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Music Scene Photos: Adrian Aguilera. Photos: Adrian Aguilera.

The trova in Holguín, a legitimate relic

It is 10 in the morning, on the fourth Thursday of September 2019. The entire Raulito Prieto band is waiting for Manuel Leandro Sánchez, in the rehearsal room next to the Anima Studios in Holguín. That mania of his for being late everywhere except his club The Fool's Club. 

Carlos Ramírez, musical director of the group, explains the tremendous roll while they wait: “The music repeats itself. Musical sounds have not changed since the monochord of Pythagoras or since the Gregorian chants. He looks at his newly bought pedal on the floor and adjusts the strings of the electric guitar. 

“The trova can be very simple and luminous or very harsh and dark, musically speaking”, he prepares the ground. With the arrival of the unpunctual troubadour, he will assemble the repertoire on the eve of that night's concert.

***

The trova in Holguín is a relic, a sacred object that, mistakenly, many think is covered in dust in one of the corners of the city. If we were to analyze the functioning of the clubs of the genre before the arrival of the coronavirus, we would find on each day of the week a space for the followers of author music to satisfy their melomania. Perhaps not all the download that a good troubadour needs, but at least an incentive. 

Long before this system of peñas existed, sponsored by institutions such as Artex SA, the Ministry of Culture, and the Egrem record label, singer-songwriters survived in scattered alternative spaces, most of them with expiration dates, or in irregular programming.

According to singer-songwriter Oscar Sánchez, son of the Ciudad de los Parques, the rise of trova around 2008 was growing: “There was Alito Abad, Manuel Leandro, Raúl Prieto, Fernando Cabreja, Edelis Loyola… A little earlier there was the band Cañenga and others musicians who joined the songwriting movement.” 

Perhaps for this reason, that year Raúl Prieto Serrano created the rock Tocando Fondo, which would convene the contest aimed at novice troubadours For an imaginary María del Carmen, in homage to Noel Nicola's single. The first winner of the contest was, precisely, Oscar Sánchez, and the second place and popularity prize was Manuel Leandro, recently graduated from the School of Economics.

When, for various reasons, the rock's first season ended in 2010 and went into a long hiatus, the singer-songwriters were separated, each in their own world. 

“From time to time we met, and the conclusion was always reached that we should do something together, but that was it. The movement had gone cold. Regardless of the fact that at that time those of us who remained had our individual spaces, several had already gone to other cities or outside of Cuba. It felt like something was missing,” recalls Manuel Leandro.

They needed a project that would organize this movement of artists from Holguin in a coherent and systemic way. The singer-songwriter Raúl Prieto saw in the musicians around him an organic growth that could be promoted through unity. Thus, on September 29, 2016, he created the Troubadours' Fair. 

***

Fernando Cabreja, a troubadour from Holguín with a vast oeuvre, returned from Chile in August 2016. "I went to Raúl Prieto's house to greet him and he told me that he was coming at the right time, because I was fundamental to what he was putting together," he says. . 

The Fair of the Troubadours helped Cabreja to know that he and Raúl Prieto were not alone —as they often believed—, “but that we were, or rather, that we are the adults of the Fair, the ones who have been in this car the longest of the composition and interpretation of our own songs”.

As isolated bars, troubadours with different aesthetics, discourse and ways of doing things arrived at the project.      

Tony Fuentes was invited after winning the amateur contest Laddersfrom the radio show This does taste of Cuba. Lainier Verdecia, carried all the folklore of the hot lands, drenched in sonorities after having shared with exponents of the Cuban trova based on the banks of the Guaso, such as Josué Oliva and others.

Manuel Leandro was already hanging around the centers of Holguín with his long hair and extreme thinness, but with an authentic voice and texts, already discovered in the contest. However, there were few places where he felt part of something. Meanwhile, Edelis Loyola, —the only troubadour in the project whose work is aimed at children—, and Raulito Prieto (son) were there from the beginning; as well as Orlando Silverio from Santiago and Ivett María Rodríguez de Báguanos. 

Currently, the Fair is a quarry for the growth of amateur troubadours towards the professional sector. Proof of this is the fact that the Faustino Oramas Music and Show Marketing Company (ECME) auditioned two troubadours.

For Tony Fuentes and Lainier Verdecia, for example, being members of the Fair accelerated the process of evaluating themselves as professional musicians. Having the endorsement of so many renowned troubadours was the final push that materialized the long-awaited audition. This space has been a school, a temple, a trampoline for them. 

***

The troubadours of the Fair have the opportunity and, at the same time, the benefit of arranging and playing their songs together with the band that he inherited from his father, bassist Raulito Prieto.

The particularity of this Holguin project, which differentiates it from the rest of similar ones that are being developed in Cuba, such as Trovuntivitis, is that it has a unique band to exchange ideas, think about and elaborate each musical arrangement, enrich and accompany individual repertoires. 

