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Interviews Alden Gonzalez. Photo: Yasser Landazuri. Alden Gonzalez. Photo: Yasser Landazuri.

Alden González, with respect for the elders

The Cuban 60s are a mixture of issues that mistreat the calm: blockade, Playa Girón, Missile Crisis, Camarioca, Cuban Adjustment Law, all this at the time that many nationals, as Francisco López Sacha would say, carried Little Richard hidden in a lining of the Orquesta Aragón.

In 1968 Tele Rebelde was created in Santiago de Cuba; Some time later, the channel emigrated to the capital, and the eastern soneros were no longer able to make national proposals from their land in a sustained manner. Many began to draw a scenario in which the son seemed to lose weight, and a sound emerged outside the Island that was the Island and, at the same time, was a new subject: they called it salsa.

Alden González, the award-winning producer and also a journalist, recognizes these somersaults of fate? His work has led him to names and groups such as the Septeto Santiaguero, Alejandro Almenares, Gilberto Santa Rosa or José Alberto. The Canary. What he lived gives him authority to touch on these issues.

“What is known as the salsa movement began to take shape in the 1960s in the Latin world of New York. At that time there was a lot of Cuban presence; It was the heyday of the pachanga, but the pachanga that hit New York was nothing more than son charanguero. It wasn't Eduardo Davidson's pachanga. The boogaloo —Guillermo Portabales said so— was nothing more than son montuno; in fact, Portabales has a song in which he says that “the montuno, the montuno, they call him bugalú”, and I feel that he recorded it annoyed. He didn't like that they called boogalú what he thought was the montuno.

“During the mambo's heyday there were many songs that were actually son and they called it mambo (you have to listen to the arrangements by Pérez Prado, Bebo Valdés, Mercerón or René Hernández prior to the mambo craze). The Congolese rumba, for example, has nothing to do with rumba. That's what came to Zaire: from the Septeto Habanero, from the Guaracheros de Oriente, from Matamoros.

“Matamoros, Piñeiro, Arsenio, El Benny, la Aragón, have a strong influence on that universality of the Cuban son. That one that came to Africa but at that time everything that came from Cuba was called rumba.

“Desi Arnaz, a man from Santiago, who was unknown in his homeland, in Santiago, had a lot of influence on that conception. It's painful for me. We are talking about one of the most popular Latinos in the United States and who had a lot of weight in the internationalization of the conga, in that widespread image of the Cuban rumbero with the characteristic shirt that many call 'rumbera'. When this trend internationalized, people began to call everything that sounded like Cuba a rumba; So, there are many sones that are not called as they should be, it doesn't just happen with salsa. If the Catalan rumba resembles something, it is the son; It has nothing of columbia or yambú, nor of guaguancó (nor of guarapachangueo). For example, El Pescaílla was more flamenco rumba than Catalan rumba. Peret's, for his part, was already more in the commercial sense of the Catalan rumba. He did many Cuban songs like The party is not for ugly; put him I kill him to the bye bye cat of Ñico Saquito; and when El Pescaílla recorded Sarandonga, the piece gained popularity all over the world again. Compay Segundo, on the contrary, was not experiencing moments of splendor here in Cuba.

“The son, let's call him rellollo, was relegated at that time. Ñico Saquito maintained quite a presence, but was relegated. Those who most enjoyed popular favor in the 1970s and early 1980s were Los Compadres, who knew how to exploit their charisma. Son 14, on the other hand, emerged at a time when son fanatics were called ʽcheo'. But they showed up on the show To dance, which fortunately rescued a lot of our dance music, and had a brutal impact. What happened with Son 14 at that time can be compared to Buena Vista Social Club, reaffirming once again that the sonero impact began from abroad, rather than in Cuba. Son 14 was very popular in Santiago, but its national recognition stemmed from its success in Venezuela.

“But we have been dealing with this feeling that ʽthese are not times of son' for a long time. It started in the 60s. I think there will always be son because son has reached too high a level. There are many musical genres that are very intertwined with son. The danzón, for example, which would not be the same without that second sonorous part. So I feel that there will always be times of son. The son is like an alma mater.

