[JPL] The golden age of Cuban music is fading, with its stars dying or aging

Arturo arturo893 at qwest.net
Tue Oct 9 11:22:02 EDT 2007

>From the Monday October 8th edition of the Miami Herald by known jazz writer
Enrique Fernández

efernandez at MiamiHerald.com

When Celia Cruz passed away in 2003, thousands turned out to mourn her in
Miami and New York. Last month another great, trombonist Generoso Jiménez,
died only a few days before he was to perform in a concert marking the 80th
career anniversary of bassist and composer Israel López Cachao. Four days
after his friend's funeral, Cachao took the stage leaning on a cane.

>From the late 19th century and well into the middle of the 20th, Cuban
popular genres, most of them dance music, swept the world: habanera, danzón,
son, conga, rumba, mambo, cha-cha-chá. And there's salsa, which is mostly
old Cuban genres reworked for modern tastes. Only American music has had a
broader and deeper reach globally.

''Even Cuban musicians can't tell you what the secret of the island's music
is,'' says Olga María Touzet, a Miami resident who is heir to Cuban music
royalty. Her father, René Touzet, who died in Miami in 2003, was one of
Cuba's most important composers, and some of his best works were made hits
by Olga María's mother, 84-year-old Olga Guillot, arguably Cuba's greatest
living singer, who resides in Mexico.

''One of Cuba's appeals has been a cultural wealth disproportionate to its
size. Salient, though not exclusive, to that wealth is music,'' says Nat
Chediak, author of Diccionario del Jazz Latino.

Given their advanced years, it's not surprising that five of the original
participants in the 1997 Buena Vista Social Club CD have passed away. The
deaths of even more important musicians, like Chico O'Farrill, Mongo
Santamaría and, of course, Celia Cruz, underscore the twilight nature of the

Many luminaries of Cuban music, who put their island's sounds on the
international map long before Ry Cooder's CD renewed interest in Cuban
traditional music, are still around. And some are still performing.


These aging artists -- like Cachao -- seem to channel all their remaining
energy into their music. But an elegiac tone invades their concerts, as
Cuban music aficionados, particularly in Miami where for many it's a
national legacy, sense just how frail these living legends are: Pianist Bebo
Valdés and percussionist Cándido Camero, like Cachao, move slowly and are
hunched by their advanced years.


The aging of the Golden Era musicians hasn't quieted the vibrancy of Cuban
music. Outside the room where Generoso Jiménez lay in state at his wake last
month, a crowd of Cuban music veterans stood around talking shop and
reminiscing. There was saxophonist Tata Palau; singer/bandleader Roberto
Torres; record label exec Juan Estevez, who was executive producer of
Generoso's solo album. Music folk in their 60s and early 70s, vigorous and
active, heirs to Generoso. And to Cachao, who entered the funeral supported
by young family members. One felt the passing of generations in the air.

''Theirs is the music that endures, just like the music of Tchaikovsky and
Beethoven,'' said 44-year-old singer and bandleader Issac Delgado, who left
Cuba last year and now lives in Miami. ``[Generoso, Cachao and their
generation] have become classics, too.''

''There are creators and there are followers,'' said Bebo Valdés. ``This is
not something everyone can understand. To create as Cachao did, that is very

Delgado, who represents the generation that, in Cuba, created the
progressive salsa-like timba sound, recognizes that ''the lyricism and
romanticism of Cuban music was getting lost due to the heavy use of
technology'' among his peers. ``But in the past six or seven years, there
has been a return to acoustic music, to the trova, the guaracha, the son,
the bolero.''

According to Delgado, the success of Mexican popster Luis Miguel's CD
trilogy of Cuban and Mexican boleros made Cuban artists of Delgado's age
realize there was an international appetite for traditional music.

``[The timba generation] were writing music exclusively for musicians, not
for the public. But as we came in contact with other nationalities, we
realized that if other people like authentic Cuban music, why should we
distort it?

''These people who are leaving us,'' says Delgado, ``they are teaching us
how to follow in their footsteps.''

More information about the jazzproglist mailing list