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One hundred years of the reign of son

Cuban culture recorded a 100-year milestone since a group of musicians gathered on Lealtad Street, between Zanja and Dragones, today Centro Habana, to conceive the idea of ​​forming a sextet for the danceable musical genre known as “son” at the beginning of 1920. Today they are the Septeto Habanero.


Jorge Petinaud Martínez


This is how the Sexteto Habanero was born, made up of Guillermo Castillo (guitar and conductor), Carlos Godínez (tres), Gerardo Martínez (main voice and claves), Antonio Bacallao (botija), Oscar Sotolongo (bongo) and Felipe Nery Cabrera (maracas).

These six musical innovators of popular roots quickly gained admiration, first from the dancers in the capital, and after the introduction of radio in Cuba in August 1922, their fame and acceptance spread throughout the country.

Such was the success of the group that even despite the racial and class prejudices of the time, their presence was demanded in the most prestigious music halls of the capital.

Then, in 1924, a change of image was necessary, with the botija being substituted for the double bass, and the members opting for an elegant dress code.

Photo Prensa Latina

With this, the Sexteto Habanero became the first group of son musicians that turned professional and established this tradition of dress in Cuba.

In 1925, they won the National Son Contest for “Tres lindas cubanas” by Guillermo Castillo, and that same year they became the first musicians in the world to record a work of this genre for RCA Víctor (“La maldita timidez”, by Carlos Valdés Brito).

A few years later, in 1929, they travelled to Tampa, Florida to appear in one of the first sound films in the world, “El Puerto del infierno”, and then in 1927 they became the Septeto Habanero after incorporating trumpeter Enrique Hernández Urrutia, who was later replaced by Félix Chappottín.

Marketed by RCA Víctor throughout the American continent and the rest of the world, their albums marked the beginning of the reign of son from the 1920s onwards, to such an extent that the great composer Ernesto Lecuona wrote numerous songs for them, including ““Se fue”, “Andar, andar” and “Por un beso de tu boca”.

“A la Loma de Belén”, “Cabo de la Guardia”, “Mujeres no se duerman”, “Las cuatro palomas”, “Papá Montero” and other songs that formed the basis of the sextet’s, became popular overnight.

“That’s how the septet became a school for soneros, and at different stages the group featured noteworthy musicians such as José Interián, Manolo Furé (conductors), Abelardo Barroso, Panchito Riset, Arsenio Rodríguez, Agustín Gutiérrez, Cheo Marquetti, Laíto Sureda, Alfredo ‘Chocolate’ Armenteros, Vicentico Valdés and José Artemio Castañeda (Maracaibo), among others,” commented Jaime Gracián Hernández, current artistic director of the group, in an exclusive interview with Cuba Internacional.

In these past 100 years, special mention should be given to Germán Pedro Ibáñez, the composer, singer, guitarist and arranger who served as the musical director of the group for over four decades (1964-2007).

Ibáñez’s contributions included returning to the original format of the group in 1983, which from the 1940s had become the Conjunto Típico Habanero.

“The arrival of Pedrito Ibáñez marked a before and after, because he was the artist who maintained and revitalised the original repertoire. Many of the songs that were initially released at the beginning of the 20’s were not conceived with the trumpet, an instrument that did not feature in the sextet until 1927,” he emphasised.

Ibáñez rescued the group’s original repertoire, adding mambos or interludes of the brass instrument between one chorus and another, and supplemented it with songs of his own. According to Gracián, thanks to this work, the Septeto Habanero continues to delight dancers 100 years on, with its contemporaneity and fidelity to traditional hits such as “El orgullo de los soneros”, “Revive la ilusión”, “Desde el día en que te vi” and “Alerta a los bailadores”,  among others. (PL)

(Translated by Lucy Daghorn)  – Photos: Pixabay



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