From Son Cubano to Cowboy Rumba

I just love the sound of the musical instrument the tres in traditional Cuban music, the son de Oriente.

Pancho Amat: Cuba’s Tresero Mayor

Tresero: Pepito Domingo

Hear how elegantly the tres is played in the following performances (El Carretero, Bachata Rosa, Lágrimas Negras) by the trio Son del Patio (all wonderful musicians). ¡Arriba guajiro!

Tresero: Ernesto Luis Gil

For the guitaristas among you who may be intrigued by the tres, here is a tutorial:

How to play Lágrimas Negras on the Tres Cubano

Lágrimas Negras has come a long way since Miguel Matamoros wrote it in 1925. Here is a live version (from 2015) at the Bodeguita del Medio (where I ate a lunch — moros y cristianos — in 1959/1960), in La Habana, Cuba. If you like flute playing, and a mixed group of instrumentalists and singers, you will enjoy this.

Lágrimas Negras – La Bodeguita del Medio en La Habana, Cuba – Grupo Manantial

This group is fronted by three sensational young women performers (instrumental and vocal), and backed by a bunch of old guys (who know what they’re doing) on guitars and bongos.

The following selection has a wonderful flute solo. Don’t you think the young flute students you know would be captivated by it?

Chan Chan – Grupo Manantial – Bodeguita del Medio – La Habana, Cuba

Grupo Manantial has six instrumentalists and six singers — with only six people. If you like writing songs for bands, you might find it interesting to think about how these songs were arranged.

Bailando con Grupo Manantial (short version)

Bailando con Grupo Manantial (longer version — on a different day)

I very highly recommend the book, Cuba and its Music, by Ned Sublette (Chicago Review Press, 2004). You can read numerous reviews of this book at the Amazon site (link below).

Cuba and its Music is a great book. It shows how the music of Africa came to be the basis of popular music worldwide: brought west by the slave trade; preserved, mixed and transformed (by absorbing Western influences, and evolving over time) despite oppression; and how it radiated from Cuba throughout the hemisphere. This book is filled with insights and connections, here are two:

The sarabande dance form that appears as movements in suites by composers like Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel was an influence in Europe of what was originally an African rhythmic form associated with the god/deity/archetype Zarabanda.

Handel – Sarabande (1703-1706)

Miguelito Valdés – Zarabanda (1967)

The seeds of New Orleans music came from Havana (in the mid-late 18th century). The American rhythm and blues (R&B) song “Louis Louis,” by Chuck Berry, is basically a cha-cha-cha.

The True Lyrics to Louie Louie (by The Kingsmen)

/ cha-cha-cha – cha-cha / cha-cha-cha – cha-cha / cha-cha-cha – cha-cha /

Ned Sublette is quite an amazing person. “Ned Sublette (born 1951 in Lubbock, Texas) is an American composer, musician, record producer, musicologist, and author. Sublette studied Spanish Classical Guitar with Hector Garcia at the University of New Mexico and with Emilio Pujol in Spain. He studied composition with Kenneth Gaburo at the University of California, San Diego. He grew up in Portales, New Mexico, moved to New York City in 1976, and has worked with John Cage, LaMonte Young, Glenn Branca, and Peter Gordon.” (

The following is a performance by Ned Sublette of a song he wrote, and which has been covered by Willie Nelson, among others.

Ned Sublette – Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly

Next is Ned Sublette’s brilliant “Cowboy Rumba” merengue-conga version of a country-and-western classic.

Ned Sublette – Ghost Riders in the Sky

For comparison, here is the original version sung by Burl Ives (I still have Burl Ives 45’s from the 1950s — in yellow vinyl!).

Burl Ives – The original recording of Ghost Riders In The Sky (1949)

In this next number, Ned Sublette is backed by NG La Banda (“Cowboy Rumba” about booze). I understand this song. (Forget the video, just close your eyes and feel the music.)

Feelin’ No Pain ~ Ned Sublette

Next, some avant garde music by Ned Sublette with the Persuasions — “yes, those Persuasions (!)”:

Ned Sublette – There is no light at the end of the tunnel (silver and red)

Finally, just Ned and his guitar:

Between Piety and Desire – Ned Sublette

I could never have imagined that I would learn so much about the land of my father, and the times of my parents and grandparents, from a lanky Texan (who became a Cowboy Rumba Nuyorquino).

Our popular rhythm-based music of today is the continuation of the survival of that part of Africa which has experienced an over 500 year diaspora; Cuba is music (as nowhere else on Earth); and music is miraculous, a sweet cradle for the soul.

“En esta cuna nací, y en esta cuna me voy a morír.”

Música Cubana en Santiago de Cuba (Documental: Cuba es Música)


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