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Interviews Dulcila Canizares. Photo: Courtesy of the interviewee. Dulcila Canizares. Photo: Courtesy of the interviewee.

Dulcila Cañizares: "The truth above all else, even if it hurts or bothers"

I was lucky to have Dulcila as editor of my book Cubans in music, in the early 1990s. Working together gave me the chance to get to know their wide creative diversity, passion for research and tremendous industriousness Small and dynamic, with a lasting youthful air, the fruits of her work in the island's musical historiography constitute an important legacy for the national culture. Questioning her about her childhood and the environment in which she grew up, she recalled that many Years ago, playing the piano was an adornment for women, even if she only played it in her living room. 

“That's why my maternal grandmother knew how to play the piano. not my mother I was the first granddaughter, and my grandmother and my mother decided that I should study music, also as a female adornment, and I learned piano, theory, music theory, harmony and history of music. Of course, the piano was only heard at my house. And when I started studying at the Normal Kindergarten, I didn't have enough time to continue with this and it was left in the background.

“Later on, I decided on literature. I have not forgotten my musical knowledge, but what I am passionate about is researching Cuban music and musicians, which is what I have been doing for years. Starting an investigation produces a kind of fever, which captivates me. And I continue from one book to another, without resting.

How did you start your professional life, writing or publishing?

“I started, like many writers, in poetry; with very bad poems, of course, and hidden, because I was embarrassed that someone read them. Until one day, more or less in 1960, I unexpectedly met Nicolás Guillén. She read about twenty of my poems and told me to keep writing, because I was good. From that moment I made an effort and continued writing day by day, until I began to publish.

“I was a journalist in the magazine Cuba and I also did editing work. Then I went to the Book Institute as an editor, until I retired a few years ago, although I have continued to carry out editing assignments from time to time. I have edited works by Cintio Vitier, Juan Marinello, José Lezama Lima and lately works like Trinidad of Cuba, by Manuel de J. Béquer, and The Protected Areas of Cuba, by Iroel Ruiz”.

I find your research on Yarini's subject curious, supposedly away from music and on aspects that are perhaps a bit taboo in Cuba, such as prostitution or pimps, and which, however, has had such good receptivity, even with staging.

“Regarding my interest in research, it was something magical. when they premiered Requiem for Yarini, by Carlos Felipe, I went to the theater. As a good guajira that I am —maid  in Topes de Collantes, in the hills of GuamuhayaI did not know who Yarini had been, but in the background there were huge pages of Havana newspapers announcing the attack on that character, the events that took place and his death. So, I found out that it had existed.

“The play seemed very good to me, but I left the theater then, I don't know why, with the conviction that neither he had been as he appeared in the play, nor was the rest entirely true. But everything was there. Many years later, in January 1968, I returned with my father—I don't remember where—and he drove through the San Isidro neighborhood. I told him: `Gee, to think that Yarini used to walk around here and these were his properties.' His answer perplexed me: ʽYesterday I saw the last photograph of Yarini alive.' 'Where?' I asked. ʽAt the house of Federico Morales'. `A pimp?' nope! He was a politician, a wealthy and decent man, who had nothing to do with prostitution, but he was a friend of Yarini'. 

“Two days later my father took me to Don Federico's house, and it was difficult for me to lend me the photograph to make several copies. He talked about Yarini and I realized that he was telling a few lies, but that he knew his story very well. I immediately told him that I wanted to write a book about his friend and he replied that he could count on all the interviews I needed from him. We settled on that, but since I knew absolutely nothing about the protagonist of my research, I decided to search the José Martí National Library for the newspapers of the time, to set myself up. I made hundreds of cards by hand, on small cardboard  there were no computers then, of course, and managed to lend me a tape recorder. Federico was very kind, I don't even remember how many interviews I did with him. But that wasn't enough, because he sensed that many things were inaccurate: he was trying to turn the luxury pimp into a man who helped prostitutes… Oh! What was essential? I almost had to move to the San Isidro neighborhood and I will never be able to thank my friend, my brother, the actor Pancho García (National Theater Award 2012), who carried that heavy recorder for me, until Mario Averhoff, director of the National Archive of Cuba, allowed me to leave it well kept in the Archive, which I will not be grateful enough for.

