Cuban musician, composer and conductor Adalberto Álvarez (1948-2021)
It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Cuban musician, composer and conductor Adalberto Ãlvarez. He was an active 72-year-old man and he joins the millions of people who have died prematurely and needlessly from complications from COVID-19 infection.
Adalberto Cecilio Ãlvarez Zayas, nicknamed El Caballero Del Son (The Gentleman of Son), was a representative of Cuban Son music and also championed both the Son and Casino dances. One of the few Soviet-era subsidized artists to break the cultural blockade of Cuba, lvarez gained international notoriety in the late 1970s as the leader of his first group, Son 14. He then left to form Adalberto Ãlvarez y Su Son. , which he continued to lead until his death. In Latin America, he became the most covered Cuban composer of popular dance music of the post-revolutionary period, his compositions adding to the century-old corpus of compositions drawn from contemporary sound and salsa orchestras and to which their singers cite. .
Ãlvarez was born in Havana, in November 1948, into a family of musicians. He began to learn musical harmony from his mother at an early age. After his family moved to the city of CamagÃ¼ey, he acted as musical director and arranger in his father’s youth group or Conjunto. Like many of the island’s most talented young people who grew up after the Castro revolution, Ãlvarez received specialized higher education. He studied music at the famous Escuela Nacional de Artes (ENA) between 1966 and 1972. During this time his compositions were used by at least one group, Rumbavana, but it was not until 1978 that Ãlvarez had formed his first orchestra.
Although little known today in the English-speaking world, Sound is one of the most influential Western musical genres of the 20th century. It was born into the trios and quartets of rural eastern Cuba at the end of the 19th century and first spread through military deployments, until Havana, then throughout the Caribbean, urban Latin America and the West. It is characterized by its structurally distinct sections and a two-bar asymmetric bar. Enclave guide borrowed from La Rumba Ã la Habana. Montuno’s original section consists of interlocking ostinati, repeated motifs, with improvised calls and responses between singer and choir and / or parts of the orchestra. The Largo, an introductory written verse, became a standard addition when Son arrived in urban areas. His remains a mainstream in Cuban and Afro-Latin American popular music.
At the end of the 1970s and in the 1980s in particular, lvarez played an extraordinary role both in the continuation of this development of Sound and in its dissemination, particularly in Latin America, through the blockade. His most recent works have adopted elements of the orchestral style developed within salsa as well as Cuban hybrid music of the 1990s – Timba – but retained a rustic authenticity and inventiveness typical of Son.
The first LP of Son 14, At Bayamo En Coche, was released in 1979, CÃ´me Fils in 1981 and the following year, Adalberto Ãlvarez Presenta Son 14. They were an integral part of new Cuban music as it evolved in the late 1970s and diverged in the style of music that Son had previously inspired in the United States and Latin America. The title song of “A Bayamo En Coche” opens with a GuaguancÃ³ Rumba in acapella, human beatbox style, each part of percussion being taken by a voice or by applause before the orchestra abruptly cuts it off. The brash, aggressive and often dissonant style of its brass section could be mistaken for the Rumbavana sound of the time. The use of the 3-double-string Tres guitar, the Segunda Voz (second voice which harmonizes in thirds and sixths with the main voice) as well as traditional song structures linked it to the past.
Eduardo âTiburÃ³nâ Morales’s voice, however, revealed a new aesthetic – rough, gruff, though perfectly fair and phrased, and without any affectation. The arrangements were often harshly dissonant, nervously nervous, and interspersed with Ãlvarez’s sometimes disconcerting synthesized keyboard sounds. The Montuno would come into play, a piston-shaped Cencerro (big cow bell) cranking up the bpm at a rate few salsa dancers expected or could cope with. Angular, quirky and unpredictable, this music was never designed for club DJs. But in Cuba, even though there was a lot of live music, there were probably few or no clubs.
In a way, Son 14’s music and Ãlvarez’s compositions broke both the blockade and the prejudices outside the island regarding contemporary Cuban music. His work was quickly discovered and covered by so many artists in Puerto Rico, New York, and Venezuela that it’s hard to be sure of the timeline or exactly how it happened. According to a source, the blankets number in the hundreds. In an atypical way at that time, Son 14 managed to do many tours outside Cuba.
The date of the first interpretation found by this reviewer, 1981, suggests that it was Puerto Rico’s Sonora PonceÃ±a and her co-leader and pianist Papo Lucca, who opened the door to Ãlvarez’s work, for others follow. More than copies of The originals of Ãlvarez, La PonceÃ±a the arrangements extracted the core of Ãlvarez’s material and transformed it, in their own style, into music accessible to social salsa dancers. They would typically cover one or more of his compositions on their own LPs until 1990.
