Culture, Multiculture, Music, Our People

The Cuban cabaret queen

Juana Bacallao, a show woman, is representative of the popular Picaresque tradition of Cuba due to the ingenuity and confidence with which the artist undertakes a repertoire that makes audiences around the world dance.


Daimarelys Pérez


In an exclusive interview with Prensa Latina, the Cuban composer and singer Jorge Soto said that the performer is much beloved in countries like Mexico, Venezuela, the United States and Canada, where she received a Gold Record.

The diva is also acclaimed in the Dominican Republic, where she performed for several years, but aside from the affection Dominicans have for Bacallao there are many digital radio stations in Europe that these days are playing one of the artist’s songs and also chant her nickname, especially in Italy. “Bailando con Juana” (“Dancing with Juana”) is the hit written in 2011 by Soto to honour the queen of cabaret in the largest of the Antilles and currently can be heard on online radio stations in the Italian peninsula, ranking among the favourites.

“She is quite a spectacle,” says the composer and performer, “and, thanks to this song, many people will come to know again that the charismatic Cuban artist is still standing at almost 100 years of age and that she continues with her shows.”

Another four groups of this archipelago nowadays top the charts of Italian radio stations, Will Campa’s band and Los Van Van among them; furthermore, they decided to make her a music video of the song, the songwriter informed us.

“Juana never had a music video during her career”, Soto recalled, “that’s why the production was made in order to pay tribute to the artist’s career of more than 60 years,” he specifies.

The company that commercialises all the products of Cuban Radio and Telelvision, RTV Comercial, and the animation studios, prepared the work that contains a mixture of musical genres with a sound in the style of the jazz bands of the 50s. The rhythms of timba, urban music, mambo and Cuban music generally intermingle to maintain the love that always characterised Bacallao, the composer says.

Juana, as many affectionately call her, is the embodiment of an enduring expressive practice of art in Cuba that set standards for national 19th century culture: bufo comedic theatre, with the performance of a markedly popular musical repertoire.

Undoubtedly, she is the “show woman” of that archipelago, named as such by her discoverer, her teacher Obdulio Morales.

Unique in her style, Juana is a symbol of the history of Cuban cabaret from the 1950s, through the last century, to the present and her performances with international showbiz figures have become that emotional energy imbued in her at every step she takes on the stage.

The North American Nat King Cole; the Cubans Bola de Nieve, Rosita Fornés and Benny Moré; the Mexican Mario Moreno (Cantinflas); and the Italian Rafaela Carrá have appeared on stage with the versatile artist, who even as a nonagenarian thrills the audiences that attend her shows.

Neris Amelia Martínez Salazar is her real name, however, in the Dominican Republic she has become very popular as Juana Bacallao. Over in Santo Domingo, the affection for her spurred the authorities and inhabitants to name a street with her stage name, Juana, la cubana.

The naming of the street afterwards inspired a purely Dominican song, very much in the Merengue style, performed by the all-female group Las Chicas del Can, who rose to fame in the 1980s and made the use of the güira instrument fashionable. (PL)

(Translated by Hannah Phelvin-Hartley – Email: – Photos: Prensa Latina

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