Medellin danced pretty and tasty

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His rumbera skin, which breathed Cubanness and rhythm, would fulfill for these calendas a hundred years, if not for the liver cirrhosis that took him the night of February 19, 1963. That was a day of mourning for his native Cuba and for the who admired his recordings and presentations. He was only 44 years old. Now his musical breath wanders centenary among dozens of recordings and continues to whisper in our ears his immortal sounds, mambos, and boleros.

Anniversaries are occasions to remember and value, this will be a pretext to remember the steps danced and sung by Benny Moré in Medellín, a region between mountains where his music had arrived, like the rest of Colombia, thanks to the development that in Cuba had acquired the record industry, disseminated by the RCA Víctor, as well as its distribution in the rest of the continent and its diffusion in the radio stations of great power.

Cuban tenor René Cabel, who resided in the country from the mid-sixties until his death in Bogotá on April 3, 1998, said it was his initiative to convince radio entrepreneur William Gil Sánchez to invite Moré to Colombia. Cabel himself made relevant contacts with the Cuban businessman Eugenio Tito Garrote, and on August 4, 1955, aboard a DC-3 aircraft of the SAM airline, with the number HK 523, El Bárbaro del Ritmo arrived in the capital of Antioquia.

Moré had good musical references from Colombia because years ago, in 1949, he had recorded La múcura, by Crescencio Salcedo-Too Fuentes; which was followed Pachito Eché, by Álex Tovar, in 1950; and San Fernando, by Lucho Bermúdez, in 1951, with the orchestras of Dámaso Pérez Prado and Rafael de Paz.

Alfredo Chocolate Armenteros Chocolate who was the trumpeter of the Benny tribe, once recalled that during his crossing between Cuba and Colombia, at an intermediate stop in Panama City for some presentations (which were huge), Moré dedicated himself to writing one of the boleros he considered most important in his career: Ahora soy tan feliz.

Moré's connection between Panama and Medellín was made on the Cartagena route. Local businessmen took advantage of Benny's passage through this city and on July 30, 1955, he was presented at the Riomar radio station studios and then at the Miramar theater. The next day in a night session, at two pesos the ticket, at the Almirante Padilla theater located in the Getsemaní neighborhood.

Announcement of the presentation of Benny Moré and his Giant Band in the city of Cartagena, Colombia. Photo: Author's personal file.

After the cheers at the Padilla, that night he sang at the Tahiti restaurant, by Cuban Juan González Cornett, owner, and manager of the Los Indios baseball team. He also performed at the Laurina Theater located in the Lo Amador neighborhood and at the Miramar Radioteatro in El pie de La Popa. Once the unforeseen commitments were fulfilled on Monday, August 1, a twin-engine went to Barranquilla from where he flew to Medellín.

With his arrival at Las Playas de Medellín airfield, the local press received it in a big way, with photographic display the next day in the newspapers. They stayed at the missing Hotel Europa, adjacent to the also missing Junn Theater. The same night of their arrival, La Voz de Medellín presented them in their space Pilsen magazine of the air. Pilsen magazine of the air.

Moré's physical presence, and especially the gestures he used to direct his tribe, caused a sensation among the audience at the radio show of the Bolivar race with Cuba Street. There were few musicians who, at the time, invited their audience to chant the choruses of the songs. The Cuban had no empathy in putting local voices to sing. Although the audience did not understand what the sonero's magic was, he ended up singing with him.

Bonito y sabroso, Santa Isabel de las Las Lajas, and his version of San Fernando, they were the subjects of combat of Mor and his orchestra in Colombia, for those almost forgotten presentations. After the radio audition on the night of August 4, which had an absolute full at the radio theater, they entertained a dancing cocktail at the Campestre Club, where it alternated with the Lucho Bermúdez orchestra.

Singer Fernando Álvarez, in the biography about Benny Moré, written by Amín E. Nasser, told what happened in “El Deportivo de Medellín” when he actually referred to the Country Club, during the second presentation—:

... there were magnates, people of money; Then we started working, but nobody present paid attention to the orchestra, everyone was estranged, they were not interested in our work and Benny realized this and said: “Well, if these people are not interested our music, we're going to play for us, we're going to enjoy our music now. ” And when we started to play, and Benny to dance, to jump and to give those shrieks that he put in, and the mambos he invented at the time, that town came to where the orchestra was, and that was incredible; they surrounded him, they wanted to take him away so I don't know where, the devil was that. Then, Benny sat down and said, "I'm going to sit with my musicians there and I'm going to drink with them." They brought him a bottle of whiskey (sic) and he said: "I'm not drinking whiskey (sic) I'm drinking Bacardi" and they brought him a bottle of Bacardi. And he took it with his bandmates.
Announcement of the presentation of Benny Moré at the Cartagena Country Club. Photo: Author's personal file.