“One of the most important recent albums in Latin music, in general, is The Madrilenian, from the Spanish C. Tangana, in my opinion a great album, urban music with artistic criteria. In that album one of the standard pieces is dying of envy, which has Eliades Ochoa as a guest, and even some fragments of son. C. Tangana said that he felt blessed by the presence of Eliades and what he brought to his album. By the way, the base of that theme is the version of Lola, which El Pescaílla recorded in the 1960s.

“The Buena Vista Social Club, the last time it was at number one on an iTunes chart was as close as 2019. We're talking about a record from 1997 that may still be number one; that is saying that in the son there is an incredible potential that unfortunately we still don't understand here.

Alden González with Alain Pérez, Mayito Rivera, and Geovanis Alcántara. Photo: Taken from Alden González's Facebook.

Alden González with Alain Pérez, Mayito Rivera, and Geovanis Alcántara. Photo: Taken from Alden González's Facebook.

“Recently I have worked with young people who feel infinite love for the son and that amazes me. One of the satisfactions that the disc gave me to break the coconut [Egrem, 2019] it was the love with which Mayito Rivera, Alain Pérez and Alexander Abreu undertook the project; that love for Cuban music from the roots. Therefore, the son will not leave Cuba. It's true, there are many Cuban musicians out there. Almost all the music of the early 2000s from Santiago de Cuba is in Mexico, for example, but the son is still here”.

Before coming to Santiago de Cuba, Adalberto Álvarez's songs with Rumbavana were already national. Rodulfo Vaillant invited him, he came to the land of Matamoros and founded Son 14 in November '78; a group that became, at times, more popular in Venezuela than Oscar de León himself. But Álvarez, even though he sang to Enramadas street and put the name of Santiago de Cuba in almost every ear of the country, did not have a house in the cradle of son and left, like any disoriented oriental, to the Cuban capital and there created Adalberto y su Son. The rest are hits, they are sounds, they are stories, it is an extraordinary career.

I'm talking about the sonero in this time when the genre sounds so much, controversial and rooted as a palm. The son that some imagine dressed long in the capital, and that, according to Ignacio Piñeiro, those who do not consider it good should die.

Fortunately, it is danced and has been danced son, and although it seems sterile to go into matters of the type of who created this or that genre, it is worth giving credit to those who have contributed to the development of music. A report by the journalist Elvira Orozco Vital tells that our interviewee had the idea of creating the day for the Day of the Cuban Son, which finally came to life and to which the teacher Adalberto gave him support. But let the record producer tell us to break the coconut:

“For me it is a source of great pride that we already have a day for the Cuban Son Day. I feel very happy with everything that has been happening. There were many years, which should not have been so many, between the idea —which was born in 2009— and its confirmation in the second half of 2020; but it's never too late if happiness comes. None of this would have been possible without the efforts of Adalberto Álvarez. I must tell you —because many people approach me talking to me about acknowledging the true author of the idea, in this case me— that my great satisfaction is that in every place that he has been able, Adalberto has expressed how everything came about. The very day of the closing of the Son Festival in 2009, he made it public, very excited, because the son deserved that day.

“This arose because in Puerto Rico, since 1984, the National Salsa Day has been celebrated, which was created by Pedro Arroyo, a prominent promoter of salsa music in Borinquen. It is a very important event that goes beyond the national: it has been dedicated to Celia Cruz, Rubén Blades, Justo Betancourt, even in 2018 there were Los Van Van. We Cubans must look at salsa as a reflection of the great impact of son, since salsa is a consequence of its departure from Cuba to the international music scene. Salsa was the sound of that time, it was like the Buena Vista Social Club of that time. For a long time we have had nationalist positions that have ultimately weighed down the impact of our most autochthonous music in these types of events.

“I disagree with some people in the national media who launched an anti-salsa campaign, when in reality the salseros were great disseminators of the son; They didn't call it son, perfect —just as they didn't call the Congolese rumba son and this is sung son, initially in Lingala and later spread to other African dialects and languages and we didn't bother about that.

“Salsa was understood in one way in Havana and another in the East. If the Fania All Stars, instead of playing at the Karl Marx, had played at the Teatro Oriente, another story would have been. The sauce for us on this side is son in another dimension, always was. Why does it bother us that sauce is called sauce? We have to thank you very much. I heard for the first time The party is not for ugly by Frankie Ruiz with The Solution, and sandunguera, by Arsenio Rodríguez, by Oscar de León; and so many sones that I heard for the first time, thanks to Johnny Pacheco and other salseros.