“I met amazing people, had so much fun, and was so amazed and sad also. It was an extraordinary experience. I disarmed and armed the neighborhood; I learned about places from the first decade of the 20th century led by the hand of a man who then, in the early years of the last century, was a boy and remembered what was on each street; my beloved friend Carlos López, now deceased, was making sketches, with which later, on a map of the neighborhood, a gift from Juan Pérez de la Riva, I placed what was on each block: this is how I walked through San Isidro from my house. I also read all the books that I could find in private and public libraries about prostitution (regulations, memoirs of some doctors, etc.); in the National archives, of the University of Havana, of the Colón Cemetery, of the Matanzas Regional, of the Academy of Sciences, of the Matanzas Cathedral and of the parish of Our Lady of Monserrate, in Havana; in the capital Death Section, Civil Registry of the North...

“Later I decided to request an interview with maestro Gonzalo Roig, so that he could talk to me about the music that was heard in that decade. There were three unforgettable afternoons with Roig, already very old, but lucid, and it was the last recorded interview of his life, since he died a few months later.

Is that book still available in Cuba? From what I heard, your investigation gave way to a play...

“The two editions of San Isidro, 1910. Alberto Yarini and his time (Editorial Letras Cubanas, 2000 and 2006) are out of print. I have finished a third one, enlarged, with very interesting elements. As promised, it will be published by Ediciones Boloña. Based on that book, the Compañía Teatral La Age of Gold from Camagüey staged the play Dead the rooster the rage is over, in 2004. A year later, the Centro Pro Danza created the ballet Yarini, with choreography by Iván Alonso and music by Edesio Alejandro, and also Roberto Perdomo, director of the rock group Tesis de Menta, composed  Yarini"

As for your authorial work related to music, why do you choose Gonzalo Roig as the subject of your first book? Figure on which you have continued to deepen so many years later …

“Gonzalo Roig's widow, Zoila Salomón, now deceased, asked me to write the teacher's biography. I must confess that I hated the biography genre, because the biography was always a flawless being, adorned only with virtues. I told Zoila that I would accept, if she agreed that I should bring Roig's defects to light. She agreed and I did innumerable interviews with Roig's friends and enemies, I was filled with his music, which I didn't know much about; I reviewed your documents and family letters. Zoila allowed me to search every last drawer of those huge windows that she had never opened, and I found unexpected mysteries. From these investigations emerged the biography-testimony Gonzalo Roig (Cuban Letters Publisher, 1978).

“Several years later, Zoila told me that she was going to put in my hands the correspondence intimate relationship with her and with the teacher, so that I could write another book. He knew of the existence of that correspondence and he also knew that not even his daughter, Mayra Pastrana Salomón, had read a single letter. I was fascinated by the idea, because in that epistolary would be the keys to many mysteries and, also, it would give me the opportunity to study and make known the creativity of Gonzalo Roig, for which I had Nereida Calvo, a stellar psychologist and sister of the singer Ela Calvo.

“It was a very strong investigative work; I had to study a lot of psychology to do the corresponding analyses. Also, I revealed intimacies and events never mentioned and well hidden. Of course, when I finished each chapter, Zoila read it at my house and we argued many times, but in the end we agreed and what I had captured on paper remained. I used parts of the interviews for the teacher's biography-testimony, I talked with Zoila again, I looked for more items in Roig's stationery…. I don't remember if it took me three or four years to research and create, not easy at all. That book spent eight years at Editorial Letras Cubanas, awaiting its publication, until the then director Daniel García, who never understood that delay, decided to immediately publish the book with the title  Gonzalo Roig: man and creator (Cuban Letters Publisher, 1999)”.

Researcher, essayist, editor and poet… Is it in your character to be independent, to cover many activities? Are you organized? You have a good memory?

“I am very organized and rigorous. I have, thank God, an excellent memory, but I need that in moments of concentration they don't talk to me; I have enough patience to continue investigating until I find what I'm looking for, because it's not always quickly achieved, and nothing I fantasized about appears in my works: the truth above all else, even if it hurts or annoys. I think that is what allows me to be a researcher and an author.”

With the following books you went to traditional trova and sacred music, in addition to addressing a character like Julio Cueva, perhaps little known on the Island...

“There was a very tragic moment, during the Special Period, when the Book Institute was about to disappear and then co-editions began with other countries like Colombia, Spain… They decided which books they preferred and in Cuban Letters they asked me to write about the traditional trova, which I always liked very much and about which I had already investigated. But, the rules of the game were difficult, since the book should only have 100 pages, with text, photographs, scores and lyrics of troubadour songs. I investigated further, but had to encapsulate that information and was left frustrated with traditional Cuban trova.

