Was Cuban Son "born" in Havana?

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Was Cuban Son "born" in Havana?

Postby Siete Leguas » Wed Feb 17, 2021 4:58 pm

I was listening the other day to a conversation on a TV show from 2019 between Cuban "Nueva Trova" musician Pinelli and Ricardo Roberto Oropesa. Ricardo Roberto is the brother of the director and bongosero of "Septeto Nacional de Ignacio Piñeiro", Frank "El Matador" Oropesa. He gets introduced at the beginning of the show as "THE historiographer of Septeto Nacional".

In the show, whose main topic is the secret society Abakuá, Oropesa goes on to claim that Cuban Son "as a genre" was born in Havana at the time of the Sextetos/Septetos. Before that, he says, Son "as a rhythm" already existed all around Cuba and the Caribbean. He gives the example of Tango, to which Pinelli adds Habanera, among the styles which would share this Son "rhythm" (whatever that is supposed to mean - they all sound rhythmically different to me). Oropesa apparently discusses this "new" thesis in his book "La Habana tiene su son", which I haven't read.

I was surprised (and somehow a bit offended) by these statements, since I thought it was universally accepted that Son "came" from the Oriente of Cuba, and that idea always seemed reasonable to me. In the words of legendary tresero Pancho Amat, "there wouldn't have been Tres without Son, nor Son without Tres", and, as far as I know, there is evidence of Tres being played in Oriente before it was played in Havana. Furthermore, what about music like Nengón, Kiribá, or even Changüí, which are considered forms of "Proto-Son" and can be definitely traced back to the Oriente?

I am aware of the important role that Abakuá, and in particular figures like Ignacio Piñeiro, surely played in the development of Son, Rumba and Cuban culture in general. I am also aware of the qualitative leap forward that Son experienced during the era of Sextetos/Septetos (e.g. introduction of clave, a more or less fixed orchestration, its widespread popularization, etc.). Nevertheless, even though I am no expert on this matter and it's arguably none of my business, I can't help but think it's unfair to claim that Son was born in Havana.

I can't tell what Oropesa's motivations really are, especially not having read his book, but I am afraid that behind those claims there might be a hidden attempt to discredit the people from Oriente (especially its countryside) and deprive them of the significance they surely also had in an essential part of Cuban culture - I guess that's what you might call "cultural appropriation" these days. I must say that I may be biased on this judgement because of the openly xenophobic and racist attitudes that I have observed among many Habaneros and Western Cubans towards Orientales ("palestinos", etc.) - and maybe Oropesa's thesis are in good faith just scientifically motivated.

In any case, I guess it's all just a matter of where we draw the line (on a subject where lines are blurry anyway), but personally I feel more comfortable with an assertion by the late great rumbero and abakuá Gregorio Hernández "El Goyo", who once said that artists like Ignacio Piñeiro embelished Son by "dressing it in a ball gown" ("lo vistió de gala") - rather than being responsible for its "birth".

If some of you guys have read Oropesa's book and/or want to share your thoughts on this subject, feel free to do so.

Salud!

-------------------
References:
Link to the full TV show (in Spanish). They discuss the origins of Son from around 42:00 on: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OiawPlNgAPs
Link to Pancho Amat's quote (at 1:00): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yr5TbN3lADM
Link to El Goyo's quote (at 4:30): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ESijcF0eHms
Last edited by Siete Leguas on Wed Feb 17, 2021 9:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Was Cuban Son "born" in Havana?

Postby Chtimulato » Wed Feb 17, 2021 8:40 pm

Hello.

In my humble knowledge, son originates from Oriente. But I never laid a foot in Cuba, so that's only what I know, have read or heard. I can't tell more about it.
There's an excellent book (there are several, of course, but I know this one) from Alejo Carpentier, La música en Cuba. It was written in 1946, so it should have to be updated, of course, but it's nevertheless interesting.

But
Son "as a rhythm" already existed all around Cuba and the Caribbean


the rhythmical figures of the son and it's 'ancestor' the danzón can be found all around the Caribbean and South America, indeed.

I mean the tresillo : | X--X --X- | in 2/4, or | X- -X -- X-| in 4/4 and the cinquillo : | X-XX -XX- | in 2/4 or |X- XX -X X-| in 4/4.

The tresillo is the "3" part of the clave (son and rumba), and the cinquillo can be heard in the timbales part on the danzón and in the clave part of the trova, or canción de trova.

You can hear the tresillo in 2/4 in the guaracha, mozambique, conga, calypso, soca, mento, samba, and others. The 4/4 tresillo is to hear in danzón, tango and milonga for instance. The 4/4 cinquillo too. Also in makuta, tumba francesa, ...
And you can here the 2/4 cinquillo in the biguine.

This being said, and though it's a little bit off-topic, Frank Oropesa really deserves the nickname "El Matador". He's a killer on bongó.
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Re: Was Cuban Son "born" in Havana?

Postby Siete Leguas » Wed Feb 17, 2021 9:34 pm

Hi Chtimulato, yes, maybe they were referring to the "tresillo" or "cinquillo" rhythms. But one can also find the tresillo in some Irish, Arabic or Turkish folkloric music, for example, and I don't think anybody would call that music Son, nor makes Cuban Son any less oriental (if that was the case)... I don't know, maybe I'm missing something.
Chtimulato wrote:This being said, and though it's a little bit off-topic, Frank Oropesa really deserves the nickname "El Matador". He's a killer on bongó.

Agree!!
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Re: Was Cuban Son "born" in Havana?

Postby Chtimulato » Wed Feb 17, 2021 11:13 pm

But one can also find the tresillo in some Irish, Arabic or Turkish folkloric music


In Africa and India too...

I don't know, maybe I'm missing something


So am I. Maybe it's, as you suggested, a new theory... !)
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