This unlikely tale began when Tumi Music producer Mo Fini arrived to the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Arts and Industry studios one afternoon to supervise a recording when he was greeted by unexpected guests. “The technician told me there are these guajiros [Cubans from the countryside] who had been camping for several days in the back of this old makeshift truck attached to the back of a tractor and that they wanted to see me,” explains Fini. “He took me to this dark, smelly room in the back of the studio, and as soon as he opened the door they started playing without any cue. I was in tears… not only for the condition that they had been living in for three days but also by their modesty and affection. I could not refuse them.”
Although some of the members of Saborit, this eight-piece band of campesinos, have been playing for 40 years, and the band has existed since the early ’80’s, Fini recorded their very first recording, Que Linda Es Mi Cuba (Tumi Music), set for USA release on September 12, 2006. The album cover includes the tractor they drove all the way to Havana to catch the ear of the Tumi producer.
These hometown heroes have had a weekly radio program running for more than 30 years in the southern town of Manzanillo—just around the corner from Guantanamo Bay—and are regular fixtures at parties, festivals and celebrations in the region.
With few opportunities to tour outside their country due to political restrictions, many Cuban musicians have turned inward, back to their musical origins. The roots of Cuban music lie deep in the soil of plantations and farmlands, far from the salsa clubs of Havana. In The Rough Guide to World Music, Cuban folklorist Fernando Ortiz explains the development of the island’s music as the “interplay between sugar and tobacco.” He says the familiar sounds of rumba and son are the “unifying music of the island’s Black and European cultures, integrating European strings and West African percussion,” while its predecessor, campesino (peasant) music, is descriptive of the cultural history of the island; the interaction between African slaves who worked on sugar plantations and Spanish tobacco farmers.
Saborit brings this new-old sound to the world for the first time with the release of Que Linda Es Mi Cuba. The sound that brought Fini to tears will bring the world to its feet with an infectious mix of rumba, son, cumbia and guaracha—the raw material that forms the basis for pan-Latin salsa. Musica campesina is characterized by witty improvisation, satirical lyric content, classic vocal harmonies, and upbeat swinging guitar and other traditional acoustic instruments such as the laud (Cuban lute or oud), with percussive backing and call and response. The album features a bonus track—No. 13, “El pregon de la Tumi”—which was improvised and performed by Saborit immediately upon Fini’s acceptance to record them, and is an homage to Tumi Music.
Saborit was founded in the early ’80’s as the ‘Grupo Eduardo Saborit,’ an homage to the late legend and the king of country music in Cuba (1912-1963). Eduardo Saborit was the composer of ‘Que Linda Es Cuba,’ one of the emblematic songs of the Cuban Revolution and has been remembered through the naming of prestigious music awards and contests in his honor. But for all of his fame, he was a man of the popular culture who used to write advertising jingles in between writing songs about freedom, literacy, and decolonization.
Band leader and founder Eleodoro Leon’s regular calls of “Sabor!” pepper the album with a tantalizing mix of energy and love of country. The music that Eduardo Saborit inspired in the hills and farmlands of Manzanillo touches the soul like no other Cuban music with authentic flavor. This is Cuba’s answer to country music.