Cover of the disc Versos de José Martí. Sung by Pablo Milanés.

Cuba: music poetry. 10 productions and a rarity

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Good music is always poetry for the music-loving spirit. But there is the so-called musical poetry, in which the composer and the interpreter-sometimes the same-must also be in his poetic way; or at least, sensitive reader. And if, in its interpretation - here understood in the deepest sense of the word - exudes the ineffable substance of creation, the miracle is guaranteed.

Verses of José Martí. Sung by Pablo Milanés (EGREM, 1973)

Como si fuera poca cosa que uno de los íconos de la canción popular cubana musicalice y cante al más grande poeta cubano de todos los tiempos, este fue el primer disco como solista de Pablo Milanés, lo que lo convierte por derecho propio en un fonograma de culto. Un Pablo que ya se veía venir en sus impresionantes facultades vocales y gusto para la interpretación, convierte en canciones once de los más conocidos versos de Martí y un fragmento  —We were- of his philosophical and political essay Our America, written in 1891. The poetic voice of the Apostle of the independence of Cuba in the tender, strong and overflowing voice of a greater troubadour. Originally released on vinyl and later on cassette by the same company, it had editions in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Venezuela, Italy and Spain. It was reissued in 2017, on the occasion of the publication by Bis Music of the integral edition of the record work of Pablo Milanés.

The popular flying pigeon, Ana Belén (Phillips, 1976)

Double LP in which, who later was called "The bride of Spain", he performs 24 songs about texts by Nicolás Guillén, composed mostly by Víctor Manuel and Sergio Aschero, although Rosa León, Quilapayún and Amaury Pérez each sign a musicalization. Virtually all texts are part of poems in the book The popular flying pigeon, edited in 1958. It is a historical musical document, a classic of a Spain that still cared about Cuba and Latin America. Produced by Víctor Manuel, who along with his wife had lived for several years in exile from the Franco dictatorship in Mexico, shows Ana Belén in the fullness of his vocal faculties. Originally published as a double album on vinyl, it was reissued on CD by Universal Music Spain in 2001.

Martí in Amaury, Poems of José Martí sung by Amaury Pérez (EGREM, 1978)

Publicado originalmente como LP en Cuba, tuvo al menos una edición posterior en México. En el que cuenta como segundo álbum del trovador, le acompañan ejecutantes de lujo (Cachaíto López al contrabajo, Ignacio Berroa en la batería, Pablo Menéndez en la guitarra eléctrica, Mike Porcel en las guitarras, Pura Ortiz al piano y las cuerdas de la Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional, dirigida por Armando Guerra). El disco muestra a un muy joven Amaury Pérez interpretando diez canciones basadas en textos —musicalizados por él—  de los versos libres del poeta mayor de Cuba. En la edición especial de 1996, Eusebio Leal afirma: “Ha logrado el artista acortar la distancia que nos separa de la vida extraordinaria y breve del Apóstol, y por momentos nos parece que podemos escucharle o seguir sus pulsaciones sobre las cuartillas, donde quedaron para siempre expresadas las febriles confesiones de su alma…”

Tenths of Guillen, Conjunto Palmas y Cañas (EGREM, 1980)

Con la producción de la musicóloga María Teresa Linares y las interpretaciones vocales de algunos de los grandes de la música campesina cubana (Adolfo Alfonso, Raúl Rondón, Martica Morejón, Inocencio Iznaga “El Jilguero de Cienfuegos”, María del Carmen Prieto y Celina González) el Conjunto Palmas y Cañas, todo un referente de la música tradicional de los campos de Cuba, da  vida a un disco delicioso de guajiras, tonadas y sones montunos donde, a la habitual musicalidad y ritmo de la poesía guilleniana, se suman las gracias de las guitarras y el laúd. A la edición inicial en vinilo se ha incorporado la reedición en CD (remasterizada) de Sony Music España en 2017. Las notas originales fueron del también poeta Jesús Orta Ruiz “El Indio Naborí”.

Noel Nicola sings to César Vallejo (EGREM, 1986)

The most unknown of the great exponents of the New Cuban Trova, Noel Nicola, recorded together with a group of Peruvian musicians this tribute album to the writer César Vallejo. Everything seems to indicate that the troubadour was a faithful reader of the poet and that he spent almost a decade musicalizing about 20 poems of Vallejo, until during the 1970s he traveled to Peru and there he concretized the idea of the phonogram. The album, with 14 tracks finally, was registered at the IEMPSA Studios in Lima in June 1986, under the auspices of the Lima municipality. The choice is not uncommon, Noel is a “vallejiano” singer-songwriter. As the words of the album dictate: "The songs gathered on this album are the product of a long and intimate dialogue between the musician and the poet."

