is dance music that has always been sung. Its name comes from the word
, or sound. The rhythmic roots of
come from both Spanish dance music and African slave and
dance music (Feijóo 25). Most of the linguistic elements and melody are derived from Spanish tradition while most of the rhythmic elements developed from African tradition. The Spanish music was based on ten-line
verses and southern Spanish melody. The
is believed to have originated in the villages of Baracoa and Guantánamo in the Oriente province of Cuba towards the end of the nineteenth century. Like the blues, the emergence of
coincided with the end of slavery. The lyrics were always about popular opinion on social and political topics of the day, love, humor, nostalgia and patriotism. Originally the music of the eastern
, or peasant, the
transformed into a world renown musical form when it arrived in Havana.
The move from countryside to city was brought about by a military mission. In 1909 just after US. interventionist forces had again pulled out of Cuba, the newly elected president José Miguel Gómez found himself with a rebellion on his hands in the Oriente province. He was determined to squash it immediately in order to avoid a new US. intervention. A group of politically unsatisfied blacks formed a radical organization called the
Agrupación Independiente de Color
, or Independent Color Association, after the Cuban senate had passed a law prohibiting parties from forming along racial lines. The group staged an uprising led by Evaristo Estenoz who had been a soldier in the War for Independence. President Gómez quickly dispatched his own troops from Havana to the eastern end of the island who then captured and executed the rebels (Suchlicki 90-91). The soldiers of the
brought the music of the region with them upon their return to Havana. It was immediately a hit and grew in popularity from that time.
Similar to the blues, the
had to be slightly refined before it became acceptable to a wider audience. There were two parts to a
as performed by
groups. The first short part called the
has set lyrics. The second part called the
includes what is called a
which is an African style interchange between a lead singer and a chorus. At one time the
lyrics were improvised and involved skillfully throwing out insulting double-entendres. These
lyrics might be about someone’s lack of intelligence, a woman’s fidelity, a daughter’s virginity, or about a person’s clothes or his attractiveness. Because a fight was sure to break out, the insults had to go if the
were to have any success (Gerard 76).
Both Spanish and African influences are apparent in the call-and-response nature of the
and when looking at the instruments that are used to create
. The importance of percussion instruments is clearly African in origin, while the use of guitar and
is Spanish. The following is a description of the core instruments, not including the instruments from the brass and string families which were added later:
Claves This is the basic building block of Cuban music and was created in Havana. Also called
, this instrument consists of two cylindrical hardwood sticks 20-25 cm long and 2.5-3 cm in diameter. By resting one stick lightly on the fingertips of one hand with the cupped palm acting as a resonator, while the other stick acts as a striker and is held between the thumb and first two fingers, the clave produces a steady beat (Sadie 1: 415). It has a strong first part and an answering second part like the call-and-response structure in African music. It provides “a way of incorporating into European measure-patterns the basic western African rhythmic pattern of eight notes and rests, usually built up of combinations of two and three beats” (Roberts
Botija This African-derived instrument that is also known as a
is an earthenware jug with a narrow opening at the top. It was tuned by filling it with varying amounts of water and by the musician applying a hand to the top opening (Gerard 77). This instrument was blown through a lateral opening used as a mouthpiece to produce the bass notes in the absence of a mar’mbula. It was replaced with the string bass, or
, once the
became more sophisticated.
Bongos A pair of single-headed drums with conical or cylindrical hardwood shells originally made of hollowed tree trunks. The two drums are of the same height, but of different diameters, 7 1/4 inches and 8 1/2 inches. The heads are made of calfskin or plastic and are nailed or are screw-tensioned and usually tuned to high-sounding notes at least a 4th apart. They are played with the bare hands and are usually positioned with the large drum to the right. This instrument was created in Cuba circa 1900 (Sadie 1: 250). It is common to call the small drum
or male and the big drum,
, or female. The bongos were probably created as a homemade version of the double drums, such as the tympani, used by the traveling orchestras of the time.
Güiro Also known as a
, this instrument is usually made from the gourd of a climbing plant. It is elongated with raised frets or parallel grooves close together on its side. One plays it to give rhythmic emphasis to the music by scraping a stick along the side (Sadie 2: 86). This instrument was used by the indigenous people of Cuba.
Maracas A pair of gourd rattles that are usually oval. The dried seeds of the fruit are left in the gourd to produce the sound. This instrument is thought to be of pre-Colombian Araucanian origin, its name coming from the word
(Sadie 2: 611).
Guitar The six stringed instrument brought to Cuba from Spain.
Tres A Cuban variation of guitar with three sets of doubled or tripled strings.
Mar’mbula A large lamella phone belonging to the African mbira, or thumb piano family. In Cuba this instrument contains a wooden box that forms a resonating chamber that is usually 60 or more cm in height (Sadie 2: 616). The metal tongues on the resonating chamber are plucked while the musician actually sits on the instrument. This instrument gave the base to the early son groups, but was eventually replaced with the string bass in the 1920’s (Gerard 126).
Cencerro A type of Cuban cowbell hit with a piece of wood.