“Then, I have continued exploring this aesthetic-musical movement. So I wrote the first chapter about our old trova of a very complete book that is in the design phase, entitled The song in Cuba for five voices, sponsored by Silvio Rodríguez [it would appear in 2017 under the Ojalá label]. With Sacred music in Cuba (Havana, Editorial Letras Cubanas-Santiago de Chile, Mosquito Editores, 1995) there was another request similar to the Colombian co-edition of traditional trova. 

“About Julio Cueva I tell you that, from the age of three, my childhood was developed in Topes de Collantes, with constant visits to Trinidad, because my father was entrusted with the task of carrying out the first Experimental Mountain Station in Topes, and there My mother and I went with him. When the time came to start piano studies, they took me to my maternal grandparents, in Artemisa. But until 1957 I continued to enjoy my school vacations in Topes. Of course, I went to Trinidad a lot and there I heard mention of Julio Cueva, who is a local idol, and I met several of his numbers. In one of my many visits to Trinidad, in 1979, the Provincial Directorate of Culture of Sancti Spíritus invited me to participate in the Trinidad Culture Week, dedicated to the outstanding trumpeter and composer. I gave lectures, read poetry, and took advantage of my stay to interview many musicians and their friends. Back in Havana, I visited Rafaela Pérez, the widow. I was able to go through her stationery, photocopy what was necessary, and conduct several interviews with the kind lady.

“I had decided to write about that man who brought our musical genres to the Old World, a world-renowned figure, and who died in Cuba in the saddest misery. From the beginning my intention has been to rescue from oblivion the characters that nobody takes into account, as I have done with many troubadours. Therefore, I had to write the truths about maestro Julio Cueva, trumpeter, director of bands and orchestras, and composer. In 1990, the Municipal Directorate of Culture of Trinidad and other local organizations asked Editorial Letras Cubanas for a biography of Cueva written by me, for an important event dedicated to him, which would take place in 1991; but it was the sad time of the plaquettes and the biography was reduced to 55 pages, in gazette paper and small format. The Trinidadians, however, were satisfied, as the launch took place on the agreed date. Your title is Julio Cueva: the rescue of his music (Publishing Cuban Letters, 1991). It was an important event, in which I offered conferences, workshops, talks, but I felt frustrated, because I could not provide all the information about that beloved Trinitarian, which was kept in my private file.

“Then, in 2008, I met with Víctor Casaus, director of the Pablo de la Torriente Brau Cultural Center, and from that conversation came the idea of writing a book about Julio Cueva and Pablo de la Torriente Brau and the Spanish Civil War, where both They fought and met. That idea materialized with the publication in 2011 of
Alé alé reculé. Nostalgia for Julio Cueva (Ediciones La Memoria, 2011), an endearing book for me, since I rescued a figure of the stature of Master Cueva from indifference and ingratitude.

“The launch in Trinidad was unforgettable. The Trinidadians, proud and happy, finally had in their hands the book that a figure so dear to them deserves, of capital importance for Cuban culture. It was not an easy task, because I had to go into the intricacies of the Spanish Civil War and Pablo's biography. Later, continuing with the theme of traditional trova, it was published Cafe Vista Alegre (The Memory Editions, 2015)”.

Taking into account the volume of your investigations, have you collected material
record label? Do you have an extensive documentary archive?

“I am not a collector of anything. I only treasure books, documents and records that serve for my specialty or my personal tastes. Even, I do not know if in Cuba it is common to find that type of collector. In reality, it is not always easy to locate documents or information about musical topics, for various reasons that are irrelevant, but a good researcher always finds what is necessary for his work”.

Also readRadames Giro. Photo: Courtesy Isabel González.

Radamés Giro, passionate about Cuban music

Mayra A. Martínez02.03.2022

What do you think about musical dissemination through the media? Does it meet your expectations? Do you think that the tendency to limit the promotion of creators by dividing them into the schematic “those from here” or “those from there” continues?

“In Cuba, the diversity of our music is not disseminated very little, the composers and performers are not disclosed properly. For example, neither on the radio nor on television are there programs dedicated only to traditional trova, nor to son, danzón, danzonete, guaguancó, nor any of our musical genres. However, and I'm glad, a radio station has a program about Argentine tango. Now, fortunately, there is a growing number of Cuban musicians and performers who come and go to the United States and Europe, and thus the tragic ʽthose from there and those from here' is breaking down and, therefore, our music is already traveling the world. I think the work done by Ry Cooder in Buenavista Social Club, as it achieved the rebirth of many absolutely marginalized Cuban artists, forgotten, despite the value of their work, as composers and performers. Thus, abandoned stars of the stature of Francisco Repilado reappeared Compay Segundo, Ibrahim Ferrer, Manuel Licea lace and others, who lived in complete misery”.

