Even though many people aren’t familiar with trova, and particularly nueva trova, it is a very diverse genre of music. Nueva trova, part of the “song” genre, generally talks about the politics of everyday life and is a rebirth of the old troubadour movement which spread news by way of song.
One of the problems with the song movement in Cuba is that, unlike most other Cuban music styles, you really have to understand Spanish, and particularly Cuban idioms. It is generally not music for dancing, although there are many examples of nueva trova that do fuse the more danceable styles into the songs.
Osmel Almaguer writes in the Havana Times about Fernando Becquer’s new album Afro as part of what he calls a “Musical Bridge from Cuba,” where he hopes to introduce less commercial music to the world.
A troubadour sui generis,Fernando Becquer is a person in which meet several tributaries of that river that we now call “the Cuban people.” His performances are imbued with savor, spark, spirituality and a critical vision that causes some to describe him as a “philosopher of the street.”
“Fernando Becquer is like his songs and his songs are like life,” said the poet, journalist, and researcher Antonio Lopez Sanchez.
“His musical approach covers various genres of popular Cuban music. It’s a kind of conversational song that many classify as a unique troubadour sound. Throughout his career, his charisma and interaction with the audience have facilitated his participating on radio and television programs,” added Lopez Sanchez.
With over two decades of artistic life, his major successes just began to bear fruit this past decade. Many of his best known songs are included in his album Cubano por donde tu quieras, recorded under the Bis Music record label.
He has shared stages and studios with artists such as Diego Cano, Axel Milanes, Rita del Prado, Eduardo Sosa, Silvio Rodriguez and Adrian Berazain, among many others. He is affiliated with the Asociacion Hermanos Saiz and has participated in festivals and projects that bring together young troubadours from both within and outside the island.
Becquer has participated on several collective albums, among which are La voz del diablo (2008), produced and edited by the EGREM recording company, where he participated with Tony Avila, Yamira Diaz, Eduardo Sosa, Ray Fernandez and other troubadours of his generation; on Los jovenes cantan a Marti (2003), produced by the Asociacion Hermanos Saiz and edited by EGREM, he participated with singer-songwriters of his generation; and on La estrella de Cuba(2003), produced by the Asociacion Hermanos Saiz and edited by EGREM, he performed with troubadours Eduardo Sosa, Ariel Barreiros and Pavel Poveda.
CD: Cubano por donde tu quieras
When I look at you with your Afro, you remind me of a Saturday night party at ten o’clock / when “Cushita” and “Pepesin” danced to the beat of Boney M. / Chorus: When I look at you with your Afro, they say the future’s going to collapse. / When I look at you with your Afro, I hear Pastora with his guararey. / And I love you so much like that, your philosophy drives me crazy / I can’t figure out your natural gift for doing things and not saying anything, / when I look at you with your Afro / When I look at you with your Afro / When I look at you with your Afro fro fro fro fro fro.
When I look at you with your Afro I’m reminded of big black women and basketball / and the flat-out 800-meter races that [Alberto] Juantorena won with his heart. / Chorus: When I look at you with your Afro, they say that Anglada connected a home run. / When I look at you with your Afro I hear that [Teofilo] Stevenson became champion. / And I love you so much like that, your philosophy drives me crazy / I can’t figure out your natural gift for doing things and not saying anything, / When I look at you with your Afro / When I look at you with your Afro / When I look at you with your Afro fro fro fro fro fro.
When I look at you with your Afro / I remember the switchblade that would slash anybody, / the patent-leather platform shoes and mama’s good jeans that they stole from off the clothesline. / Chorus: When I look at you with your Afro, they say the “yuma” [foreigner] smells like a mousehole. / When I look at you with your Afro I hear some kid yelling while playing ping pong outside. / And I love you so much like that, your philosophy drives me crazy / I can’t figure out your natural gift for doing things and not saying anything, / When I look at you with your Afro / When I look at you with your Afro fro fro fro fro fro, / When I look at you with your Afro / When I look at you with your Afro / Black woman I love you so much like that, I love you so much like that / Black woman I love you so much like that, I love you so much like that, Black woman I love you… Oh black woman I love you / Black woman I love you like that.
In this instance the Afro is used by the composer as a kind of glorious symbol. In the visual arts, its radiating lines suggest glory, divinity, beauty. The Afro, worn essentially by people with very curly hair people — and among them, dark-skinned people — is more than an aesthetic preference: it’s a culture. They were worn a lot back in the 70’s and reappeared here a few years ago.
Thus the Afro is a sort of superlative symbolic moment worn on the heads of people of the “black race” to whom Fernando Becquer is paying tribute. Though there’s general consensus among scientists that human “races” don’t exist biologically, from the standpoint of cultural and sociological analysis it’s valid to analyze ethnic phenomena in terms of skin color and other typological characteristics.
And this is precisely what Becquer does, and he does so from perspective that is distinctly and curiously Cuban, since the “specdrum” (Afro) certainly didn’t have the same connotation in Cuba as in the rest of the world. In Cuba it meant the realization of an ideal, that of equality, and even the possibility of racial preponderance, hence the highlighting of sports achievements in women’s basketball, athletics, boxing and baseball – activities carried out mainly by “people of color.”
Socio-historical characteristics are brought to light: joy, dancing, defiance, the preference to act before speaking, as well as other negative features (like stealing “mama’s” jeans from off the clothesline or the presumed harassment of a tourist [“yuma”] in a corner of a tenement).
In general, the song deals with a confession of love on the part of Becquer Fernando for a black woman, someone of his same race, since recognizing both defects and virtues is a good way to love.
In this can be seen Cuba between the lines. Everyday life doesn’t seem to have stopped for this song to have been composed.
There are also several articles about nueva trova on Salsa Blanca as well:
En Español La Nueva Trova en Cuba