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Cuba: Caribbean Island of musical septettes

Cuba: Caribbean Island of musical septettes

Posted by Leyden Figueredo on August 10, 2015

The coexistence and paternity of more than 70 musical genres of an important international transcendence make Cuba the Island of Music. That nation was the crib for  the “bolero”, “trova”, “son”, mambo, and rumba genres, as well as for legendary performers such as Compay Segundo, Miguel Matamoros, Juan Formell, Chucho Valdés, Silvio Rodríguez, Celia Cruz, Beni Moré, and César Portillo de la Luz, just to mention a few in an infinite list of stars.

Before the arrival of the Spanish conquerors, more than 500 years ago, music, dance, and parties already existed in the primitive communities of Cuba. However, the rhythms created in this country, all part of a unique variety, are the product of an intense process of acculturation, where African, Indian and Spanish backgrounds came together to create a unique culture, the Cuban culture, that damped with its richness the country’s artistic culture; specially music.

The musical invasion that the island received throughout history was so big, coming from Europe, Africa, Asia, and several nations from the American continent, that when put together with the rhythmical national strength, it caused an explosion of sounds: congas, rumbas, guarachas, habaneras, criollas, boleros, sones, mambos, cha cha chá, Mozambique, pa’cá, dengue, pilón, and more that are part of a long list of musical rhythms.

In this boom, different formats were originated too, such as trios, sextets, septettes, and groups, are among the most popular in the Caribbean nation’s scope.

After the groups and the orchestras, septettes are the most popular type of musical group of the “Son Cubano”, this format is very popular in the country, especially in the East.

For some, the septet is the structure where traditional Cuban music sounds best, with the most variety and originality.

National Septet (Septeto Nacional), cathedra of the Cuban music

The most famous Cuban septet is the “Nacional Ignacio Piñeiro”, the group was nominated to the latin Grammys of 2013. It was initially created as the sextet of La Habana, on December 13th of 1927.

The group was created by Ignacion Piñeiro, who was a conductor and a contrabass, and after its creation it became popular almost instantly in the country and in other nations, because it had in its repertoire the Cuban “Son” in all of its different types: guajira-son, bolero-son, afro-son, and others.

The path of the group was glorious when its creator was part of it, but that didn't change after Piñero died, thanks to the excellence accomplished by its successors. Actually, the famous group keeps its fame and recognition until nowadays. Now the group is under the direction of Eugenio Rodríguez, known for El Raspa, and for being the main singer of the group, he joined the team in 1982. Also a figure, Frank Oropesa, El Matador (The Killer); is a bongo player, and a “cienfueguero” that started drinking from the fountain of tradition at a very young age, and it is now the group’s administrator. 

Septet Son del Barrio: sounding from the East’s balcony

Even though they are not as legendary, they surely contribute to keeping the name of the Island’s music very high up. From the Tunas, the balcony of the Cuban east, this septet was formed by young graduates of different art schools that decided to put their talents together with the goal of keeping alive the most autochtones symbol of our cultural identity. That is how “Son del Barrio” was formed, and after ten years of hard work, they have earned people’s respect and love, and they are now in their town’s list of musical preferences.

Since the beginning, Son del Barrio worked towards getting a tone that identified them as a group, but keeping the patterns of the typical Son, and including contemporary elements at the same time. They accomplished all this through the non-stopping search of information about the most traditional genres of our Cuban music and the constant improvement of the group’s musicians with the help of their conductor, who without taking out the swing of the Son, as Pancho Amat used to say, he has guided this group keeping a unique style and an original stamp of their own.

In their repertoire, whose genres are the Son Montuno, Bolero, Traditional Son, Guaguancó, Changüí, they have masterpieces from the biggest authors of the pantheon such as Beny Moré, Arsenio Rodríguez, Ignacio Piñeiro, Lili Martínez, Bienvenido Julian Gutiérrez and other more contemporary artists such as Pancho Amat, and Adalberto Álvarez among others. 

Septet Callahacas: aboriginal culture in Cuban music

Callahacas is, in the Araucan language, the aboriginal denomination of Campechuela, because that’s how the first habitants used to call it.

That’s why it is acceptable that the group “Callahacas” has this name, it comes from its literary projection first, and from its artistic projection after.

Founded in 1998 in the province of Granma Cuba, Callahacas is a septet because of its format and structure, but it has very different characteristics to others because thanks to the versatility of its musicians, the group can play different genres that range from the most traditional ones to the most modern Cuban and international music, and that is why they chose the following genres: Son, Boleros, Guaguancó, Changüí, Guaracha, Chachachá, and repentistas.

Aside from playing the music from the Prodigious Decade perfectly, the group also plays latin and Caribbean music such as Merengue, Cumbia, Regué, Bachata, Canción, and north Mexican music. Because of its wide repertoire, Callahacas has been since the beginning a very demanded group in every province of the East of the country. 