Suppose you were asked to direct the spread of our music on radio or television, or through other media… What would you do?
“I would do what those who hold that responsibility should do: spread our best music on the radio, television or cabarets; record the best composers and performers, and that these recordings reach not only Cubans, but also, through established mechanisms, abroad, to the last place in the universe. I would like, in our media, a program that makes known the values of our music, educational for youth and previous generations. Is it something so difficult that a director of music programs can not do? And if it were about the publication of music books, we would have to take into account the rather precarious economy of our publishers. It is no secret that we are living through difficult times and that printing a book is very expensive, but in any case I think that there are books, reissues, for example, that should be restricted, to give rise to excellent volumes by known or unknown authors, but with a great quality.

“In Cuba there are numerous music conservatories with notable professors, to which those interested in this subject can go, so that we can be sure that, just as eminent students have excelled, even with important prizes in international competitions, there will always be outstanding young people who will continue extolling Cuban music. And just as academics can study and excel, there may also be a new wave of values that will begin to improve our popular music. Of course, it cannot be ignored that on the Island we have excellent groups, orchestras, composers and performers of our recognized and applauded popular music”.

And what do you think of the rise of reggaeton?

Reggaeton, whose origin was reggae, is a danceable musical genre with roots in the Caribbean and Latin America. It increased in the 1970s in Panama, and in Puerto Rico in the 1990s. Panamanian producer Michael Ellis coined the Spanish word reggaeton in Puerto Rico, with which he meant extensive reggae; like many words in our language to express something big we use the ending ʽón', added to the word. 

“Years later, reggaeton was influenced by calypso, and in 1994 it was combined with rap, taking on elements of hip hop. His lyrics began to expose complaints about the society of that time, such as racial discrimination. Even in the first decade of the 20th century, construction work on the Panama Canal began and there was a time when there were more than 150,000 West Indian immigrant workers, who introduced Cuban music, in addition to reggae. It can be assumed that this site was a bridge for musical exchange and dissemination.

“However, currently reggaeton has undergone a negative change, at least in
Cuba, because the lyrics are obscene, irritating, rude, pornographic, immoral, offensive, and men and women, young and not young, listen with pleasure over and over again to that sexist and indecent charge, which has been increasing since the last two generations. It hurts, because instead of educating young people, their scale of values, already deteriorated, is being damaged. I am referring to Cuba, because I don't have the opportunity to listen to reggaeton from other countries. However, there are also reggaeton groups here, whose lyrics are interesting and criticize, as in the past, the vices of society, the ill-gotten, etc.”

And how do you observe the validity of other genres in the repertoire of young composers and/or authors?

“The young Cubans compose, in addition to reggaeton, guarachas, hybrids of genres,
non grata music for educated ears, except, of course, for some high-class bands. Some singers, from time to time, venture into traditional trova, new trova and boleros. In some television programs there are groups that sing sones, guarachas, danzones. On the radio also occurs as mentioned above. There are troubadours who often sing traditional trova. In passing, I want to mention that traditional trova is impossible to renew, because it would cease to be our old trova.

“Regarding concert music, it's a shame to have to confess that works by Lecuona are heard on radio and television, but much less by Gonzalo Roig; only love me a lot and the Cecilia's departure, of his zarzuela Cecilia Valdés, jewel of our lyrical theatre. However, Master Leo Brouwer let me know in an interview for my biography-testimony Gonzalo Roig that: ʽIt is not that he was the only one who made zarzuelas in Cuba, far from it, but it is that in Roig that genre acquires some original characteristics, because it reaffirms a symbiosis of black music and peasant, Creole music, which gives rise to that mulatto thing, so rich. That doesn't happen in Lecuona, for example, because Lecuona works separately: black dances are black dances and white music is white music. But in Roig the two things were mixed, with great brilliance, and that's why the Cuban identity is felt so much'. It is bitter and sad to recognize that our great composers, such as Rodrigo Prats, Anckermann, Sánchez de Fuentes, Grenet and others, no longer exist for current generations, who do not have the slightest opportunity to listen to their music”.

And for your enjoyment, what music do you prefer?

"I like good Cuban music: traditional trova, boleros, sones, danzones, many songs from the Nueva Trova, the filin, and of course, at times, rumba, conga, guaguancó...".


Mayra A. Martínez More posts

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