Children’s Songs in Cuba (1960s-1980s)
By Emilio García Montiel (translated by María A. Cabrera Arús)
Not all the songs of the lavish repertoire of children’s music that was broadcasted in Cuba during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s have an exemplary revolutionary content. Some of them were just funny stories without a moral, or rhythmic orchestrations and memorable choruses and melodies. However, during this period the ballads—mostly of Spanish origin—that had traditionally animated children’s play lost preeminence, even if they continued to be transmitted through oral tradition. This is the case, e.g., of El patio de mi casa; Arroz con leche; A la rueda rueda; Alánimo, alánimo; La pájara pinta; Matandile dile do; Los pollitos dicen…; La señorita (…) entrando en el baile; Los pollos de mi cazuela; ¿Cuánto me das marinero?; Mambrú se fue a la guerra; Estaba el señor Don Gato; or the dreary ¿Dónde vas Alfonso XII?.
In contrast with the imaginary and vocabulary of most of these ballads (where ladies, widows, love, marriages, and household work predominates), and rather in consistency with the new ideological and political context, new songs appeared demanding boys and girls alike (as per their condition of pioneros) the fulfillment of their “revolutionary” duties. In some cases, this was directly expressed in the lyrics, such as in Mi escuelita (“as I am a revolutionary child, I daily care of my little school”) or Niñito cubano (“little Cuban boy / which are your plans for the future? / to create a world / fairer than the world of yesterday”); or in other songs that, in the same line, promoted world peace and solidarity, such as the iconic Barquito de papel (“down with the war! / we are for peace! / children want to / laugh and sing”); Abuela, ¿qué pasaría? (“Grandma, what / if men had no war?”); or Todos los niños del mundo (“that merciless monster / called the imperialist war / has taken too many children / and is threatening us again”). This kind of compositions will be mirrored in the repertoire of protest songs of the Nueva Trova movement.
At the same time, other songs popularized in the period promoted a healthy upbringing and taught respect for social and family values and good habits of study and work (that these are universal concerns does not hinder the fact that they served as propaganda for the regime). It worth mentioning, among these songs, the hits Juan me tiene sin cuidado, La mariposita vuela (teaching obedience and respect for elders), Hormiguita retozona (on doing domestic work), or Bañarse es sabroso (promoting habits of personal hygiene). Materialist philosophy was also reflected in a singular piece, Protesta infantil, in which children protest against the use of traditional legends to intimidate them, disapproving children’s stories due to their fictional character (“the Little Red Riding Hood is just a tale, a mere invention and fake”). Implicit in this children protest is the banning of Santa Claus, replaced with a state raffle in which the day and establishment in which each family would buy children’s toys (once a year, three per child, to be exact) would be determined.
Although the selection of tunes for this exhibition highlights the representation of the new political context in the children’s music of the period—as long as their recordings are available—, it must be said that this music shows high levels of diversity and quality (out of my consideration is how generational variations, or the new administrative policies with regard to music education, production and diffusion, have impacted it). Such a diversity and quality was the result of the coalescence of multiple factors, namely, the combination of diverse creative lineages, the participation of the most important and prolific Cuban composers of the genre (e.g., Africa Domech, Teresita Fernandez, and the duo of Celia Torriente and Enriqueta Almanza), the adaptation of the hits of Mexican composer Francisco Gabilondo Soler and Argentinean composer Maria Elena Walsh, the exquisite interpretations—imitating the voices of children—of actresses Consuelito Vidal and Aurora Basnuevo, and the contemporary adaptation of traditional foreign tunes (among them, the catchy piece, representing the Cuba-USSR friendship, Que siempre brille el sol). Other factors should be also considered when analyzing the children’s music of the period, such as the popularity of tunes from TV series (like those, very popular, from the Soviet cartoon Deja que te coja, the puppet show Toqui, or the series of adventures El capitán Tormenta), and the role that cartoon animations played as a mechanism of dissemination of musical hits (e.g., Marinero quiero ser; Vinagrito; the lullaby La calabacita; or A la escuela hay que llegar puntual). Whatever the reason, these songs were, in general, present (glossed, satirized, or simply mentioned) in the everyday life of Cuban children back in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Now, they are also part of its reconstruction.