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Articles Los Zafiros

Blue Madness in Albuquerque

For your love I am able / To face anyone

For your love I am capable of giving my whole life

I've come, The Sapphires

I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche Dubois

In April 2010, when the Cuban group Los Zafiros and their melodies only seemed to suggest a slight reminiscence of past successes, an American television series roused them from their torpor. Breaking Bad, musical patron for these Cubans, became the best product of an artistic-television trend that began in 1999 with the premiere of The sopranos, spreading with impetus to this day: the Quality TV.

This masterpiece by Vince Gilligan, a television Tarantino, narrates the almost diabolical conversion of its protagonist. Walter White, a chemistry teacher at an Albuquerque high school, (survives) each day stuck under the tedium of monstrous monotony. By entering the underworld of narcotics and its market, this homemade gangster inverts the ethical codes that governed his reality and definitively abandons the scruples that kept him morally handcuffed. Already in the third season, the choice and application of the soundtrack (one of the many successes of this work) throws us a Cuban theme, museum music, classic cabal.

I've come, by Los Zafiros, is heard almost at the end of episode number six (sunset) of the season just alluded to. The scene that hosts this song favors parallels and generates contrasts that enhance the underlying meanings in the image-sound dichotomy.

We are facing a moment of farewell, a prolonged goodbye that moves locals and strangers. The protagonists destroy evidence that could have led them to jail, while participating in an initiation ritual that knocks down memories and predicts the boom of their business. The melodic rhythm of the music, as well as the vocal tuning fork of Ignacio Elejalde, face the setting of the action: a landfill crammed with automotive scrap. This highly differentiated delineation allows the viewer to appropriate more easily the meanings coming from the visual and auditory spaces, dilates our sensory reach.

Now let's do a zoom back: Los Zafiros burst onto the Cuban scene in 1961 and their popularity soon reached projections of stardom. Immediate heirs of the filin, they interpreted boleros and ballads, fused in an exquisite mixture with American rhythms such as the doo-woop (enhanced in its making by the prodigious vocal harmony of Ignacio Elejalde) and in intimate instrumental communion with American cadences of the calypso ( Trinidad and Tobago) or bossa nova (Brazil).

Tours, concerts and autographs filled the daily life of the group during its almost 15 fifteen years of existence. Their virtuosity paved the way for them to international applause, appearing on stages as "exotic" as the USSR or Poland. Memorable was the performance staged at the Olimpia Theater in Paris, a suitable venue for the ensemble, immune from its voice to the cultural barrier that language often supposes.

The music supplied by the sound arsenal of the group created in Key West stimulates Havana's memory, recovers its past, remote nights. The accompanying text makes a playful reference to universal themes such as love, parting or nostalgia. On the other hand, the constant comparison (confrontation in competition) that they starred in with The Platters, an American band that inspired the Caribbean, increased the "foreign" stamp that was arrogated to them.

To general misfortune, his successful artistic career was biased by confrontations between its members and unwise habits that some instituted as a norm of life. Kike (Leoncio Morúa) died in 1983 due to liver cirrhosis, while Ignacio Elejalde, a great throat player, died two years earlier due to a brain hemorrhage. El Chino (Eduardo Elio Hernández Mora) died in 1995, suffering from language and vision difficulties, probably due to his alcoholism, while Manuel Galbán outlived his former teammates until mid-2011. Today, he lives in Miami. only member still alive: Miguel Ángel Cancio Soria.

In 1997 the film was released The Sapphires, blue madness, revitalizing tribute that, under the direction of Manuel Herrera, had the acting participation of Luis Alberto García and Néstor Jiménez, among others. After being presented at the XIX International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, the feature film won the popularity award. This award was an undoubted thermometer to determine the musical health of the group, a latent preference in the Cuban public. Unfortunately, this beneficial reception was not taken advantage of properly and Los Zafiros plunged back into oblivion, inside and outside the Island.

The group, precisely during this 2021, celebrates its sixtieth anniversary. Taking into account the importance of this commemoration, there have not been many spaces dedicated to the artistic dissection of the whole. As far as the state news scene is concerned, perhaps this media neglect can find its cause in the sole survivor's Miami residence. Likewise, the scarce identification of the group with the Cuban politics of the 1960s seems to contribute to the lukewarmness of its memory. In any case, there is no valid justification for such neglect.

Which brings me back to Breaking Bad and the successful inclusion of this group from Havana in its soundtrack. As is the case with any relevant audiovisual production, the plot layout of the series —seasoned by a confluence of arts packed with excellence— influenced the public's preferences. The rhythmic sensuality of the chosen Cuban piece, closely related to the masterful "staging" that is made of it, managed to have a considerable impact on Spotify, leader of the streaming music on the net

So the reproductions of Los Zafiros on said platform, discreet until then, skyrocketed and today are close to 12 million. The most suggestive of this whole matter lies in the song that crowns the list: I've come boasts nearly seven million listeners on the service streaming. The acknowledgments, without a doubt, gravitate towards foreign lands.

Once again, the cordiality of the "strange" benefactor took charge of our work, similar to what happened with the Buena Vista Social Club years ago; set that from the hand of Ry Cooder —benefactor with (good) vision of scout cultural—reached the height of its popularity, despite sleepy Cuban promotional maneuvers.

This time, thanks to Vince's precise handling of his jukebox, Los Zafiros appear once again on the international scene. Although the scene where the subject slips I've come It only lasts a little over a couple of minutes, that time seems like enough to rekindle our nostalgia. Few will be the daredevils who refuse to widen the sonorous caresses of these greats of Cuban music. Even so, wrapped up in the ecstasy of art and its pleasures, it is not very encouraging to stop to think about the fatal dependence of our creators, constantly waiting for some friendly stranger.

Senen Alonso Senen Alonso Alum Philologist by profession; dissatisfied by vocation. Literary researcher, incomplete cartoonist (my strokes amaze) and (perennial) aspiring writer, as Aunt Julia taught me. I keep trying to tune my musical ear. More posts

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  1. Grethel Martínez says:

    Congratulations. The article is very interesting, because it makes a pertinent tribute to one of the most outstanding vocal ensembles of our Cuban panorama of the 20th century. In addition, his discography has songs that are part not only of the soundtrack of the film Locura azul, by Manuel Herrera, but of the "soundtrack of life" of all romantic and nostalgic Cubans.

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