BY RAFAEL LAM | Special for Granma International | [url=http://www.granma.cu]http://www.granma.cu[/url]
HIGHLY attentive to Cuban popular music, the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), recently organized the 1st Havana Danzon Festival, replete with a competition and a colloquium.
Danzon began in Matanzas with the opening on January 1, 1879 of Las alturas de Simpson (Simpson’s Heights), a work by Miguel Failde. The rhythm reached Havana as a musical gaffe, with a poor reputation, scorned by the aristocracy who only accepted European waltzes, schottisches and then the Charleston and jazz.
But the danzon was supported by young people. The Black and mixed-race public took it up as a wall of contention against foreign sounds. Suffice it to say that danzones were played in the reputable salons of the Louvre de La Habana in tribute to one of the country’s great leaders, Juan Gualberto Gomez.
The danzon is a genre derived from national dance. It is a figure dance formed by couples supplied with arches and sprays of flowers, much in vogue in the second half of the 19th century. It is slower, with more cadences and variety danza or contradanza.
The danzon persisted and became the national dance of Cuba. At a moment of the invasion of U.S. rhythms in the early 20th century, it fused with its sister, the son, from the eastern part of the island, and emerged as a new structure in 1910 with the creation of the El bombin de Barreto, by Jose Urfe. Thus the new danzon was defined. In 1929, Aniceto Díaz contributed Rompienda la rutina, a danzonette with a marked solo voice part. Some time later, at the end of the 30s, the Danzon-mambo, a new rhythm from brothers Israel and Orlando Lopez with Arcaño y sus Maravillas, was all the rage. The 1940s saw the mambo á la Perez Prado, and in 1953, Enrique’s Jorrín’s cha-cha, both the privileged descendants of danzon fused with son.
The presence of the danzon gradually waned with the diffusion of its sound, but its fruits have remained, constantly nourishing the music of Cuba and all of America. There are hundreds of danzon groups throughout the island.
At the hour of reckoning one has to mention other greats of the danzon like Antonio María Romeu, the magician of the keyboard, who transformed the instrumental format of danzon orchestras with his work Tres lindas cubans (Three Lovely Cuban women) and Raimundo Valenzuela, who wrote scores for operatic excerpts with a typical orchestra.
And all praise to the voices of danzon charangas like the classical Barbarito Diez, Fernando Collazo, Pablo Quevedo, Paulina Alvarez, Alberto Roche. And other charanga bands like Fajardo y sus Estrellas, Neno González, Sensacion, Melodías del 40, Aragon, Jorrín, America, Sublime, Estrellas Cubanas, Original de Manzanillo, Van Van, and the Charanga All Stars.
One must also recall inspired flute players like Panchito Abad, El Moro, Jose Antonio Díaz, Joseito Valdes, Aniceto Díaz, Tata Alfonso, Belisario Lopez, Antonio Arcaño, Jacinto Joaquín Oliveros, Jose Luis Cortes and Richard Egues.
In this 1st Havana Danzon Festival, presided over by Jose Loyola, vice president of UNEAC, the entire charanga arsenal, typical of groups that continue to maintain the national musical heritage, was used to the fullest, with the support of the Ignacio Piñeiro Enterprise, while the colloquium provided a forum for musicologists and specialists to expound concepts and memory. There were lectures from Aurelio Rodríguez, Jesús Gomez Cairo, Julio García Espinosa, Ana Casanova, Lino Betancourt, Celso Valdes, Rubalcaba, los Urfe, Alicia Valdes and the legendary dancer Angoa.
Now that there is a return to acoustic rhythms and sounds national musicians need to be protected from the avalanche of music from outside, and more so in Cuba, a musically privileged country.
“Fortunately,” Alejo Carpentier wrote, there is the people; that surprising people who are impermeable to foreign influences, who continue flocking to dances. Cubans from the slum quarters and small towns keep on producing their music. Their folklore is more alive than ever. The danzon, rejected by the Paris and New York editors, is manifesting a deaf rebelliousness.”