SECTION SIX: The Poetry of Nicolás Guillén (6)
Nicolás Guillén would disagree with using the term
to classify much of the poetry he published since 1930. At best, he would tolerate the term
because he sees in the word
the meeting of two races, whose strengths have converged to create a new people in Cuba. It seems to me that for Guillén, those people are his people, and no matter their color, they are
because they come from a place where the mixture of these two cultures is so profound, that it would be impossible to extricate oneself from either. Guillén would most likely prefer the term poes’a cubana, because like the bongó, it is purely a product of what happened on this island. “
“ (Fernández 193) with a little Ta’no thrown in. Just read his poem “La canción del bongó” and you will understand.
The poetry that Nicolás Guillén wrote previous to 1930 is published, but does not figure into this unit as it has little to with the topics at hand. What happened to his poetic vision in 1930 was clearly a big event in the Cuban literary world. One night in April, 1930 while he was at the stage between sleeping and dreaming a voice came out of nowhere and kept repeating over and over again the two words
. He spent the rest of the night trying to figure out what it meant. Early in next morning he began to write and by that afternoon he had eight or ten poems to which he quickly gave the collective title “Motivos de Son” (Guillén
Libro de los sones
On April 20, 1930 he published eight of them in the page “Ideales de una raza” in the newspaper “Diario de la marina” with a picture depicting a drummer. The eight poems he published here were “Negro Bembón,” “Mi Chiquita,” “Búcate Plata,” “Sigue,” “Ayé me dijeron Negro . . . ,” “Tú no sabe Inglé,” “Si tú supiera . . . ,” and “Mulata . . . ” They are dedicated to José Antonio Fernández de Castro, the man responsible for the meeting of Langston Hughes and Nicolás Guillén only weeks before. Soon after this publication, many members of the literary world wrote to him giving their praise for the novelty of these poems.(7)
What was so novel about these poems was his obvious use of musical rhythm and Afro-Cuban dialect and themes. I believe they are wonderful to use in the high school Spanish class because they are short, easily understood and sound wonderful. The musical rhythm of course comes from the
which was all the rage at the time, though he remembers hearing it for the first time when he was a child. Around 1910-12, he would go over to a
neighbor’s house where he would hear her sing the
every night . The
that influenced him the most, however, were those produced by the Sexteto Habanero at the end of the 1920’s (Guillén
Libro de los sones
Though I have not found nearly the indepth analysis of how Guillén’s poetry is based on the
as I found with Hughes and the blues, perhaps it is not necessary. Son does not fit as regular a mold as the blues does, rather there are numerous variants due to its polyrhythmic nature. His son poems are structurally quite varied in the number and metric count of his verses and in the refrain combinations. The
that I mentioned in the section on the son can be seen in his poetry with, for example, the repetition of the word
in the poem “Sigue . . .” It’s the voice of the chorus, refrain or response to the call. The similar rhythms in
poetry come from alliterations, or the repetition of initial consonants in neighboring words, and anaphoras, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses. Rhythm comes from this repetition.
According to Fernándo Ort’z, African languages rely on a structural rhythm. He goes so far as to say “La vida del negro africano es vida cantada” meaning that the life of a black African is a life spent singing (246). Here he refers to the fact that Africans seemed to have integrated song into every aspect of life so that even their spoken language is almost song-like. The term
, a sing-songy word itself, is pertinent when we unite this poetry with African speech and
. According to Ort’z, many African languages are tonal so that the meaning of words is not only derived from the articulation of the word, but also from the tone with which it is spoken and the rhythm of the phrase in which it is uttered (224). Sound, whether is has a preordained meaning or not, is important and meaningful within the right context. There are numerous examples within different African cultures of the use of sounds in repetitive patterns connected with ritual, song and dance (226). Nicolás Guillén’s poem “Sóngoro cosongo,” which was first published as “Si tú supiera,” contains one of his most famous
. The words
sound African, but really they have no specific meaning. They produce rhythm and an African atmosphere.
Africans transplanted to Cuba found themselves among other Africans of many different cultures who did not speak their same language. Spanish became the universal language so that communication could occur. However, as when any two or more languages meet, Cuban Spanish took on some of the words and speech patterns from Africa. A lack of formal education for all poor people in general is another factor that contributed to the changes in Cuban Spanish spoken by a certain segment of the society. In writing the “Motivos de son” poems, Nicolás Guillén was especially interested in depicting the language and lives of the urban poor in Havana, who were mostly of African descent. Though praised by many, this was particularly offensive to the Afro-Cuban bourgeoisie of Havana. His poems “. . . did not uncritically celebrate the picturesque contributions of black folklore to Cuba’s national cultural landscape. Instead,
raises questions about social inequality in what to many middle-class blacks were loathsome vernacular voices from the notorious ’Afro-Cuban underworld’” (Kutzinski 153). Just as Langston Hughes sought to unite folklore with fine art, Guillén brought to the forefront of artistic thought, the lives of the marginalized. Both created a climate of controversy that helped push the boundries encompassing poetry one step further out to create room for the African legacy in the Americas.