With three LPs to his credit, Ãlvarez left Son 14 and in 1984 formed Adalberto lvarez and Su Son. Their style was at the beginning always quirky, unmistakably Cuban but very original and with a mischievous tendency to double the tempo during a song. However, the distance between the new band’s sound and that of Salsa elsewhere gradually began to narrow. Led by exceptional singer Felix Valoy who had also performed with Son 14, “Reflections MÃas“(My thoughts) and” El Mal De La HipocresÃa “(The Evil of Hypocrisy) stand out among their 80s repertoire. They have also kept various salsa groups, such as Roberto Roena and Su Apollo Sound, busy with new themes to copy. As Ãlvarez re-settled into a more traditional, less frenetic vein, amid economic turmoil and a new generation of musicians emerging from ENA, a new revolution was about to begin.
A capricious child of Son with fresh infusions of North American music, Timba was born to world-class musicians who both suffered and ultimately profited from the special period of the 1990s. The end of Soviet subsidies collapsed and subverted Cuban society. For one reason or another, not all pre-existing dance music orchestras in Cuba adopted Timba. Ãlvarez did not immediately adapt or borrow from it. He was best known in the 1990s for publicly declaring that he belonged to the officially denigrated and repressed SanterÃa religion that most Cubans, of all origins, secretly believed.
His biggest hit of the decade was “Â¿Y QuÃ© TÃº Quieres Que Te Den?” (What do you want them to give you?). This nearly 12-minute song travels the Yoruba pantheon of Orishas (equivalent saints) citing their religious music and telling the audience, according to their attributes, what to ask of each. At one point, he also became a Babalawo, a priest equivalent to SanterÃa. As the Castro regime turned around to embrace religion, between 2013 and 2018 Ãlvarez also became CamagÃ¼ey’s deputy in the National Assembly of People’s Power. Shortly before his death, he spoke out against the violent crackdown on recent protests.
Ãlvarez released several CDs in the late 90s which appear to be geared towards the growing Latin dance market and the growing global interest in Casino and Rueda Dance. These are in my eyes his most conventional and least memorable works. However, as Timba retreated to the mid-2000s and the worst effects of the Special Period wore off, Ãlvarez’s spark returned. It also began to incorporate some of the innovations of the Timba generation, such as the complex gears and effects, in his Son but it was His informed by Timba, his general trajectory was towards a form of Son conforming to the dance of the Salsa or the Casino.
Preceded by Para Bailar Casino (2003), Mi Linda Habanera (2005) confirmed its ability to systematically produce a dance tune. Gozando In Havana (2008), El Son de Altura (2010) Respeto Pa ‘Los Mayores (2013) and From Cuba Pa’l Mundo Entero (2018) followed. Many contemporaries came to bow to foreign tastes that paid the bills and more, but Ãlvarez found a balance that retained the sensibility of popular Cuban musical traditions. The result was the demotion of the first division of Cuban export groups, but the enduring love and respect for those people and populations who were born or learned the language of Cuban music and feel its depth and subtleties.
The Son is as old as the Blues and shares some of the same roots, but the development of the Blues arguably came to a screeching halt with the death of Jimi Hendrix. Its environment, its available raw materials and perhaps its innate potential for complexity have not yet encountered any insurmountable obstacle to its continued development. During his first five years as a conductor and arranger, Adalberto Ãlvarez played a pivotal role in overturning established norms, paving the way for others and creating a space for Cuban musicians to get better and better. trained to use their skills. The often frenzied musical uprising and experimentalism in his thirties subsided early on, but Ãlvarez did not end his career in conservatism.
The release of his latest album suggests that Elvarez still had a lot of new things to say, including an excellent redesign of “El Mal De La HipocresÃa”. But from the popular melodrama of the Cuban soap opera, and through Son, he produced a masterpiece, “Los Buenos and Los Malos(The Goodies And The Baddies), perhaps his most powerful composition in thirty years.
Here are the glowing embers of a life of great work – a rich expanse of textured sounds with complex undercurrents and smooth, but still crisp transitions. His music matured but in the end was anything but stale. Cuban music shows alarming signs of commercialized decline over the past 20 years, closely following the creeping return of capitalist social relations. There are still several artists, however, who demonstrate that it is still possible to create new folk art from sound. That the youngest of them will make history as Ãlvarez did, currently seems unlikely. For many years there has been little evidence of the creativity in the West to which this young generation turns ideologically. Perhaps his last recording, Adalberto Ãlvarez y Su Son released a little concert during the pandemic almost a year ago. His contribution to Cuban and human culture will continue.