ilustración: Román Alsina.
ilustración: Román Alsina.

Aida Diestro, story of a quartet

13 minutes / Julio Cid

09.12.2020 / Articles

It all started one day when Aidita was playing the piano in a Presbyterian temple. The little interpreter, the pastor's daughter, did not even imagine that on the sidewalk of the church a man would stop to listen to her carefully; and that, after a few minutes, she would enter the beautiful venue to tell him something that would mark her forever: You are a pianist, you are a musician from head to toe and you must dedicate yourself to this professionally. I wish you many successes.

Aidita, however, wanted to be a scientist, which is why she enrolled in Physics-Chemistry at the University of Havana, which she abandoned in her first months, when she decided to get married. The marriage, on the other hand, did not last long and she finally opted for music. She never forgot that stranger and his prediction.

With the musical knowledge that her father gave her and that acquired in a small conservatory in the neighborhood, the young Aida went to the burgeoning station Mil Diez to try to become a music professional. There she was hired as a repertoire and accompanist pianist; and she came into contact with great figures of Cuban music: Isolina Carrillo, Adolfo Guzmán, Enrique González Mántici, with whom she confronted many concepts about harmony, a subject in which she would later become an authority, among others.

There, in addition to meeting some of the founders of the filin such as José Antonio Méndez, César Portillo de la Luz, Ángel Díaz, Tania Castellanos, Orlando de la Rosa -who would follow the very young musician very closely-, he would clear up an important unknown: the identity of that stranger who at an early age had prompted her to do art. It was, nothing more and nothing less, Ñico Rojas, a highly recognized guitarist and composer and one of the most respected leaders of the filin.

But it wasn't just the Thousand Ten. Whenever she was called to take care of the piano professionally, she would go there. As a repertorist, she was hired by Alberto Alonso's ballet, which complemented, in some way, her musical training. In the nascent institution she would be in contact with the rigor of a great teacher who also gave her a modern vision of the show.

She was immersed in a veritable whirlwind of renewal when she appeared in her path, unexpectedly, something she hadn't even thought about.

The quartet is brewing

“In 1952, Omara was accompanied by her sister Haydee, and Elena Burke came, in turn, with the star Vilma Valle. That meeting was at the Radiocentro cinema, on L y 23 [now Yara] ”.

“En el año 1952, Omara iba acompañada de su hermana Haydee, y Elena Burke venía, a su vez, junto a la vedette Vilma Valle. Ese encuentro fue en el cine Radiocentro, en L y 23 [actual Yara]”.

Elena had suggested to Omara to form a quartet made up of Adalberto del Río, with whom she had sung in the Orlando de la Rosa group. In addition, they would have Omara's sister, Haydee.

And Aida concludes her testimony: "Elena proposed me as director." The idea was welcomed, but she thought about it very calmly. She wanted to create something at the height of the moment, because if the influence of American music was decisive for the filin movement, in the case of vocal groups there was a similar process.

Later, the pianist approved the voices of Omara, Haydee and Elena, but she gave up the fourth male voice. The filling would be very difficult. She proposed, then, to find another female member. Some say that it was Aida herself who proposed Moraima Secada. Others, that the proposal came from Elena and Omara. It doesn't matter who she was. The important thing is that Aida auditioned all four voices and immediately began to rehearse what would be - as Luis Carbonell affirmed - the best female vocal quartet created in Cuba up to that moment.

From the beginning the group was a solid project, highly professional and with a serious vision about its insertion in the Cuban show. The Aida Diestro quartet was much more than five mulatto women - four vocalists and their director - who sang in four voices. It was a true phenomenon of flawless art that went beyond vocal harmony.

The debut and what came after

There they interpreted Things of the Soul, by Pepe Delgado, and Mamey colora’o, by Pedro Jústiz; they went on the air live, accompanied on the piano by Aida herself and the rhythmic complement of a double bass. From the beginning, they gave a very clear signal about the repertoire of the new quartet: the song and the soneado, but in both generic aspects the four-voice montage would remain.

There they interpreted Things of the Soul, by Pepe Delgado, and Mamey colora’o, by Pedro Jústiz; they went on the air live, accompanied on the piano by Aida herself and the rhythmic complement of a double bass. From the beginning, they gave a very clear signal about the repertoire of the new quartet: the song and the soneado, but in both generic aspects the four-voice montage would remain.

The Noon Show was one of the most watched television spaces at that time and would therefore serve as an efficient platform to launch the quartet in a big way. So again the improvisation would knock on the director's door. Repeating the best numbers and mounting others to respond to the needs of the space was the resource used to succeed in the test.

The international Show del mediodía era uno de los espacios televisivos más vistos en aquel momento y serviría, por lo tanto, como eficiente plataforma para lanzar al cuarteto a lo grande. Así que nuevamente la improvisación tocaría a la puerta de la directora. Repetir los mejores números e ir montando otros para responder a las necesidades del espacio fue el recurso empleado para salir airosas de la prueba.

It has been said that after those episodes they spent a year without working. It is not true. Later they ventured into the La Campana cabaret and five years after their debut they were part of the cast of the best nightclubs in Havana. By 1957, two events would have a significant impact on Las Dʼ Aida: the recording of the album An evening at the Sans Souci, accompanied by the orchestra of the famous Chico Oʼ Farril —the only record that exists with the first formation of the quartet—, and the participation in another with Lucho Gatica. They would then travel to New York to appear on The Steve Allen Show; There they would set destination to Miami, where they would have a successful day at the exclusive Fontainebleau Hotel.

