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Woman-named Cuban Salsa

Woman-named Cuban Salsa

Posted by PanamericanWorld on September 30, 2016

The fusion of nearly a dozen instruments, with harmony achieved by percussion, including drums, kettledrums, bongos, guiros, cowbells and maracas; piano, accompanied by double bass, guitar and violins; and wind through the metal of trumpets, saxophones, trombones and flutes, all of them boost dance and catchy phrases, thus bringing salsa rhythm to life, which is one of the most popular genres of Cuban dance music.

Although some people say that the name comes from Echale salsita, one of the famous songs of Havana-born Ignacio Piñero, founder of Septeto Nacional, other people see the origins in New York-based Latin-North American generations, and experts on the matter can’t find the exact origin of this style. The truth is that it’s been mostly championed by men. Both in Cuba and the countries that promote this rhythm, salsa is usually song by male voices, thus leaving a small space for women that dare to play this music.

We find outstanding names at international level, such as Puerto Ricans Olga Tañon and La India, and unforgettable Cuban Celia Cruz, who already passed away. All of them have worked with this Cuban-rooted rhythm, which was born in the 1960s and gathers characteristics from son, timba, guaracha, chachacha, rumba and guaguanco.

Only three women –they aren’t the only ones in the global artistic, but they do play the leading role – in the sea of musicians that perform one of the most popular genres of the world, make the difference between both genders and the men-leading trend.

In Cuba, where sexist traditions are deeply rooted, such disparity can be seen in the salsa guild. However, female singers have conquered their space in popular preference, whether as soloists, as members of men’s bands or in totally women’s bands. That’s the case of Anacaonas, headed by Georgia Aguirre, which took the name from a Taino warrior in La Española, and Azúcar Negra, Canela, Caribe Girls and Las Chicas del Sol.

Following the example of such great Cuban artists as Celeste Mendoza, Moraima Secada, Mercedita Valdes and immortal Omara Portuondo, those who have dared to step into the salsa world over the past years have had a basically-empirical education in terms of this genre, since music academies teach a wider spectrum and don’t devote too much time to popular dance rhythms. Perhaps this education where practice goes beyond theoretical education is related to the superficiality tendency in some songs and bands.

In an exclusive interview given to PanamericanWorld by singer Vania Borges, former vocalist of Bamboleo, she points out that you have to be born with the art of making popular dance music. “It flows in the blood and within the family that brings you up, in the music you listen to not only at the street, but also at home. It’s related to the interests, desire and needs of those who play this music”, she says.

But that eagerness of women looking forward to playing salsa in Cuba is not enough to succeed. As it was mentioned before, it’s a nation characterized by deeply-rooted sexist ideas, so women have had to face this challenge.

“Cubans are sexist in every aspect of their life, even in music. We’ve had to assert ourselves and we follow the example of precursors like Elena Burque and Moraima Secada, who defended son, danzon, guaguanco, guaracha, which were usually played by men, until they took these genres to the top of the world”, Vania says. She’s also famous for her performance in other genres, ballad and bolero, so she has been follow by the public for nearly two decades.

Likewise, young Arlenys Rodriguez, former member of NG [New Generation] La Banda, and presently director of her own band tells PanamericanWorld that it’s easier for enthusiasts to attend performances by men salsa bands.

“They identify us with ballads. We must have good chorus, street witty remarks and tackle present matters in order to attract people. You find hundreds of girls in concerts given by men bands, because they are bolder and play with sensuality. There are other obstacles for women, since some of us are married or we could be wrongly described if we do certain things”, that’s the opinion of the voice that popularized a ballad entitled No se que voy a hacer sin ti (I don’t Know What to Do without You), a single that made her famous among the national public, but she also sings several salsa songs.

Both Arlenys and Vania are some of the most prestigious singers within the island nation these days, and they are joined by Haila Maria Mompie and Tania Pantoja, two former vocalists of Bamboleo; Monica Mesa, also trained by NG La Banda school, directed by Jose Luis Cortes; Jenny Valdes, a member of Los Van Van, and soloist Osdalgia Lesmes. There are other singers, like Luna Manzanares and Laritza Bacallao, who stand out in different genres and have successfully championed salsa on the island.

Despite women have gained momentum in a context that is internationally mastered by men, many of them have used such resources as vulgarity and superficiality in their songs, thus triggering rejection among their followers.

“The first thing you have to do is simple: never stop being a woman”, Vania suggests as possible antidote against vulgarity, “especially in such strong genres. The female soul and sensibility must never be lost. Try to think like men in terms of improvisation strength to convince the public, but never fall into tackiness”.

Women always have to face challenges, in any area. The Cuban women that decide to step into the salsa realm will have to deal with a sexist environment, on the island ad overseas. Leaving obstacles behind is up to them, with their talent and tenacity. They hold the power to stand for the genre that has represented the very best of Cuban culture over the past half of the century. 

By Anays Almenares Avila / PanamericanWorld - Havana

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