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Historian Raúl Fernández tells of his recent trip to interview some of the living treasures of Cuban music for the Smithsonian Institution Latino Music Oral History Program

Descarga Associate in Havana

Between December 27 and January 6, 1999, Descarga collaborator Dr. Raúl Fernández ( conducted a number of musicological research interviews in La Habana, Cuba, as part of the Smithsonian Institution Latino Music Oral History Program. This research trip was co-sponsored with Cuba's Unión Nacional de Escritores y Artistas. Mr. Héctor Corporán, "the dean of creative Latin music broadcasting in Washington D.C." accompanied Dr. Fernández as part of the Smithsonian team, while Radamés Giro, a noted Cuban musicologist and writer, served as local coordinator and consultant in Havana. During ten days full of intensity and excitement they conducted lengthy interviews with several Cuban legends in music. Each interview was several hours long, extending sometimes over two days.

Four important musicians were the subjects of interviews: Tata Güines, Richard Egües, Félix Guerrero and Celina González. Tata Güines is a renowned percussionist, one of the great innovators of conga drum styles. He played congas in the Fajardo charanga in the 1950s and has been a participant in memorable descarga sessions, most notably Cachao's Descargas in Miniature (available as Jam Session Vol. 2 - Ed.) in the late 1950s. Richard Egües was the flautist for Orquesta Aragón during the golden era of the cha-cha-cha in the 1950s. Many of his tunes became standards of Cuban music, e.g. "El Bodeguero," "Sabrosona," "Bonbón-cha," and "El Trago." Félix Guerrero, who is not very well-known outside of Cuba, is a notable teacher and composer of both classical and popular music. He is highly revered by his students which include the likes of Chico O'Farrill and Paquito D'Rivera. Celina González is an extraordinary singer whose particular mixture of Afro-Cuban and country guajiro music made her very popular throughout Latin America, especially in Colombia.

With what little time (and energy) they had left, Raúl and Héctor were able to take in a few tidbits of music listening, e.g. to César Portillo de la Luz at the Dos Gardenias club, to Frank Emilio Flynn at Imágenes club, to Grupo Manguaré at a private party (imagine!) The interviews, recorded on digital audio tape, are deposited in the Archives of the Oral History Programs of the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Over the past few years the Smithsonian Institution has sponsored research interviews with important Latino musicians, either as part of the Jazz Oral History Program or, more recently, the Latino Initiative of the Smithsonian Institution which has a music oral history component. Some of the musicians interviewed since 1994 include: Cachao, Armando Peraza, Francisco Aguabella, Patato Valdes, Chico O'Farrill, Chocolate Armenteros, Cándido Camero, Celia Cruz, Yomo Toro, Graciela Grillo, and Chucho Valdés. These recorded interviews are available to researchers at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

The research trip to Havana by Dr. Fernández was the first trip sponsored by the Smithsonian Oral History programs specifically to conduct interviews in Cuba. For more information about the Smithsonian Institution Jazz and Latino Music Oral history programs you may contact the coordinators of these programs, Ms. Marvette Perez, at her e-mail address: and Ms. Katia Stitt at (202)633-9166.

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