According to Carlos Ramírez, musical director, the troubadours with whom he has worked are very versatile, diverse, given to experimentation, but also very jealous of their work. For him, it is sometimes complex to understand what each singer-songwriter wants to achieve and even more so to communicate those ideas to their instrumentalists, since many of the works defy musical theory.

If Carlos had to define the creative process that occurs when bringing a song composed for guitar to a band like Raulito Prieto's, he would say that “it is a conglomeration of eclectic musical and conceptual procedures, often opposed. Each musician in the band has different professional and psychosocial training and perceptions. This has allowed us to nourish ourselves with ideas, although in the end we always have to organize the product based on not losing the essence of the troubadour”.

Lainier Verdecia's socialization with her peers makes her review her repertoire, her lyrics, her stage attitude over and over again. According to him, “a very positive aspect of the Fair is the recording sessions for the instrumental part and the advice of the band for individual projects”.

So the greatest tool in the process of arranging and assembling such diverse repertoires is the influence of its members in the fusion of music. The current Holguin trova works as a bridge between different genres, styles and concepts. 

***

In the genesis of the Fair, its members intended to carry out parallel teaching actions for the comprehensive training of Holguin troubadours. 

“In this interactive platform I proposed to design harmony courses applied to the guitar, an approach to literature, to poetry, and to contribute to the best quality of the works that would be created from there,” says Raúl Prieto.

With this objective, the Cátedra de Cantautores Cubanos emerged, an academy that tried to defend author music through the amateur movement of Casas de Cultura, although bureaucratic rigidity meant that it did not work. 

“I was in the best disposition to attend to the entire troubadour university movement, but the bureaucratic rigor collided with my professional side and I was not able to bring it to reality”, admits Raúl.

However, the invitations and collaborations of this new generation to live concerts at the Feria de los Trovadores persist. Such is the case of José Carlos Soto, a young Plastic Arts graduate who, despite having had a very personal and intimate preparation, has already made his debut on the stage of the Callejón de los Milagros —where the Fair usually takes place, on the last Thursdays of each month-. Soto, as everyone calls him, carries the good energy of Raúl Prieto, the genuine inspiration of Cabreja's work and his deep gratitude towards Manuel Leandro, the first to invite him to sing in El club de los necios. 

***

Although reforms within the project are necessary, it is fair to say that it could have more institutional support. Although the will to collaborate was there from the beginning, the Fair can still be given greater visibility and permanence.

Holguin's trova enjoys good creative health, but, unfortunately, "the institutions that should support this movement have limited their actions in relation to logistics, spaces, promotion," emphasizes Raulito Prieto.

The dream of this project is in the hands of the institutions: “to have our own headquarters where we can present ourselves, rehearse, and perhaps be able to self-manage income; a place where invited artists from Cuba and from all over the world can come, where we could join the events that take place in the province”, says Raúl Prieto, who considers that this is not even difficult to achieve.

Fernando Cabreja and Tony Fuentes, for their part, agree that having the possibility of recording some material from the Troubadour Fair with an official label would open many doors. They insist on organizing, as soon as the pandemic allows it, more presentations in other provinces to make the project visible. 

To do this, the Fair must become a priority for each of its members. Lainier Verdecia believes that medium and long-term goals should be set, to be a profitable and lucrative movement without losing the intellectual character, of entertainment and maintaining the quality of the proposals.

Edelis Loyola insists that “if the Fair lacks something, it is a female presence. Although I belong to it, being a singer-songwriter for children plays against it due to the schedules and the public that often attends”. She would like other women to join the project so that their sounds also flood listeners with different emotions.

Beyond his vision as a musician, Carlos Ramírez concludes that "all the claims and complaints of the troubadours in search of improvements within the project denote a divergence between what is 'wanted' and what is really 'done'" . 

***

The rehearsal ended at one in the afternoon; at nine o'clock at night they would all be together again in the Alley of Miracles in the Plaza de la Marqueta. With the auditorium on its feet, the concert for the third anniversary of the Fair demonstrated great convening power.

Each troubadour, over the years and through individual and collective efforts, has managed to build a loyal audience that apprehends their songs and takes them as a standard. For this reason, and due to the strengthening of movements such as the Fair of the Troubadours, the author's song in Holguín is a relic that is legitimized over time.

Everyone will remember that night where seven troubadours and a band sang in unison, microphones, smiles and guitars were lent. Internally, they have grown as the hubbub grows because the musical sounds have not changed since the monochord of Pythagoras or the Gregorian chants, but are always discovered and perfected on stage.

Denise Montero Denise Montero Ramirez Eternal apprentice of Journalism. He only wears headphones when listening to Asian music. He loves organization, although his favorite place is in the chaos of the crowd singing choirs. More posts

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