REINALDO: You say "famous family", but you could have chosen another phrase. I do not like the word famous. Being famous is nothing, I tell you. The Hierrezuelo family is known not only for music. My father was a veteran of the war of independence and my uncle Valeriano Hierrezuelo was a general. That is why we are known since the end of the 19th century, for that historical, patriotic reason, rather than for music. In Santiago there is a street called General Hierrezuelo, and in the history of Cuba there are a few Hierrezuelos who were veterans, so a little clarification to start with is not bad. Even the director of the army concert band was a Hierrezuelo. Before being musicians they were mambises. And well, music later.
CHARITY: The music comes to us in the mass of blood. We were five females and six males, brothers of mother and father. Some were born in Santiago, others in Siboney, others in Miranda, but we are all registered in El Caney: "Caney of the East, divine land ...", as the proclamation says. In the house there was guitar, three, maracas, bongo, those instruments of the field. As they were born, the boys went fishing for mom and dad, who sang and played for a lifetime. They worked in the field all day and when they returned home, they formed the singer.
At home we all knew how to play an instrument, or several. The marímbula touched me, but when I was young I started showing off and had long nails. They sent me to play and I, with a bad face, took the marimbula that, and it started ti-tin-cun-tan the whole night, and when it was over I had no nails. From time to time they carried a three-string double bass, I sounded it, and it sounded good. Everything, everything by ear, always. King and I, who are the younger brothers, we stayed, the others got married and left the house little by little. We continue singing and playing with mom and dad, back in Siboney.
REINALDO: Professionals in music were four brothers: Lorenzo, Caridad and me. The fourth was Ricardo, who played for a while in the Cuarteto Patria, of which I am a founder with Francisco Cobas, Emilia García and Rigoberto Echevarría -the popular Maduro-, tresero in Santiago de Cuba.
I learned the guitar watching how others played, but they would sing to me. When they released the guitar he would pick it up and try to do what they had done. I had copied the positions in my mind and my eyes and repeated them.
REINALDO: At home we played sones, some very old, from the time of Spain, which were nothing more chorus. There was one that said:
Get your head out, jicotea,
Take out your head so you can see.
How ungrateful you are Natura
with the unfortunate jicotea,
the poor girl does not wiggle
because he has no waist.
Te estoy hablando de los años 30, a principios. Cantábamos también cosas de Machín, porque lo que estaba de moda en esa época era el Cuarteto Machín, que copó el terreno en Oriente después de la fama del Trío y el Septeto Matamoros. El Cuarteto Machín, prácticamente, superó allá en popularidad al propio Matamoros. ¿Qué te parece? Uno de los primeros números que yo canté se llamaba The lollipop, Ramón Espígul and Caridad had a number that said When I arrived in Mantua, that she loved people, but she did not like to sing. That was from the Machin repertoire.
CHARITY: When Lorenzo my brother, who had a tremendous genius, was having a party at his house and people came to hear me sing, I went to the last room, I went to bed and covered my head and everything. What do you think Lorenzo did? He was going to look for me and he said: "Charity, are not you going to sing? No. You're not going to sing, pussy! Sing because I give you a shot! "And I was scared to death because he used a gun. Then the woman would come: "Lolo, do not do that, she will go out, you will see". And I with two tears like that. Then they took me to the bathroom and washed my face. He sang what he wanted, and with it: "Did I finish?" And I went to sleep again. It was not fear, I sang for myself, but I did not want to do it for others.
Lorenzo obliged me, nobody but him who played the guitar, the three, and sang as you know, high and clear as few I have heard in my life. And it made a beautiful second voice. He was born in 1909. He took me six years nothing more. When that big earthquake of the year 32, in Santiago de Cuba, he no longer lived with us.
REINALDO: In that year Lorenzo came to Havana and, like all the other artists, started lurching. He worked with Mozo Borgellá, with Panchito Riset, with Matamoros, he was with Don Aspiazu's orchestra, around the same time that Machín started. And he rubbed shoulders with all the greats, Miguelito Valdés, Alfredito Valdés and all those popular at the time. Together with Marcelino Guerra Rapindey he formed a quartet with Evelio Machín, Antonio's brother, and Francisco Repilado. When Rapindey traveled abroad entered Armando Dulfo. In the year 34 they toured all over the East and stayed at my house in Siboney. Later, Lorenzo also worked with different groups, such as the Justa García trio, which was well known in Havana.
