What they Don’t Tell Us about the Matamoros Trio

Fifty years ago, on May 10, 1960, the Matamoros Trio, headed by Siro Rodriguez, Rafael Cueto, and Miguel Matamoros, performed in public for the last time.  They bid their farewells on the program called Partagas Thursdays, one of the most popular Cuban TV shows at the time.

According to the Colombian investigator, Walter G. Magaña, “the silence which the Matamoros Trio was subdued in was not accidental.  We must remember that on January 1, 1959, the movement headed by Fidel Castro had displaced the president Fulgencio Batista, and during that time period the leader of the Cuban revolution announced Cuba’s integration into communism (a year later, in 1961, he announced it to the world during the ONU)- a move which Miguel Matamoros was never supportive of.  Therefore, in order to not musically represent a communist country before international eyes, he opted for silence”.

Magaña then continues detailing:  “Everyone was aware of the sympathy that Batista felt for the Trio, thanks to all their compositions previously made against the politics of the dictator Gerardo Machado.  In the 50’s, when Miguel Matamoros returned to the structure of the Trio with very irregular activity, Congress granted them economic help so their members could live decently, according to Jose Pardo Llada, the Cuban journalist who lived in Cali (and passed away in 2009).”

If such statements are accurate, the interpreters of “Son de la loma“, “El que siembra su maiz“, and “La mujer de Antonio“, along with many other famous songs, did not sympathize with the bearded revolution.  In fact, most of them came from Oriente province, just like them.

But that anti-communism, or anti-fidelism, is not exposed to the public today in Cuba.  The songs of the Matamoros Trio, just like those of Ignacio Piñeiro, Benny More, Bola de Nieve, and other great Cuban musicians, are among the most covered songs in the world.  And the cultural authorities prefer to ignore it and just skip the page.

Political disagreements aside, in Cuba the Trio from Santiago is still very much venerated.  Recently, in order to commemorate the 85 years since its beginning on May 8, 1925, in the Trio’s native city, Santiago de Cuba, Cafe Matamoros was reopened.  Every two years that large city is host to the International “Matamoroson” Festival.  The latest edition, in 2009, commemorated the 115th anniversary of the birth of Miguel Matamoros.

The version of “Lagrimas Negras” (‘Black Tears’) which Bebo Valdes and Diego El Cigala interpreted is well known in the five continents.  But perhaps very few know that the woman who inspired this song was not Cuban.

In 1930, during a tour in the Dominican Republic, the Matamoros Trio witnessed an unexpected hurricane.  The devastation was tremendous and the death toll was up in the thousands.  The musicians returned to Santiago de Cuba in a Cuban military plane that had transported doctors and medicines to the Dominican Republic as humanitarian aid.

Impacted by the disaster, Miguel Matamoros first composed “El Trio y el Ciclon” (‘The Trio and the Hurricane’), and a few days after, “Lagrimas Negras”.  The lyrics to this song were inspired by a lady that he saw crying uncontrollably in Santo Domingo.  Her husband had abandoned her and between sobs she would utter that she did not care if she died because that man had been the love of her life.

Miguel Matamoros (1894-1971) was not only a talented composer and innovative musician, but also a chronicler of his era.

It’s noted that in June 1929, the Basque doctor Fernando Asuero (San Sebastian; 1887-1942) arrived in Cuba. He had become a media hit in Spain, Portugal, France, Argentina, and Mexico, among other countries, for having discovered a method to cure certain kinds of paralysis by pinching a nerve known as the “trigeminal.”

That “therapy” did not cure anyone on the island.  But the volume of information about the doctor and his miraculous cures served as inspiration for Matamoros to write “El Paralitico” (‘The Paralytic’).

The Paralytic is an original and catchy son.  But its lyrics aren’t as brutal as the “Cocainomana”, a song which Silvio Rodriguez made an excellent cover of.

Ivan Garcia

Photo: jaramij, Flickr

Translated by Raul G.