Santiago de Cuba, the jewels in the crown of septettes

Although Cuba is itself a crown in musical septettes, with important examples in different provinces of the country, one can’t argue that Santiago de Cuba is the biggest jewel of the crown.

The hot land doesn’t have this name only because of the weather, Santiago’s people way of life, the history of the city, and its great musicians, have given the city the warmth we all feel and remember once we walk through its streets.

From the sap of the most Caribbean land in Cuba, where poets walk down the streets, and turn regular corners into stages and give concerts to beautiful young girls in the balcony, they drank from the famous stars’ of the universe pentagram, just as the unforgettables: Miguel matamoros, Pepe Sánchez, Compay, Segundo, Ñico Saquito, Enrique Bonne, Pacho Alonso and Sindo Garay, among many others.

Maybe because of the richness of the sounds it allows, the flexibility and versatility it demands from its musicians, or simply because of how easy going groups are nowadays when it comes to live shows, the truth is the Son of a septet of Santiago is different from other musical septettes in the rest of the country, they take over different cultural spaces, make foreign people dance, and they bring back to life the most native and diverse cultural traditions of the nation. 

Septeto Santiaguero: The impressive young music

Despite the few years of the Septeto Santiaguero, with only nineteen years of being created, the group has amply demonstrated that it is one of the most important groups of traditional Cuban music, a genuine exponent of the east of Cuba’s culture.

Founded on February the second of 1995, the group is a direct consequence of the group “Melodías de Ayer”, an old group that since 1962 was deeply connected to traditional music of Santiago, and to the emblematic Casa de la Trova (House of Trova), place that is the main stage for the lovers of this musical genre.

Among the most recent accomplishments of the Septeto Santiaguero, is the nomination to the 2011 to the Latin Grammy award in the category of Best Tropical Traditional Album, with its batch “Oye mi son santiaguero”; the disco graphic production. Two years later, with their latest discographic production, “Vamos Pa’ la fiesta”, recorded with Picap Records, it competed again with other candidates for this prestigious award.

With a truly contagious rhythm, choruses full of an amazing craftiness, and an exquisite sound, the Septeto Santiaguero honours its name and synthesizes the best of the culture of its homeland, thanks to a captivating style, a powerful sound and an accurate rhythm. 

Septeto Turquino: African heritage in Cuban music

If today the septettes of traditional Cuban music fill up international stages and seduce with their rhythm, it is partly thanks to the sonority they accomplish by using African percussion instruments.

This innovation, now common, was introduced by Santos Rodríguez and its Afrocuban septette (Septeto Afrocubano). He, in 1937, brought a “macho” (male) drum into its musical group. However, those who made the use of the instrument popular, and almost indispensable in modern groups, were the Septeto Turquino.

One of the main artists of dancing popular music in the continent, Oscar D’ León, enjoyed until he got drunk of it, the performances of the Turquino group at the 1998 French festival of Vic Fesenzac. The impression made by the young artists was so good, that the star included in his repertoire two of their songs. This is how “Monta al pelo” and “El Pregonero” ended up making part of D’León’s CD, called “La Fórmula Original” (The Original Formula), nominated to the grammy in the Salsa category in the year 2000.

Founded in 1982, the Septeto Turquino has honored its name, the highest mountain of Cuba, and has taken its art through important stages of Europe and Latin America. 

Septeto Ecos del Tivolí: French music and legacy

The Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) encouraged French conquerors and their slaves to go to Cuba, mainly to the east part of the country, and they brought with them their manners, traditions, knowledge and culture.

A good part of this immigration settled in a zone of Santiago called “El Tivolí”, a community that shows in the big amounts of cultural syncretism, and the ethnic blends of Cuban’s nationality, fundamentally those coming from the French country.

That air of modernism and European development, along with the musical legacy of Miguel Matamoros, who founded the famous musical trio “Trio Matamoros”, inspired the creation of a single musical group: the Septeto “Ecos del Tivolí”.

Founded on March the twentieth of 1992, the group has a single sound that makes it shine among the Cuban artists, and it is based on the harmonious conjunction of the expressive touch of the accompanying guitar, that respects the typical sound of Sones and Boleros.

Its members also have other rhythms such as guarachas and its exquisit savour, habaneras, pregones, cha cha cha, and the distinct conga of Santiago, genre that sounds with a singular savour in the east of the island.

The septet Ecos del Tivolí, as a tribute to Miguel Matamoros, has in their repertoire some of the most important songs of the Cuban musician. Among them, the international hits “La mujer de Antonio”, “Lágrimas Negras” and “Mamá son de la loma”.

On tours, members of Ecos del Tivolí have performed with the group Mapeye from Puerto Rico, Niche of Colombia, and Canadian jazz musicians Jane Bunnett and Larry Kramer among many others.

This septet has been nominated to the award Cubadisco 2014. The most important international fair in the discographic industry of Cuban music, that every year focuses on one country and one music genre, and also offers a tribute to personalities and artists that have done an outstanding job in the field of Cuban music. 

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