Once, when my brother was with Justa García doing his radio program on the Lavín radio station, they sang Veinte años, by María Teresa Vera, and the listeners liked it very much. Then they invited Maria Teresa, who did not act at that time. He went to look for her where he lived, on a lot. She had started at age 15, made many records in New York with Rafael Zequeira and also with Sexteto Occidente. At that time I was in a premature retirement, because the problem of women being artists was very difficult. Do not ask me if the saint forbade him or not, I do not want to talk about that. When the quartet of Justa Garcia dispersed, she was asked to continue at the radio station and that's where she joined Lorenzo in the year 45, over there.
CHARITY: He did not only work with Maria Teresa: the thing was to sing with so-and-so here and with mengano there to be able to go ahead. Lorenzo spent a long time with Matamoros, who was hired at the Hotel Nacional, and many times replaced Miguel, because his voice was very powerful, and dominated his way of playing the guitar. Matamoros was the director of the trio, of the septet, of the group ... When he wanted to rest he left a person to replace him and rest, but there was his name, which was the one that sold.
REINALDO: With María Teresa Vera, she was doing programs, first in CMQ, and in Radio Cadena Suaritos, and they worked there quite well because they had an exclusive contract. That station paid well, maybe it was because Suaritos - whose name was Laureano Suarez, Galician himself - was not only the owner, but also the technician and the announcer or presenter of the station, that is, who did the work of four or five and saved the money from those positions. He had very good ads and was very funny to do the publicity; He adored Maria Teresa.
One day they were at a high society party, Maria Teresa became indisposed and had to take her home. When Lorenzo was leaving the owners told him to continue alone, please, so that the thing would not end. Although besides being and bolero he sang tangos -because he was one of the good tangueros here, they called him El Irusta Cubano-, something more moved was needed to continue the party that was not yet in half. Then he went looking for someone to accompany him and be able to finish that job, and brought Francisco Repilado, who was not yet a Compay Segundo or anything like that. They already knew each other, of course, they were from the same town and had worked together, in the Hatuey quartet, with the Matamoros group and with other groups, but they had never done a duo. This is how the Los Compadres duo began in 1949, coincidentally, because if María Teresa does not get sick she would not have formed.
CHARITY: When you become a musician you never know what will happen. There are professions in which you know what you are going to do. You are going to be a doctor and you know that you are going to operate and heal, but in music nobody knows what they are going to do. You become a musician because you like it and because you have the possibility, clarifying that we were empirical musicians, we did not study. You become a musician like us, we were born, we liked it and we started it. But nobody thought to live of that. We grew up in the fields of the East, according to how the wind blows, tumbling. A time in Santiago de Cuba and another in Siboney and so on.
REINALDO: The musician from Santiago de Cuba who tells you that he has not freed, is lying to you. Here in Havana it is said "to pass the brush". You went out to play in the bars and put the hat so they could throw you some coins. I had the luck and honor to share with Sindo Garay, Augusto Castillo, with José Mondéjar ... with many troubadours from Santiago, like Ángel Almenares, and also with the brothers Eddy and Fernando Álvarez, who became a great bolero player over the years.
CHARITY: I was the last one to leave the house and I had to spend my life cooking for the boys. When I could shake off that, I said: no, what's going on, I'm tired of living in this mountain, I'm leaving. Then my sisters were already living in Santiago and they took me with them. There I started to raise my head.
In the year 47 I started. My first performance was with the Baraguá trio. We came to Havana for a party that was given to veterans of independence. The Baraguá trio were Rey, Mondéjar, and me. We left Santiago by train, picking up all the veterans from all the provinces until we arrived here at the brewery, which was where the party was given. In the Tropical and in La Polar. Both were used.
