Children’s Songs in Cuba (1960s-1980s)
By Emilio García Montiel
In the rich repertoire of children’s music broadcasted in Cuba during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, not all songs had an exemplary revolutionary content. Some were simply funny stories without a moral, featuring rhythmic orchestrations, memorable choruses, and melodies. However, during this period, traditional ballads, mostly of Spanish origin, that had traditionally enlivened children’s play, lost prominence, although they continued to be transmitted through oral tradition. Examples of these include “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 somber “¿Dónde vas Alfonso XII?”
In contrast to the imaginary and vocabulary of most of these ballads, which talk about ladies, widows, love, marriages, and domestic chores, new songs emerged that aligned with the new ideological and political context, demanding both boys and girls (pioneros) to fulfill their “revolutionary” duties. In some cases, this was explicitly expressed in the lyrics, as seen in “Mi escuelita” (“as I am a revolutionary child, I take care of my little school every day”) or “Niñito cubano” (“little Cuban boy, what are your plans for the future? To create a world fairer than the world of yesterday.”) Other songs 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”), reflecting the repertoire of protest songs from the Nueva Trova movement.
Simultaneously, other popular songs during this period promoted a healthy upbringing and taught respect for social and family values, as well as good study and work habits (also serving as propaganda for the regime). Notable examples from this repertoire include “Juan me tiene sin cuidado,” “La mariposita vuela” (which teaches obedience and respect towards elders), “Hormiguita retozona” (focused on domestic chores), or “Bañarse es sabroso” (promoting personal hygiene habits). Materialist philosophy was also reflected in a unique piece, “Protesta infantil,” where children protested against the use of traditional legends with an intimidating component based on fictional characters (“the Little Red Riding Hood is just a tale, a mere invention and fake,” it says). Implicit in this children’s protest was the banning of Santa Claus, replaced with a state-organized annual raffle that determined the day and commercial establishment where children’s toys would be bought (three per child, once a year, to be exact).
The selection of tunes for this exhibition highlights the representation of the new political context in children’s music during the period covered. It is important to note the high levels of diversity and quality in the repertoire (excluding generational variations and the conditions governing music education, production, and diffusion). This diversity and quality resulted from the combination of creative lineages, the involvement of important and prolific composers in the genre (such as Africa Domech, Teresita Fernández, and the duo of Celia Torriente and Enriqueta Almanza), adaptations of hits by Mexican composer Francisco Gabilondo Soler and Argentinean composer María Elena Walsh, exquisite interpretations imitating children’s voices by actresses Consuelito Vidal and Aurora Basnuevo, and contemporary adaptations of traditional foreign tunes (including the catchy piece representing Cuba-USSR friendship, “Que siempre brille el sol.”) Other factors that influenced children’s music during this period include the popularity of tunes from TV series (such as the beloved tunes from the Soviet cartoon “Deja que te coja,” the puppet show “Toqui,” or the adventure series “El capitán Tormenta”) and the role of animation in disseminating musical hits (e.g., “Marinero quiero ser,” “Vinagrito,” the lullaby “La calabacita,” or “A la escuela hay que llegar puntual”). Whatever the reason, the songs showcased were generally present in the everyday lives of Cuban children in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, eventually becoming part of the memory of those years.