Havana - The city lives on in its songs
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DUBBED the "Pearl of the Antilles," Havana can seduce any visitor. Founded in 1519 by the conquistador Diego Velásquez, impressive stories have been woven since its origins. Besieged by corsairs and pirates from time immemorial, it was one of Spain’s main centers of commerce in its colonies, and because of its strategic position, it became the "Fortress of the Indies" and the "Key to the New World."

 

Many aspects of Havana life have been preserved intact with the passing of the years and even of the centuries: its colonial architecture, with a richness and variety that is unmatchable in the Caribbean; its old American automobiles and horse-drawn carriages, together with the accelerated pace of modernization.

A harmonious and sensual city, with a tropical splendor that brings together the best of Spain, Africa and the Antilles, Havana has been since remote times a source of inspiration for musical creation. There is no exact reference to the first singer who offered a melody, but since then, many a composition has been created and diverse musical genres have paid tribute to all of its aspects.

Many of these songs were lost in the memories of those who had no other way to preserve them other than oral tradition. By the 20th century, with the emergence of diverse recording equipment, it was possible to save some of these pieces.

That was the case with "Adios a La Habana," by the emblematic trova singer from Santiago, Sindo Garay. Ernesto Lecuona dedicated his "Marcha Habana" to the city, while Armando Oréfiche composed "Habana de mi amor," which was recorded by Mexican singer Pedro Vargas.

There are songs that were very popular but have been forgotten: that of the maestro Julio Gutiérrez, "Así es La Habana," for example, which he recorded in the ‘50s with his own band and the quartet Los Riveros. It reflects what a sunrise in the capital was like during those times.

"Por La Habana," by Marta Valdés, an important performer of Cuban filin, and "Mi Habana de siempre," by an anonymous author, performed by Moraima Secada, unfortunately did not become well-known.

"Hermosa Habana" by Los Zafiros is bursting with nostalgia, and seems more like an attribute of Havana than just a song; a mark left by the city on those who think about it, on those who dedicated its songs to it.

Juan Formell and Los Van Van delight us with songs like "La Habana sí" and "La Habana no aguanta más," very popular, and now part of the Cuban family. The first is a lovely piece of praise for the city reaffirming its natural grace; the second describes a phenomenon of the late 1970s and early ‘80s, when migration from eastern Cuba to the capital grew enormously.

More recent tunes include "Se ha despertado mojada," by Silvio Rodríguez, "Que se sepa, yo soy de La Habana," by Chucho Valdés and "Hoy mi Habana," performed by Xiomara Laugart. By Amaury Pérez: "La Habana mía," by Liuba María Hevia, "La Habana en Febrero," and by Argentine singer Fito Páez "Habana."

"Sábanas Blancas," by Gerardo Alfonso describes a much more contemporary urban center, while "Andar La Habana" by Ireno García is a poetic portrait of everyday life in the capital.

Carlos Varela gave us "Habáname," a heartrending piece that revives longing for a city in which time has left its mark.

Other compositions include "Habana," by the hip-hop group Orishas, and "Locos por mi Habana," by Manolito Simonet y su Trabuco, a song that very picturesquely details the customs of the city’s inhabitants. "Habana Blues" and "Habaneando," by X Alfonso are, above all, a documentary of the capital, because they reflect the problems and vicissitudes of its people, its dreams and contradictions. "Cuando salí de La Habana," by Kelvis Ochoa is the nostalgic testimony of the émigré, which evokes from a distance loved ones, friends and intense heat of the tropics left behind.

The list of songs that were born of Havana could go on and on, and this space would not hold them all, because in that emergence of music, the city has made its mark forever.