Five disks are nominees to the Latin Grammy this year in the category of traditional tropical music. In all highlights the presence of musicians born on the island and they include, with a unique proposal, the Ignacio Piñeiro Septeto Nacional, a group with over 80 years of history that continues to hold the interest of the dancers.
In 2002 it had received a similar distinction for the album Poetas del Son. Now its Habana tiene su son, a CD / DVD which attempts to show the Cuban capital didn’t only cradle Son but endowed it with a different, special sound.
“Havana has its Son and it was born from the rumba and ñañiguismo, in the councils of the nation, Abakuá powers, the tenements and festivals, long before it was known, attributed or generically defined,” Ricardo Oropesa in the notes to the disc says.
Looking for more answers, just as he was enjoying the Grammy nomination and preparing the tour in November through several U.S. cities, we talked to El Matador (Francisco Oropesa), musical director of the group and bongo player and producer of the album.
“Habana tiene su son is an album of great importance to traditional Cuban music not only for the music it contains, but it is enriched with other audiovisual materials, including the last interview given by the Cuban musicologist Helio Orovio. There he explains his theory of Havana’ s Son.
So what are your arguments?
The title track to the album is mine and its text says Havana has it Son / that is not like anyone / rumba made with key / bríkamo and guaguancó. / Pineiro added the sauce and so immortalized it/ to the world to dance/ to the beat of lovely Son. / Do not bother compadre, / do not want comparison, / do not know if it came from the East, / but Havana has its Son.
Bríkamo is Abakuá, and it is know that Pineiro was rumba player and Abakuá, like most musicians of the septets founded in Havana and Matanzas. It is important to remember that this religion came to Cuba in 1836 by the Port of Regla, in the capital. It came from Nigeria, the old Karabalí and Cameroon.
The truth is that we made sure that our different music was documented by Helio Orovio from the musicological perspective. He said there in the East there was nengón, the changuí, the kiribá and perhaps in some areas they played Son, but it didn’t have that name. And he recognized that Pineiro made several contributions live adding the claves and other instruments used in Abakuá religious practice. These then were essential to the Son and could mention to so called erikundi that are maracas, the bonco which was then the bongos, the ekón that it was a campaign are similar to Son but is played differently. Pineiro then created a son and rumba influenced by the music that accompanied the liturgy of the religion he practiced.
We defend that Havana Son without trying to raise any contention with any colleague. In the end we are all Cubans and Son belongs to us all. There were the septets Occidental, Oriental and many more, but Pineiro was who created the rumba style that characterizes this format.
What differences are there between yours and the one by Adalberto Alvarez or another of the current popular soneros?
There is one difference, ours remains true to the root of Son but it is a genre that has continued to evolve and proof of this is what Adalberto makes. He has added contemporary features and is an orchestra that sounds great.
In the East they also boast of a different Son…
True, one of the differences is that the East Son is slower, more influenced by the trova than by rumba because the latter was from Havana and Matanzas. The East Son is lilting but are more troubadour and also it had no claves. There are very good groupings perfectly mastered this type of music and culture, even , from Havana , as the Septeto Habanero that has its roots in the Oriental Quintet . They have a different playing style to ours, despite having the same format and have been founded both in the capital: one has the oriental style and the other Havana rumba.
Do you think Pineiro would be satisfied with the music you do today? Do you think an innovator as he would be proud to be tethered to the original Son?
On this record we maintain the same beat but the arrangements are more contemporary and Pineiro would be proud of that. We have clearly never abandon the essence Son that the founding fathers gave us led by Piñeiro. That does not mean we don’t do other things more fashionable .
The Septeto Nacional, at the time of Pineiro, did not do cha cha and now we are considering that, since we are a Cuban band and the legacy and tradition that is, we can make a piece of that genre and sound different from what the America or the Aragon orchestra do.
You could call it a cha cha in rumba beat as we will in our style, without congas, but with bongos, clave, maracas…
What I never stop playing are Pineiro anthology songs, though we have a comprehensive and updated repertoire as we do. At every concert, wherever we are, we prioritize Pineiro works; otherwise we would cease to be the Septeto Nacional
Very few of those days septets from beginning of last century kept the seven-people format, the Habanero, for example, are 10, and I call it but they have not changed their name. There is also the Los Naranjos Septeto, who say they are a band, and others. But we remain faithful to the repertoire, style and format.
The Santiaguero itself has seven…
For better of us because we would like to have the competition Piñeiro and his contemporaries had. But Santiaguero is a relatively new group that makes great music. As soon as we learned of their Grammy nomination in the same category as us, we called and congratulated its director.
You have made four previous trips to the United States and offered 50 concerts there. What has been the reception?
It was very good. We have played in several cities, in spaces to dance and to listen, and we all have been pleased with the reception from the public, which in some places has been predominantly Cuban, but in others it has been fundamentally American and they also danced and enjoyed our music.
When we play Hoy como ayer in a place located in the famous Calle 8, in Miami, the public became almost family. It is important to say that in the four times we’ve been in that city, and despite the difference which exists between our countries, we’ve never seen a protest or malicious action against Cuba when we are there. That we have understood as a sign of respect and recognition that our group has.
It is true that in the 50’s there was a revival of the Septet from a call made by Odilo Urfé. After the triumph of the Revolution there was another, but the Septeto Nacional is a group of all times and that’s something people know all over the world.
We do not do politics, but we defend our country to the hilt, like traditional music. That no one can be in any doubt, we will continue doing traditional music throughout the world and those who do not like it, can add it some sauce.
Do you have a disk in preparation?
Yes, almost all the songs will be unpublished and is titled “The biggest and universal.”