In the 50 [José] Maracaibo Castañeda and I started with Maravillas de Beltrán. That's where the portrait is, I do not know where. In the set were Isidro Beltrán, who was the director, and his two sons. My late husband had many relationships and he got us some transmissions in the CMKR and the CMKC and there we spent some time singing the Eden cigar in those stations. We were pulling. We sang about everything. I have always dedicated myself to singing bolero, danzón, guaracha, conga, all genres. In Santiago the atmosphere was good for those who had a job, because those who did not already have you know the work that was happening. There were several orchestras and groups that had their specific places to play. Saturdays and Sundays, do not believe that every day. Then they called me here and there, until they started hiring [the blacks and mulattos] in the white clubs in Santiago. It was then that Bacardi welcomed us and we represented the brand of rum and beer. So I was struggling with a thousand things, although sometimes I went to work in the mountains, too.
My career was not easy because at that time there was not much opportunity to sing in the East, and for one of color, less. At first I spent a lot of bad times because I was very serious, very respectful, I did not have that self-confidence as now, that I already fight, I defend myself and say a few things. Before I was very noble and sometimes I used to cry when they did something to me.
Hey this: in Holguin I'm hired to work in a night club and I go and rehearsal for the day. When I arrive at night, I'm sitting there, very thin, and then an employee tells me "what are you going to take", and I say a whiskey, because as I had bad pressure the doctor had told me that when I went to drink something I'll take a glass because it stabilizes the pressure. When I say to the waiter: "whiskey", he looks at me with such a face, and I do not know what he brought me ... but whiskey was not. When the time comes to sing, the owner comes to me: "What are you doing here? Are you the one who is going to sing tonight here? Well no, here you can not sing. " The point is that he thought I was white, because he had not seen me rehearse. Right there I had to pick up my matules and get the door. The lucky thing is that they paid me to work or not to work, because I was going through Bacardi.
I came to live in Havana much later, already with Fidel in the government, although from before I worked a lot here. Several times it happened that I was watching a television program -especially that of Manolo Rifat, which was on Tuesdays-, the announcer announced "for next week: Caridad Hierrezuelo", and I took my plane, made the program and at the end I was going again to Santiago. That's how I learned about the performances, they warned me, on television. Fortunately, at that time there were no blackouts in Santiago de Cuba, because I would not have known half. Sometimes I stayed working with the orchestra that did the Fiesta en el Aire program or Fiesta en I do not know what. I do not remember what the orchestra was called that worked from Monday to Saturday, and sang the whole week. Because I was daring, I did not have a lot of ease with money, but I always traveled by plane, even if it was expensive. I already knew that I could do it, because I had what they were going to pay me.
REINALDO: You are right in one thing: the way of making music in the East is different from that in Havana. The flavor of a son from Santiago is not the same as one that is played here in Havana, born in Havana. In the salons here they did not want the live sound to be played, or the rumba to be played the way there. It was a sin to sing an oriental son in a hall of Havana's high society. They asked you to make a very popular number, but to do it differently than you feel it, more slowly, so that the girls do not sweat, they told you. It's as if they said to you in a restaurant: look at the steak, and you say bring me a moth, a steak, a steak, but do not put salt on it. You eat it as you like it. In music it is the same. People who are not able to resist change their culture, they change it. Because it is true that you have to eat, and if you do not know how to go hungry, you make the concession. They say "please master, touch me the rumba Cachita " -Although it is from the Puerto Rican Rafael Hernández, it is Cuban because he made it here and he did it for Cuba. They ask you to "make me that rumba but a little more slowly". And since you are going to charge and you need it, you play it in waltz time.
Music in the East is a little more errant, alive. But here in Havana, they called you to touch Mister Fulano in Miramar, and you had to play whatever they wanted, as they liked and were used to. The santiagueros musicians always keep the air more alive, more expressive. This was the way the real troubadours from there did, and that's how I learned since I was a boy to sing the son, the guaracha and the bolero.
CHARITY: Since Rey came here he started working with Los Compadres, which was a duo, but he used rhythm and double bass, when the budget was sufficient for that, of course.
