Eighty years of the son and the soneros of the Caribbean, points out that that same year the legendary theme was edited for the first time by Pastor R. Lahera, in the street Villegas No. 18, in Havana. The song is listed as Breast with No. 16 of the Ministry of Agriculture, Commerce and Labor.

Interestingly, the presence of Mom, they are from the hill in the discography of Cuban music it did not begin, as was expected, with the Trío Matamoros. According to Cristóbal Díaz Ayala in his Record Encyclopedia of Cuban Music (1925-1960), the popular son was recorded by the trio in New Jersey on May 28, 1928 (RCA Victor 81378). Five years earlier, it had already been recorded by Juan Cruz's Cuarteto Cruz on March 9, 1923 (RCA Victor 73883), as to the sound of the hill; also by the Trío Villalón, by Alberto Villalón, on September 26, 1923 (Brunswick 40073) with the same name, and by the duo Pablito y Luna, by Pablito Armiñán and Manuel Luna, as Mom, they are from the hill in July 1923 (Columbia Co 2041x). All, apparently, without success. However, it was not until May 8, 1925 that ehe trio of fascinating troubadours met for the first time at the house of Miguel Matamoros in the Los Hoyos neighborhood in Santiago de Cuba, in celebration of Miguel's 31st birthday.

The lyrics of the son also have their peculiarities. On the one hand, it highlights the gallantry of the Santiago singers to whom the composer himself belonged and, on the other, it highlights the Havana-Santiago tension, describing the latter as a sovereign land: “They will be from Havana, they will be from Santiago, land sovereign”. Santiago pride against Havana centralism. 

The title of the composition also presented complications as to whether the are should be taken as a verb or a noun. Matamoros himself clarified it whenever he was asked. Díaz Ayala, in his work TheO beautiful Cuba! The social political songbook in Cuba, gives us an accurate explanation:

“Note the difference in titles: to the sound of the hill, Apparently the original title is confusing: Does the hill have a son? And contemporaneously, we see as a title Mom, they are from the hill, which is a stanza of the text and that does make sense, that is, are, used as the tense of the verb to be, to indicate that these people were from the hill, or lived on the hill”.

But the misunderstanding continued. Even many recorded versions appeared with the title the sound of the hill, using the word "son" as a noun or name by which a musical genre was known. The confusion, on the other hand, was one more reason to talk about the musical number and increase its fame; although Miguel always got annoyed when asked about this matter, maintaining that the “son” in the title was a verb, not a noun.

Beyond the controversy, the truth is that They are from the hill is one of the most successful and recognized pieces in the history of Cuban music along with The manisero by Moses Simons and Guajira Guantanamera of Joseito Fernandez; thousands of versions and of all nuances certify its reception by the public. Each song has a story, a different inspiration, but they are all personal experiences, chronicles of everyday life, artistic recreations of life. The creativity of Miguel Matamoros, on a moonlit night, typical of bohemians, in 1922, left us this beautiful and simple son that 100 years later we continue dancing and enjoying: 


Mom I want to know

Where are the singers from

I find them very gallant

And I want to meet them

With its fascinating trovas

I want to learn them.

Where will they be from? Ow mom

Are they from Havana?

Are they from Santiago?

sovereign land

They are from the hill 

And they sing on the plain,

You'll see, you'll see

Mom, they are from the hill,

mom, they sing flat.

Sergio Santana Archbold Civil engineer and music researcher born in San Andrés-Isla and resident in Medellín. Author of the books What is salsa? Looking for the melody (1992), Yo Rubén Blades, confessions of a neighborhood rapporteur (1997), Héctor Lavoe, the voice of the neighborhood (2003, 2018) and The unforgettable Tito Rodríguez (2003, 2015), among others. He is also the author of the books Medellín has his salsa (2015) in co-authorship with Octavio Gómez, and de Mi salsa has sandunga (2014). Co-author and coordinator of the books Lucho Bermúdez, cumbias, porros y Viajes (2012) and Benny Moré sin frontiers (2013). Producer of Santo Bassilón Editions. More posts

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  1. Antonio Mora says:

    Radames, an octogenarian cuatrista from the SonArte Group in Santiago, confessed to me that as a child he heard Miguel Matamoros tell the origin of the song at a troubadour meeting and confirmed the story of the girl's question and the mother's answer using the verb SON be referring to the hill on which the Plaza de Marte is located in reference to the lower part of the city but that what he composed was an ADVANCED BOLERO not a SON although it has later been interpreted as SON and other rhythmic forms, this statement is found in

  2. Antonio Mora says:

    This is the statement I was talking about in my previous comment.

  3. Oswaldo Franco says:

    There is no confusion. To the question: where are they from? the mother replies: they are from the hill. I don't think it's arguable.

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