Of Balladeers and Trova Musicians

Dariela Aquique

Parque de Céspedes, Santiago de Cuba.

The city of Santiago de Cuba is the mother of trova, son, pilon, conga and — though hotly contested by the Puerto Ricans — the bolero as well.  Music is one of my land’s indispensable features.

It’s customary to find it in parks, plazas and corners being enjoyed by the young and old alike – guitars in hand.   With a drum, silla or a cajon, rumba is created; and with claves, handclaps, a bottle, a can or a stick are given the most improvised and memorable of street concerts.

There hardly exists a “Santiaguero” who doesn’t know how to dance and doesn’t try to sing, and there’s not a window or balcony that hasn’t been the setting of a romantic serenade.

My compatriots like to show off their love for music.  This hot earth has produced a host of prominent musicians, so my pretentious fellow locals will brag saying, “I’m from the land of the Matamoros,” or “Pepe Sanchez was a Santiaguero…”

It is elementary that with so much musical euphoria, we’ve always had eminent performers, accompanists and composers.  But there have also been many aficionados that haven’t always done justice to the traditional rhythms and musical styles cultivated in our town.

For several years, with the development of tourism in the city, our musical patrimony has been heavily exploited.  This has been done by professionals and amateurs, by corporations and centers created or designed for that aim or on their own initiative by people in search of hard currency.

This is why we often find groups of travelers besieged by trova musicians who are fakes or by the less genuine exponents of this sound.

Playing a few notes in rapid succession and crooning a classic theme from the traditional popular songbook is enough for anyone disguised as a balladeer or trova musician trying to cash in on our musical legacy.

Since these spontaneous acts are almost uncontrollable, the entities put in place for that reason have looked for alternatives that — while not always pleasing — are for them effective.

What happens is that those bands of pseudo-artists are made legal or allowed, which implies a percentage of their earnings going for the associations that audition and authorize musicians to “liven up the streets, parks and elsewhere.”

But these are not always the most faithful exponents of that wealth that we promote, and in my opinion this weighs down the real quality of Santiago’s highly praised music.