I Better Stop Listening to La Lupe

Maria Matienzo Puerto

LA LUPE. photo: pbs.org

HAVANA TIMES, April 27 – Now I’ve taken to listening to La Lupe. When I’m cooking I listen to her bolerones with their touch of reproach or a woman who knows what she wants. I came across her some time back. It’s an obsession of mine, down memory lane, revisiting Cuban music from the first half of the twentieth century.

La Lupe was a singer during the mid to late 50’s. She had a style that falls between the classic bolero and the “with feeling” school. And she’s famous for the outrageous performances she gave, ripping off clothes, tossing her shoes to the audience, throwing herself against the wall. Crazy, sure, but with a voice of her own.

But whether or not I listen to La Lupe is not the point, it’s what she emits, what she transfers. I listen to her singing and try to envisage the 50’s, they way they told us at school to us, or the way some people around here parrot on about all the time. And there’s something contradictory about it, I find. .

How could a woman like La Lupe have been so famous in a period like that which was so racist and intolerant? Because she was a mulatto and didn’t have much of an education. And she tells you herself in the English, in her performances, so grotesque at times and showing she had no schooling.

No doubt there are a few people around with some piece of gossip or other I’ve never heard before but the reality is she was making headway in a society that was not always simply black and white.

The same goes for other people who progressed purely on the basis of their talent and hard work, and I’m not just referring to artists but to master masons, carpenters, teachers (always the most reviled in any society).

I also wonder about the clubs and societies for blacks and mulattos, quite common at the time, and not just, like now, for people of Spanish descent, and other whites.

I wonder how a negro like Bola de Nieve made it to the top, how Benny, Rita Montaner, Perez Prado and a list of names longer than lots of people would believe possible, made a living from their artistic work, or how they managed to study.

How the homosexuality of Ernesto Lecuona was tolerated or accepted (you would have to have experienced it to get the nuances).

Just see how we’ve been lied to. I can’t see it any other way. They’ve reduced 50 years (1902-1958) to a few phrases for us. They forgot to tell us a civil society was developing.

People went hungry? Sure. But some old people (quite a few) say it wasn’t any more than now.

Sure I think change was needed because it’s no lie that people were found lying dead on the street and the differences between the cities and the country were catastrophic. However, was it necessary to take things to the misery and poverty we’re living in now? And I’m talking about material as well as spiritual poverty.

In short, the differences persist and you can feel them. To this you can add the horrors, the ugliness and the filth that surround us. Because sometimes you have to take a huge step back to see the beauty in this city (I’m only talking of Havana now). Or just see it from the heart.

Using Cuba’s music to tell its history is maybe not such as bad idea but I think I’ll have to stop listening to La Lupe because it makes me question too many things. Including some that are out of place in a blog like this.


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