Trovas from Sancti Spiritus

The traditional trova is over two hundred years old and one of the most deeply rooted forms of musical expression in popular Cuban culture. Numerous artists have contributed to enriching its repertoire throughout this period.

Considering the variety of elements contributing to the origins of Cuban society, it took three hundred years for Cuba’s musical heritage to go through the process of appropriating and transforming these elements to produce its many different styles: urban, suburban and rural rhythms, sometimes closely linked to the social environment and to particular themes. These different styles of music then adapted to each other, coming to express a national identity.

The Cuban trovadores have always been men of humble status, making their living with their guitars. With keen natural sensitivity, they take pleasure in appropriating and passing on the deepest of human feelings through the medium of their beautiful musical and poetic works. Their songs carry an aesthetic and social vision, reflecting every stage of the development of Cuban society. 

Though the Cuban folk song has continued to evolve, giving rise to other, universally appreciated, musical styles – such as El Feeling represented by composers like José Antonio Méndez and César Portillo de la Luz, and the New Trova represented by Pablo Milanés and Silvio Rodríguez – this CD includes a large number of pieces by more classical authors who make up the traditional trova repertoire, such as Miguel Matamoros, Ñico Saquito, Evelio Rodríguez, Crescencio González and Rafael Gómez “Teofilito”.

The two ensembles that took part in these recordings, the Trio D’Gómez and the Trio Miraflores, summarise the excellence of the music of the province of Sancti Spiritus in central Cuba. Their repertoire is inspired by a large number of themes by present-day authors, most of whom were born in the region. The harmonious relationship between these pieces, composed and performed in the characteristic style of the traditionaltrova, demonstrates the continuity and the vigour of this type of Cuban song.  

The concept of the "Cuban folk song" was forged in the 19th century. It underwent and assimilated the influence of various genres introduced to the island through successive waves of immigration: Italian operatic airs, ornamented French romances, Neapolitan ballads, slow waltzes and quadrilles. The quadrille, a music and dance genre imported from Haiti and Louisiana by French settlers, became the first Cuban salon dance. It gave rise to various rhythmical styles that developed themselves in the trova tradition, like the guajira, the habanera, the clave and the criolla.

The characteristic elements that typify the different styles serve as a support for the performer for interpreting the feelings aimed at by the composer. The words are brought to express a range of feelings on the theme of love: intrigues, patriotic or naturalistic feelings and satire, all intrinsic to the Cuban temperament.

The trova is most frequently performed in a trio comprising two guitars and, as percussion instrument, claves or occasionally maracas. Two voices, primo and segundo,accompany the instruments at an interval of a third or a sixth. The singing is generally not very complex, which does not take away from the virtuosity with which the second voice dominates the melody line, as this style of performance requires the voices to be more or less independent from each other. Often the two voices sing the same lyrics throughout long musical phrases, thereby enhancing the song’s expressiveness. In other pieces, the lyrics are different for the two voices, while sharing the same style and emotional quality.

Some trovador traditions have already been lost, like the tradition of playing serenades under the balconies of the beautiful women the trovador wanted to seduce... The musicians in these recordings could tell you many an interesting anecdote on this subject!

In Sancti Spiritus and in Trinidad the traditional trova is deeply rooted in popular culture: legendary trovadores are depicted on coins and monuments, and in many places a special location is even reserved for the enjoyment of the genre, the local population’s favourite kind of music.The artists of Sancti Spiritus have incorporated local genres into the trova, such as the rural tonadas de punto and the punto spirituano, which is a variation on the punto fijo, as well as the pasacalles often performed by the Coros de Clave and the comparsas spirituanas interpreted by the Trio D'Gomez (photography below)

One of the best represented genres on these recordings is the guaracha. In urban places this type of ballad almost always tells of local customs or popular figures – like, for example, Francisquito, who became an emblematic figure in Sancti Spiritus for being able to tell the time from the sun (track 4)!

Homenaje Póstumo is a ballad about Manuel Nápoles, known as “Mantecao”, who was the director of the Trio Miraflores. He refused to attend a feast in his honour organised by his fellow-townsmen, from fear of the bad omens that might be provoked by such a show... His friends were left to enjoy the banquet in his absence (track 15).

The criolla and the guajira 1 are two bucolic genres. The guajiras almost always follow 6/8 time and can be combined with quite separate melodic motifs in 3/4 time. The melody of the criolla Nenúfaris composed in 6/8 time, with an accompaniment in 3/4 time, producing a rich rhythmic harmony (track 10).

