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C U L T U R E

Havana.  August 20, 2014

95TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE KING OF RHYTHM
Memories of Benny Moré in Havana

Rafael Lam

Benny Moré, in his epoch, embodied the Cuban capital Havana, through his restless and bohemian life; his bars; dance halls; theatres; shows; records and musical life.


Benny Moré, the Bárbaro del Ritmo, was without a doubt and outstanding figure of Cuban son, called the Great Sonero.

He arrived in the big city in 1936, establishing himself permanently in 1940. Moré told his cousin Enrique Benítez Mora (El Conde Negro), "I am staying in Havana, whether I die or I survive."

He wandered through bars and cafes, was thrown out of many exclusive places, lived in rundown lodgings, and sang with the groups Cuarteto Cordero Septeto Fígaro, Cauto de Mozo Borgellá and Matamoros.

In 1945 he traveled to Mexico, returning in 1951. In his first interview with Bohemia journalist Don Galaor he stated, "I had come to conquer Havana and I didn’t give up. You had to see me. I had faith in my voice, in my songs. I put a guitar under my arm and set out to the street to sing for tourists, and I am not ashamed, Carlos Gardel did the same. That tragedy lasted some three years, more than I had wanted. I wanted to sing in Havana. Triumph in the capital. I starved, had a rough time, it’s true, but nothing surpassed the emotion of being in the big city, for a country boy, thinking about Havana was the greatest thing in life."

In 1952 he recoded with Ernesto Duarte’s band, he also expertly performed on W1010, Radio Habana Cuba-Cadena Azul, where he premiered the song "Batanga" with Bebo Valdés’ band Ritmos de Cuba.

Benny lived in many places in Havana: Paula 111, Reparto Hornos, in Marianao; Oquendo 1056, between Clavel and Santa Marta, and finally in 1957, he moved to 43rd Avenue, between 84 and 86, (now 243 street, between 86 and 88), La Cumbre, El Caballo Blanco, San Miguel del Padrón, near the Ali Bar. The two story house, with a plot of land and patio to raise birds and animals, was commissioned to be built by Benny himself.

The small plot


Ali Bar cabaret is one of the Benny Moré’s most emblematic joints in Havana.

We now about the small plot of land he had due to television footage of Benny cutting a banana tree and feeding his pigs and chickens, one of his pastimes to keep up his country traditions and relax after performances and recordings.

The house is in good condition, caringly maintained, with excellent photos donated by Jorge Luis Sánchez, director of the film El Benny. In the entrance there is a plaque which reads, "Here lived the sonero Benny Moré blood and refelction of our mixed-race Cuban heritage. Afro-Latin American Culture Foundation, Sevilla, Havana, 1998."

One of his wives, dancer Norayda Rodríguez, told journalist Félix Contreras that "Benny was a special guy….I remember what he liked to eat: duck - which he raised in the patio - in sauce; he cooked potato and chili stew and drank tamarind juice…this is what he liked best…oh, and oxtail with tomato and pepper sauce. He also liked his lobsters."

According to his brothers, other Creole dishes Benny enjoyed were roast pork jerky, cod, okra, rice with shrimp, potato and chili stew, banana with cracklings, grilled bush rat, (seasoned with sugarcane to temper the strong flavor). He cooked a unique African dish: cassava with flour, lard and peanut balls. He was crazy about the Cubanized Chinese food served at El Pacífico restaurant.

According to actress Odalys Fuentes, Benny got used to eating poached eggs to which he added garlic and oil in order to resist his favorite beverage, Peralta rum.

LA BANDA GIGANTE PREIMERS

Benny Moré y su Banda Gigante delighted audiences with son, guajira, afro, rumba, montuno and bolero rhythms.

La Banda Gigante was formed with the collaboration of various outstanding musicians. Rehearsals began in a space on Infanta and Pedroso and the band debuted on the CMQ Radio show Cascabeles Candado. The members alternated between 15 and 20 musicians, and at times, had scores by Eduardo Cabrera "Cabrerita", Pedro Justiz "Peruchín" and Generoso Jiménez. The harmonic concepts were son-like, in the style of Bebo Valdés.

Clemente Piquero "Chicho" revealed to film-maker Puri Faget that the premier "was sensational, spectacular, the musicians’ elegance was astonishing, with four button double-breasted suits, silk ties, swing style pants and charcoal black shoes. Benny wore a jacket of white Irish linen, red tie, a carnation in his jacket button-hole and two-tone shoes.

The band put on a phenomenal show which no one wanted to miss. Some stood there hypnotized, mesmerized, enjoying the show.

Benny sang in the cabaret at La Campana, El Sierra, El Palete and Ali Bar. He also performed in the super production of El Solar, under the direction of choreographer Alberto Alonso. In 1958 he was the third act at the Tropicana, where it was clear that the Bárbaro could fill the whole space, at any time.

His performances in March 1961, at the Avenida del Puerto carnival were memorable, and that year he won the Silver Record for the his LP Se te cayó el tabaco.

In 1962 he performed in the Hotel Habana Libre’s cabaret Caribe; in the gardens of La Tropical and La Polar; Cabaret Sierra; Night and Day; and in the Amadeo Roldán during the first Popular Cuban Music Festival, organized by Odilio Urfé. He also performed at the opening night of Salón Mambí, in the Ali Bar, on September 12.

The Ali Bar cabaret is one of Benny Moré’s emblematic joints. It was his "headquarters," where he left an indelible legacy. In his shows, he shared the stage with all the most popular musicians of the time.

Benny Moré began singing at the Ali Bar in 1953, performing with a small cabaret group, sometimes supported by Generoso Jiménez´s trombone.

Only on one occasion, as something special, did Benny perform with the Banda Gigante. Benny had many commitments throughout Cuba, but he always ended up back at the Ali Bar.

The great composer and guitarist Leo Brouwer said that Benny Moré "did what he felt and not what was good for him."

The Bárbaro del Ritmo will be honored on the 95th anniversary of his birth with memories of his life in the city of Havana, which has its 495th birthday this year.
 

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