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Music Scene Photos: Courtesy of the author Photos: Courtesy of the author

For Santiago, a passion

When José Nicolás sailed to other lands and died later in Spain, in Santiago de Cuba there were troubadours who held a worthy scene, but others left behind and today there are still few survivors who decided to stay or young people with a long and tortuous path. Almost no troubadour records in the Siboney Studio of the Egrem and the ten local studios are stubbornly expensive, and according to the inexperienced, there is no space beyond those planted in the premises of the AHS, La Trovita and a small room Casa de la Trova Pepe Sánchez, there are still no alternative bars in the style of the Efe Bar in Vedado or La Botija in Trinidad, to which is added the sustained tendency of escape, in search of work, and promotion options.

On that road, the land of Sindo Garay and Pepe Sánchez lives between a remarkable exodus of troubadours and the coexistence of the Steel Band of El Cobre, the Septeto Santiaguero, the Conga de los Hoyos, the Orfeón Santiago and troubadours such as Alejandro Almenares, Felipón, Rubén Lester and José Aquiles. All marked by the transit, inevitable, from analog to digital.

In the territory where the birth of the traditional trova was coined, the bolero and the crystallization of the son is assumed, the old sees before it an enthronement of genres that cornered it, and sounds like reggaeton or trap, which were installed in the crowd, discuss their legitimacy at any price.

However, groups such as El Septeto Santiaguero find ways to make their proposals essential. When questioned on the subject, Alden González, manager and producer of El Septeto, supports a categorical thesis: "I feel that in Santiago we are waiting a lot for the action of the other, and what we have done (El Septeto Santiaguero) is precisely not to wait for nobody. " LThe management strategies and the use of internet as a tool place El Septeto in a privileged area. Soneros of height like the Guanches, the Septeto Turquino and Echoes of the Tivolí, have not known how to incorporate those resources, and for that reason they have not achieved their featuring, have phonograms among the most sold on the island, nominations and Grammy awards or sound producers and engineers of impeccable quality, recognized in the international arena.

As in many other fields, the music of Santiago de Cuba has a love / hate relationship with Havana. Many of the best-known troubadours today, from contemporaries such as Eduardo Sosa and William Vivanco to legends like Eliades Ochoa, moved and live in the Cuban capital.

Behind ... Heredia Street, with its dreadlocks on the sidewalk, the guys with a common guitar whistle you insurmountable melodies. Behind ... this Santiago that, as the troubadour Jorge Noel Batista would say, is a place "of rum and history, with a virgin at his side". Behind, or perhaps in front, a resounding authenticity found Esteban Salas here; that Don Pacho Alonso left in the soul of the region.

Turn up the radio

Just a week ago I found a lady who listened to Cándido Fabré, on a walkman amplified with a Soviet record player, with a terrible equalization and out of revolutions. A surreal sound. Still the woman insisted, and that is that Cándido Fabré is a point and a part in eastern Cuba: his improvisations go beyond any technical limitation and the presentations are tumultuous; the radio sometimes does not place its themes, but it does not matter.

There is a divorce in Cuba between the media and consumption, and Santiago de Cuba is just one more example. The sum of a telecentre, eleven radio stations, festivals such as the trova Pepe Sánchez, the Coros, the Festival del Son, the carnivals and the Caribbean Festival do not result in the national consumption you would like. The distribution posts of The package Today they are more impressive than any of our official broadcasters. We asked in eight of these places of the city and all maintain that the reggaeton, the trap and the romantic ballad are the most requested musical genres in those places.

Candido Fabré himself complains about the deal in public presentations. The Santiago-born singer and composer based in Manzanillo says "that the youth of this time do not follow up on the Cuban culture, it is not the young people's fault, it is the fault of the media; (...) in the carnivals and in the youth areas they do not put orchestras, they put discotheques with all the lights, screens; like everything they see anywhere in the world but not about Cuba. "

The author of My hat Yarey and La guagua also laments a minimizing treatment when speaking of the groups of the Cuban East: "Sometimes they say that national groups are coming. And those here are not national? But if we are nationals of Cuba ... "

La Little thing

Apparently the reguetón arrived in the Cuban capital through the pedicabs. Joaquín Borges Triana affirms that from there he went to teenage parties and finally sat down in the biggest Cuban city, but he arrived from Santiago de Cuba. It was here that Rubén Cuesta Palomo, Candyman, at the beginning of the 90's he became a pioneer of which Raquel Z. Rivera considers one of the most striking genres of this time. Reggaeton achieved the crossover that some imagined impossible.

