Magazine AM:PM
Playlists Illustration: Agnes Fong. Illustration: Agnes Fong.

Playlist: Seventeen songs not to lose faith

Now everything is ready. December 17 has arrived and purple begins its concert at the altars. The sack pieces adorn the bodies. Azowano, San Lázaro, Babalú Ayé, Kobayende, whatever he is called or every Cuban imagines him, is the saint who mobilizes the most on the Island, the one who generates the strongest promises, the resurrected old man to whom everyone turns when they are about to lose faith or need to regain it. Even the most profane succumb to its power when life pushes too hard.

Installed in the core of the popular religiosity that characterizes us, Old Lázaro, as well as other miraculous figures, are the result of that syncretic richness that often spontaneously summons more believers than the members that any other religious organization in the country may have. . And this has been one of the characteristics of the religious phenomenon in Cuba, the existence of a strong popular faith, heterogeneous, diverse, even contradictory, with a low doctrinal structure compared to other more complex systems. A religiosity in which practices and beliefs of all kinds coexist without any taking root above the other.

For this reason, since this is a "significant date, always awaited by all", in the words of a well-remembered song, and because religion in Cuba is an element of social cohesion with such a beautiful history, we decided to put together this playlist which is also a walk through our cultural diversity and our faith.  

Babalu / Comp. Margarita Lecuona; Int. Miguelito Valdes 

Many are the performers who have made this composition by Margarita Lecuona their own. From Celia Cruz, Rosa Fornés to Bola de Nieve; however, the most popular version of all is the one made by Miguelito Valdés, who after immortalizing this song became, in the popular imagination, Mr. Babalú. Because when the man from the Belén neighborhood says he wants 17 candles, a piece of tobacco, a little jar of brandy and a little money, we can only appreciate his extraordinary performance. The loud voice of this man and his sense of rhythm make this one of the essential songs if it is about singing to San Lázaro. 

The songs of the abakuá / Comp. Ignacio Pineiro; Int. Ma. Teresa Vera & Rafael Zequeira

Few features of our national identity are as shrouded in mystery as that of Abakuá societies. Heir to Carabali traditions, this culture has survived between the stigma and mysticism of a country marked by its multicultural nature. That is why the moments in which this practice becomes visible and is inserted into the collective unconscious are so valuable, as happens thanks to this song from the 1920s, which Ignacio Piñeiro —abakuá himself— composed, and sang together with Rafael Zequeira, that restless and intrusive woman who was María Teresa Vera. 

And what do you want them to give you? / Adalberto Álvarez and his Son 

Almost three decades ago, Adalberto Álvarez y su Son brought to the public arena one of the most iconic songs of popular Cuban dance music. This is a compulsory theme in the orchestra's repertoire and also one of the longest — it lasts more than 11 minutes — which, according to what Caballero del Son himself once said, was an idea of his mother, Rosa Zayas. The syncretism of the Catholic saints with the Yoruba saints is present in this hit, whose original version was recorded in 1993 with Jorge Luis Rojas (Rojitas) on lead vocals. The song tells what happens during a religious ceremony and how "there are people who tell you that they don't believe in anything / and they go to see each other at dawn". 

 mayeya / Gemma and Pavel 

We will probably never know for sure who Mayeya was or if she existed. With this name, a pre-Hispanic religious legend has transcended in Colombia, and a very different one here, obviously related to the Afro-Cuban mysticism, which Ignacio Piñeiro immortalized. Some even suggest that it is a syllabic inversion of Yemayá. What we propose is a very free version of the Mayeya de Mongo Santamaría, by one of our favorite duets of Cuban music of all time.

Prayer to the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre / José María Vitier 

The Marian cult has had a significant presence since the beginning of Catholic religious practice in Cuba, and in our music, Esteban Salas was the first to compose under his patronage. Coming from a family with a long tradition in Cuban music, José María Vitier composes and directs this tribute to the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, Patron Saint of Cuba, in a performance where his beautiful orchestral arrangements are fused, supported by choral harmonies and the powerful vocal performance by Amaury Pérez as soloist. 

Calabar Appapas / Juan Formell and Los Van Van 

In Juan Formell's own voice, this issue attempts to narrate the history and foundation of the Abakuá rule in Cuba. This secret society, composed only of men, has had an important weight in our music. Many of our musicians have been ñáñigos and have turned to this an oral tradition with an entire inventory of words, as well as rhythms and touches that have been transferred to son and rumba. However, it has not been usual, due to the very nature of this society, for a song to detail its practices and rites for common understanding. This element, together with the magic of the vanvanero arrangement and Formell's "performance" (because his voice here is much more than a performance), make Calabar Appapas a historical song

Cordonero Rhythm / Celina and Reutilio 

This catchy sucu sucu that moves our feet from the most deeply rooted tradition of Cuban peasant music, reminds us of that great musical duo formed by Celina González and Reutilio Domínguez. The co-authors of this song invite us to meet at a religious festival to get rid of all evil through the drums, the tres and the replay of the voices in the chorus that accompanies La Reina del Punto Cubano. “Let the drums play that I want to guarachar” is one of the choirs that comes in handy these days.

