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Danzón for all time

Published: 2017.09.15 - 13:45:09   /  /  Laura Barrera Jerez  /  translated by  Luis E. Amador Dominguez  /

The neighborhood known as Las Alturas de Simpson was described by the playwright Federico Villoch as the Monte Sacro of Matanzas. Fela, the muse of the poet Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés, Plácido, had also lived in that place. Then it became a space for parties and dances and soon other inspirations would leave in the history, once and for all, the stamp of those places.

The protagonist of this feat was Miguel Faílde, a Matanzas musician who played the contrabass, the viola and even the cornet, because of which, they say, he had thick cheeks and the lower lip fallen from blowing. In addition, he played the piano and had dedicated some period of his life to give classes and also composed several musical numbers.

Precisely Las alturas de Simpson was the name of the first Cuban danzón, one of the pieces of his authorship. They say its premiere was held at the Matanzas Club, which is now the Sala Hall, although several researchers agree that the subject had been performed and rehearsed for a year in a building known as La Quinta Luna.

On that birth, Faidle himself explained: "A dance of paintings that had the same name as danzón was danced at that time in Matanzas. This dance was made up of twenty partners with bows and bouquets.

It was really a dance of figures and its movements were adjusted to the beat of the Habanera, which is the true time to be given to the danzón. The person who directed this dance of figures invited me to write ad hoc music, because until then the partners performed the figures singing loudly. And when I wrote that music I came up with the idea of the dance that is called danzón today."

This way he became familiar with the rhythm through the presentations of the group that he directed: The Miguel Faílde Orchestra, also known as La Yucayo Gentil or La Irresistible, which spent five decades playing only music composed by Miguel, of course those pieces were not only inscribed in a single genre.

According to the book entitled ‘Miguel Faílde, musical creator of the danzón’ written by Osvaldo Castillo Faílde, who is the nephew of the composer, his uncle wrote at least 144 danzones: Las alturas de Simpson, La diosa japonesa, Cuba libre, Yo me voy para el otro mundo, Los mascavidrios, El mondonguito, Antón Pirulero, La serenata de Schubert, Figurín, se acabó el merengue, Jota aragonesa, amongst others.

The maestro Jorge Anckermann made an adaptation of this anthological piece, according to the original writings by Faílde. Since then, musicians of the stature of Antonio María Romeu, Cheo Belén Puig, Orestes López, Antonio Arcaño, Rodrigo Prats, Abelardito Valdés, Joseíto Valdés and Armando Valdés Torres defended that legacy.

At the closing of the 20th Festival Cubadanzón 2013, this genre was named Intangible Heritage of the nation, although for years it has been considered to be our national dance, as the researcher and writer Alejo Carpentier said, ¨the danzón was present, as a musical fact, in every event that happened in the Cuban archipelago.

Currently the challenges remain alive, while the great-great-grandfather of Miguel Faílde directs the Miguel Faílde Orchestra, with which he revitalizes this rhythm in defense of new timbres, concepts, contemporary sonorities ... "The danzón is going through a contemporisation in the 20th century, with José Urfé, who incorporates the son to the montuno of the danzón and creates ‘El bombín de Barreto’, which is the first fusion in the danzón, it is a moment of evolution. Now we have merged it with timba and it has become what we call the danzón of the 21st century."

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