Tuesday, April 17, 2012

100 Cuban "Sones" (orig. Los 100 Sones Cubanos) [2010]

Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing -

100 Cuban "Sones" (orig. Los 100 Sones Cubanos) directed by Edesio Alejandro and Rubén Consuegra
is an excellent Spanish language-English subtitled documentary about the Cuban musical style called "Son," which played recently at the 28th Chicago Latino Film Festival and I do believe would enchant both music and history buffs. 

I first formally encountered this musical style through buying a number of musical anthologies, including Congo to Cuba and Putumayo Presents Cuba produced by the Putumayo World Music.  That company dedicates itself to "indroducing people to the music of the world's cultures."  I had been mourning my impending departure from a parish, St. Catherine of Siena in Kissimmee, FL that I deeply loved.  So I wished to buy a number of albums of music that I heard in and around the parish on a daily basis.  Actually, the parish was mostly Puertorican, Colombian and Haitian with also a fair number of Anglo-American retirees, mostly from the northeastern United States, rather than Cuban.  Cuban Americans tended remain centered in southeastern Florida / Miami.  However, that Putumayo title Congo to Cuba intrigued me and so I bought it and upon listening to it was hooked, soon purchasing besides Putumayo Presents Cuba, also Putomayo Presents Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Colombia and the French Caribbean. So I wept listening to these albums for a number of months after coming to Chicago, before discovering the Mexican-American station WLEY ("En Chicago manda La Ley ..." ;-), which of course plays a totally different style of music but then while I do like the rhythms in various styles of music, I mostly like the interplay of a song's rhythms with its lyrics.  As such, I've loved both Blues and Country music all my life.  And I've found that Cuban Son and Mexican Norteña music to have similarities to Blues and Country music respectively.

So when I found that there was going to be a documentary about Cuban Son music playing at the Chicago Latino Film Festival this year, I made sure to attend.

Okay, what is Son music?  According to both the documentary and the wikipedia article on Cuban Son, it is a style of music with African roots that originated in the mountains and countryside of far eastern Cuba and eventually made its way west to Santiago de Cuba and from there eventually to Havana and New York.  The instruments used in a Son ensemble often appear simple but combined produce, of course, a remarkable a rhythm and sound.

When I say that the instruments _appear simple_, I mean that among the instruments talked about in the documentary was, for instance, the role of the botija (a clay jug) played (blown into) like a bass wind instrument.  One would think that this, a clay jug after all, would be as simple an instrument as one could be.  Yet, the botija shown and discussed in the documentary was 300 years old and was originally made (from a particular mud) found only in Spain.  Rhe musician owning the botija in question talked of it with exactly the same fondness as the owner of  a Stradivarius violin.  Tapping its ceramic shell, he proudly told the interviewer: "You simply wouldn't be able to find or make a botija today that would make the same sounds as this one."  Remarkable and I do love it!

Remarkable also to Son and then to Latin music is that it can only be produced by an ensemble, again not necessarily by an ensemble playing rarified instruments (though the often humble instruments used are, as the botija, in their own ways special), but necessarily by an ensemble.  It's a style of music where the sum of the whole clearly exceeds the individual parts.

Thus it perhaps would not be surprising that the still-Communist regime in Cuba would happily allow the filmmakers access to make this documentary because Son music does, in fact, provide an example where community action (the ensemble) produces a result greater than that which would be possible by the individuals alone.   And the regime here would be right.  Is is always right?  Of course not!  (As plenty of Cuban-American refugees/immigrants in Miami, most of them Catholic would testify)  But here at least, when it comes to Latin music, they do have a point.

Anyway, I found the documentary to be remarkable and thought provoking.  One day, probably fairly soon, the Castro brothers will have gone to meet their Maker.  On the other hand, Cuba and its music and culture will go on.

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