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Articles Illustration: Nelson Ponce. Illustration: Nelson Ponce.

Tiraderas: this was not invented by urban music

The dumps are far from being an invention of the urban scene. Understood as the use by the singer-musician-artist of the scenic-musical or sound space to pose a conflict, debate or confrontation with another or other artists around certain themes, points of view and/or individual positions, within a competitive framework and with large doses of subjectivity and emotionality, they have always been present in the history of popular music —not only Cuban music—.

According to some lyrics that have transpired, they were in many of the original Cuban guarachas that proliferated in the 19th century. The puya It was one of the most used satirical-musical resources within the Cuban bufo theater through that legendary triumvirate formed by El Gallego, La Mulata and El Negrito,[1] that already in the 20th century would pass into the vernacular, having its most characteristic and prominent stage in the Alhambra theater. El Negrito, as we know, was always played by a white actor with a painted face, along the lines of the black face of the minstrels North Americans, and was characterized as a rogue who generally ridiculed his counterpart, El Gallego, stereotyped as miser and a bit of a brute. The third character, La Mulata, whom both El Negrito and the peninsular courted, was flirtatious and very clever and also used to take advantage of El Gallego. In such a context, there were grounds for discussion and Strip strip, another of the early denominations by which these scenic altercations were known, with music and dramatizations.

In this alhambresco genre and, in particular, in farces and comic-musical pieces, offensive disparagement, mockery of features of the opponent's physiognomy and personality, gossip about certain situations or attitudes and other everyday issues swelled the theme assumed by the characters, who also approached current national and international political issues from humor. The actors were also singers, but mostly the former.

In his lyrics or speeches, nor in the interpretive essence, there was no interest in ethical correctness or lyricism, but rather a fairly liberal framework, open to double meanings and improvisation. As in the current chucks, there was not much room or intention for virtuosity or excellence in the musical interpretation of the singers. In the Cuban bufo theater, the script marked the texts, with enough flexibility to allow calls black pudding (individual improvisations outside the text) and tacos (thick words or bad words), combining the dramatization with the musical interpretation of guarachas and rumbas, always with all the actors-singers facing each other on stage.

Throughout the 20th century, peasant music and the son in its different variants, join the guaracha as carriers of the controversies and musical controversies that have in improvisation, the common denominator and expressive vehicle par excellence through which the singers will channel the controversy, the discussions and, sometimes, the musical "anger". In the troubadour song, the confrontation/response scheme is also present, but with another character, much less belligerent and not at all aggressive: its followers were more interested in the perfection of its harmonies and texts within the canons established by the poetic lyrics within their reach. and in the ethics that sustains it.

For this reason, when facing opinions, or responding to others, the most that the troubadours arrived at was to establish the calls answers. If we understand the current chucks as a confrontation of personal criteria, of greater or lesser belligerence, the answers, although characterized by the absence of aggressiveness or offensive intention in their lyrics, constitute another antecedent, as they have an essentially replicating sense, of a response from a troubadour who composes and interprets a song to confront it with another that preceded it.

Several recordings of the early years of the troubadour song evidence this: in 1916 Floro y Cruz with the criolla Reply to “Sorrows of the Soul”; María Teresa Vera and Rafael Zequeira in 1918, with their respective responses to three works by Manuel Corona: Shyness, I already and Goodbye to Havana; in 1927 the Ignacio Piñeiro National Sextet with Reply to “Aurora”, just to name a few. The dialogue formula of answers —where it was not necessary for the musical opponent to be physically present— also appears in other Latin American countries and continued for decades among Cuban singers: many still remember the popular Answer to “Even if it costs me my life”, popularized by Celia Cruz, La Sonora Matancera and the singer of the original song, the Dominican Alberto Beltrán, among others.

But it is in country music and specifically in the call stinging controversy or caustic where the most universal antecedents are found, ancient and at the same time coincident with the current chucks of reggaeton.

Alexis Díaz-Pimienta, one of the great scholars and researchers of repentismo in Cuba, underlines the characteristics and universal expansion of these controversies: “The caustic controversies —what in medieval poetry was called the amoebic discourse or the agonal dialectic— are the most natural, universal and most common in repentismo; not the pictorial, laudatory, or patriotic controversy, which is more of a television and entertainment pose. Its antecedents are in medieval popular poetry. They come from the medieval tensions and recuestas, and their impact is universal: you find them in Puerto Rico, Colombia, Chile, Spain, Italy, Corsica, Malta and everywhere in the world where there is improvised poetry. What abounds most in controversies is what has long been known as the ʽpull-pull'. Notice how the word used by reggaetonists is also related morphologically to ʽtira-tira', just as in Puerto Rico it is known as ʽpico a pico'; ʽglosar de tira' in Mallorca, and since the Middle Ages ʽpicaílla' in many areas of Spain. This terminology shows that the most common and universal of the forms of dialogue is the stinging controversy, the pull-pull, the dump!

