Magazine AM:PM
Playlists Illustration: Pepe Menéndez. Illustration: Pepe Menéndez.

Playlist: The country is its music

Music is the heart of Cuban culture. There is no other cultural expression in the country that has its scope, depth, penetration, and capacity for social influence. Cuban music is not a way to explain Cuba, it is an explanation per se: its structures, its sonorities, its motifs, its instruments, are already explanations in themselves of what is Cuban.

Singing to the “gentle Bayamesa”, by Céspedes, Castillo and Fornaris, was synonymous with singing to Cuba. A romantic song thus became a patriotic anthem. The invasion from East to West, in the war of 1995, did not transport only men and weapons. It allowed the crossing of sounds, compositions, musical structures throughout the country. 

The Cuban people born from that feat were trained both in the machete charge and in the nights of camping around a guitar, in which they heard sounds coming from “opposite regions” of East and West.

Martí chose the opera Carmen for the sentimental education of María Mantilla, a work where the protagonist assures that “she was born free and she will die free”. 

The humming of a song is almost always the tumultuous murmur of Cuban history, whether it is said seriously, as it happens with "fire, candle, La Maya is burned", or whether it is said in code as it happens with "La Bayamesa carries in her soul ”.

The formation of the Cuban people has various sources —the barracks, urban commerce, the “redeemer manigua”—, but it was music that managed to give the first and definitive language to the vast diversity of influences that gave rise to “lo Cubano”. 

With this history, it is no coincidence that the bulk of the national ideological battles, at any time, from Guáimaro to 2021, from The Bayamesa until homeland and life, going through 1902, 1912, 1933, 1959, 1970, and a huge etcetera, always have a musical record.

There is no country without virtue, said Félix Varela. There is also no homeland, in Cuba, without music. And that is also its virtue: the depth of that music is proportional to its entire commitment to the Cuban people, in having known how to sing, as Sindo Garay used to say, to the cry of the country, that motto, that religion. 

Is playlist curated by Magazine AM:PM Pick up that promise. Aware of its diversity, it travels through an enormous scale of genres, motifs and compositions. The same passion runs through all the themes, political and cultural at the same time, which is both a starting point and a meeting point: Cuba as a rhapsody, with so many different parts that can be freely joined, and, at the same time, heard in set. (Julio Cesar Guanche)

They call me Cuba / Alexander Abreu and Havana D'Primera

Sometimes you have to bow to the evidence: clichés are clichés for a good reason. When this song came out, one of the singles from the album Around the world (Páfata Producciones / Egrem, 2015) became a kind of workhorse for institutional communication in the country. Some of us may have disowned him for that (and for the unnecessary reference to prose by Guillén, and that cheesy culmination that is the trumpet solo with the notes of the Anthem of Bayamo), but time has put things in their place, and surely on more than one occasion we have found ourselves singing this song with emotion, in an era in which it seems that patriotism is almost a danger. Perhaps that is the genius that hides behind the "hymns", which are capable of showing us the chauvinist that we did not believe lived in us.

Cuba, how beautiful is Cuba / Comp. Eduardo Saborit; Int. Ramon Veloz

Eduardo Saborit was one of the most performed composers of the second half of the Cuban 20th century. As this is one of his most popular works —the first he composed to show his support for the revolutionary process that had recently triumphed on the Island—, his artistic career was consolidated. The lyrics of this song not only define the patriotism of its author, but also the feeling of those early years. The theme was assembled, sung and recorded, in its initial phase, by the Orquesta América, later it had countless versions like this one by Ramón Veloz. Even today, if we are attentive, we can hear it when walking near the traditional bars in Old Havana. 

Cuba, how beautiful are your landscapes / Comp. Jose Antonio Alvarez Castillo; Int. Willy Chirino and Celia Cruz

Willy Chirino and Celia Cruz are two of those iconic Cuban voices that transcend the barriers of time and ideologies. Despite having spent most of his career on the other side of the pond, his music is inevitably connected to Cuban culture. In this song, which takes strong influences from the Cuban point and suddenness, Willy and Celia give us one of their many odes to this piece of land in the sea.

cuban night / Comp. Cesar Portillo de la Luz; Int. Omara Portuondo

A night in any part of the world can inspire a bohemian composer eager for romance. But listen to this bolero by César Portillo de la Luz, performed by the incomparable Omara Portuondo, and tell us, honestly, if the tropical heat that the poet feels is not Cuban, and ours is the whisper of fronds and the lullaby of the sea. If this song does not locate all your senses, right now, on the Havana boardwalk, return your identity card because yours is a stork error. 

cuban rhapsody / Ernesto Lecuona 

Ernesto Lecuona is one of the most relevant Cuban musicians of the last century. Composing this song, and giving it to the world, has been one of the many successes in his personal way of expressing —between nods to The beautiful Cuban of José White and the habanera Your by Eduardo Sánchez de Fuentes—the essence of being Cuban. Here are many of the ingredients that merged in our song: Rachmaninoff's penetrating symphonism, Gershwin's subtlety and elegance, Spanish music, guajira dances and Cuban point.

How beautiful is Cuba / Pilot and Vera 

Perhaps singing to the landscape has been the most popular way of expressing Cuban identity over the years. But the truth is that it has been very difficult to ignore this need for creolism. Feelings, geography and weather always appear when it comes to music. The repertoire is extensive, but if this time we say that the song belongs to Piloto and Vera, surely whoever listens will stop along the way.

as i am cuban / Luis Alberto Barbershop 

This is one of the best examples of that unclassifiable genre that was born from the hands of Habana Abierta. In the voice of Barbería, this composition is a joyous vindication of our multiculturalism, that which does not fit on a postcard, in which we also know how to throw a party with the help of funky-blues with guaguancó. (It is a very powerful exercise in nostalgia to watch the original video clip, with all those monsters in the prime of their youth.)

