Why Cubans love their irresistible music “son”, and consider it a part of their identity and “the DNA of Cuban culture”.
Why Cubans love their famous and irresistible music called “son”, and consider it a part of their identity and “the DNA of Cuban culture. This style of music, which spawned the likes of salsa, has been very popular in Cuba for a hundred years.
Musicologist Dr Lucy Duran, a specialist in Cuban music, returns to the island to ask why, and what the Cubans’ enduring passion for ‘son’ tell us about them.
She focuses on one particular song: Lagrimas Negras, “black tears”. Composed in the 1920s by Miguel Matamoros, it’s universally known. Musicians can sing or play it on the spot. Some of them perform for Lucy’s microphone: from Buena Vista Social Club legends Eliades Ochoa and Omara Portuondo, to singer Anais Abreu and tres guitar virtuoso Pancho Amat.
They and many others from the pinnacle of Cuban music explain why son is a key part of Cuban identity. They describe how son evolved from the same mix as Cuban society: Africa (rhythm) and Europe (melody and harmony). Songs like Lagrimas Negras, constructed as a “smiling tragedy”, embody the Cuban philosophy of life: to face hardship with a sense of humour. The lyrics are about being left by your lover. But the insistence of the danceable chorus that “you want to leave me but I don’t want to suffer”, shows that son, like Cubans, turns difficult circumstances into something light-hearted. The song typifies how Cubans always find a way of smiling through their own misfortune.
This is the first of a series of 6 programmes to be transmitted over the coming year, which examine the interactions between music, identity and social change at key points in history.
Producer: Arlene Gregorius
(Photo: Eliades Ochoa. Credit: BBC)