In Cuba, there is no guateque or peasant meeting where the caustic controversy or stinging, without a doubt the highest moment of the celebration. It is there where the opposing poets shine the most in their belligerent improvisations, a true legion through several generations. For Díaz-Pimienta “they have all been great champions of the ʽtira-tira', the list of Cubans who have been the first swords in the world of stinging suddenness would be very long, because, I repeat, one of the strongest characteristics of the controversy and the guateque in the field is the shoot-shoot. That's where everyone went."

At the media level, radio first and then television popularized the improvisers and their free controversies based on forced themes or feet, bringing them closer to the general public. The most important stations had rural music programs where the two opponents faced each other in front of the microphone or the camera, but also in times prior to the arrival of television in Cuba, there were even live controversies through the telephone line, such as the who promoted Chanito Isidrón from the RHC Cadena Azul in the 1940s, with singers who talked —and fought— live from Havana and Santa Clara.

For decades, media controversies—like the current ones chucks recorded the most heated controversies, some real and others just as authentic that, in their dramatic expression, hid the endearing friendship between two improvisers, as was the case with Justo Vega and Adolfo Alfonso. Regarding the authenticity of the confrontation, the incident between Chanito Isidrón and Miguel Alfonso Pozo, the ineffable carnation, goes in the opposite direction and is among the historical anecdotes when the verbal fight reached more: "It is very normal for the heat to rise in controversies, what is not normal is a scar on the head caused by the blow of a microphone that Chanito throws [at carnation]; remember the size and weight of the old RCA metal microphones, the enthusiastic public also joins in the unexpected fight, the event ends in a legal process [...]”, says Narciso Alfonso, son and biographer of carnation.

The endearing friendship between the two Santa Clara repentistas was temporarily cut short by this dump guajira that literally caused the release not only of words: about the incident, I would tell Chanito: “Months later, when the trial was held, [carnation] highlighted his kindness, perhaps the product of his repentance, since he did not accuse me and even defended me, explaining that [me] had not been his aggressor, that it had been a riotous fight, that is, that unknown persons had intervened and that it could have been one of these who had attacked him. The judge acquitted us and I left the court praising the evidence of chivalry of the colleague who no longer held a grudge against me.[2] friendship between Chanito and carnation it resumed and lasted as long as their lives.

Those who reached radio and television have historically been the best known in controversies: to those already mentioned are added the legendary Joseito Fernandez, Angelito Valiente, Inocente Iznaga, The Cienfuegos Goldfinch (He made controversies, among others, with his wife, the singer Martica Morejón); also piggy Pereira, Efrain Riveron, Asael Diaz, tealight; and, more recently, Emiliano Sardiñas, Jesusito Rodríguez and Omar Mirabal —the duet Jesusito and Omar—, just to name a few, because the list could be immense.

Undoubtedly, the controversies of guajira music have an impact on the son montuno and the guaracha, which in its evolution included many musicians and singers of peasant origin. Great soneros and guaracheros, city dwellers or guajiros (Miguelito Valdés, Orlando Guerra, Cascarita; Cheo Marquetti, Abelardo Barroso, Carlos Embale, Roberto Faz, Miguelito Cuní, Benny Moré), stood out for their improvisational capacity, which was put to the test in live performances (popular dances, radio programs, performances in theaters, parties and meetings in houses and private spaces), where they were capable of, if necessary, becoming the opponent of some other artist who, occasionally or premeditatedly, came on stage to argue in verse and with music. The discography of son and guaracha could not include this phenomenon in all its extension and dimension, evidently because it overflowed the times established for a phonographic record for commercial purposes. But some milestones remained in the collective memory: this is the case of the famous son controversy between Benny Moré and Cheo Marquetti in Puebla, Mexico, at the end of the 1940s, of which the Mexican singer Luis Ángel Silva was an eyewitness. Cantaloupe. His memories were collected by his wife, the American writer and journalist Merry Mac Masters:

