BY RAFAEL LAM | Granma.cu

SANTIAGO DE CUBA is the birthplace of Cuba’s trova music movement, a tradition that goes back to medieval singers who would wander from party to party, town to town, singing in plazas, parks, caves and homes. For this reason, every March, the Pepe Sánchez International Trova Festival is organized in Santiago, taking into account that the 19th is the birthday of the man for whom the event is named, which later became Trova Day. This year, the 125th anniversary of the first recorded bolero is being commemorated: “Tristeza,” by Pepe Sánchez.

There is no need to convene singer-songwriters for the festival in Santiago; they are in the street, in parks, plazas and peñas (cultural clubs). It is not at all staged; it is something that is part of everyday life in this city of trova traditions, of serenades and jam sessions.

The organizing committee’s president is Eliades Ochoa, a trova musician who used to play for tips in Santiago de Cuba’s bars.

“This city holds a lot of memories for me; this is where I met many of the old guard trova musicians. It really makes me happy to see Céspedes Park full of people for the festival’s opening, and how the Casa de la Trova gets packed to overflowing.”

The International Trova Festival is considered to be Cuba’s oldest. This year, its 46th edition, featured visitors from Mexico, Spain and Japan. Artists came from Havana and other provinces, including the Compay Segundo Group, Mongo Rives and his Sucu Sucu, and Marta Campos.

During the festival, amazing trova musicians and groups and wonderful presentations can be enjoyed, real characters, like Makoto Sasaki from Japan, who improvised with the Valera Miranda Group.

“I’ve been coming to Cuba for eight years to train in son improvisation and sing with a Japanese group that performs Cuban music. I’ve been on stage with Oscar D’Leon, Adalberto Alvarez and Oscar Fukuoka. It is not easy to come from so far; life is very expensive in Japan, but in Santiago they welcome me very warmly.”

Leidis Torres, director of the Miguel Matamoros Music Center, tells us how the Festival is not confined to institutions; it goes out into the streets, parks, plazas and neighborhoods of Santiago, to workplaces, universities, conservatories, and even prisons. “The spaces are many: Casa de la Trova, Aguilera Plaza, the Madrigalista Choir venue, Cine Cuba, Trocha y Carretera del Morro, Balcón de Velásquez, Salón de los Grandes, Casa de la Música, Patio de los Abuelos, Patio de Artex, La Trovita del Castillo, Ateneo Cultural and Sala Dolores.”

The opening gala takes place in Céspedes Park with the best-known representatives of trova. This time, they were: Canto a la Dama con Cuerdas, Orquesta de Guitarras, Garzón y su Ronda Lírica, Dúo Los Cubanitos, Xiomara Vidal, Leonardo Borges, Dúo Cohíba, Ballet Santiago, Melodías Cubanas, Trío Erosay, Mi Nuevo Son, Son Diamante and Orfeón Santiago.

Within the context of the Festival, the Compay Segundo Mausoleum was inaugurated, on the Route of the Trova Musician in Santa Ifigenia Cemetery. His remains were placed permanently in this monument, designed by architect

Fernando López (winner of the 2003 Architecture Prize). The work consists of a single block of marble from Bayamo, with a funeral niche containing sand from the beach of Siboney. Compay’s emblematic guitar and hat are depicted in bas relief, with 95 flowers and the phrase “The flowers of life.”

There was also the theoretical event, hosted by the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba. Papers were presented by Tony Pinelli, Roberto Temble, María Lorena, Oscar Montoto and Lino Betancourt.

At the Cine Cuba movie theater, documentaries related to trova and son were screened: Son para un sonero (dedicated to Adalberto Álvarez), Cuba, ritmo y movimiento, El Bárbaro del ritmo, Cuando Sindo visitó a Emiliano Blez, and Todo el mundo es música (directed by Patricia Ferreira of TV Española and coordinated by Gonzalo González, an EGREM specialist). Todo el mundo es música is a mini-series dedicated to Latin American countries, depicting the everyday musical life of various cities.

Another documentary shown was Francisco Repilado 1907-2003 Compay Segundo, by TV Española reporter Manuel Ovalle Alvarez, who interviewed Compay before he died, and put together different interviews of prominent individuals who knew the trova musician. “I’m a war correspondent; I don’t agree with war. That is why I come to record Cuban musicians, because music triumphs over war.”

The Festival’s most important event consisted of a tour of the cemetery lane called Route of the Trova Musician, where many of the now-deceased greats of trova lie: Pepe Sánchez, Miguel Matamoros, Ramoncito Ivonet, Emiliano Blez, Pepe Bandera, Eulalio Limonta, Pablo Armiñán, Angel Almenares, Félix B. Caignet, Ramón Márquez Zayas and Virgilio Palais. The expert Lino Betancourt leads the tour. “At night, all of the trova musicians gather on the Route to tell stories and play old songs.”

The Santiago municipal government of People’s Power sponsored a tour, together with vice president Jaime Codorniu and José Rios of the Provincial Gastronomy Enterprise. The city has a sizeable budget for cultural recreation; it has remodeled its Plaza de la Juventud, a gigantic dance floor, the Casinoteca, the Salón del Son, the Sala Polivalente, bars, Baconao Park and other centers.

This year, trova’s golden age – which came after the end of the Spanish-Cuban-U.S. War is being commemorated. During that time, duos, trios, quartets, quintets, and student groups were organized, and then sextets, septets and ensembles. Trova became interrelated with and fomented all types of son formats, with brilliant trova musicians like Sindo, Rosendo, Ballagas, Villalón, and Corona, the duos Sindo and Guarionex, and Lorenzo Hierrezuelo and Compay Segundo; in the trio Miguel Matamoros, Siro and Cueto; in the quartets El Patria and Hatuey, and in Carlos Puebla’s. There was also the Pepe Sánchez Quintet and the Ñico Saquito; the Oriental Sextet and Septeto Habanero, the Occidente and the Nacional.

Santiago de Cuba is full of traditions; in a time of war, the fast life, media manipulation and electronic stridence, people still sing in the streets here and serenade under the windows of friends and lovers.

“Trova will never die in Santiago, neither will son,” Eliades Ochoa told me during the closing event.

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