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Articles musician in difficulties. Illustration: Mayo Bous / Magazine AM:PM. Illustration: Mayo Bous / Magazine AM: PM.

The sustained wailing of those on the hill

The Salsón orchestra has been out of work for months. To survive, the musicians do what they can: they plant lettuce under the cover of the December cold, play in the municipal band, drive buses, sell clothes, work as carpenters, plumbers or fumigators.

Rehearsals take place two or three times a month, in a small room in La Maya. They recorded a demo in Egrem, 20 years ago; since then they have only recorded a few songs on home studios and continue to be pulled by the commitment.

These artists were in the catalog of excellence for years, they were never devalued and, although they have never scored a national hit, nor ever traveled beyond Las Tunas, they have insisted for 60 years in making Cuban son and its variants. Neither the lack of money, nor the hurricanes, nor the encounters with bad faith, not even their own lack of vision, have been able to fight against that passion.

It is as if something, from the deep parnassus that lives in them, pushes them every time to return to rehearsals and to keep dreams as simple as filling the local square with dancers.

Two days ago one of his props died; the man had asked to play one of the band's songs while he was being carried in the coffin to the final hole. He had been waiting forever for success, had been crippled and endured the delay in paying his checkbook. That day, the pain was conjugated with the sound of the air; at the end, one of the artists approached me and asked me to borrow some money to scare away the fearful aura of this time, which once again places us Cubans in an anguish that does not fit in the word "anguish", but in an anguish that does not fit in the word "anguish". hard.

This text has no choice but to become personal, because I have in me the same drive that comes from within, that desire for music to emerge and reach the people. And Salsón, I can see it in his work -although I dislike certain out-of-tune tunes, although I have long felt that they should restructure and change the arrangement of some pieces- has a repertoire that could work, were it not for the violent provincialism and the old vices of the local artists, added to the swagger of the capital itself. In addition to starting the concert an hour late, sustaining musicians who can no longer play what is written, living a decade or more without recording caliber, and not being able to invest in new instruments or costumes, there is the fact that graduates of art schools or other top level artists go to the capital or on tours with no return.

But this is not a malady that afflicts only the Songo-La Maya ensemble. La Original de Manzanillo, Los Karachi, Manolito y su Tirijala, La Unión Sanluisera, Las Estrellas de la Charanga, Feverson, La Aliamén, Los Rítmicos de Palma, Angelito y su banda, La Combinación, Felipe y su Son and many other orchestras are roundly ignored by the most important shows in the country; all or almost all of them with a strictly capitalist vision, which also leaves out groups like La Familia Valera Miranda, which in other times filled fundamental spaces in Europe. 

Juan de Marcos GonzalezDe Marcos, that genius, recently told how in an English pub, between craft beers, Nick Gold told him about the idea of a sonero record; De Marcos, who knows well how to go against the current (the Sierra Maestra group would be enough to prove it), proposed to put together the phonogram that ended up being Buena Vista Social Club. If we review the line-up of singers of that orchestra, we find three figures from eastern Cuba, forgotten for years.

Part of the legend is the fact that the St. Louis native Ibrahim Ferrer He used to clean shoes to make up for the heavy days he had left; that the Santiago-born Compay Segundo used to twist cigars that he sold to buy the quota for the supply book, that he could barely play the guitar, Eliades Ochoa, another member of Buena Vista, told me. The same Eliades, a native of Songo-La Maya and whose tomb is already built in Alto Songo, survived with the Cuarteto Patria, but did not even dream of Grammys, of grazing the Oscars or filling Carnegie Hall; however, the push of Nick Gold, Ry Cooder and Juan de Marcos González took them all to a stardom that no radio or television producer in the capital would have guessed.

I know that a country that is dwindling between absurd economic measures and obtuse external sanctions cannot afford to support thousands of musicians, but neither should a nation that still wields a socialist discourse and heritage protection, let a talent that has lasted so many years be lost despite being besieged by a cultural work that, at the very least, is inefficient.

From the classic cases of the aforementioned Buena Vista and Polo Montañez, to the videos of Tik Tok users who have used Salsón's music, to the Unión Sanluisera making its way in Colombia before Covid, there are plenty of examples of how these orchestras have worked beyond the evils (and the seas).

To the above, we must add the incipient private projects, many of them similar to Günter Grass' Oscar, figures that when they finally grew up, they did so deformed and violent. The new capitalists are sometimes mean and all that weighs on the musicians of the East. These artists who have to weave the days cornered by the difficulties, and even so, they lower the coffee mixed to the soul, tune their nuts and compose themselves to try to put together the national sound, the sound of an island, of an area that had Sindo Garay as a saltimbanqui, singer or patriot, a place where the blacks in 1912 tried to put in order the national darkness and sang: Alto Songo, La Maya burns.

Solving the situation of the great local orchestras in the current context is not easy. We have the Siboney studios of Egrem looking for a way to record them; given the lack of current resources, the municipal government could raise capital next April. But I don't want to cry. Musicians always reinvent themselves, and it is impossible to finish a son changüí in sad mode (not even Lilí Martínez managed it when talking about the tragedy of 1912). They will always get out the old trombones, compose again and again and sing their lives away. While the country tries to survive, besieged inside and outside, singing remains almost as the only weapon for those who, for not leaving, do not even leave their neighborhoods. Their faith is so strong that it immobilizes them, as if they themselves were pieces of the island. This island, although at times it seems to forget its singers, knows that singing is the only thing that no one, no matter how sad the times are, could ever take away from it. 

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

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