Tag Archives: musica cubana

José Cobles down by law

The story of guitarist José “Puerto Plata” Cobles is an interesting one, though it intersects with one of the darkest periods of Caribbean history. Cobles was born in the the town of Puerto Plata (hence his nickname) in the Dominican Republic in the 1920s and bought his first guitar at the age of 24. He quickly gained fame playing Afro-Iberian guitar music in the dance halls and underground venues of Santiago, but Cobles unfortunately was in the prime of his career during the dictatorial reign of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina…”El Jefe” (the boss).

Trujillo was popularly known as "Chapitas" (bottlecaps) because of his love for medals.

Cobles’ music came from the Afro-infused guitar traditions of bolero and son, which were forms primarily played in the music circles of Cuba. Trujillo was not a fan of such styles; he preferred the accordion-heavy merengue típico. And what Trujillo liked, everyone needed to like. “El Jefe” ensnared his people in a cult of personality built around his image and his tastes. The city of Santo Domingo, for instance, was renamed “Ciudad Trujillo.” Statues of him were placed all over the country. Bridges, public buildings, and even a mountain were renamed in his honor. Churches were made to post slogans such as “Dios en cielo, Trujillo en tierra” (God in Heaven, Trujillo on Earth). And he established a brutal racial hierarchy.

Trujillo’s musical tastes meant that Cobles was not allowed to record his music, and the musical styles he loved were generally repressed in the country. By the time Trujillo was assassinated in 1961, the music scene had been changed. Cobles had long left the clubs and had found work as a carpenter for United Fruit Company. Much later, he made his way to the United States in the 1990s. Though he had abandoned the life of a professional musician, he had never stopped playing his guitar.

A few years ago record producer Benjamin de Menil was tipped off to Cobles’ talent. Now in his mid-80s, Cobles was signed to his first record deal, and in 2007 his first album was released. International recognition followed, and now Cobles’ second album, Casita de Campo, just came out last year. The little bit of it I’ve heard sounds fantastic.

La negra Tomasa

Sometimes you feel really stupid.

So I’ve been listening to Caifanes’ song “La negra Tomasa” for quite a while now. Caifanes, if you don’t know, is kind of like the Mexican version of the Cure: a moody and dark group reacting against 80s pop radio. “La negra Tomasa” is a simple and catchy tune by them with great emotional instrumentation. I never thought of it as anything other than a product of that band.

So I was shocked the other day when I accidentally came across a much different version of the song by Compay Segundo. Segundo is, of course, one of the Cuban greats featured in the Buena Vista Social Club film and CDs. I thought, “That’s crazy…Segundo covered a Mexican rock band?”

Well, I’m the crazy one. “La negra Tomasa” is a song that was around well before Caifanes covered it in the 1980s. It was originally written by the Cuban musician and composer Guillermo Rodríguez Fiffe, which goes a long way to explaining how Segundo came to record it. Sheesh!

Fiffe is the one to the far left (because he's Cuban--ja!).

Estoy tan enamorado de la negra Tomasa
que cuando se va de casa triste me pongo.
Estoy tan enamorado de la negra Tomasa
que cuando se va de casa triste me pongo.

¡Ay, Ay, Ay!
Esa negra linda, que me tiene loco, que me come poquito a poco.
Esa negra linda, que me tiene loco, que me come poquito a poco.

Eliades Ochoa : El Carretero

I can’t get enough of the tres player Eliades Ochoa, the Johnny Cash of Cuba. Like most folks outside of Cuba, I was introduced to his music through the film Buena Vista Social Club. One of my favorite tracks from that film and the  accompanying CD is “El Carretero.” The following is audio only.

letra/lyrics

Por el camino del sitio mío/Along the track by my house

Un carretero alegre pasó/A cart-driver passed

Con sus canciones que es muy sentida/With his sentimental songs

Y muy guajira alegre cantó/The Guajiro sang:

——

Me voy al transbordador/I’m going to the crossing

A descargar la carreta/To unburden my load

Me voy al transbordador/I’m going to the crossing

A descargar la carreta/To unburden my load

Para cumplir con la meta/There I’ll reach the end

De mi penosa labor./Of my crushing labor.

——

A caballo vamo’ pa’l monte/Ride on up the mountain.

——

Yo trabajo sin reposo/I work without rest

Para poderme casar/So I can marry

Yo trabajo sin reposo/I work without rest

Para poderme casar/So I can marry

Y si lo llego a lograr/And if I can achieve that

Seré un guajiro dichoso./I’ll be a happy man.

——

Yo soy guajiro y carretero/I am a Guajiro and a cart driver

Y en el campo vivo bien/I live well off the land

Porque el campo es el edén/Because the countryside is paradise

Más lindo del mundo entero/The most beautiful place on earth

Chapea el monte, cultiva el llano/Work the mountain, cultivate the plain

Recoge el fruto de tu sudor./Reap the fruits of your labor.

Eliades Ochoa : Yiri Yiri Bon (en vivo 2007)

Ochoa performing Benny Moré’s classic composition at Klinkers in Bruges. Muchas gracias a cienfuegos80 for posting it.

lyrics/letras:

CORO: Yiri yiri bon

Yimboró, yimboró, yimboró

me gusta muchachos la rumba

me gusta muchachos la congo

bailar al compás del tambor

tocados por manos

de negros cubanos

que hayan jurado tocar su tambor

CORO

En Cuba se corta la caña

en Cuba se toma el café

en Cuba se baila bembé

se fuma tabaco

se toma guarapo

detrás de la comparsa

se va echando un pie