REINALDO: I played with them as a companion, doing choirs and playing the bass, until I joined the duo in 1954, when Lorenzo and Repilado separated. We were together for more than thirty years. At the same time my brother worked with Maria Teresa and I was presented as a soloist as Rey Caney, which is the name of the town where I was born. I have performed in all the cabarets and stations in this country, from the Roncali Lighthouse to the Maisí Lighthouse: and I have climbed in both.
When there was a party, there was Lorenzo Hierrezuelo with María Teresa Vera and there were also Los Compadres. We made the part, jocular, and he, with Maria Teresa, the serious part of songs of the trova, although they also played guarachas, ñáñigas keys and habanero rumbas that he learned from her. Then, like Los Compadres, Lorenzo and I walked almost the whole world, until he retired.
Caridad has recorded twenty times a number of mine called Guarapo, pepper and salt ... what I did for her: "I want to make the world happy with my natural flavor / because it runs through my veins guarapo, pepper and salt ...".
CHARITY: If it were not for the sugar that guarapo gives ... Look, the truth is that I have sung because, as the guaracha says: "I sing because I like it, and because I want to sing". When I, as a young girl, saw that the house was being cleaned and I saw the little monkey around here, a kettledrum over there, the bad mood began. Because I liked it, yes, but not that they sent me to sing. Then I got married and my husband had more strength than my brothers, because he loved to sing even if he had to cook. I had to resign myself. And so I am until now, but what am I going to do? I am neither beautiful nor do I have a narrow waist as before, or anything like that, now I have to keep singing.
I recorded for the first time for Panart in 58, over there. It was a small group -Rey, Lorenzo, a bongosero, a tumbador and a very skinny pianist: Javier Vázquez, who was the arranger. Then the commander arrived and ordered to stop, the label intervened and the recordings were not finished. They are not complete. They have taken some little discs with that, a little music so it feels livianita, bottomless. Every time I hear it over there I say hear that, how it is possible. Later, already living in Havana, I started to raise my head and become serious for singing. Life took me there obligatorily and I had to lower my guard.
I recorded with orchestras and especially with ensembles, like the Caney de Benitico Llanes. Then I did, in Santiago, a long playing with arrangements by Joaquín Mendível, and in 1998 with Enriqueta Almanza and Rolando Baró, Babalú ayé and some other number that I now forget with a big jazz band. The rest, abroad: two or three compacts with many guarachas, like Guarapo, pepper and salt, they always ask me ...
REINALDO: I find inspiration easy, I do not know other composers. Look, if that's the case, I'm going to tell you a story: once we arrived in Japan and I heard on the street a proclamation coming from a wagon or a van that was smoking everywhere. Then I asked what it was, what they were selling, and they say: roasted sweet potato. That's how I made a number with that name and then we recorded it in Japan. We also put it on a disk that we made here:
When I arrived in Tokyo
I was very curious
because I heard they were preaching
something in the whole city.
But when they informed me
I remembered the popular
manisero of my Cuba,
and here is roasted sweet potato,
something very original.
Lo traduje al japonés y lo grabé en ese idioma. Fue locura allá.
CHARITY: I took my little piece of glory, thanks to them, back in Japan. The theaters filled all, all, complete, complete, because it was going to act "the sister of Los Compadres". That's how they introduced me, it filled everything up and it was a noise wherever I acted, so I saved myself.
REINALDO: Not just for that, Caridad. I do not need to be English to know if an Englishman is acting well as an artist, that's what happened with you. Japan is a very developed country, very intelligent. These people know a lot: one goes there and plays a real Cuban son, with all that it takes, and they enjoy it to the fullest. Right now they are going to sing it better than us.
CHARITY: I believe that already in other parts the son and the trova are more enjoyed than here. I'm telling you, I'm traveling a lot lately, and Rey can tell you, he went around the world with Lorenzo and then with the Vieja Trova Santiaguera. What a barbarity, boy.
Interviewed in the winter of 2006 at home by Reinaldo Hierrezuelo, in the Havana street Infanta thanks to the invaluable mediation of Maxitxa.