This compilation would be incomplete without the bolero, which constitutes a major genre in the repertoire of Cuban song, inspired by music from various regions of the Iberian peninsula, Mexico and Cuba. The traditional trova composers compose the bolero in two-time. Then, after an introduction consisting of a series of chords on the lead guitar, a segmented, repetitive rhythm takes over, onto which a melody is woven, playing with the tempo of the accompaniment. The themes of the bolero are generally about love.

The various forms of the pregón 2 account for a large section of Cuban folk music. It is used in one of the most significant works of the country’s musical history, presented here as performed by the Trio Miraflores: Frutas del Caney. This is a beautiful, generous piece from one of the most beautiful regions of Santiago de Cuba (track 17).

These field recordings have been made with the aim of exhibiting a particular aspect of Cuba’s musical heritage. They illustrate the national temperament, attachment to customs and authenticity characteristic of the inhabitants of the Sancti Spiritus region.

Mayra Torralbas

  1.  The guajira is a soft and nostalgic country ballad originating from the Oriente, not to be confused with the guaracha, which is an urban, subversive genre containing licentious or political allusions.  
  2. Type of folk song that used to be improvised by street singers.

CD tracks
  1. Ruinas de mi bohio (son) - Miguel Matamoros
    "Ruins of my hut" - Trio Miraflores

  2. Dulce Embeleso - Carnaval de Oriente (guaracha) - Miguel Matamoros
    "Sweet Extasy - Oriente Carnival 1" - Trio Miraflores

  3. La Comadre Catalina (guaracha) - Ñico Saquito
    "Comadre 2 Catalina" - Trio D’Gómez

  4. Francisquito (guaracha) - Alfredo Varona
    Trio D’Gómez 

  5. Tres Amores (bolero) - Sigfredo Mora
    "Three Loves" - Trio D’Gómez 

  6. Anhelo póstumo (bolero) - Gustavo Castro
    "Posthumous Desire" - Trio Miraflores 

  7. No me mires así (bolero) -Manolo Gallo
    "Don’t Look at Me Like That"  - Trio Miraflores 

  8. Invierno y primavera (bolero) - Rafael Rodríguez
    "Winter and Spring" - Trio Miraflores 

  9. Linda Maria (bolero) - Miguel Companioni
    "Lovely Maria" - Trio D’Gómez 

  10. Nenúfar (criollo) - Manolo Gallo
    "Water-lily" -
    Trio D’Gómez 

  11. Gaviota del Mar (bolero) - Miguel Campanioni
    "Sea-gull" - Trio Miraflores

  12. Pasacalles Spirituanos (congas)
    "Pascalles 3 from Sancti Spiritus"  - Trio Miraflores

  13. La Botella (guaracha) - Evelio Rodriguez
    "The Bottle" - Trio D’Gómez 

  14. Son a Ramón (guaracha) - text: Vidal Borrego / music: José Cardoso
    "Son 4 for Ramón" - Trio D’Gómez

  15. Falso Homenaje (guaracha) - Enrique Bernal Valdivia
    "False homage" - Trio D’Gómez

  16. A orillas del Guaso (bolero, son) - Miguel Matamoros
    "On the banks of the Guaso" - Trio Miraflores

  17. Frutas del Caney (pregón) - Felix B. Canet
    "Fruits of Caney" - Trio Miraflores

  18. Homenaje a Miguel (bolero) - text: Ma Rosario Basso / music: Lourdes Caro
    Homage to Miguel - Trio D’Gómez

  19. Que siga la Trova, trovador (bolero) - Crescencio Gonzalez
    "Follow the Trova, Poet" - Trio D’Gómez

  20. Arruyo (criolla) - text: Carlos Sotolongo / music: René Bonachea
    Trio D’Gómez

  21. Porqué latío (bolero) - Miguel Companioni
    "Sweet Suffering…"  - Trio Miraflores

  22. Temo al olvido (bolero) - Rafael Gómez Mayea “Teofilito”
    "I'm Afraid of Forgetting" - Trio Miraflores

  1. Oriente was the largest province of Cuba during the Castro government. Today it is divided into several smaller provinces but many people still use this term to designate the region.
  2. "Comadre" is a typical Latin American word meaning "godmother".
  3. Pasacalle: merry musical genre interpreted by comparsas (popular dance groups) which each year append in Sancti Spiritus, capital of the homonymous province. It is the main show of the "Fiestas de Santiago". Since the nineteenth century, with the arrival of Spanish emigrants of Saint Jacques de Compostela, the carnival celebrations are called so.
    One of the most representative and most famous pasacalle is one entitled "Tú que me decías" ( "You who told me") which is popularly known as "Yayabo".
  4. The son is a genre sang and danced, rural first, then urban, born in the eastern provinces and transformed in Havana. One of the major genres of Cuban popular music.