The bolero, identity and heritage of Cuba

The bolero, identity and heritage of Cuba


By Alejandro Rodriguez Ruiz

Born in eastern Cuba in the 19th century, the bolero has been on the list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Nation since August 24, 2021, the anniversary of the birth of Benny Moré, one of the great cultivators of the genre. 

The song Tristeza, by composer Pepe Sánchez, marked in 1883, in Santiago de Cuba, the emergence of the bolero, which according to specialists and bearers, is in this Caribbean country essence, root and identity.

Heir to the Spanish bolero, the Cuban, also a danceable genre, has its own musical characteristics and is an exponent of the fusion of Hispanic and African elements, a fundamental pillar of nationality on the island. Through time, it has underwent changes in terms of format, melodic line, texts ..., until it became variants such as the bolero-son, one of whose first examples was Black Tears, by Miguel Matamoros and his trio, in the early twentieth century.

In the 1950s, the enriching movement called feeling, with representatives such as César Portillo de la Luz and José Antonio Méndez, with guitars and other trends, according to the country and the evolution of music.

In addition to those mentioned, in Cuba there have been relevant bolero composers throughout its history, among them, Bartolomé Maximiliano Moré Gutiérrez (Benny Moré, 1919-1963), born on August 24 and one of the most important and universal representatives of Cuban culture of all times. Charismatic, versatile, talented composer and performer, the so-called “Barbarian of Rhythm”, marked a whole golden age of the island's culture in the world, in a variety of genres that have made this “the island of music”

Memorable boleros, of his authorship and interpretation, such as Todo lo perdí, Don't dare, Pain and forgiveness, Now I'm so happy and I met peace, among others. The bolero, an ideal song to fall in love with, in any of its subgenres, reached extraordinary popularity in Spanish-speaking countries. 

Especially in Mexico, it had great creators linked to the genre, among them the immense Agustín Lara and Armando Manzanero. In December 2020, official entities of Cuba and Mexico agreed to jointly present a file in favor of the declaration of the bolero, so significant for both countries, as a World Heritage Site.