OFFICIAL VOICE OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF CUBA CENTRAL COMMITTEE
Danzón dancers in Cuba. Photo: Ricardo Alonso Venereo

Each new edition of the Havana International Danzón Festival, organized by the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) and its Association of Musicians, since 2004, recognizes and pays tribute to the history of this Cuban musical genre and its main figures in the youngest of the country’s provinces: Artemisa and Mayabeque.

As such Danzón Habana 2017, to be held June 21 - 25, in the capital and other nearby provinces, will be dedicated to the towns of San Antonio de los Baños, in Artemisa, and Madruga and Santa Cruz del Norte, in Mayabeque.

Maestro José Loyola Fernández, founder and president of the event, announced that as part of the International Festival outside the capital, these three Cuban towns will see an important series of activities surrounding the figures of the brothers Raimundo and Pablo Valenzuela, of San Antonio de los Baños, and José Urfé and Antonio María Romeu, from Madruga and Santa Cruz del Norte, respectively.

Other towns across Artemisa and Mayabeque will also experience the magic of danzón during the event. For example, the cities of Artemisa, Güines, Quivicán and Bejucal, among others, where a strong movement of danzon clubs and orchestras still exists today, will see events to celebrate Cuba’s national dance. This lively movement represents one of the reasons why UNEAC always returns to Artemisa and Mayabeque with this festival.

A LITTLE HISTORY: DANZÓN IN ARTEMISA AND MAYABEQUE

Danzón, a genre born in Matanzas, under the baton of Miguel Ramón Demetrio Failde Pérez (1852-1921), author of Las alturas de Simpson, was first played and danced on January 1, 1879, in the halls of the Matanzas Club, later the Liceo Artístico Literario (today the White Hall). Miguel presented the piece with his orchestra Los Faildes, founded in 1871, in which his brothers Eduardo and Cándido also played.

From that moment on, danzón developed across other provinces of the country.

Danzón is considered Cuba’s national dance and is recognized as Cultural Heritage of the Nation. Young people have taken on the task of revitalizing the genre, and making it more visible across the country. Photo: www.giron.cu

While in Matanzas Los Faildes cultivated the new rhythm and Miguel Ramón Demetrio Failde Pérez enjoyed the success of his danzón piece Las alturas de Simpson, in the west of the country Raimundo Valenzuela and Aurelio Gómez Jardín carried out similar efforts. The work of the latter, unfortunately little known, according to researcher Luis César Núñez, reached beyond our borders, as his danzón Artemisa, dedicated to the town where he was born, became part of the repertoire of the military band of the city of Lambayeque, Peru, when it was directed by Ricardo Flores Vizcarra.

Raimundo Valenzuela (1848-1905) and Pablo Valenzuela (1859-1926) joined Juan de Dios Alfonso’s La Flor de Cuba orchestra. These two musicians were the most outstanding in the west of the country, especially in what is now the province of Artemisa.

In Candelaria, also in the province of Artemisa, the violinist, composer and conductor Enrique Jorrín Olead was born on December 25, 1926. Jorrín is the author of the danzón pieces Unión Cienfueguera, Doña Olga, La Antorcha de Artemisa, Candelaria, and the cha cha cha pieces La Engañadora, El Alardoso and El Túnel. He was part of the Artemisa, Ideal and Arcaño y sus Maravillas orchestras. He was conductor of the Orquesta América, and formed his own orchestra in 1954.

Soon the new rhythm, which replaced the contradanza, took over the country’s dance halls and by the mid-twentieth century it was declared the island’s national dance. The example of Miguel and his orchestra Los Faildes was followed by other musicians, among them composers and conductors of the current province of Mayabeque.

Among these were clarinetist Nicolás González, who was known as Sinsonte Guinero, teacher and director of the Bomberos de Güines band; trombonist Pedro Plutarco Rojas y González, known as Perico, who founded his orchestra first in 1884, followed by a second stage which commenced in 1904, with Andrés Rojas on the violin and Miguel Rojas on the clarinet. The Rojas were a family of musicians who trained new generations. Today in Güines the orchestra has been revived as the Hermanos Rojas and each month amateur musicians of the area offer Sunday concerts in the central park. The Melodías Danzoneras Orchestra also continues to perform.

Also worth mentioning is singer Dominica Verges, as the only woman to have sung danzón and danzonete. She sang, among others, with the Siglo XX orchestra.

However, among all these artists, undoubtedly the most important were the members of the Urfé family, in Madruga, led by José Urfé, his sons José Esteban, Odilio, Orestes, and his clarinetist brother Jesús.

Urfé, composer, clarinetist, teacher, and conductor, began his musical studies under Domingo Ramos. He was the author of many outstanding works, including habaneras, criollas, caprichos (different Cuban music genres), and especially danzones, as well as some religious music. He traveled to Mexico and the United States on several occasions as part of theater orchestras. He contributed rhythmic elements from son to the genre, which have since defined the present form of Cuban danzón. Other well known and popular danzón pieces of his were: Fefita, Nena, El churrero, El dios chino, and El progreso.

Known as “The Wizard of the Keys,” Antonio María Romeu (1876-1955) began playing at dances from the age of ten. On August 5, 1887, he made his debut as a pianist at the Casino Español de Aguacate, where he performed a danzón for the first time, entitled: Carió no hay mejor café que el de Puerto Rico. His first danzón was Ten Dollars o Ten Days, and he would go on to write more than 500 danzón pieces, the most widely known of which are: Marcheta, Alemán prepara tu cañón, La danza de los millones, El servicio obligatorio, Cinta azul, El mago de las teclas, Jibacoa, Los frescos and, above all, La flauta mágica, in collaboration with Alfredo Brito. But his most universal composition is the danzón Tres lindas cubanas, first performed in 1926 and including for the first time a piano solo. It gave rise to a singular style of danzon performance.

Today danzón continues to attract new generations of Mayabeque musicians, as evidenced by Quivicán native and jazz great Chucho Valdés’ Danzón para Alicia, a piece with great experimental force, or his memorable Valle de Picadura and Cien años de juventud.

The 2017 Havana International Danzón Festival will also be dedicated to the Mexican states of Yucatán, Veracruz, Campeche, and Quintana Roo. Under the slogan “From Danzón, to Mambo, to Cha cha cha on the centenary of the birth of Dámaso Pérez Prado (1917-1989),” the event will also honor Paulina Álvarez (1912-1965), the “Empress” of danzonete, and Aniceto Díaz (1887-1964), creator of danzonete, as well recalling the centenary of the arrival of Cuban danzón to Yucatán.