Musicians from the Hills

Osmel Almaguer

Compay Segundo - photo:

When I recently heard the lyrics of Son de la loma (They’re from the Hills), that classic of Cuban son, I begin to think about migration – about how people leave their native homes in search of better opportunities.  

The flow of Cuban migration has been not only toward foreign lands, but also toward the capital from all the points of the island.  In the case of Son de la loma, its singers were born in “the hills,” which is to say those from the mountainous eastern part of the island.  However, they sing in “el llano” (the plain), which is a way of saying in towns or cities, particularly the capital city of Havana.

It’s said the best Cuban music comes from the country’s eastern part, which I believe is true since the great majority of Cuban musicians recognized here and abroad were born in that region.

I know there are many musicians still in those hills creating great music and just waiting to be discovered.  Most of them won’t achieve fame, which I believe is a little unfair – as much for them as for the public.  Music should also be more widely promoted outside of the big urban centers.

Migration is something natural, even animals do it.  In all regions of the world this occurs.  My father was born in Holguin Province; therefore he too is an easterner, though he’s not a singer. However his native town of Mayari was immortalized in the song Chan Chan by Buena Vista Social Club leader Compay Segundo, who was also born in that area.

Life in big cities is different from that of rural areas.  The campesinos live much closer to nature; perhaps that explains the musical tradition in those areas, which contrasts to the much more reflexive literary style in the west of the country.

My grandfather is also from Mayarí.  He’s one of those who from time to time comes up with a rapid “decima” rhyming scheme, a tradition that many campesinos forget once they settle in Havana.

I like it when people are faithful to their culture and act naturally, like the singers who are from the hills and sing in the flats.

2 thoughts on “Musicians from the Hills

  • Migration is normal
    what is abnormal is the regime plainly prohibiting it!
    There is way to de incentive migration for example by creating better opportunities on the places where people migrate from!
    Why have the regime not persue this approach?

    Because is easier to act as a bully than solving real problems.
    As I mentioned before the wrong solution to the problem is to limit people from migrating.
    Right solution is to allow them to migrate if the wish to do so but create incentive for them to stay where they live.

    There is this tendency to concentrate the majority of the resources in Havana and very little gets filter down to the provinces! I guess they figure that if they loose Havana they loose Cuba. But they already loss Cuba!

  • The same sort of migrations happen up here in the U.S.; for example the Delta Blues migrating first to closer urban centers, like New Orleans and Memphis, then St. Louis and Kansas City, and finally to Chicago and New York (and gradually being changed along the way). I would have to say the same holds true for storytelling, too. I still remember the vivid stories I heard as a child, during family gatherings at my grandfather’s farm, or around the wood-stove at Bradford’s General Store, in Grove, Maryland, circa 1952, and these have left more vivid impressions upon me than any stories I have subsequently read in books or magazines.

Comments are closed.