Nueva Trova y Nueva Canción
Silvia Brandon-Pérez
Sunday, June 22, 2014, 2:00pm - 2:50pm
Malvina Reynolds Room - Room #324/326


In Cuba and in the Caribbean, la trova, stemming from troubadour music, goes back to our history as a Spanish colony, and particularly to the second half of the 19th century, but in the middle of the 20th century has a particular boom. It was said that if you wanted to succeed as a musician at the time, you had to 'make it' in La Habana and Ciudad México... The thirty-some rhythms of Cuban music, which mix African (Bantu) and traditional Spanish (including Moorish rhythms), as well even as Chinese (by 1906 we had a large population of Chinese immigrants, surpassed only by San Francisco in the US), include the 'son' which is sometimes referred to nowadays as 'salsa,' and which has a number of other derivatives, and other forms including cha-cha-chá, , changüí, guaguancó, guajira, guaracha, mambo, nueva trova cubana, pachanga, rumba, salsa, changüisa, son, timba, trova, rock cubano, fíli (which is US feeling... ), mozambique and pilón. Earlier and more formal dances include the contradanza, danzón, danzonete... Even the tango is influenced by Cuban music... mostly because Cuba at the time was the largest of the islands of the Antilles, and the most important cultural center at the time.

We will be concentrating on Cuba's 'nueva trova' as exemplified by Silvio Rodríguez and Pablo Milanés, and the use of the old 'guajira' rhythms, as typified by Guantanamera. This is particularly important in the middle of the 20th century, after the revolution, and follows the progression of protest music (la nueva canción) in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay... The Guantanamera, which refers to a peasant girl (guajira) from Guantánamo, where we now keep tortured prisoners, is an anonymous song that was used at guateques (campesino parties) and contests to improvise particular lyrics. Whoever wrote the original music is unknown... and the verses we use nowadays come from the simple verses of the father of the country, José Martí, as chosen and popularized by Pete Seeger. I use it frequently with changed lyrics for different things... you will hear my anti-torture and immigration reform versions...

I was born Silvia Antonia Brandon Pérez in La Habana, Cuba, in 1949; when we left Cuba in 1960, we lived in Miami for a while, and then the Dominican Republic in 1965; I attended a Catholic school run by US Dominican nuns and encountered liberation theology. Soon after the revolution and invasion of the DR by US marines took place; we left on a US destroyer and wound up in Puerto Rico. I studied at the University of Puerto Rico from 1966 on, at an exciting and dangerous time of political upheaval and a sharing of languages and cultures. I left Puerto Rico when my first husband began his basic training in New Jersey, and after he was deployed overseas (Vietnam, Thailand), I stayed in New York, and eventually New Jersey. I studied law in 1973. After 2003 I became a full-time professional translator and interpreter. I am a writer in both languages, have lived in the US for 40 years, and in the Bay area since 2006. I am also a strong believer in direct action, and participate whenever the opportunity arises. In fact, I became engaged to my late husband, Jim Forsyth, after we were both arrested at a die-in in Washington, D.C. As he was being handcuffed he said, "Now will you marry me?"

Although as the mother of five children, I've sung and written music for them in Spanish, I am also a big fan and singer of nueva trova and nueva canción, as exemplified by Gieco, Jara, Parra, Silvio Rodriguez, and so many others.