A short stop at the original lineup

It is true that Moraima was the least recognized, that she did not have the international mark that Elena and Omara achieved; But let's not forget that La Mora placed in the national hit parade countless hits (Forgive me, That which is there, Standing here, Relief, Come back to me) that are part of the repertoire of Cuban singers of various generations. She is also among the first to do recitals of 20 songs or more, accompanied by a great orchestra in a great theater —the Amadeo Roldán, in her case. There is nothing to say about Elena and Omara, because the brilliance of their careers is indisputable.

It is true that Moraima was the least recognized, that she did not have the international mark that Elena and Omara achieved; But let's not forget that La Mora placed in the national hit parade countless hits (Forgive me, That which is there, Standing here, Relief, Come back to me) that are part of the repertoire of Cuban singers of various generations. She is also among the first to do recitals of 20 songs or more, accompanied by a great orchestra in a great theater —the Amadeo Roldán, in her case. There is nothing to say about Elena and Omara, because the brilliance of their careers is indisputable.

Aida, for her part, was a music academy unto itself. The first training was fully nurtured by his teachings. The fat woman in gold worked on harmony in such a way that it became natural and she taught the rest to breathe, to use the diaphragm. She demanded careful interpretation of the text, was relentless with phrasing and impasto, as well as with respect for the genre being interpreted.

While they were part of the group, its members were forced to speak in low voices. That was his working instrument and it had to be kept. You couldn't go on stage without warming up your voice, and there were other inviolable rules. Punctuality, for example, was an unquestionable currency.

In all the assemblies of the Diestro she did a job as a reggiseur, as she reviewed the songs with her little girls, always with the help of the scores. She had a very clear idea of ​​what she wanted and supported it with the repertoire, a generic watercolor of Cuban music with forays into the international, especially Latin American. This was selected based on very rigorous criteria: quality of music and lyrics, possibilities of harmonic expression of the numbers, opportunity for one or more of the members of the group to shine in their solos. ç

The first "defections" and the companions

But life is not rosy. Not a well-armed vocal quartet is exempt from divergences and misunderstandings, or from the desire to continue alone. In the case of Las D’Aida it has always been said that the desertions were motivated by the latter, and this is not exactly the case.

Two years later, another drop in the ranks: that of Moraima Secada in 1960. On this, Rosa Marquetti in her blog Desmemoriados assures: “in March the news was published in the press and in its April 1960 issue, the magazine Show He also commented on it: Moraima resigned to continue in the D'Aida Quartet. She indicates that ʽ… an agreement had been reached between all of them to terminate at the end of the Hilton contract [today Habana Libre], but Moraima says that she does not walk anymore ʼ ”.

Two years later, another drop in the ranks: that of Moraima Secada in 1960. On this, Rosa Marquetti in her blog Desmemoriados assures: “in March the news was published in the press and in its April 1960 issue, the magazine Show He also commented on it: Moraima resigned to continue in the D'Aida Quartet. She indicates that ʽ… an agreement had been reached between all of them to terminate at the end of the Hilton contract [today Habana Libre], but Moraima says that he does not walk anymore ʼ ”.

However, in the documentary La reason no valía (Bis Music, 2019) - directed by Felipe Morfa and Mayra María García - Meme Solís affirms: "When Aida took Moraima out of the quartet, Elena was already a soloist." That is, he thinks that Aida removed Moraima from her group. Controversy aside, the truth is that with the departure of La Mora there were already two voices from the first formation that were not there. That same year, Haydee Portuondo would leave, who in 1961 returned temporarily for a contract in the United States, a country where she decided to stay.

In Cuban Montuno there is a more detailed explanation: it is said that in 1960 Haydee left the quartet and, in her place, Lilita Peñalver entered, just at the moment when they appeared in the show Songs at Night, at the Hotel Nacional. Then they went to Club 21 and, while there, they received an invitation to appear at the show Aquelarre Tropicale, in Florida. So Haydee came back to the group to fill that contract. It is not said that the interpreter did not return to Cuba, but it is clear that she did.

By the time they returned to Havana, the only member of Las D'Aida's first formation was Omara, who continued in the group until 1967, the year in which - at the request of the Music Directorate of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television-- began his career as a soloist.

Although the members of the quartet were not the same from the beginning, Aida kept the criteria that encouraged her to form it, the working method, the discipline and the repertoire policy.

In 1971 the Diestro incorporated great musicians to Las D’Aida such as Amadito Valdés (percussionist until the group's dissolution in 1999) and the pianist Ricardo Pérez, a member of the group for 20 years and its last musical director. But before there were other experiences, some of them not very well known, since Aida was a great promoter of young talent. This led her to include a number by Nelson González (Doesn't matter) and another by the young man and then a very prominent Juan Formell (Doubts) that would be anthological successes for the quartet.

Pablo Milanés was another of the musicians that Aida promoted - it is said that he was like a son to her - because he asked her for very diverse collaborations. Among the most interesting is the one they made with the music of the film The Umbrellas of Cherbourg: Aida and Pablo Milanés went to the cinema to take notes; she, of the beautiful music of the tape and he, of the lyrics. This became a beautiful medley for the quartet to put together.

It is also known that a newcomer, Meme Solís, from Santa Clara, served as a repertorist and rehearser for Las D’Aida for some time.

Goodbye to La gorda de oro

The quartet was exhausting. Even so, Aida, with a serious heart condition, was constantly active. But he had a crisis and with it came absolute rest. Every precaution was taken to preserve her life, but her heart was already too tired. So the inevitable happened: two months before her 49th birthday, on October 28, 1973, the architect of one of the most famous vocal groups in the entire history of Cuban music died.

Her imprint on Cuban song and the work of the quartet format is indelible. Despite having disintegrated in 1999 ―26 years after the physical disappearance of its founder―, Las D'Aida continues to be an obligatory reference that left us with very high-flying soloists such as Elena, Omara, Moraima, Leonora Rega and many others. . The memory is well worth it to bring us back to La gorda de oro.

Julio Cid

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