A man in a white guayabera walks up to a woman and holds out his hand, palm up, inviting her to dance. She gets up and waves her fan. On the dance floor, they come closer.
Such a scene at the end of the 19th century in Cuba was scandalous in some circles. It was also a new musical genre, the danzón.
Today, danzón scores from this period, lost in the archives of the Cuban city of Matanzas, have been rediscovered. Four of them were recently recorded by the Failde Orchestra, highlighting what has become Cuba’s national dance and then spread to other countries in the region.
Recording sheet music is important so that today’s society and future generations “have a benchmark for what their identity was,” said musicologist María Victoria Oliver.
She and her colleagues found the scores after consulting the archives of several institutions in Matanzas, including the provincial library, concert band and local museum. Although the danzón began in the city in 1879, there was little written record until the beginning of the 20th century.
The 16 pieces discovered included both danzones and danzonetes, the latter being a variation incorporating vocal performance and other changes. Several are part of the album “Joyas Inéditas”, or “Jewels inédits”. danzon.
“It is a great joy to be able to find unpublished scores that allow us to demonstrate an evolution of the genre,” said Oliver. The work was heavy and included the “translation” of the scores, as the writing method of the 19th century was different from that of today and arrangements had to be made to update the music without losing its essence.
Located 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of Havana, Matanzas had electricity even before the capital, thanks to its immense bay, a transit point for Cuban sugar exports as well as the arrival of slaves. to work in the sugar plantations in defiance of European bans on slavery.
The city preserves vestiges of the sugar boom: stately homes and other old residences with wooden walls and high ceilings which welcomed the emergence of the danzón, precursor of other musical genres such as mambo or chachachá.
The danzón has spread to the Dominican Republic and Mexico, where today it has passionate followers.
The first danzón had its origins in the ancient Spanish contradanzas, danced in pairs but physically distant, and it incorporated the Cuban musical heritage that had roots in Africa. It was premiered by Miguel Failde and his Matanzas orchestra in 1879 and titled “The Heights of Simpson”.
The album “Joyas Inéditas”, recorded in February, includes the saved danzones “El Naranjero”, “Cuba Libre”, “A La Habana me Voy” and “Nievecita” by Miguel Failde himself.
“I’m happy because this will be my tribute to Miguel Failde,” said descendant Ethiel Failde, who now conducts the orchestra, mostly made up of artists in their twenties.
Ethiel Failde said he “fell in love” with the danzón when his elementary school teacher taught him to dance and later adopted him as a professional musician.
“Joyas Inéditas” was launched in two formats: one standard with a typical acrylic case and the other inserted in a wooden box that includes five Cuban cigars.
“It’s one of the longest-lasting Cuban genres,” Failde said. “150 years later, he’s still alive.”