Eduardo Sosa, president of the Pepe Sánchez Trova Festival. Photo: Yaciel de la Peña (ACN)

MARCH 15-19, songs, voices, and guitars are confirming trova's reign in Santiago de Cuba, a city where the genre has never lost its preeminence.

The Pepe Sánchez Trova Festival is the oldest event of its kind in the country. The first edition took place in 1964 and organizers have kept the tradition alive against all odds.

The last day of the event coincides with the celebration of Cuban Troubadour Day, a tradition that honors the date in 1856 when the author of “Tristezas” - the first documented bolero written on the island - was born, as well as all those who over time have cultivated, revered, and enjoyed this artistic expression that defines us.

For seven years, Eduardo Sosa has presided the Festival, and he has not done so in an honorary capacity, but fully conscious of and committed to its goals and impact. This avocation is clearly evident in his answers to the questions we addressed.

What is different about this year's Festival?

No event is like the previous one, although the fundamentals remain unchanged. In the first place, the motivations count, those that link trova with the homeland's beginnings. Great trova artists emerged in Santiago, and a good number of them rest in Santa Ifigenia Cemetery. Since last October, the remains of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes are accompanied, in close proximity, by those of Martí, Fidel, and Mariana in the patrimonial necropolis. Céspedes, as we know, cultivated the arts and, among these, song. Along with Pancho Castillo he composed the first “Bayamesa”, with verses by José Fornaris, sung March 27 of 1851 to Luz Vázquez, Pancho's sweetheart. It will be lovely for all of us to intone it now, in memory of the Father of the Homeland.

This Festival coincides with the centenary of four classics of our trova repertory:

“Mujer bayamesa” by Sindo Garay; “Longina” by Manuel Corona; “Mujer perjura” by Miguel Companioni; and “Ella y yo” by Oscar Hernández. And soon to be reached is the half century of Virgilio's modest storefront on Heredia Street, which became possibly the most famous Casa de la Trova in the country. Heredia, this time, will be the street of song, from one end to the other.

We are attempting to consolidate the community nature of the Festival, with presentations in Segundo Frente, Palma Soriano, and other locations in Santiago like the Tivolí, where so many singers and songs were born. This takes nothing away from concerts in halls like the Dolores. I would like to highlight a special moment: the one there on Sunday the 18th with Annie Garcés and the Esteban Salas Conservatory Youth Symphony. I consider it a testimony to historical continuity, and at the same time, the renovation of trova.

Amidst all the old and new media turbulence, there are those who believe trova is declining among youth. Is this perception accurate?

The existence of fashion trends doesn't worry me. Disproportionate, self-serving promotion is something else. Diversity characterizes us; different ways of making and enjoying music coexist; all have their space, function, and moment. And in each one of them, of course, there are hierarchal levels. Trova has its place and nothing, no one, can displace it. Of course, this is also manifested in an uneven manner. Santiago is a trova power, that musicians and audiences have taken charge of defending, to the point that increasingly greater demands are being placed on the institutions that should be promoting it.

In Santa Clara and Sancti Spíritus, for example, trova has not lost any strength and continues to be renovated. It is encouraging to have in Cienfuegos a duo like Así Son, that will be here with us. The afternoons in the Pablo Center, in Habana Vieja, and the peña at Areíto Studios are always well attended. Young people respond. I'm not saying everyone, but, yes, enough.

Fifty years ago, Silvio, Pablo, and Noel gave their first concert in the Casa de las Américas, and their work is more alive than ever. The songs we are honoring during this Festival also live on in the memory of several generations; they seem to have been composed for our times.

What role does Eduardo Sosa play in the Festival?

Since I took on the organization of the Festival, my intention has been to serve and not to serve myself. So, I would prefer that the audiences pay more attention to what is being contributed by Pancho Amat, Tony Ávila, Jóvenes Clásicos del Son, William Vivanco, José Aquiles, Annie Garcés, Pepe Ordaz, the Palabras trio, Son del Yayabo, and the Septeto Santiaguero, with important programs during the event. They have asked me to do a concert, but I am thinking about it from another point of view. During one part, Andy Ruibal, a talented young musician from Santiago, will accompany me on the piano. Serving is also singing the songs of others and joining voices with mine.

How do you imagine the Pepe Sánchez Festival, now and in the future?

Efforts must be directed, at this time, toward the preservation and promotion of the Festival's memory and its articulation with other venues in the eastern region. What is being stated and debated in the theoretical colloquium cannot remain here; its publication must be organized. Neither should the concerts, with the selection of images and audio, be left in the moment of their presentation. CDs and audiovisuals are essential. But repeated screenings depend on institutional support. As does the idea of extending programming to neighboring provinces. The truth is that trova's cause defends itself, on its own, but more than good intentions are needed.