“Beyond the controversy of the origin of salsa, we must finish noticing that in the consolidation of the salsa sound there was an important Cuban participation. With the Fania were Celia Cruz, Justo Betancourt, Héctor Casanova, Ramón Quian The Only Monguito, Pupi Legarreta, Alfredo de la Fe, Orestes Vilató and —very importantly— Javier Vásquez, who arranged many weighty songs in the midst of the salsa boom, Lygia Elena could be the best example. There were also other influential Cubans on the scene from the 1960s to the 1980s, which in my opinion were very rich musically: Fajardo, Belisario López, Machito, Rudy Calzado, Eddy Zervigón, René Hernández (my favorite arranger), Jesús Caunedo, Chocolate Armenteros. and I have a few left.

“Regarding Chocolate, as you know Sergio George is a reference nowadays, many arrangers and producers want to reach that place. Well, I invite fans and detractors to listen to the arrangements he made and the pianos Sergio George played for Chocolate Armenteros and others such as Conjunto Bembé, Román and his Conjunto Naborí and the tres player Charlie Rodríguez. If the Cuban arrangers who want to imitate Sergio George started there, we would surely be better off, it could be a starting point for them to understand the son.

“On the other hand, unfortunately during the emergence of salsa there was no Cuban music (made from Cuba) that moved large masses in [international] arenas and they took advantage of the gap that was given to them, therefore, what is up to us from here, from Cuba, is to keep trying to put the son in its rightful place.

“I think that this is not the time to victimize yourself; It is time to put the son in a privileged place, therefore, I feel very happy with the Day of the Son and with the recognition of Adalberto. It seems right to me to do it on May 8, but in the future we could turn all of May into the month of son”.

Alden González with Geovanis Alcántara. Photo: Yasser Landazuri.

Alden González with Geovanis Alcántara. Photo: Yasser Landazuri.

I am cuban. I am from the East...

“Definitely the fact that the promotional possibilities are only in the capital hurts Cuban son and music. In the 80s, thanks to Tele Rebelde, a lot of music from Santiago was made known outside the province. If we hadn't had that channel in Santiago, Los Karachi wouldn't be what they are today; the San Luis Union would not have achieved the impact it achieved in Colombia. Cuban music was very popular in the Dominican Republic, for example, because the Cuban airwaves reached Santo Domingo, Santiago de los Caballeros... Among the stations that reached there was the Cadena Oriental de Radio.

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“Today countless groups lack a balanced promotion because to do it you have to go to the capital. Only a few groups have evaded that fence; They are 14, for example, they managed to become international before national, but not everyone can do it. Then with the boom of traditional music, it happened that we had many famous musicians outside of Cuba but that nobody knew them inside; That happened with the Varela Miranda Family, with the Septeto Turquino, with the Vieja Trova Santiaguera, Reynaldo Creagh, Los Jubilados...

“I had the fortune to organize together with Jorge Luis Pérez —who was the manager of the Vieja Trova Santiaguera— a tour of Reynaldo Creagh together with the Septeto Santiaguero and what I experienced regarding Creagh's popularity was very remarkable, as much as it was that I was able to live in the face of the impact of Tiburón Morales in Venezuela. So that shows that they do like the music, but they don't have access to promotional channels. In Cuba there are many good artists who are going to die in anonymity for not having the opportunity to appear on national television and we have had some who have become international.

“The Sanluisera Union, for example, recently went to Colombia and endorsed its popularity, but the Sanluisera Union does not appear on national television. Cándido Fabré is a very popular artist in Cuba at the stage, dance level and although he is not one of the most disadvantaged, of those who live outside the capital, many artists who do not have the popular roots of Fabré appear more on television that he.

“The Original de Manzanillo is one of the few orchestras that with a Cuban label has achieved international impact. When Cuban music began to be placed with foreign record labels, the Original... had already achieved quite an impact in the Latin American sphere with Cándido Fabré; but even in the days of El Gallo it still maintained notable popularity, especially in Colombia.

“However, La Original…, does not appear as much on Cuban television as groups that are unquestionably less valuable. To balance that, you need at least one radio station. Cuba needs, I think, a music station all the time, but also a radio and a TV outside Havana [with national and international reach].

