Adalberto Álvarez. Photo: NATHADREAD PICTURES

Reflections on the sonorous voice (about the tribute to Adalberto Álvarez)

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On August 17, a concert-tribute for the thirty-five years of Adalberto Álvarez y su Son, as well as the forty-six career of its creator, was celebrated at the Karl Marx Theater. Under the successful artistic direction of Santiago Alfonso, the show, which lasted about three hours, maintaining a fluid rhythm not only because of the recognized quality and strength of the group of maestro Adalberto, who was the guide of it but for the long parade of great musicians and singers who prestigious the moment. As a kind of guild that keeps reinforced with some coherence, Cuban dance music in recent years has united its cultivators in permanent collaborations, but the ability to call and the work of El Caballero del Son are major words.

Revisiting the work of teachers such as Adalberto Álvarez, beyond the essential tributes and recognitions, is not only a pretext for making connections with a living tradition and rethinking it but it is an incentive to dialogue with problems of the present. 

Analyzing a significant part of his compositions, we can conclude that from his conception these themes presuppose exceptional vocal and musical qualities, which before and even today tend to be presented as a category of superior rank: the sonero singer. Singing a son can do several; Be a sonero, just a few. Therefore, revisit topics such as Pura imagen (Alexander Abreu), Agua que cae del cielo (Lele and Robertón) or Tu fiel trovador proposes, at present, to its creator and interpreters and the general public, dissimilar questions and opportunities for analysis.

A very interesting phenomenon in current Cuban dance music is the contrast between decantation towards increasingly sonic cadences by certain first-level groups and large formats and, on the other hand, the privilege of the performative-communicative, gestural -corporal, above the vocal. This last phenomenon is less recent, but somehow it has been installed with an irreversible character in this type of music since the timba boom in the 90s of the last century. It is at this juncture that Adalberto Álvarez's work can be considered as a challenge today. There are in our orchestras today, but the soneros may be expressed differently.

Tania Pantoja and Rojitas, along with Adalberto Álvarez. Photo: Ariel Lemus www.adalbertoysuson.com
Tania Pantoja and Rojitas, along with Adalberto Álvarez. Photo: Ariel Lemus www.adalbertoysuson.com

We don't have to sit down and wait for "cracks" like Rojitas or Félix Baloy to appear, men who rarely waved their hands or invoked the public to any kind of movement because they resolved everything with their voice (total ecstasy of the audience included, something that Rojitas was responsible for demonstrating again at night). When the height of the compositions demands the same interpretative rank, it sounds like a musical and cultural fact, set and rooted for so many years, with few exceptions, it implies in itself the need and the quality of a type of voice. It may be something heavy but it is always better if it is bright and powerful, with a wide register, of relative width and warmth, accompanied by a natural way of saying concerning Cuban speech. In this regard, the teacher, as in many others, has always been very faithful to tradition when choosing his singers.

The interpreters (in this case the guests invited to the celebration), showed unequal vocal possibilities. It's obvious. However, the sound challenge is solved here through several factors. In other cases, it's simply not resolved. 

Alexander Abreu manages to round up his performances thanks to an overflow of innate musicality, to a domain of root codes. His vocal organ was not designed for these needs. But Abreu and Havana D'Primera work on the depth of tradition much more than it seems (although we should consider today the scope of this term in our music). And when the tradition is explored in depth from a genuine artistic vocation, it ends up imposing itself on the standardized and repetitive, that is to say, deformation and condemnation of the living tradition. That is why Abreu is today a happy exception. His fundamental messages are in his inspirations and in his many, which is where he displays his expressive qualities and his messages that unmark him, by far, from the rest. This explains, among other factors, that connection with the public, although emotions sometimes make it a little exalted. Pura imagen You might think it looks great. Baloy left an unsurpassed mark thanks to topics like this. But the trumpeter always manages to give a twist to what he interprets, he only needs a montuno and shows why he is a sonero. He showed that night.

Unfortunately Agua que cae del cielo (Lele and Robertón duet) It was a mistake. This is not a subject that connects with the qualities of both interpreters. Both are unsurpassed in their ability to move crowds and not by chance they have been installed in the best orchestra of Cuba for years, chosen by Juan Formell himself. But there his role has been specializing in other profiles, in which to sound through inspirations with certain melodic scales that run through several records, has corresponded to cousin singers such as Mario Rivera and Armando Cantero. Lele has developed his own style in which the sung and spoken, together with his peculiar way of phrasing, has demonstrated once again that singing, in Cuban dance music, should not be judged only by technical parameters, but also scenic and communicative (harmonic and melodic ear has enough, only that he chose this path for the fortune of the public). We don't mean that only one style must take precedence over another, or that one of the two is better or more effective. Simply both are different, necessary and functional, but proposed at different times and directions. The mistake is when, unfortunately, crossings occur between repertoire and styles of interpretation that do not connect. Repeated challenges may be greater for this cause, as happened during the tribute.

