Cuba’s National Septet Celebrating 90 Years

By: Dr. C. Ricardo R. Oropesa Fernández, on: Music
Cuba’s National Septet Celebrating 90 Years

The Septeto Nacional Ignacio Piñeiro founded in Havana on December 3rd, 1927 by Ignacio Piñeiro was the only musical group that received gold medals at two international fairs in the 20th century – in Seville, 1929 and Chicago, 1933.

Cuba’s National Septet Celebrating 90 YearsAs the first group to travel to Europe in 1929 it received the honorary title of Ambassadors of Cuban Folklore in Europe. Grammy nominations— Anglo in 2003 and Latino in 2013— also demonstrate its longevity and talent. The group will soon celebrate its 90th year. Ignacio Piñeiro's Septeto Nacional Ignacio Piñeiro Martínez (1888-1969) is like the North Star that guides musicians in Cuba's musical universe. One hundred and twenty eight years after his birth he is still standing on the glorious path of Cuban music.

His is the only group of its kind, a son septet of the 1920s that has lived on to this day keeping up its Havana son for four generations with its unique and unchangeable rhythm and sound.

If today the people of Cuba sing and dance son it is thanks to the creative work of Ignacio Piñeiro and his Septeto Nacional, the longest living national cultural institution on the island. Internationally recognized since 1927, Piñeiro influenced the creation of many rhythms and musical genres such as mambo, cha-cha, timba, Latin jazz and salsa. The group's universality shone when in 1932 George Gershwin introduced the Septeto Nacional in his Obertura Cubana (Cuban Overture) piece.

Ignacio Piñeiro, the Poet of Son as he was known, synthesized urban son with his own character, crystallizing it with a mix of African and Spanish folk. It was this mix with music from Congo and Nigeria that influenced him to create abakuá key songs and to spread guaguancó, a style born among the humblest social groups that incorporated Cuban Creole poetry and melodic-rhythmic structure.

Cuba’s National Septet Celebrating 90 YearsThese elements allowed him to transform the key choruses of gigantic popular choirs into guaguancó choirs, best exemplified by the famous Los Ronco choir in 1912. He introduced this formula to son culminating a long process of evolution and creation resulting in a new variant: the Havana son that we know to this day with the guaguancó that makes it danceable.

The Septeto Nacional Ignacio Piñeiro has held the honor of National Cuban Cultural Heritage since 1960 for its excellence in performance and for being true to son. The group's international presence began in 1927 with a recording of their first son pieces in the United States: Cuatro palomas, Ninfa del valle and Esas no son cubanas, all of which Piñeiro composed. In his long career he has worked with many great Cuban music figures such as Abelardo Barroso, Bienvenido León, Lázaro Herrera, as founders, and also Rafael Ortiz (Mañungo), replacing Piñeiro after his death as director. Septet singers have also included Abelardo Barroso, Alberto Villalón, Alfredo Valdés, Marcelino Guerra (Rapindey), Miguelito Valdés, Bienvenido Granda, Joseíto Nuñez, Florencio Hernández Cuesta (Carusito) and Carlos Embale.

His vast musical repertoire includes numerous sons, guarachas, boleros, rumbas, and more. Among his more than 500 pieces are famous compositions such as Mayeya, No juegues con los santos (Don't play with the saints), Suavecito, Esas no son Cubanas, Cuatro Palomas (Four doves), Bardo, Dónde andabas anoche (Where you were last night,) Coco maimai, El Palomo and El guanajo relleno, but the best known and universal is undoubtedly Échale salsita (Give it some salsa.)

Cuba’s National Septet Celebrating 90 YearsThe present generation led by Eugenio 'Raspa' Rodríguez and Frank 'Matador' Oropesa preserve Piñeiro's musical heritage - maintaining the authentic sound of son and its classic instrumental format with seven instrumentalists, being opposed to all modernity and banal populism, and respecting the roots of Cuban popular music.

The group has received fair and well-deserved praise from personalities and institutions in the world of music. No other Cuban band has been so universally and consistently successful in extending its country's musical traditions beyond its national borders as has the Septeto Nacional (New York Times-Carnegie Hall. April 16, 2011.)

The new Septeto Nacional Ignacio Piñeiro´s fundamental purpose is taking on the immense responsibility of maintaining and disseminating the musical heritage bequeathed by the original group and its founders.

The fourth generation of musicians are: Frank 'El Matador' Oropesa, bongo and General Director, Eugenio 'Raspa' Rodríguez, Director and lead singer Dagoberto Sacerio Oliva, guitar, back up vocals and musical arrangements Acea Raúl Rivera, double bass Crispín Hernández Díaz, lead vocals and maracas. Two young fifth generation musicians also form part of the group: Joubert Adalberto Díaz, trumpet, and Rubén Hernández Nidetz, tres guitar along with his team, Lázaro Tamayo Goicochea, cultural promoter; Daniel Angel Daniel, soundman, and Ricardo Oropesa, artistic producer.

Cuba’s National Septet Celebrating 90 YearsToday's generation has secured five hundred performances in forty-one countries in Europe, Middle East, Latin America and North America, in the most demanding scenarios, such as Club Floridita (Vienna), Philharmonie Theater (Krakow), Club Skarpa (Warsaw), Teatro Arena (Bratislava), Jazz club Birdland (Hamburg), Sad Novi Park (Modena), Amphitheatre Vasaros Estrada (Palanga), Festival Rigas Rithm 2005 (Riga), Philharmonic Theatre (Amsterdam), Sommer Jazz Festival ( Graz), Tropentheater (Amsterdam), Hotel Le Meridien (Paris), Casino La Perla (New Gorizia), Festes de Geneve (Geneva), Annabel's Club (London), Around Sound Festival (Roma), Club-Disco Millenáiris (Budapest), Ibero-American Forum of La Rabida (Huelva), Le Theatre Trianon (Paris), Festival Lent (Maribor), Festival and Salsa (Lyon), Fiesta Cubana (Club of Parliament, Moscow), Hostos College Bronx (New York), Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico, Alhambra Palace (Chicago), Yoshi's Jazz Club (San Francisco), 53 Monterrey Jazz Festival (USA), JJack Singer Concert Hall (Calgary, Canada), Zaphod Beeblebrox Jazz Club (Ottawa, Canada), University Centre Farquhar Auditorium (Victoria, Canada), Conga Room (Los Angeles, USA) Centennial Hall (Tucson, USA), Carnegie Hall (NY, USA), San Francisco Jazz Festival Dakota Jazz Club (Minniapolis), Virginia Folk Festival (Virginia-USA.), Gallery-Club Cuba eight (Miami), Club Today as yesterday (Miami), Club Havana-Panama (Panama), World Festival of Salsa and Bolero (Cartagena 2014) among others.

The Septeto Nacional Ignacio Piñeiro´s musicians continue to provide a contemporary harmonization, a broader rhythmic concept and a repertoire that covers the broad spectrum of Cuban music, keeping Piñeiro's unmistakable stamp of sound and style, which has become one of the most genuine son groups in the world - a valid reason to celebrate its 90 years of artistic life in 2017.



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