When in 1957 the great Bebo Valdes chose two songs composed by a practically unknown girl from Havana to be included on the first album of another prominent artist, singer Fernando Alvarez, no one would have guessed that 60 years later that same girl, named Marta Valdes, would become a legend of the Cuban music.
It's been a long time and since then Marta, who won the National Award for music in 2007, as Penelope did; has woven a lengthy braid of some of the most subtle and beautiful songs ever composed in Cuba.
Cancion facil (Easy song) and Deja que siga sola (Let me be alone) are short and minimalist pieces that will not go unnoticed in your iPod. They are romantic songs by an eighty-year-old woman, written in the 20th century, which you can listen to if you like Overgrown by James Blake, for they have the same blue spirit and emotion for the long-lost.
Also, thanks to Marta and to the album "Palabras" by Haydee, the filin is crowding the theatres once again and awakening the interest of the younger generations.
Once upon a time...there were those 'feelings'
The first predecessor of the filin can be traced back to the Spanish bolero played in Cuba towards the end of the 18th century.
Attached to the ways of the Spanish song in its beginnings, and more given to dancing than singing, the bolero was "Cubanised" throughout the 19th century thanks to singers like Pepe Sanchez from Santiago de Cuba, who composed Tristezas (Sadness), a clever combination of poetic lyrics with guitar chords and percussion beats:
La suerte es adversa conmigo ("Fortune is adverse to me
No deja ensanchar mi pasion It won't let me broaden my passion
Un beso me diste un dia The kiss you once gave me
Lo guardo en mi corazon I cherish in my heart.
By the 20th century, the Bolero was in vogue in radio stations and TV channels of countries like Cuba and Mexico. But within any artistic trend, there are always forerunners and in the late 1940s, troubadours such as Cesar Portillo de la Luz and Jose Antonio Mendez reassessed varied genres like Blues and Jazz, to find new ways of composing and singing the Bolero.
Since then, spontaneity, improvising, exceptional singing ability and a particular theatrical tone, were the fresh ingredients that singers such as Bola de Nieve, Olga Guillot, Benny More and the D' Aida Quartet, established forever in the taste of Cuban people.
"Those songs are not about someone else's feelings, but about my own emotions", confessed a lady friend that cannot stop listening to Marta's themes since the album Palabras" was released a month ago. "It's not about simple boleros - she said- . Those songs are real filin: music written to share a feeling".
"Filin" nights in Havana
Although It is common to find romantic music trios entertaining restaurants and one or two other popular singers, singing in the Malecon area or in Old Havana, but there are still two places in the city which you must not overlook: The Gato Tuerto (The One-Eyed Cat) and Dos Gardenias (Two Gardenias).
The former located on O Street in the Vedado vicinity, is glamorous and well attended. Every night between 11 PM and 4 AM there are three Bolero shows and other occasional Jazz and Pop Music shows. It's usual to find there, a well- respected singer like Ela Calvo or enjoy the eccentricities of cabaret legend, Juana Bacallao. If you're staying in Old Havana, a taxi can drop you there in ten minutes.
If you want to move further away, at a 20-minute drive, you will find Dos Gardenias, a cosy club located on 7th and 26th Streets, in the Miramar district, barely 5 minutes from any of the hotels in the area. With Chinese and international food menus, Dos Gardenias is the perfect place to listen to "la musicalisima" ("the most melodious voice"), the way people call the excellent singer Beatriz Marquez.
The album "Palabras" by Haydee Milanes
Coinciding with her pregnancy, Haydee decided to study Marta Valdes' works. Bearing an exquisite singing discipline inherited from her father, the founder of the Nueva Trova (New Troubadours) Movement, Pablo Milanes; Haydee delivered not only her baby daughter but another fourteen almost perfect songs, carefully arranged.
Great musicians like drummer Enrique Pla and bass player Jorge Reyes join in the album, which reaches its climax with Marta herself singing Tu no sospechas (You cannot imagine) and Sin ir mas lejos (Without going any further), in which you find four verses of pure filin:
Sin ir mas lejos quise ("Without going any further I wanted
comprobar mi suerte, to try my luck,
y el mundo esta al reves: and the world is upside down:
resulta que me quieres. it turns out that you love me.")
I know the CD is old-fashioned, and that we rather buy on Amazon or listen to what we want on Spotify (by the way, these things are hard to do in Havana). But I do recommend you go and fetch a copy at the ARTEX shop, on the centric intersection of L y 23, Vedado, or at the San Rafael boulevard in Old Havana.
You won't regret it. On your way home, while crossing the Atlantic Ocean, you could close your eyes and think that, aside from photos and nice memories, on your luggage you are taking with you -as an exclusive present- a few feelings.
In Havana: Every year, in June, the International Festival "Boleros de Oro"; Back home: Besides "Palabras", the CD's "Tu no sospechas", by Marta Valdes and Chano Dominguez; and "El Feeling de Cesar Portillo de la Luz" (all available on Internet).