René Cabel, meanwhile, said that the organizers had to set up a stage suitable for Moré's stature because “it was a very large mulatto. He always dressed in white tails and when he started playing, he ended up with Lucho Bermúdez and Pacho Galán. ” Bermudez had invited Galán as a trumpet player, both exponents of Colombian Caribbean music in many of his best pages.

Lucho and Moré met in Cuba in 1952, during the season that the clarinetist spent in Havana at the invitation of Ernesto Lecuona to participate in a music festival where composers from other Latin American countries were also invited. Moré met Pacho Galán that vibrant night around a bottle of Bacardi.

Benny's presentations were not even cheap shows. The first night the entrance for members of the Club cost 30 pesos, at a time when the minimum wage was 60 pesos a month, and when the dollar and the peso had the same value. Tickets to the gala dance on Friday, August 5 rose to 40 pesos, and ensured dance until late in the morning. On Saturday, La Voz de Medellín invited El Bárbaro del Ritmo again, alternating with the plant orchestra with René Cabel. That night was promoted as "The Cuban party".

Announcement of one of Benny Moré's two presentations organized by La Voz de Medellín. Photo: Author's personal file.

The habitants of Medellín at that time were extremely respectful of the mandates of the hierarchies of the Catholic Church. We must remember, for example, that by order of Monsignor Miguel Ángel Builes, listening and dancing mambos was prohibited, under penalty of excommunication. Therefore, in the posters in which Moré's presence was announced, nowhere the word mambo appears to avoid censorship and discomfort.

Many people did not attend the presentations of El Bárbaro under the observance of this mandate of the Church, but others did not because they did not understand the nickname of the singer. The meaning of bárbaro It has very different connotations in Medellin and Cuba. For Colombians it is that person who commits barbarities, that is, almost a savage; while on the Island it refers to a person who exercises his occupation in an extraordinary way, in this case music. Others thought that it would be a wild black - we must add the doses of racism present in the local culture - and instead of playing, he dedicated himself to destroying the instruments and provoking and attacking the public.

The presence of Benny Moré and his tribe joined in Medellín that weekend of August 1955 other stars of Afro-Caribbean music, a situation perhaps never repeated in the city. The Nutibara hotel presented the Cornelius Quintet and René Cabel. The Candilejas bookshelf, in the La Floresta neighborhood, featured the Matancera Sonora. In the Mocarí club, Arturo Zuluaga and his orchestra with the Aces of Rhythm. The Medellín Club to Ramón Ropaín and his orchestra. But, contrary to these, the Union Club decided not to schedule any special activity those days, according to a press notice: "not to interfere with the prom of the Country Club."

On Monday, August 7, Benny Moré left for Cali, where days later he took another plane that took him back to Panama. Its presence in the capital of Valle del Cauca was temporary and, when he did not obtain contracts with radio stations, night establishments or clubs, he decided not to appear.

Benny in Colombia is frequently reminded, beyond the merits of his successful career, for the three themes of Colombian authors he recorded. In addition, he had in his intimate repertoire, when he accompanied the guitar, the bambuco Las mirlasby Clímaco Vergara and Jesús María Trespalacios which, fortunately, was recorded days before his death, using amateur equipment, by Luis Ruiz Fernández, his personal physician.

He took his bolero from Colombia Ahora soy tan feliz, which ended up being another link that united him with this region where he arrived with his unique personality and his extraordinary singing, which we still cannot forget.

That memory of Benny's visit to Medellin, of his customs, of his way of being and doing on stage, little by little, goes away with the lives of those who saw him those nights at El Campestre and at the radio stations - of whose greatness, too, barely remains the memory.

With Benny Moré now centenary, we have his music rolling at revolutions per minute and his genius in this Medallo of the soul, which was on the way to being something else, chaotic, polluted and wonderful.

Help Magazine AM: PM remain a self-managed project with editorial independence.

Civil engineer and music researcher born in San Andrés-Isla and resident in Medellín. Author of the books What is salsa? Looking for the melody (1992), Yo Rubén Blades, confessions of a neighborhood rapporteur (1997), Héctor Lavoe, the voice of the neighborhood (2003, 2018) and The unforgettable Tito Rodríguez (2003, 2015), among others. He is also the author of the books Medellín has his salsa (2015) in co-authorship with Octavio Gómez, and de Mi salsa has sandunga (2014). Co-author and coordinator of the books Lucho Bermúdez, cumbias, porros y Viajes (2012) and Benny Moré sin frontiers (2013). Producer of Santo Bassilón Editions.

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