“The concept of cute doesn’t interest me.” -Brenda Navarrete
Ah, the Havana of yesteryear, and the grand orchestras of Cuba.
You can listen to a few of them here, in this 47-minute documentary video “Las Grandes Orquestas de Cuba“, in Spanish. So what all is in this documentary?
- There was El Mozambique de Pello, created by Pedro Izquierdo (1933 – 2000) , known as Pello el Afrokán. The”mozambique” was a dance rhythm related to the conga line dances that had its heyday in 1962-65.
- There was Benny Moré…
- Roberto Faz
- Pacho Alonso
- Conjunto Casino (with more of a jazz orientation, but still heavy on the brass section)
- La Sonora Matancera (but the article for lead singer Myrta Silva has no photo) She is not a “BLP” (1927 – 1987), so no “fair use” concerns.
- La Aragón – the best cha-cha-cha and charanga band of the 40s and 50s – with its violin section and flute solos played in a high register
- Cachao (Israel López Valdés) – a Cuban dance musician popular in the U.S.
- the conga santiaguera, a music form unique to the carnival of Santiago de Cuba, that uses brake drums as percussion, along with the corneta china.
Ah, but where are the women, you may ask.
- the Buena Vista Social Club’s Omara Portuondo
- the salsa legend Celia Cruz
- the Queen of the Bolero, Olga Guillot, who coached Nat King Cole on his Spanish
- all-female dance bands, like Anacaona and Canela (Grupo Canela de Cuba) (both red links)
- pianist Leyanis Valdés Reyes (red link), daughter of Afro-Cuban jazz musician Chucho Valdés, and graduate of Havana’s Amadeo Roldán Conservatory
- Canadian saxophonist and flutist Jane Bunnett
- Daymé Arocena, a founding member of Bunnett’s all-female Afro-Cuban sextet, Maqueque (red link)
- Haydée Milanés, another alumus of Amadeo Roldán, and daughter of Pablo Milanés, songwriter and founder of the Nueva Trova movement
- Cuban singer La Lupe (Lupe Victoria Yolí Raymond)
- Nina Simone, American singer who recorded “I put a spell on you“
- Brenda Navarret, percussion (red link), in particular, batá drumming, “a hypercompetitive ritual among men, judged on speed and memory; women are widely regarded as lacking the physical stamina for the instrument. In the religion (see Santeria) , women are allowed to sing but are often prohibited from playing the batá and sometimes even prevented from standing near the instrument.” Hmm, how about an instruction video?…The drums are played in sets of three, here she is :
The first group of women in Cuba and probably in the world who play the Bata drums professionally is Obini Bata (red link).
- Melvis Santa (red link), 2018 Grammy nominee, and the current lead singer of Maqueque, also a member of Interactivo, a Havana-based musical collective, along with her half-sister Navarrete.
- Yissy García (red link), drummer, member of Maqueque and fronts her own band, Bandancha. She is the daughter of Bernando García (red link), of Irakere orchestra
So what about these charanga flutes?
The most well-known player is either Jane Bunnett or it might be Sue Miller (red link) and her UK group Charanga del Norte. In her book, Cuban Flute Style: Interpretation and Improvisation, Miller writes about studying the technique of Richard Egües and José Fajardo.
Here she plays Egües’ El Bodeguero
And the flutes?
They might be modern flutes, or they might be 5-key French flutes.
“Charanga flutists play in an extraordinarily high register, inhabiting the third and fourth octaves most of the time, seldom venturing down into the second octave. This is because charanga developed at a time before sound amplification. As the lead voice, the flute must be heard over a large ensemble that includes at least two (frequently three) percussionists. The high register cuts through the din. Unfortunately, many flutists today are not usually aware of the fingerings for notes more than a whole step into the fourth octave.”
You can buy a new wooden one for “as played by the old masters in the Orquestas Francesas, Danzon and charanga bands. Copied from a fine French original…”
Here are fingerings for the Jerome Thibouville Lamy five key, more fingerings for five and six-key, an essay in the Flutist quarterly, a short description by Sue Miller, with a transcription of a solo by Richard Egües, and another essay that promises somewhere are “transcriptions of solos by Melquiades, Richard Egües and Eduardo Rubio”.
Here’s what they look like: oldflutes.com. The bore is conical, and any unneeded keys are sometimes removed. The end plug is moved closer to the embouchure hole, for better tuning in the higher registers, and the slide is pulled out. Sometimes the embouchure hole is also made smaller, depending on the artist. The small size of the fingering holes is retained. These flutes are usually in the key of B-flat, and they are played an octave higher than the written music. (So with the slide pulled out, does that make it play in the key of C?) Here is what the wooden flute sounds like, here played by Jose Fajardo. I think they have a different (mellower?) tone from the modern Boehm silver ones.