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Cuban light song and dance, very developed in terms of rhythm, which should not be confused with the homonymous dance of Spanish origin derived from the seguidilla, such as French composer Maurice Ravel’s Bolero for orchestra in the classical music genre.

The entirely Cuban bolero emerged in the last quarter of the 19th century, in Santiago de Cuba’s traditional trova. One of this city’s sons, Pepe Sánchez, is believed to be among the earliest creators of the bolero and a pioneer of the definition of the genre’s stylistic characters. However, it soon spread throughout the country and went on to all of America. In the 1950s it reached the peak of success in Mexico. Nevertheless, it has no relationship with Spanish music from the 17th century. The bolero’s musical base comprises two guitars and a treble guitar for the melodies, in addition to two voices for harmonizing. This is the way Los Panchos planned it in 1944.

According to musicologist Helio Orovio (see his Dictionary of Cuban Music), the bolero is the first major vocal synthesis of the country’s music, which gained universal permanence when it went beyond the island’s borders. It is also a kind of fusion of Spanish and Afro-Cuban factors, present in the accompanying line of the guitar and the melody.

The bolero rightly achieved its greatness when composers began putting music to the verses of well-known poets. In its tireless evolution, diverse variants such as the bolero montuno, bolero -mambo and bolero beguine brought success to their creators.

Despite all the modifications it underwent throughout the years, the content of its lyrics has always dealt with impossible and fruitless loves. In Cuba, the stories in which people die from lack of love, crimes of passion or suicide, and which are capable of making those who hear them shed tears of sorrow, are called "bloody boleros".

Its magnetism, however, has made it possible for the bolero to continue being a preferred genre at parties, romantic gatherings and, above all, at nightspots, where couples go to deliberately fall in love. This type of song has also resorted to drinks and kisses in the dark. But undoubtedly it is also a genre to be sung on big stages, which is why in Cuba there are diverse competitions, some of them of international scope such as the Boleros de Oro Festival dedicated to the composition of this type of song.

Cubans Manuel Corona, Jaime Prats and Sindo Garay, Mexican Agustín Lara and Puerto Rican Rafael Hernández are names that stand out among the names of this genre’s major composers.

It is said that every person has a bolero. What’s more, there probably isn’t a single musician in the world who hasn’t sung or played a bolero at least once. Cuban Juan Formell, a composer of “strong” dance music, has succumbed to its influence. Even the Beatles couldn’t resist and some of their hits were boleros.

Perhaps this is why a popular Cuban saying, used when exhorting someone to stick to what is really important, acquires greater relevance: “Forget the tango and sing boleros, my friend.”
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