Alain Pérez has assumed a wide repertoire in terms of temporary codes, from hard timba to the more traditional son. He surprised everyone with his old-fashioned doorbell not long ago, giving the timba nuances and vocal games to the old-fashioned style of good boleristas. Alain is constantly challenging himself. As a great artist, he is always exploring the limits. And in that short time in which youth and experience coexist, dominating the multidisciplinary views of the music scene, it has managed to be very effective. Tu fiel trovador It still looks like a private preserve of Félix Baloy and Andy Montañez, but Alain managed to endow his inspirations with more movement and autonomy. Each of his guides is an exercise for him and the public. In the same way that tradition weighs on his shoulders, he is constantly looking for ways to get away from the beaten track that allows him to say something new (here strictly referred to singing), with the same music. We could say like musicians: it fits. It is his version. 

"Alain Pérez sí ha asumido un amplio repertorio en cuanto a códigos temporales se refiere". Foto: Ariel Lemus. www.adalbertoysuson.com
«Alain Pérez has assumed a wide repertoire as far as temporary codes are concerned». Photo: Ariel Lemus www.adalbertoysuson.com

Fortunately, Rojitas has not spent time in his voice. It's gaudy the impeccable clarity that it still maintains in it. La novia de un amigo mío It's possibly one of the most excellent sounds of all time. Listening again in his voice and with the same orchestra was a unique opportunity, as well as Vivir lo nuestroa duet with Tania Pantoja (although the former wobble, despite defending it correctly, was somewhat forced). Rojitas shined too, as expected in ¿Y qué tú quieres que te den?a classic that has been mandatory for more than twenty years in each concert of Adalberto Álvarez y su Son. However, the great singer decided at the time of giving some sharp notes, to appeal to lyric dye impositions that damage the interpretation and demarcate from the intrinsic naturalness of the popular song in Cuba, the same one that showed and with which He won the admiration of his audience in the 90s.

Paulo FG was a pleasant success. From the batch of singers of that timbero boom, it has been one of the most professional growth and evolution has shown. Paulo swims today like a fish in the water with any orchestra put behind him. It's easy to say but the range is quite wide (of sonorities, styles, ways of fixing, treatment of rhythm and harmony, etc.). He has made dissimilar corrections throughout all these years and maintains strength in his voice. He confessed before his interpretation of the initial vicissitudes and what it meant to have entered that world through the orchestra of Adalberto. Therefore, that the teacher has selected Fin de semanaa theme premiered by Paulo himself about thirty years ago, and that he has sung it with such ease and precision, giving his inspirations a naturalness as if they were totally improvised (something that he can presume with rigor as very few timberos), gives a meaning of closing quite happy for the work of the teacher and the student. 

Another current voice of this panorama that has gained good public is Emilio Frías (El Niño). With a very peculiar timbre, capacity for improvisation and a fresh proposal in his latest albums, his organically projected carefreeness every time he goes on stage is appreciated. The rumba and the son have permeated it effectively in their natural environment. To display his qualities he was assigned a classic: A Bayamo en coche (Which by the way, had a special "Mozartian overture" that recreates its melody, played no less than by José Luis Cortés). As in this presentation, those who have heard it live lately may notice a certain deterioration of the vocal projection of El Niño, which attracts attention, especially for their youth. A Bayamo en cochelike many other pieces of the genre, has specific demands resolved at the time very intelligently by Tiburon Morales. But the use of technology and the increase in volume levels today make it more difficult in Cuba to adjust the orchestra to the singer, and the opposite ends. Perhaps El Niño urgently needs a type of sound balance like the one Alain Pérez usually proposes with his orchestra: less volume and a greater balance of timbres and frequencies (something that perhaps entails the challenge of a change of style). His orchestra, La Verdad, is today a solid and ambitious band, but it can quickly hamper its leader not to rethink this approach. El Niño remains a very cool note in this scenario. It is a youth with heritage, the roots of the vivid and the lived. We hope it stays for many more years.

Paulo FG intepretó Fin de semana, estrenado por él mismo 30 años atrás. Foto: Ariel Lemus. www.adalbertoysuson.com
Paulo FG interpreted Fin de semana, released by himself 30 years ago. Photo: Ariel Lemus www.adalbertoysuson.com

In another sense, the interpretations of the Septeto Santiaguero must be highlighted, with another theme of height, Son para un sonero, responsible for opening the night, and Armando Cantero (Mandy) who defended Tal vez vuelvas a buscarme.

