Children’s Songs in Cuba (1960s-1980s)
By Emilio García Montiel (translated by María A. Cabrera Arús)
In the lavish repertoire of children’s music broadcasted in Cuba during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, not all the songs had 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, for instance, 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 domestic chores predominates), rather in consistency with the new ideological and political context, new songs appeared demanding boys and girls alike (as per their condition of pioneros) to fulfill 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”), compositions that mirror 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 they are universal concerns does not hinder the fact that they served as propaganda for the regime as well). It is worth mentioning, among this repertoire, the hits Juan me tiene sin cuidado, La mariposita vuela (which teaches obedience and respect toward the elders), Hormiguita retozona (focusing on domestic chores), 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 with an intimidation 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 protest is the banning of Santa Claus, tradition replaced with a state-organized annual raffle in which the day and the commercial establishment where children’s toys would be bought (once a year, three per child, to be exact) was determined by authorities.
The selection of tunes for this exhibition highlights the representation of the new political context in the children’s music of the period. However, it must be said that it shows high levels of diversity and quality (I am not considering generational variations or the conditions governing music education, production, and diffusion). Such a diversity and quality was the result of the coalescence of multiple factors, namely the combination of creative lineages, the participation of the most important and prolific composers of the genre (e.g., Africa Domech, Teresita Fernández, and the duo of Celia Torriente and Enriqueta Almanza), the adaptation of the hits of Mexican composer Francisco Gabilondo Soler and Argentinean composer María 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 the very popular tunes of the Soviet cartoon Deja que te coja, the puppet show Toqui, or the series of adventures El capitán Tormenta), and the role that animation 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, the songs included in the selection 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 the memorialization of those years.