Enriqueta Almanza, the solitude of the accompanying piano
It is difficult to fit Enriqueta Almanza into a category or profile that can encompass her fruitful passage through music and that of music throughout her life. I do not give in to that temptation and I prefer to go through the most portentous seasons of his career, that career that he always wanted silent, discreet. I never heard her voice, I notice that now, when I begin this counting exercise where she will only be the sound of the piano, the gift of her hands, her intelligence in always transmuting for the better, and other voices, many voices that are not hers. , but for which Enriqueta's hands and piano were essential.
Along with Isolina Carrillo and Zenaida Romeu, Enriqueta Almanza Lanz forms the triad of great women pianists who, since the 1940s, have created their own styles and forged their names as notable instrumentalists, repertorists, composers, arrangers and pedagogues. All of them assumed the accompanying pianism in the Cuban song, as a creative element of essential interaction, not with resignation, but in a proactive defense of that role. Perhaps this is one of the most consistent and well-known notions of Enriqueta's greatness, much more valued by the musicians and singers with whom she worked, as well as by those who were able to see her in spaces where singer-pianist-audience fed each other in close proximity and complicity of a concert or a discharge in a night club, when feelings became tangible and his piano knew how to interpret them and weave that invisible thread of communication through complicated and novel harmonies.
Enriqueta is present, in an active way, in very bright moments in the history of Cuban song, in particular filin in its different stages and in the lives of some of its most important performers, especially in the 60s and 70s. His sessions with Doris de la Torre and the way in which Enriqueta unfolded and multiplied so that her piano was the same and different in each case are still remembered. Those were the times when the small spaces of the musical night gave life to Havana in the 1960s, when the filin, its performers and composers found ways and places to sing their feelings like never before.
While Elena Burke was endorsed by some of the best pianists —Frank Domínguez, Frank Emilio Flynn and Meme Solís among them—, his relationship with Enriqueta was particularly lasting, endearing and glorious, with an irreplaceable presence at the culminating moments of the singer's discography. They knew each other very well, they were friends, with that friendship where admiration is reciprocated without further ado.
“She is very sincere not only as a performer, but as a person. —would say Enriqueta de Elena—. It is not easy to accompany her. That's why I like to do it. It stimulates me. It does not allow falling into routines, even if they are songs repeated many times. On a stage, one has to 'hunt' it, because it never projects an equal number. And I'm not just talking about music, but about emotion. That yes, it does not need sheet music to remember the precise chord, and if one goes out, it makes a very funny gesture, too much his to repeat it, and notices any change. For me, potentially, she is an actress of the song”.
To live these times, the word empowerment It would have seemed too familiar to him, by assumption. Composer, arranger, producer, orchestral director, cultural promoter, Enriqueta knew how to impose her competitive value at a time that, in a particular way, was lavish in great male contenders. She established a chair and created a personal brand, which made her highly demanded and admired: Frank Domínguez consulted her creations with her; Marta Valdés, praising her ability as a repertorist and accompanying pianist, assured that "Enriqueta knew all the songs from around the world in all keys", but "... for each of these singers who emerged and stood out until always, there was a different Enriqueta”; Eduardo Davidson ran home when he conceived The party, to ask his advice and beg him to take care of the arrangement. Enriqueta entrusted Elena Burke with the accompaniment when one night in 1968 at the Amadeo Roldán theater, she premiered two classics: To live and Hurts, by Pablo Milanés and by Piloto and Vera, respectively.
In the decisions that determined their professional paths, there is, without a doubt, analytical and reflective sharpness; his determination to go to conquer what he considered were spaces in which he could and should develop and which ended up being all that music could encompass, demonstrating his eagerness for knowledge and capacity for creation. There were no musicians in his family, and his piano studies were marked solely by the vocation and resolute support of his parents and sister, who soon noticed his unique musical ear and his admiration for the pianists he was inspired by: Jesús López, Lilí Martinez and Pedro Justiz Peruchin, the great names of an incomparable typical orchestra —Arcaño y sus Maravillas— and of a jazz-band virtuous: the Riverside. His beginnings in the RHC Cadena Azul are linked to his sister, the actress Georgina Almanza, and the pianist Zenaida Romeu González, then a repertorist for the radio station, who started it, making substitutions as an accompanist in some shows. There she also had the support of Isolina Carrillo, until she managed to have her own children's program, Mommy's stories. Restless, she manages to present on this station a space dedicated to Afro-Cuban poetry, accompanying on the piano a young reciter who would soon be a revolutionary martyr: Gerardo Abreu Fontan.
Her disruptive attitude led her to the payrolls of male orchestras such as the Típica Rialto —created for recordings with the artists of the homonymous label—, Artemisa's Jazz-Band or Riverside, with which, despite some rejection from some musicians, he substituted at Tropicana and on television shows. The men of music could find no other way to praise her than to say: "That girl plays a macho piano...!". The experience in these conflicts, and in his work on radio and television, even allowed him to consider directing this type of musical groups and accept the challenge of doing so in a multinational orchestra formed by the Spaniard Jaime Camino to perform in Spain and other European countries. .
