The Master, our José Martí, in one of the letters to María Mantilla, gave a very unique route to channel the sensibility of his beloved child. The phrase, like many of the Apostle, contains a cluster of truths and guides, as well as whole seas of validity. Martí said that “on my return I will know if you have loved me, for the useful and fine music you have learned by then: music that I express and feel, not hollow and loud: music in which you see a people, or a whole man, and new and superior man. For ordinary people, their little common music, because it is a sin in this world to have a slightly higher head than that of others, and you have to speak everyone’s language, even if it is ruinous, so that they do not make superiority pay too expensive. –But for one, within him, in the freedom of his house, the pure and the high.”1
I remembered the quote this scribe about the subject of these lines, for let us speak of music; rather, the inevitable impact that music brings to a restless and boisterous society like ours; the same society that has been, and still is and hopefully remains, a sound power on this continent, although some of today’s symptoms make it perhaps require a good jolt: a return to “fine music,” to “the pure and the high.”
These notes should not, of course, be confused with any so-called extremist or with chimeous finesse of false aristocratic purism. For those who sign these lines, our fine music has a very large and lasting parangón and countless paths and nuances, suffice to quote our classics, such as Ignacio Cervantes, Manuel Saumell, Amadeo Roldán or Leo Brouwer, to go from yesterday to the contemporary. Follow other classics, more popular, such as Don Miguel Matamoros, Miguelito Cuní, ‘ko Saquito or the giants Celia Cruz and Benny Moré. Then, go through the best among the abundant names of the bolero, the filin, the trova. Then land, with equal elegance and good taste, on the whispers in love with Snowball, the ropes of the Camerata Romeu or the fast-paced metals of Irakere, just by putting summit examples in diverse genres.
We navigate all this prelude to refer to the result that could have, for our social sphere, a space like the newly completed contest The Giant Band. As you know, such an appellative was that of that fabulous orchestra that accompanied Benny Moré. Already in itself, rescuing, even inlayo, the name “the tribe” (such as calling his musicians the Barbarian of rhythm) is a first hit that denotes intentions and awakens readings.
More important than unraveling achievements and interior flaws of the program, which like any television space has of both, this scribe prefers to jump into other paths. Ten weeks where in a stellar segment of television there was mostly good music, remembrances of important creators of yesterday, fresh tributes to today’s already consecrated and, very importantly, a breath of relief towards the possible future, bring with them a positive balance. Perhaps never as now did the national audience need, with the illuminated and modern clothes of today’s media language, to show the jewels, not old but classic, that we have in our sound treasure.
A first note is essential. An island of only eleven million inhabitants affords to show very young musicians, of very high technical training, and even with the possibility of choosing between several very good for each instrument. While singing or dancing (which were the rubres of the seasons of two of the previous shows) requires some technique, natural talent can be imposed, but to play a musical instrument, and play it well, only the exception of some genius does not need systematic study and fierce discipline. There is a first fruit, visible without teques or pedant reaffirmations. A poor and underdeveloped country, beyond its traditions and genes, can achieve such a thing when musical teaching is free from childhood levels to the highest university qualification. Imagine what quality we would achieve if there were the best instruments, well-paid teachers, studies and schools with all the irons, without shortages.
Here we would have to go through a second note. That poor, underdeveloped country cannot often provide the best conditions for these talents once formed. Many musicians – good musicians, not opportunists putting together crushing choruses and rude people with computer programs – do not find the right livelihood on the Island. So when they emigrate, all that years’ effort is lost. It does not revert to our culture, to make our society better, right from better sounds, from solid creations, or in our income. I have a friend who ironically repeats that the Beatles were not given the Order of the British Empire for sympathetic or talented, but for the money they contributed to english coffers. Beyond the joke, if Cuba could export the sound fruits of that talent it cultivates, while ensuring a decorous livelihood to that talent, much would be achieved, in many ways, including economic ones.
But let’s go back to intramural social grounds. For ten weeks, the public has seen samples of the best Cuban composers and great musicians to defend them, among contestants and guests. The participants also make public presentations (it appears, very well received by the people) and receive master classes from not a few of our most prominent creators and even some foreign guests with serious pedigree. What results does all this leave? Well, several, and mostly positive.
Perhaps the most important achievement is that The Giant Band stands as an alternative, as a sign that there are other sound options, without going to look for the borders beyond and without succumbing to the easy, presumptuous and clumsy bodrio that besies us everywhere today. More important than the contest itself, is the possibility that the audience, especially the youngest audience, will discover (it is sad the verb, more in a country with so much musical history, but let us apply it with optimism) that there is the son, the guaracha, the bolero, the rumba and a thousand other genres, many of them created here. There is a world of music superior to the nonsense, rudeness and repeated electronic insignificance that surrounds us. In addition to the essential entertainment, that a space incorporates learnings and sows curiosity and greed for more, it is a gained step.
Another value, of profound social impact too, is to offer alternatives over the image of the winner, of what constitutes in truth a vital achievement and not a Manichean and media sledding. Each of those boys and girls, winners or not, can be a good mirror for young audiences, an image to follow. You don’t succeed here for money, guapería, rude walking, ostentation or violence. Sacrifice, effort, dedication are rewarded. Even in the case of those who do not win, it became clear that many have proven talents and a secure future based on their abilities. In addition, they were young boys and girls, full of freshness, without fake packaging, hairstyles and dresses like any other, who speak people’s normal language and do not recite preconceived formulas.
By the way, by the way, also note as a gain that there are flutist girls, violinists, or less “feminine” instruments such as trombone, tombs or pailas; In addition, girls of equal or higher quality than their male counterparts and who are measured from you to you with them; another valid message, in sight, without it being necessary to accompany it with rhetorical slime and statistical triumphism.
Of course, although these lines perhaps ooze too much optimism (inevitable in the melomanian that signs them), a single swallow did not make summer. The program is good, it is an oasis that soothes thirst, but it is not the channel, or the tide that bars at last with so much idiocy around, that it requires today our music. It would take systematic, extensive, serious work for Cuban music, the real one, to come out of the expensive shelves of record stores and facilities, the serious ones, with cover in strong currency. It would have to be achieved at once that radio and television had more presence of artists (of true artists, not upstarts), beyond the spaces (some very good, worth saying) of the still non-collective and face digital “cajita”. There would be much to do and change so that Cuban musicians, like so many other professionals, do not need to leave in search of other horizons.
However, this season emerges as a possible light at the end of the tunnel. Although the ruinous soundscape that surrounds us today, according to not a few voices as a mere consequence and soundtrack to the panorama in which we live, has become long and increasingly fierce, more loud and more hollow, let us hope that there is not the future. Despite successes and awards – children of today’s appalling market that manipulates creations and audiences and makes artistic work a simple recyclable commodity – the sound colossus that is our Cuban music will not be remembered in the morning by such passenger spawns disguised as achievements.
An old Chinese proverb says that even the longest journey begins with the first step. We want an optimistic future. The sample button of this oasis, this grain of sand turned into the minimum pearl of a Giant Band, could initiate an already essential turn. Let us dream that perhaps the journey begins here to bring our sound creeds back to that “music that expresses and feels”, so that art may overflow, grow, and the pure and the high reach far beyond all interiors and houses, so that our music truly sounds, with chords and freedoms “in which a people is seen”. Ω
1 José Martí: “Letters to María Mantilla”, in Complete Works, vol. 20, Center for Martyrdom Studies, Digital Edition, 2011, p. 213.