“One morning Benny Moré arrived at the Bremen cabaret, which was located on Avenida Hidalgo, at the height of Calle de Héroes. It was 5:45 in the morning and the music should have stopped at 10 minutes to six. It turns out that the singer and countryman Cheo Marquetti was working there, whom El Sonero Mayor had not seen in some time since he had been absent from the city of Puebla. Beny shouted from the door: ʽGuajira in A!', indicating to the pianist what key he wanted to sing it in. It should be noted that it was a rather sharp tonality. Ramoncito, the lame pianist, turned to see Marquetti, who replied: `Let's please the gentleman. Please, Guantanamera in the tone requested by the gentleman'. According to customs that are no longer respected, the 'host' singer, so to speak, had to welcome the visitor with a greeting in verse. Then the choir entered. Then it was Moré's turn to thank him for the welcome. It was like in a boxing match: after locking the gloves the thing was serious. They say that Cheo wore a dark suit while Benny wore a blue Prince of Wales that was the uniform of Arturo Núñez's Antillean Orchestra. At that time you had to follow certain rules and courtesies within the son. After the thanks Moré continued improvising with the idea that Marquetti was going to answer him. In this fight in verse, first it was necessary to say ʽI am the brave one', each one in turn trying to improve the other. As they saw that it had no effect, they changed to the topic of who was the best, to improvise everything they saw around them: the clients, the black goalkeeper and retired boxer, the son, the drinks, the group, the pictures of the wall, tiles. It was a feast for the ears and there was no winner. The Bremen's owner, a bad-tempered Spaniard, had been in his office, but left for X reason. Seeing that the music continued and the people shouted, he was annoyed for the moment. But when he realized what was happening he sat down at a table, ordered drinks for everyone and closed the door. That historic controversy between Benny Moré and Cheo Marquetti lasted an hour and a half. Neither could with the other. They both came out smiling and happy with what they had done. Of course that same morning in the cafe everyone already knew what had happened in Bremen”.[3]

From the most combative side, where the soneros become quarrelsome opponents and go against each other, few managed to record. An exceptional case is that of Gilberto Noroña, the original and creative Cariocto (or The Carioca Millionaire), who even had his own record label —Million, with which he set two legendary Strip strip soneros, backed by two charangas orchestras: Up Carioca, with Parmenio Salazar and the backing of the Mayía orchestra; Y Marquetti vs. Carioca, with Cheo Marquetti as opponent accompanied by the Pedro Calvo orchestra.

Another tiradera sonera was based on the tenths of the Guajira Guantanamera, in the key of son montuno: Cuban singers Kiko Mendive and Manolo Monterrey, in counterpoint, recorded in 1959 in Venezuela, accompanied by the Chucho Sanoja orchestra. The mockery of certain physical defects, the joke and the bid to see who is the best, remain, as in the previous ones, as the main thematic elements.

The new generations of son singers within the timba movement left testimonies of strong strip-strips that fed the popular legend about possible musical clashes between Paulo FG and Manolín El Médico de La Salsa, for example. For posterity, the famous 1990 jam session on the show was recorded on video. my sauce, with the already legendary tiradera —elegant, 32 years later— between Cándido Fabré and Paulito FG, as protagonists.

For some time now, the so-called urban music has taken up the scheme: reggaeton players make confrontation not only an expressive resource, but also a propitious media element enhanced by social networks, raising the decibels of the verbal battle and its modes of expression, where the exaltation of individuality takes musical anger to previously unsuspected limits in the search for absolute supremacy. In the opinion of Alexis Díaz Pimienta, “the reggaeton players have followed a natural impulse: the dialectic in verse. This also connects with the eristic dialectic of Arnold Schopenhauer, which is the art of always being right. Everything is connected, it is universal and sometimes it is instinctive: there is neither a school nor an education for it. The fun of dialogue in verse is to face each other and prove to each other who is the best. It has a lot of bravado, but it's all theater: no bullshit is entirely real, no matter how real it seems.


[1] Liliana Casanella Cue: Cuban popular dance music. Letters and value judgments (18th-20th centuries), Havana, CIDMUC, 2014.

[2] Chanito Isidro: Recount, handwriting memories, quoted by Narciso Alfonso in Carnation. The man behind the myth, Some Other Editions, 2020.

[3] Merry Mac Masters: memories of sound, Mexico, Cultural Journalism Collection, National Council for Culture and the Arts, pp. 116 and 117.


*This text is the result of an alliance between Magazine AM:PM and the touch. 

Rosa Marquetti Torres Philologist. She is not a musicologist, but she loves to write about music and musicians. Freethinker. Addicted to caramel ice cream. Allergic to illustrated gossip and posturing. More posts

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