By Jose Antonio Rodriguez
Translation © 1999 Jon Griffin
The nueva trova is a phenomenon born in the second half of the 1960's in Cuba. It is the continuation of previous movements called trovadorezcos, traditional trova and feeling (filín). To understand the nueva trova movement and its place within the Cuban song genre, you need to take a small journey through the history of these styles in Cuba.
The traditional trova, named for being the first such movement since the second half of the nineteenth century, was preceded by feeling. Feeling was an intermediate movement and no less influential than the trova. Traditional trova was influenced by much more adventurous melodies and harmonies that also contained a strong American influence. In this traditional trova style it is normal to be more intimate while at the same time emphasizing close communication with the listener (it wasn't dance music per se).
Names that made history in traditional trova were, Jose Pepe Sanches, who is recognized as the father of traditional trova. Sanches is also said to be the teacher of Sindo Garay, another of the greats. They were followed by Manuel Corona, Alberto Villalon, RosendoRuiz, Miguel Companioni,, Eusebio Delfin, Graciano Gomez, Oscar Hernandez, Maria Teresa Vera, Salvador Adams and Patrick Ballagas among others.
An authority on this subject, the researcher and folklorist Lino Betancourt, claims that it was Alberto Villalon and Sindo Garay, in about 1896, who brought the bolero to the capital. This mode of expression had been used by the troubadours in those years and subsequently by many others. It was also updated and renewed in such a way that parts of this style are present in the music of almost the entire planet.
Today there are many practitioners of this genre. They are dressed in new sounds and different formats today. Gerardo Aldana, manager of the latest troubadours and regular attendee at the Casa de la Trova in Santiago. From an early age he is perhaps the closest example of the old trova style. Fortunately there are still living representatives almost as famous as Francisco Repilado, Compay Segundo
The second part of this great Cuban trovadorezca work known as feeling started to develop around the 1940’s. It is represented by names like: Tirso Diaz, Luis Yaes, Niño Rivera, Aida Diestro, Jose Antonio Mendez, Cesar Portillo de la Luz, Angel Diaz, Nico Rojas, Marta Valdes. Some of these are very famous and include performers of the stature of Moraima Secada, Elena Bourke and Omara Portuondo. It is noteworthy to understand the influence of North American music, the intimacy of the songs and how they still maintain communication with their audience.
The total change in the values in Cuban society after revolution in 1959 made for a new wave of troubadours who came about with very expressive songs. This new movement would join composers from various backgrounds in terms of composition and also the way the songs were created. This is why the nueva trova is also called nueva cancion in Cuba. It is a way to frame the movement that also developed in all of the Spanish-speaking world. It was formed not only by composers of protest songs, as some wanted it to be called at this point. The troubadour has always been one to sing about the joys and sorrows of a people. They were also their genuine representatives in the moment to express their feelings better through song.
"A troubadour, is a poet with a guitar," said Silvio Rodriguez, one of the genres greatest and most known figures. With that saying he gave the shortest and most complete definition to this phenomenon. He showed that troubadours showed, at the same time, a marked concern for more elaborate lyrics and the highest concern for contemporary poetry. It is in this stage that a more poetic art is turned to music and where there is more relation between troubadours and musicians.
It is remarkable how much more work these troubadours put in the lyrics. There is also a constant preoccupation for the beauty and coherence the the lyrics must have with the music that in many cases was put in the background, while for others it went hand-in-hand. It was in Havana where the first exponents of this genre met, among them, Silvio Rodriguez, Pablo Milanes, Noel Nicola, Sara Gonzalez, Pedro Luis Ferrer, Vicente Feliu, MikePurcell, Amaury Perez and vocal groups as Tema4, Manguare, Moncada, Mayohuacan, Los Caas, Sintesis, Mezcla, Nuestra America, Duet of Adolfo Costales and Margarita Mateos and it was the emergence of what would be a crystallizing of organization in meetings and festivals across the country.
Emerging at the same time from other regions were more troubadours of equal talent from the eastern part of the island. Agusto Blanca, Jose Antonio Rodriguez, Ramiro Gutierrez, Freddy Labori "Chispa", Rene Urquijo, Isidro Lopez Botalin, Lorenzo Cisneros "Topete", el Camagueyano Miguel Escalona y Lazaro Garcia de Cienfuegos, among others.
A new generation of troubadours has also been important. Troubadours such as Martha Campos, Jose Antonio Quesada, Donato Poveda, Frank Delgado, Santiago Feliu, Polito Ibaez, Raul Torres, Carlos Varela, the duet of Gema Corredera y Pavel Urquiza, Manuel Argudin, Liuba Maria Hebia and Juan Carlos Perez.
This movement had much dissemination and acceptance among young people of the country, bringing together large audiences never achieved by any artist in the musical history of the country. Sadly, that is not the case anymore.
It was remarkable to see the packed houses at the biggest theaters as well as in the concerts at Plaza de la Revolucion, the steps of the University of Havana, at the Parque Almendares, the nights of Jose Antonio Rodriguez in the Casa de la Amistad (Friendship House), the Pea del Trevolico, directed by Augusto Blanca and the shows of Vicente Feliu at the east of the Capital. These have almost all disappeared and been replaced by danceable music directed mostly to the tourists.
There are TV shows hosted by Douglas Ponce and the radio transmission Trovadores del Momento, a program which started its national broadcasting with the trovas best artists as reminders.
Casa de las Americas (House of the Americas) has been the most important promoter since it beginning of this important ingredient of the most genuine and defining in the formation of the Cuban culture. Currently there exists a show in the UNEAC directed by Andres Pedroso, known as the Trova sin Trabas (The Trova without Ties) where every Wednesday many of these trovadores are presented.