Boleros of Gold
THE International Boleros of Gold
Festival, organized by the Union of Cuban Writers
and Artists (UNEAC), is back with a brilliant
constellation of artists. This 24th edition is
dedicated to the Caribbean and the 90th birthday of
composer César Portillo de la Luz.
June 21-24, lovers of bolero from
all of Latin America will come together. UNEAC has
organized performances at Havana’s Mella and America
Theaters, as well as within the Hurón Azul patio, at
the organization's headquarters. A returning special
feature is the International Colloquium, held at the
Hispano-American Cultural Center (Malecón 17,
between Prado and Genios).
José Loyola, president of the
organizing committee, recalled that the festival was
born towards the end of 1986. UNEAC's musical
section decided to organize a theoretical event in
Havana, July 10-12, 1987, entitled 'The bolero in
Cuba and Latin America.'
In conjunction, a performance was
scheduled at the Mella Theater with the most
important bolero singers of the day, and the event
was baptized Festival Boleros de Oro.
Thus in 1988, the first Festival
Internacional Boleros de Oro was held with artists
from Mexico. Then in 1989, as the salsa boom was
taking off in Cuba, it was extended to other cities
on the island.
Almost all of bolero's greats have
passed through Cuba: from the composers Vicente
Garrido, Mario Ruiz Armengol, to singers Fernando
Fernández, Tania Libertad, Sonia Silvestre, Paquita
del Barrio, Patricia González, María Isabel
Saavedra, Danny Rivera, Andy Montañez, Cheo
Feliciano, Vanesa Knight, Noriko Corezo, Takafuni,
Masako, Mitsuko, and even the researchers Jaime Rico
Salazar and Cristóbal Díaz Ayala.
To keep the bolero alive throughout
the year, UNEAC has hosted the weekly
Peña Boleros de Oro in its Hurón
Azul patio, since October 21, 1988, on the
initiative of then-Minister of Culture, Abel Prieto.
Rosendo Ruiz Quevedo and Vicente G.
Rubiera stated that the Cuban bolero constitutes the
first major vocal synthesis of Cuban music which, on
moving beyond borders, gained a universal permanence.
A type of song which Latin Americans made their own
in order to express their emotions, triumphs and
disappointments, to live their tragedies of love. As
Gustavo Valera writes, "The bolero receives its
citizen’s charter through its compositions, the
Cuban, native plant is injected into it, a
definitive cutting, given its touch, sometimes more
secret, more loving, less rhythmic; a mix of
modernist poetry and romantic songs. The essence is
"Everybody who loves does so with
the words of boleros," says researcher José Balza.
Lisandro Otero adds, "We Cubans resolve everything
with a bolero or a son or rumba song, as much
to cry as to laugh."
Like jazz and tango, the bolero
emerged in the night. A climate for songs, for
romance, has always existed in Cuba. First the
outpourings of Santiago de Cuba trova singers; then
singers who migrated to Havana, using bars, cafés,
neighborhood movie halls, theaters and even cabarets
as their headquarters.
The bolero has never been able to
break away from affectation. The Mexican bolero
Titan Agustín Lara was harshly accused in his own
country of being kitschy and of creating daring
songs of fluff. "I am ridiculously kitschy and I
love to be so… Anyone who is romantic has a fine
sense of kitsch and not getting rid of it is a
position of intelligence. Women like it to be this
way… I vibrate with what is tense and if my emotion
cannot translate it in anything other than the
Baroque language of affectation, I’m not ashamed of
The eminent poet Mario Benedetti
wrote, "It is difficult to avoid affectation in
Hispanic-American letters; although there are
degrees of affectation. There is unbearable
affectation. But we are not talking about that. I am
going to say this publicly for the first time: there
are certain degrees of what is called kitsch out
there, which is very close to the people, the most
authentic sentiments of the people. And this must be
respected. This kitsch, to identify it in some way,
has to be defended. Defended from snobs, who are too
refined. I am a kitschy and very happy man."
The bolero assumed a stylistic
concept, an atmosphere, an emotional climate; it was
taken up throughout the continent, because of its
impassioned charge. It was becoming the blues of
Cuba. It fused with all the Cuban and international
musical genres, with tango, Mexican folk song, and
It became dance music, felt and
beloved; a modulated expression, with words which
could be melodically declaimed. It recounted stories
of lost loves, bars and cantinas, as the composition
sung by Orlando Contreras on jukeboxes, "That is
learned in the street, in the cantina/glass after
glass in a musical background/ of women who tell you
so many things/ and the lips that lie to you when
The bolero was born like Cuban palm
trees, among Mambises, pro-independence fighters; it
crossed the bullets and the cannons, among the
humblest people; it was the story of those
disinherited from fortune, of those whose only
festivity was to visit serenades and jam sessions.
In order to identify musical eras of
Cuba and Latin America, one has to refer to the
bolero, the close companion of nostalgia. "The
bolero expresses sentiments and situations which
move me and I know moved so many people of my
generation. A bolero can make lovers love each other
more and that is enough to make me want to do and
love a bolero. To succeed in making people love each
other more, even for a brief moment, is culturally
important, and if it is culturally important, it is
revolutionary." (Gabriel García Márquez, Opina
magazine, October 1985).