In the minutes that I have left before it vanishes on February 28, I keep the promise to remember Elena Burke, through the album she may prefer. It is difficult to say that, because Señora Sentimiento (that artistic name that she, as several of her time, won in her own right and not as a gesture of vanity) recorded a lot, leaving in diverse plates the samples of her genius, and demanding us that in the end a true tribute will be rendered with a broad retrospective of his career. That second Lp that he recorded, for the Gema label, with the accompaniment of Meme Solís on the piano, for example, is another collection jewel, but this one, from 1989, portrays it in the full range of its round maturity.
Elena Burke sings to Marta Valdés, and as Nancy Morejón assures in her note of contratapa, this recording is little less than a prodigy. Confabulated with the author of the songs, with Enriqueta Almanza, with Frank Emilio, Elena sings the twelve pieces with no need of effort, with the naturalness of those who come back and brings with them all the complicity that can give new life to those words and those chords It is already known that Burke did not read music. But she had that extraordinary ear and that interpretive gift that kept her in control from her unrepeatable style, and that, when accompanied by someone who understood her thoroughly, always gave us an extraordinary moment.
This album, in everything that returns us, is an instant like that. The friendship with the composer, the long years of sharing the stage with her arrangers and pianists, explain why. From the start with Cry Cry… until the final grade of The song, there is a sustained arc that allows us to appreciate other values in Tú no sospechas, Song without title, Macayá, There are a thousand ways, José Jacinto…
Elena was not the only interpreter of those songs. There are other recordings of her singing to Marta Valdés that could expand this selection. I have heard Renée Barrios, Miriam Ramos, Doris de la Torre, sing these pieces, and that allows me a more intimate selection of who to hear and at what time. But I insist that this plaque is a work of collection for the perfect illation of everything that accompanies the voice of Elena, which becomes a kind of shared autobiography when delivered to Aida, dedicated to the founder of the quartet where she herself was forged before becoming the resounding soloist we all remember.
Ella Fitzgerald had the happy idea to record a whole collection that reviewed the work of the great American Songbook, that repertoire of George Gershwin, Irving Berling, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer, Rodger & Hart ..., in a fabulous series who picked up for posterity the dialogue of an incredible woman with an essential catalog. It is a pity that something like this is missing in the Cuban discography, although there has been that attempt, for example, in the recent installments of Miriam Ramos. Elena Burke could do it, in an album dedicated entirely to this composer, as a portrait of herself in a moment of fullness.
The photo that appears on the back cover of the album shows the protagonists of this recording and an indelible smile appears on their faces: the one that comes from knowing, perhaps, that the encounter that this album makes endure is as unrepeatable as it is magical. I go back to that album to remember Burke on her birthday. I saw her in the mid-90s, in the small theater of the National Museum of Fine Arts, during one of her returns from her Mexican stay, and there she sang this repertoire. Frank Emilio still came to the piano to accompany her. This album brings me back to that image of a Havana that, in the middle of a special period, was once again illuminated by Elena's voice. And I would like to share it with the friends who, seeing on this wall a reference that I wrote about this plaque, tell me that they do not have it. When I return to that city, let me know. That memories, wonderful and good things, exist to be shared.
That's what Elena Burke says to Marta Valdés. From its deep transparency, so full of memories, losses and joys. Like the portrait in which, also we, the ones who heard it, are smiling with His Majesty, Elena Burke.
Elena Burke sings to Marta Valdés
Enriqueta Almanza, piano; Frank Emilio, piano, Carlos Emilio, guitar.
Notes by Marta Valdés and Nancy Morejón.
EGREM Studies, 1989.
Like a river
Tú no sospechas
You do not pay attention
Like a river
There are a thousand ways
I play to forget you