I'm Cuban, I'm popular / David Calzado and his Charanga Habanera 

In 2003, what is perhaps one of the best albums by David Calzado y su Charanga Habanera was released: I'm Cuban, I'm popular (Femi). The homonymous theme, which opens the phonogram, is almost inevitable as soon as Cuban dance music exists. It was the golden age of La Charanga, when Leoni Torres —to the rhythm of timba— sang: “I'm Cuban, I'm popular, / nobody can take that away from me, / nobody is going to take that away from me”. Indeed, there was here a feature that distinguishes Cubans: thinking that popularity is exclusive to us by nature. 

Cubans around the world / Interactive 

Timba funky Interactive is a living example of the cultural miscegenation that exists in Cuba. In this song —written by the pianist and leader of the band, Roberto Carcassés—, the voice of Francis del Río reminds us, as if he were telling the story of a family tradition that passes from generation to generation, that we are all Cubans from birth. on this Island, wherever we have permanently or provisionally nestled. 

This does taste of Cuba / Comp. Alan Daniel; Int. Haila María Mompié 

Alain Daniel is not only good at interpretation and acting, but he is also an inspired composer. He demonstrates it in this work with a chachachá rhythm and a rap dressing, which works as a kind of crash course in Cuban for tourists. Light. Typical places, traditional drinks, deities of the Afro-Cuban pantheon and even emblematic streets appear in a theme that Haila popularized at the beginning of the millennium on her album Different (Bis Music, 2004). 

Cuban 100% / Pedro Luis Ferrer

It is the troubadour who sings from the 90's oven to the absurdity of the slogan, to the common sense of ordinary Cubans, and to the necessary and longed-for equity. That's it Cuban 100%, a song to the desired Cuba from the unwanted. Almost 30 years later, the verses and the beats of that son-in-chief that says: “Cuba is like a mirror, if we distribute evenly; / Cuba one hundred percent, if insiders come first”.

cuban lament / Eliseo Grenet

The Caribbean, the music, the solidarity, the joy of living, do not contradict the human need to reaffirm ourselves, through pain. If we look back, we will see not only the clichés of parties, joy, sun and rumba, but also emigration, wars, despotic powers, aggressions against the ground. There is also a lot of Cubanness expressed with sadness. Difficult times were running when Eliseo Grenet composed this theme. And here we are, again in crisis. A song can be more eloquent than any history book.

dear homeland / Comp. Walfrido Guevara; Int. The Guaracheros of the East 

The author of popular music classics such as The party is not for ugly and I don't want the glory composed this elegy to the country he never wanted to leave, performed in an unbeatable way by the trio Los Guaracheros de Oriente. This song is linked to the tradition of bucolic celebrations of natural wonders (and the occasional patriotic touch) of the native land, a subgenre that never goes out of style.

My land / Gloria Estefan 

This single belongs to the third studio album —with the title of the same name— and the first in Spanish, recorded by the Cuban-American artist. The cry of the drums, the peasant intoning the son, the kettledrums, the proclamation, the cumbancha, are some of the typical images of the Island that this song brings back to us. A song that shows Gloria Estefan nostalgic for her Cuban roots, especially when she sings: “The earth hurts you, the earth gives you / In the middle of the soul, when you are not there / The earth pushes you by the roots and lime / The The earth sighs if it sees you no more.

the sorrows of my land / Matamoros Set 

The Conjunto Matamoros was one of the multiple formats created by the great Miguel Matamoros during his musical career. During its musical career, this combo —of which the members of the trio and other greats such as Benny Moré were part— filled the music scene with songs that still remain in the ideology of Cuban popular music. Almost all of them were composed by their leader and founder. In this song to the rhythm of son, they tell us the story of a farmer who went to war to defend his customs above all else.

Cuban style / orishas 

Orishas is the result of the turn-of-the-century meeting of four young Cubans who wandered between hip hop and traditional music, with the skilful French producer Nicolas Nocchi. In their first album they stuck this other Cuban “anthem”, full of commonplaces that also, why deny it, express what we are as a country. Because without a doubt they represent us the rum, the coffee, the cigar, the mulatto women, the orishas, as well as the evident machismo in the video clip. The history of Cuban rap and hip-hop cannot be told without this song, which was also the one that triggered its popularity internationally. 

Cuba, Cuba, camera /ng the band

The boys from El Tosco were the musical flagship of the Special Period. With this theme I opened the album NG The Band. The one who's in charge (Caribbean Productions, 1994). After the unmistakable introduction of “the metals of terror” a timba is developed that is not yet so fierce, but already very well defined in its sound structures. The lyrics don't give much comment: "Cuba, Cuba, Cuba... what I want is to dance your salsa...". But it is likely that for many this sound reminds them to what extent, in a certain context, an orchestra can also be the homeland. 

This is Cuba / Cimafunk 

Who said that you can't make good Cuban music with the help of Afrofunk? The fifth track of the recently released Cimafunk phonogram, The food (Terapia Production, 2021), invites you to get on a bus and tour the entire Island to meet its people. Have flow, the groove of American funk mixed naturally with the Cuban seasoning of guaguancó, tumbaos, monte and Cimarrón. This is also Cuba, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle…!

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

Leave a comment

View published comments
  1. Pulsares says:

    excellent compilation, thanks

View published comments

We also suggest