For nearly a year with that orchestra, Enriqueta accompanied the Cuban singers Candita Batista and Pilar Morales. Later, when the group disintegrated, some formed the Cha cha chá Orchestra, led by the composer Jesús Guerra and with Enriqueta on piano. They toured a lot and the twentysomething pianist absorbed like a sponge everything that Old Europe offered her in terms of culture: in Paris she saw an emerging young man named Charles Aznavour sing; saw another young pianist conducting —Michel Legrand— and act to a consecrated: Maurice Chevalier. And he even came to work in Rome as a pianist in Xavier Cugat's orchestra, without failing to notice the scant authenticity of the music that the Catalan claimed —and sold— like Cuban. Upon his return to Havana, he accepted the contract offered to him to direct the orchestra of the small cabaret Alloy's, where he accompanied Xiomara Alfaro, Manuel Licea lace and many others.
The list of singers that he artistically escorted, out of so many, always runs the risk of being incomplete: from Benny Moré, Merceditas Valdés, Esther Borja, Xiomara Alfaro, Rosita Fornés, Alina Sánchez, Luis Carbonell, to the Argentines Hugo del Carril and Leo Marino. His performances with Los Amigos, Los Papines, Omara Portuondo, Celeste Mendoza, etc. are also remembered.
Almanza's discography does not exhibit albums as the main artist, but it does show coherence in terms of its participation in other diverse roles. Among his first credits stands out the direction of the orchestra that accompanied the famous Olga Chorens and Tony Álvarez in the albums Songs by Olga Chorens (LP-3049) and Olga and Tony. Vol 3 (LP-3061) produced by the Panart brand and published in 1960 in the midst of the watershed that represented the nationalization of the Cuban recording industry. It does not seem by chance that his name is associated with two of the most important albums of the Filinero discography: cuban sentiment (Ferrer Records EF-600), with the singers Pepe Reyes and Olga Rivero, in which he debuted as an arranger in a tandem with none other than Niño Rivera; Y Elena Burke sings to Marta Valdés (Areíto LD-4489) where, together with Frank Emilio and Carlos Emilio Morales, this woman, full of wisdom, is in charge of the pianos and the musical direction of part of the cuts on the album.
Her deep knowledge of Cuban music and its spheres of expression allowed her to collaborate in the 1970s with Los Papines on two homonymous albums (Areíto LD-3468 and LD-3649) where she assumed the roles of director and arranger, shared with real weights. as heavy as his colleague, the pianist Joseíto González, Orlando Cachaito Lopez, Luis Carbonell, Ricardo Papin and Luis Abreu. In 1989 he produced and arranged for the great Celeste Mendoza the phonograms The queen of guaguanco (Areíto LD-4526), and, in 1990,Celeste Mendoza arrived! (Areíto TKF-CD-11), the latter with the Sierra Maestra group. He directed, orchestrated, produced and played piano on records by Elena Burke, Omara Portuondo, Teresa García-Caturla and many other singers.
The world of dance was not alien to him: he has been involved since the 1950s when he eventually worked with Pro-Arte Musical and with the Experimental Dance Ensemble directed by Alberto Alonso, as a rehearsal pianist. For this one outfit composes the original ballet music humorous, inspired by the work of cartoonist Juan David. He wrote incidental music for stage productions of plays such as Doll's House and the enchanted soul, and for dramatized television spots such as Henry of Lagardere, Mrs. Dulska's morals and Tupac Amaru, among others.
But in authorial creation, Enriqueta's work focused essentially on the world of children and was collected in two albums produced by the Areíto brand in which the composer is in charge of the music in all the songs, and the lyrics are left to charge of Celia Torriente: And now… The Yoyo (LD-3632) and the yoyos (LD-4298). The first had Jorge Berroa as producer, but Enriqueta conducted the orchestral direction, supervised the recording and carried out all the orchestrations. The second album featured the orchestral direction of Juan Marqués La Casa and the cast of Los Yoyos, with the singer Marta de Santelices and the actresses Ana Nora Calaza, Carmen Pujol, Marianita Morejón, Manuel Marín and Georgina Almanza. And as if everything he had already done in his career was not enough, he bequeathed us one of the unforgettable classics of the children's songbook: the mythical Paper boat, recorded in its original register by the great Consuelito Vidal in her unforgettable character of Dude (LD Dude, Areito LD-3254). Fortunately, other phonograms collect more children's compositions by Enriqueta, which undoubtedly marked a moment of prodigy in Cuban music for children.
From his time to today, the panorama of live music has changed a lot; Technological renewal has endangered, when not disappearing the need for instrumental accompaniment to a singer. Enriqueta Almanza already foresaw this when she was interviewed by Mayra A. Martínez in 1989, determined as she was to defend that role, which was already beginning to be underestimated, and was a kind of Rare avis, almost on the verge of extinction: “The accompanying pianist is a mattress where the singer rests. In the balance between the two factors is success. A great human, technical and intimate sensibility interrelation is unavoidable”— sentenced.
The use and abuse of the technologies that came later did not prevent Enriqueta Almanza from maintaining herself as a reference even for important pianists such as Ernán López-Nussa, Rolando Luna, Cucurucho Valdés, and others, who, with visible differences, given that their careers span essentially in the field of jazz, they rigorously assume, when necessary, the role of accompanists. Thus, despite his relatively early death at the age of 62, his vital work, an obligatory reference of good work and nostalgia for several generations, together with his multifaceted legacy of excellence, has survived him.