Eternity, Poems by Dulce María Loynaz set by Amaury Pérez Vidal (Abdala / Factoría Autor, 1999)

Amaury Pérez is an assiduous reader of Dulce María Loynaz, a true connoisseur of his work and details of his life. In 1999, as part of the preparatory acts for the centenary of the General Society of Authors and Publishers of Spain (SGAE), the AUTHOR Foundation produced and edited in collaboration with Producciones Abdala, several relevant discs and among them, this jewel in which the high lyricism of the Cuban poet, who won the Cervantes Prize in 1992, is fused with the interpretative intensity of a singer who feels his lyrics as his own. A sincere and meaningful homage, with arrangements by Lucía Huergo.

Songs of good love, José María Vitier (Abdala / Factoría Autor, 2001)

Poesía con poesía. José María Vitier se dio a la enorme tarea de musicalizar a algunos de los más relevantes poetas de nuestra lengua y el resultado lo puso en la voz de intérpretes también muy especiales de la cancionística iberoamericana. Trece canciones compuestas y orquestadas por Vitier, en su mayoría para piano solista —interpretado por el propio autor— y algunas para orquesta sinfónica, dirigida por el maestro Enrique Pérez Mesa.  La constelación impresiona: versos de Federico García Lorca, José Martí, Cintio Vitier, Pedro Calderón de la Barca, San Juan de la Cruz, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz y Rubén Darío, más algunos textos del propio compositor y de su esposa Silvia Rodríguez, que no demeritan el conjunto. En las voces, los cubanos Silvio Rodríguez, Pedro Luis Ferrer, Amaury Pérez, Anabell López, Miriam Ramos y Pablo Milanés, los españoles Martirio, José María Cano y Luis Eduardo Aute, la venezolana Cecilia Todd, el uruguayo Jorge Drexler e Iván Lins representando a Brasil. Absolutamente hermoso en casi todos sus tracks, es un disco infaltable en cualquier colección de poesía musicalizada que se precie de seria.

Daydreaming, Poems by Eliseo Diego played by Rita del Prado (Pablo de la Torriente Brau Center, 2008)

This album deserves to be better known. Winning project of a Creation Scholarship "Del verso a la canción", organized in 2006 by the Pablo de la Torriente Brau Center to stimulate musical creation based on literary texts. Contains eleven poems from the book Daydreaming by Eliseo Diego (published by the Gente Nueva publishing house in 1998) and performed by the Cuban troubadour Rita del Prado, to which ten tenths created by the composer herself are added, recreating the life and work of Eliseo. There are 21 very short musical segments, which get what pieces of a tiny clock, to mark perfectly the exact time of imagination and beauty.

Creation Award Collection Ojalá 2010 (Hopefully, 2011)

In 2010, Producciones Ojalá, directed by Cuban singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez, organized a Thematic Creation Award, with the aim of promoting the study and knowledge of the life and poetic work of one of the most outstanding Cuban revolutionary intellectuals of the 20th century: Rubén Martínez Villena. The jury evaluated 25 works and awarded two prizes (to Tanmy López for the album Light is music and Joel Espinosa for A seed in a furrow of fire), two mentions (to Jennifer Almeida for Offering and Ivette Letusé for Urban Symphony) and a special prize (to Augusto Blanca for The afternoon escape). La pequeña casa discográfica realizó la hazaña editorial —en tiempos en que ni los discos de música comercial se venden apenas— de publicar una caja con estos cinco trabajos y un disco adicional que recoge una selección de los otros músicos que participaron en la convocatoria. Como resultado, la más completa colección que existe de poemas musicalizados de un mismo poeta en Cuba.  Y como Rubén, que murió joven, tiene una obra no tan vasta, aquí encontramos la rara posibilidad de escuchar, en un álbum séxtuple, hasta cuatro musicalizaciones diferentes de un mismo poema.

Before your eyes, Polito Ibáñez (Producciones Colibrí, 2013)

With orchestrations by Miguel Núñez and accompanied by the National Symphony Orchestra, Polito Ibáñez, one of the best male voices of the last thirty years in Cuba, is involved in the risk of musicalizing and interpreting Eliseo Diego, Roberto Fernández Retamar, Reina María Rodríguez , Bladimir Zamora, Marilyn Bobes, Nancy Morejon, Carilda Oliver Labra, Miguel Barnet, Reynaldo Gonzalez, Alex Pausides, Lisa Soto and two texts by Polito himself. Raised, at least in the beginning, as the first of a trilogy in which the singer-songwriter intends to pay homage to "people who have defined the thinking and spirituality of my country in the last 20 years", Before your eyes it is an unequal production, but monumental and valuable.

BONUS TRACK:

DVD Up into the silence, Poems of ee Cummings music by Sue Herrod and interpreted by Diana Fuentes (Producciones Colibrí, 2011)

Worthy of the 2013 Cubadisco Award in the Audiovisual Concert category, this DVD is one of those unrepeatable astral conjunctions. The complexity and beauty of the poetry of ee Cummings comes out enriched - if it is possible - by the musicality provided by the English composer resident in Cuba, Sue Herrod, and the interpretation of a Diana Fuentes that few will recognize in the delicacy and perfection with which he embroiders each song fragment. From the Karl Marx turned into tiny arena theater, there is an audiovisual material here gourmet for experts in aesthetic perfection.      

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