The Babalawo scam / Crazy Kola 

It could be said, without exaggerating too much, that Kola Loca is the funniest group that Cuban music has produced in recent years. With its urban aesthetic, the group has managed to capture in a humorous key several of the dilemmas and aspirations of contemporary Cuban society. An example of this is this topic, which recounts the usual misfortunes of those who come to a consultation, and which gracefully addresses the little treated issue of the trivialization and commercialization that the Yoruba religion has suffered. (PS: the babalawo may be "a swindler", but he prophesied a decade before that what "can't catch you is the pandemic").

The paths of Ifa / Adalberto Álvarez and his Son 

this is the fifth track from the album Respect for the elders (Bis Music, 2013). Here, Adalberto Álvarez y su Son tells us that "256 are the paths of ifá / those that govern the destiny of all humanity"; It is a song that calls for respect towards religion, towards the beliefs of the other, and also to those who came before us. "When man comes into the world, he has his destiny written", says the lyrics of this theme, "it is good to know in time what can happen to us". And that is, without a doubt, a truth as a temple.  

Abra Cadabra / Silvio Rodriguez  

Included on the disk Silvio from 1992, the first of the trilogy of songs recorded solely for guitar and voice, this is one of those compositions in which the troubadour uses beautiful and apparently simple harmonies with baroque notes to deal with philosophical, transcendental themes. From a sensitive disbelief, he speaks here about spells, witchcraft, incantations, invocations and rituals, to poetically establish that, for him, magic is in simple things and that his only religion is love. 

hanging from the sky / Carlos Varela

At track five of his album Seven, Carlos Varela shows his skepticism towards the very concept of religion. In his usual critical role, the singer-songwriter presents different religious approaches, both Western and Eastern, alluding to the concepts of Yin and Yang, the practice of peyote and even the remote possibility of reaching Nirvana, among other expectations that people seek in the religion.

Azowan / Alexander Abreu and Havana D'Primera feat. Ruben Bulnes

Azowan is the most recent single launched on digital platforms by Alexander Abreu and Havana D' Primera, in collaboration with Rubén Bulnes, singer of Osain del Monte. This is, without a doubt, one of the most heartfelt songs to San Lázaro that have been made in recent times. A well-armed mix of timba with guaguancó that, in turn, brings other ingredients that give rhythm to the song: violins, a botija (percussive instrument of Afro-Cuban tradition) that resonates together with an electric guitar with a jazz and American rock sound; and a letter that invites the saint to bless us as a people, to take care of us from illnesses and to offer us a lot of ashe. 

I am everything (Oh, God, protect me) / Juan Formell and Los Van Van 

Tradition and resistance, characteristics of the work of Eloy Machado The Ambia, immortalized themselves in this adaptation that Los Van Van made to one of their poems. It is the inseparable song, the one that most identifies a sonero like Mayito Rivera, and also one of the songs that has impregnated Orula the most in the popular imagination. 

Arará Force / Telmary & Healthy Havana 

If there is a Cuban artist who has immersed herself with her work in the universes of Afro-Cuban spirituality, it is Telmary. Accompanied by Kumar Sublevao Beat in the production of his third album, Arará Force, Telmary inaugurated one of the most solid stages of his career —which includes the formation of his portentous band Habana Sana—. The homonymous theme with which the album starts is a call for good wishes for this land of ours, wrapped in a display of sound resources in which modernity and tradition are intertwined in perfect harmony. 

Mata Siguaraya / Comp. Cold Linen; Int. Benny More 

Trichilia havanensis is the scientific name of the Mata Siguaraya, a tree that, according to Afro-Cuban religious tradition, belongs to Changó and is used to "open the paths and the fate of those who invoke it, while closing them for the enemy." Perhaps precisely this fortune was what El Bárbaro del Ritmo was looking for when interpreting the most famous composition by Lino Frías, but what is certain is that this work transcended its time and is still valid in the collective musical memory.

wow! / DJ Jigüe 

OWU is "cotton" in the Yoruba language. Taking Afro-Cuban religious songs as a starting point, DJ Jigüe conceives this high-end musical and audiovisual piece, taking advantage of a spiritual narrative in which the kalimba (idiophone musical instrument widely used in Africa) and Afro-Cuban percussion are combined with resources from the electronic music to achieve those distinctive fusions of his style, which he has come to call tropical Afrofuturism. 

Old Lazarus / Dan Den 

Dan Den is one of those timba orchestras that always please and hit when heard, in times when dancing casino is an effective soothing for the mind and body. Since its foundation in 1988, they have combined the Cuban musical tradition with Afro-Cuban elements and the most current timba. Old Lazarus It is a very successful hymn to the miraculous saint in his day. We celebrate that we are alive, let us all ask: blessings galore, prosperity, love and peace without measure.

Avatar photo Magazine AM:PM Cuban music magazine, without distinctions of genres or geographies. More posts

Leave a comment

View published comments
  1. Sonia Pérez Cassola says:

    Excellent selection! Congratulations to its author and to AM: PM

  2. Diana Balboa says:

    Excellent article 17 songs not to lose faith…Thanks

View published comments

We also suggest