Undoubtedly, urban sound, especially reggaeton, takes up a lot of space when talking or listening; the paradox is seen in the uneven consumption of this catchy and relatively easy to produce music. According to local creators what is done in Santiago de Cuba is less consumed than what comes from the capital. As simple as El Micha or the ineffable Chocolate snatches the audience to places like El Fisicaldo, who by the way, also went to the Cuban capital.

Rafael Alberto Hernández Parada (Rafi) from El Manicomio Record, reaffirms that those from the East prefer reggaeton cultivated in the capital. Rafi warns that the issue is (here too) in the lack of promotion from the local media and the lack of space for reggaeton players in this part of the island.

A world of things

Santiago de Cuba, despite everything, retains a visible plurality in its musical consumption. Eduardo Rosillo in the 50's won a rating on capital stations after verifying that the rancheras were a necessity of this public; and even today they sustain, even in the provincial radio (CMKC) programs with that sound. For many years in several areas of the province it was important the entrance of Jamaican radio stations such as JBC Radio 1. This formed an extreme audience, from reggae to ranchera, going through rap and a series of tendencies and groups that have not resisted the passage of time. A painful example is that of X Planet, the union of English singer-songwriter Holly Holden with rapper Alain García, who has collaborated with artists such as the TNT group, the poet Demián Ravilero and the troubadour Rubén Lester, an ill-fated project that could have shaken many souls throughout the island.

In any street, in any Santiago square, especially in the deepest Santiago de Cuba, people are observed with loudspeakers where not only reguetón is placed, but also rancheras corridos and narcocorridos. The phenomenon is very visible in Segundo Frente and Songo La Maya, while in territories like Guamá there is an almost general consumption of vallenatos, a genre that bursts into the southeastern coastal area due to the entrance of Colombian radio stations.

The local dance music orchestras live in a unique situation. Few like Karachi manage to bill what it takes to maintain their proposals with dignity. The arrears in payments and the lack of space have left many orchestras unwell. To this is added the almost null record production and the distance with the fundamental promotion programs, all of the capital. Also, as far as the consumption of popular dance music is concerned, "the Cuban Orient" differs to a large extent from the capital. If it is true that the urban environment prefers the capital, in other spaces an ensemble like Angelito and his band can compete in good measure with established figures such as Paulo FG.

In the midst of this battle erupt groups that orbit in more alternative musics such as Okan Jazz, young graduates of schools in Santiago that have been awarded at events such as the Jojazz and rotate by municipalities and are presented in important places in the city of Santiago de Cuba. Fortunately, at last jazz has a place like the Iris Jazz Club and the city has become part of the Jazz Plaza International Festival. For its part, the Hermanos Saíz Association promotes spaces and projects of trova, electronic music, reggae and other aspects such as those cultivated by DNova, Cuban Lion or Adriana Assef.

Despite the strength of the urban sound, Santiago de Cuba continues to be characterized by a diverse, deep, experimental and experienced music. One goes down in the afternoon by Enramadas street and from the balconies will rain some of the most unexpected sounds. If you go through the city and get to Calle Heredia, you will have to feel the best touches on the planet. In Casa de la Trova live those secrets of the country, those unique guitars that played Sindo, Matamoros and Villalón. This is a place that seems to have been written by some musician, with its dreadlocks and fiddlers, with its balconies, its conga and the sea caressing the coast. Santiago de Cuba continues to be that passion that borders on nonsense.

PS: Before closing this work, I call José Aquiles (fundamental troubadour), who from his studio, El Sótano de Amanda, confesses: "I record everything that comes here: fusion, folk music, ballad, trova , Rock And Roll. Everything except reguetón. Try listening to Luca Brandoli, "he tells me. "It's Afro-Cuban music fused with tremendous harmonies." I listen behind the noise of saws, hammers, of people speaking. This studio is improved where it has been recorded from the first of Vivanco to José Nicolás or Rubén Lester. Follow the music

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

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