“In the 1980s, many groups such as Unión Sanluisera, Los Karachi, Jaleo, Gloria Latina and Típica Juventud had quite a national tour. many came to be top ten and even number one. And today there are many topics with that same possibility; I saw him constantly when he worked at the Casa de la Música in Santiago de Cuba. But they stopped recording a lot of good music, due to lack of support or because they went to Mexico and didn't come back, because to the issue of promotion we are going to add the impossibility of recording. You can't transcend without those things.

“It is absurd to disdain the urban, the legitimacy of this sound is given by the millions of fans who follow each artist; however, the nation in weight has a sound that transcended for a century. It's not just the Buena Vista Social Club; it is the Varela Miranda family, Los Guanches, Alejandro Almenares, the Septeto Turquino, the Septeto Santiaguero or Eliades Ochoa who insist on leaving that trail of sones and boleros in which the very essence of the musical culture of this country is reborn. As if that were not enough: Cándido Fabré summons as much passion as the most exalted salsero, reggaeton singer or balladeer. Alain Pérez —one of today's most sophisticated musicians— breathes son as happens with Mayito Rivera, Alexander Abreu or Emilio Frías”.

For this reason, and perhaps because of the rabid fact of having been born in Santiago de Cuba, a land where son can be uncorked like a vindicated rum, Alden González insists on the roots. But let's get back to his job as producer of an album that recently earned the Cubadisco award.

"Definitely to break the coconut has had a very special significance. Working with Alexander Abreu, Alain Pérez, Mayito Rivera, Charlie Aponte, Edwin Bonilla, Bobby Allende and each one of those who participated is a blessing, a unique opportunity. Above all because they are artists that one greatly admires. Edwin Bonilla, for example, is one of the main defenders of the son today, I have several of his albums among my favorites. In Havana he is not well known, but here in Santiago the percussionists listen to him a lot, they are big fans of him. Edwin is like a Cuban musician not born in Cuba. Charlie Aponte has a proverbial knowledge of all Cuban music and an exemplary simplicity. The taste of that duet between him and Mayito comes out of the container. Bobby Allende is also a reference for the congueros. when i first heard The perfect combinationOne of the things that stuck with me the most was the sound of the congas. Also, how easy everything is with him, what an understanding of Cuban music. You have to listen carefully to the contribution of Puerto Ricans to this production.

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The Egrem gave the order: To break the coconut

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“The Cubadisco prize in Sonera Tradition is important, more so in the year that the Día del Son was established. It is also meritorious for the quality of the nominees in the category. I am very pleased with the weight of the three among the nominated albums. It was significant for us that to break the coconut had an impact within Cuba; We feel very good about that, not only the Son Tradition award, the Sound Engineering nomination is like one more award for me, because it is a recognition of the team that worked to achieve that particular sound. We always wanted a remastered old music sound, with the weight of execution, live, ambient... It's almost the same equipment with which we made what to me Tribute to Cuban classics, by the Dominican José Alberto The Canary and the Septeto Santiaguero, with whom we had similar objectives in the search for the final sound, which is what remains.

"There are many little ones to achieve the great result, but I especially want to highlight the work of Iván Salas, Ronnie Torres and Geovanis Alcántara, who is one of the most important producers in the history of recent Cuban music, working with him is a guarantee. . There are many reasons to argue this, but his work on the disk my grave, by Cuban José Alberto The NightingaleThis is the best example I can give you. In the last 10 years, only five albums produced from Cuba have been nominated in the Tropical Latin category of the Grammy and he has participated in two. and going back to to break the coconut, in terms of music, his work, that of Roberto Linares The dinner and that of Andrecito Hernández is exemplary, they are a reference for the boys who start. Gratitude is the word that comes to mind the most, to all those who participated and especially to Alexander, Alain and Mayito. That love for Cuban root music is something to be thankful for”.

Rogelio Ramos Domínguez Writer of verses and songs. Full-time journalist and especially father of Claudia Ramos. More posts

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  1. Inaudis Nariño Peralta says:

    Very interesting

  2. Luis A. Iglesias says:

    Alden's tireless work. Cuba in vein and by heart, Santiago. More than fighting for the son and Cuban music, he fights so that roots are not forgotten and to unite those who, like him, do not tire of writing our truest and most authentic culture.

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