martes, 29 de junio de 2010

The Bolero: An Expression of Cuban’s Gentleness and Harmony


It can be said that, on an international level, the bolero is the genre most representative of romantic music. The bolero is said to have originated in 1895 in Santiago de Cuba with the song “Tristezas” (Sadness) by Pepe Sanchez. It is widely held that the bolero was born out of another Cuban genre, the danzon.

The bolero is based on the same rhythm of the danzon, albeit a little slower and with a message that is a totally romantic.

However, this origin of the bolero is not without its controversy. While most popular music historians date danzon’s origins to 1879 and bolero’s to 1885, there is some evidence suggesting that the bolero existed as early as 1830, well before danzon, and that it originated by way of the trova genre of Santiago de Cuba.

According to this argument, the bolero first appears as a song used for serenading loved ones, a tradition it maintained until the 1920s when the Septeto Habanero and Trio Matamoros modernized the bolero creating the bolero-son genre.

Nonetheless, Pepe Sanchez’ song is the first precise reference to the bolero and so 1885 is generally considered the starting point of this great musical tradition.

The bolero quickly spread to the Caribbean and later throughout Latin-America. Cuba’s contribution to the Latin American bolero is unquestionable, not only because it is based on the danzon rhythm, and follows the Cuban style of dance, but also because of the unforgettable boleros composed and sung by Cuban musicians.

The first bolero to obtain international fame was “Aquellos Ojos Verdes” (Those Green Eyes) from 1929; shortly afterwards, Gonzalo Roig composed the classic “Quiereme mucho” (Love Me Very Much); swearing eternal love.

By the 1940s, the bolero was the most popular dance, leaving in its wake both the son and danzon.

Radio broadcasting helped spread the popularity of bolero and some of the most beautiful boleros originated in this era, including: “Toda una vida” (A Whole Life), “Acercate mas” (Come Closer), “Quizas Quizas” (Perhaps, Perhaps) and “Con tres palabras” (With Three Words), all composed by Osvaldo Farres; “La última noche” (The Last Night) by Bobby Collazo; and “Dos Gardenias” (Two Gardenias) by Isolina Carrillo.

During this golden era of the bolero in Cuba, a new movement was to emerge looking for wider expression that would become known as the filin (feeling) movement. In this new musical expression, singers would let their feelings all out with melodramatic and exaggerated voice changes and inflections.

According to renowned Cuban music historian Helio Orovio, the felin movement came out of the need to transform the Cuban songbook, and would serve as the base for what would become “the new Cuban song.”

Among the founders of felin are Jose Antonio Mendez with the song, “La Gloria eres tu” (You Are the Glory), Cesar Portillo de la Luz with “Contigo en la distancia” (With You in the Distance) and Frank Dominguez’ “Tú me acostumbraste” (You Got Me Used to It).

During the beginning of the danzón era, near the end of the 19th century, the rhythm of the Havana dance took Mexico by storm, by way of the Yucatan peninsula and with the song “La paloma” (The Pigeon). Subsequently, a Mexican version of the Havana dance was developed with a cadence that easily lent itself to the bolero. Mexico played a fundamental role in developing the bolero genre and bringing it to the rest of Latin America.

In the 1920s, the Mexican bolero took flight at the hands of the prolific composer Augustin Lara, who brought the Latin American bolero to new heights. He wrote 162 boleros, establishing a classic standard consisting of 32 bars divided in two parts; the first 16 in minor tone and the last 16 in major tone.

Lara praised the female body; some of his compositions focus on different individual parts of the body: the eyes or mouth, or a women’s voice or her way of walking. Lara’s tribute to the perfection of the female body is clearly heard in such boleros as “Las Palmeras” (Palm Trees) and “Tus Pupilas” (Your Eyes).

Other important figures of the Mexican bolero are Maria Grever with his compositions “Júrame” (Promise Me), “Cuando vuelva a tu lado” (When I Come Back to You) and “Tú, tú y tú” (You, You and You); Gonzalo Curiel Barba and “Vereda tropical” (Tropical Pathway); Gabriel Ruiz and his classic “Tú” (You); and Consuelo Velazquez, with “Bésame mucho” (Kiss Me a Lot), Que seas feliz (That You Be Happy) and “Te espero” (I Am Waiting for You).

Other important figures of the Mexican bolero were Rafael Hernandez, a prolific composer second only to Lara. Hernandez’ style and success was in his ability to simply express what to a poet would be complex. This simplicity is exemplified by the songs, “Enamorado de ti” (In Love with You), “No me quieras tanto” (Don’t Love Me So Much), “Tu no comprendes” (You Don’t Understand).

Near the end of the 1940s, the Los Panchos trio emerged, followed by Armando Manzanero, who inherited Lara’s style adding to it his unique and distinctive touch to come up with such bolero greats as “Contigo aprendí” (I Learnt With You), “Adoro” (I Adore), “Cuando estoy contigo” (When I am With You), “Esta tarde vi llover” (This Afternoon I Saw the Rain) and “No!” which was sung and danced all across Latin America.

Allthough there are several forms of the bolero, its dance in itself is very simple. You hug your partner and turn to the right, rhythmically stepping forwards and backwards. The man holds the woman by her waist while she places her left arm on the man’s chest in such a way to maintain a certain distance. The bolero can be considered as both an artistic expression and an erotic ritual of romantic conviction.

Benny More “El Barbaro del Ritmo” (The Rhtyhm Phenomenon) was one of the great purveyors of romantic music. Among his numerous timeless boleros are “Mucho Corazon” (Lots of Heart), “Como fue” (How Did it Happen), “Hoy como ayer” (Today As Yesterday).

Today, the bolero is experiencing a resurgence for its ability to capture and transmit the experiences and romantic sentimentality of current Latin-American artists. Thus the bolero is alive and well, occupying an important place in the heart of romantics throughout the Americas.

And so, Havana pays tribute to the bolero —the genre par excellence of life and love in all its ups and downs— with the International Golden Bolero Festival put on by the Union of Cuban Artists and Writers. Havana streets are awashed in the romanticism of lives loved and the everlasting nectar of the gentleness and harmony of the Cuban people, the bolero.

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