But, without a doubt, the most emotional moment for maestro Adalberto was a surprise outside the script: the reproduction of an unpublished recording by Gilberto Santa Rosa, especially dedicated to him. Beyond the friendship that can unite them, it is a fact of an unsustainable artistic and professional significance. If we talk about these issues, Gilberto is today one of the great soneros alive, great improviser, with an enviable timbre that unfolds in power or smoothness, perfect tuning, millimeter sense of the key and, above all, something that very few can show off: He doesn't make mistakes. His recent presentation on the Havana seawall was of a sobering rigor.

Finally, concerning Adalberto's orchestra, the recent incorporation of a young singer like Yurismar Sánchez (very sure, with an excellent voice and recommended follow-up) has been reinforced with another sonero already installed as Jusvier Iznaga. But the key figure in this regard is Michel González. It could be said that this is the singer that any conductor would like to have in his orchestra. Michel is one of the interpreters who don't shine because he does not discover anything he does, however, he is capable of doing everything right. He can conduct almost any topic from top to bottom without making any mistake, he's communicative and achieves connection with the public, executes the second voices designed by the teacher without difficulty (able to accommodate at certain times the inaccuracies of other soloists), has a bell, a technique and a facility for singing that allows you to perform effortlessly. Do you need more? 

Singing the son will always require special qualities. It would touch the different generations, with their codes and the legacy of tradition, understand and dialogue with them and their singers. In his tribute, as in all these years, Master Adalberto left us the clues.

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3 Comments

  1. Bravo Rafa! Muy acertado en cada uno de los análisis y en cada palabra esbozada. Mucho trabajo Y ESTUDIO tienen por delante las venideras generaciones que siguen este camino y que equívocamente nuestros medios llaman «Maestros».

  2. The current singers of Cuba enjoy great talent but you are right all are not endowed with the interpretative ability to turn like a player to any base in relation to the different styles and it is more than anything because music must be felt before singing it and everybody does not like all the songs because for the taste the colors and arranger house arrange according to their style and concept therefore each singer makes according to his style an interpretation that every arranger is not able to capture pweoe s very easy to fix to your style and say that the singer has not joined all we have a different record and it is not just the
    Singer of power and acute record who come to interpret as God commands because I have countless examples of artists with low registration that move their rhythmic and harmonic and melodic resources filling all expectations and needs but if the arrangement is not felt the lack of interpretation arises and That goes in turn associated with the custom of listening to a single style, the ear gets badly used and sometimes we want singers to look like the one I sang before, then you have to think how many schools of popular technique exist in Cuba for professional singers? How many private teachers that cost money? Those if some but all do not have the possibility to pay it for that reason we do not improve in many cases, unfortunately the lack of good music in the media contributes to the lack of tomorrow in many of the artists because the ear of atrophy as well as the soul with what That the singers are listening and get used to it, each one has his way of feeling and it is a matter of the musical peoduvtor to determine in what inclination the production should go and to be covered with the singers and say how the result is wanted so that it sounds with ancient taste with pleasure modern timber or jazsistico or more rumbero or sweeter or more afro or mil and a different ways of interpreting a son but we must not criticize the singers in any case we have to help now more than anyone supports our music please even José Alberto el Canario said that La Timba does not merit quality, having so many timbers to respect, let's build positively what will help us and leave a little With the criticisms of the Soneros interpreters that both Lele and Roberton say what they say and how they say it will always look nice and respect, this is my humble opinion.
    Lesmer Solenzar timbero singer who lives in Sweden

  3. Excellent work and thorough analysis of Rafael Valdivia. I agree with everything and I can contribute more because I consider that in that show the best and most complete sound singer of Cuba of the last years called Moisés Valle Yumuri was missing since it brings together all the qualities that this musical genre requires: Unmatched charisma and a prodigious well-stamped voice, powerful and sharp with a perfect tuning and extensive register that allows you to stroll through any tone, in addition to being a good improviser with a great sense of rhythm and musicality. Yumurì sings Cuban music naturally in any of its genres because he was born for that (and is more than demonstrated) I think he would have been the perfect and perfect singer for the Adalberto orchestra but he decided to take his own path with great success (for the sake of Cuban music and its public) It is the great absentee of this show and another Rooster would sing if Yumurì had been singing the Knight that night. Luckily he's still young and his voice matures over the years

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