Gods die young, said the poet Nicolás Guillén on the occasion of the early death, at 43 years old, of Bartolomé Maximiliano Moré Gutiérrez. Beny Moré, one of the most important figures of the Cuban music scene of the last one hundred years, nicknamed “The Monster of Cuban Rhythms.”
In August of 2019, Cuba and the world celebrated the one hundredth birthday of this popular musician who achieved legendary status. His music continues to be present in the everyday life of his people and has influenced generations of Cuban singers and musicians.
Like Jorge Negrete, Pedro Infante, or Javier Solís in México (or today’s Juan Gabriel and José José); like Carlos Gardel in Argentina and Julio Jaramillo in Ecuador, for Cuba and
Latin America, Moré is one of those popular idols whose voice persists through the times. These iconic musicians have become not only classics in their respective genres, but
also in the collective memory and cultural heritage of their nations.
Thanks to Moré’s recordings, and technological advances in the music industry, the songs he produced and performed, half a century ago continue to be heard by his people after his death in 1963 attributed by some to cirrhosis.
Moré enjoyed an extremely unhealthy lifestyle. From old 75 and 45 rpm vinyl records of Moré’s boleros, guarachas, merengues, and a broad spectrum of Afro-Cuban rhythms, new generations of compact records were made and sold to millions of fans, during the decades of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Later, CDs and digital platforms like Spotify make it possible for new audiences to appreciate his voice. As of this writing, Beny Moré’s account has over 269,100 followers.
Moré possessed an innate talent only spotted in those famous superstars in music history, such as Bach, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, and Charly Garcia. It’s known as perfect pitch. Only one in every 1,000 to 10,000 people are born with this arguably, uncommon ability. It allows them to identify a musical note from any instrument or sound without external instrumental help.
That condition does not explain the totality of Moré’s genius as a composer and performer, but it’s one more element in the creation of his legendary reputation and work. All musicians must develop a hearing connection with their art. But in Moré’s case, he used his born gift to chastise any member of his giant orchestra who had the misfortune of falling out of tune, with his well-known dissaproving exclamation “Eh!”.
More´s songs, boleros, guarachas, guaguancos, rumbas, etc., spoke to his people about life and love, their daily tribulations, the loveliness of women, the farmers´(Guajiros) struggle. He sang about mothers´and fathers´love, and Cuba´s countryside splendor.
More than anything, his tunes exalted the allure of his hometown, and other communities he visited during his performances outside of the capital Havana.
His tunes lauded Cuban towns such as Santiago, Cienfuegos, Guayabal, Manzanillo, Varadero, Oriental Maracaibo (no relation to Maracaibo in Venezuela, but to the oriental Cuban rhythm known as changuí during mid-18th century from which the ‘son’ is derived) as well as Havana various neighborhoods.
Moré’s voice’s versatility allowed him to easily control all type of rhythms. He was unabashed about praising himself for his virtuosity, when performing the guaracha ‘You
choose, and I sing’ written by
However, in his voice, boleros attained a style so distinctive and personal that I will venture to say it’s the summit of this genre since its creation 150 years ago in Cuba. (Although Mexicans never get tired of
claiming to be the inventors.)
To listen to songs like, ‘No me vayas a engañar’, ‘Corazon rebelde’, or ‘Conocí la paz’, among other jewels of his extensive repertoire, I assure it is one of the upmost delicious musical experiences of any person who loves boleros.
At the beginning of his career, Moré, recorded with the worldwide acclaimed ‘Matamoros Trio’. With them, he traveled to México returning to Cuba five years later after acquiring a certain amount of fame, not only in México but throughout Latin-America. He solidified his fame after working with the Cuban composer Dámaso Perez Prado inventor of the Afro-Cuban rhythm ‘Mambo.’ The world went crazy dancing mambos during the 1940’s and 50’s.
His return to Havana was preceded by the popularity of his son ‘Bonito y Sabroso.’ This tune gained him the nickname of ‘The Prince of Mambo,’ and opened to him the doors of all Cubans, and the rest of the world’s musical venues.
Part of his legend is his publicly expressed disdain for all the popular orchestras of the time, including ‘La Sonora Matancera.’ This feeling pushed him to create his giant band of more than 40 of the best Cuban musicians of that time, eager to follow the whims and volatility of their capricious conductor.
The orchestra’s main characteristic was the power of its woodwind section, in constant dialogue with the trumpets, clarinets and saxophones, which imbued the unique sound with a contagious energy. The incessant participation of the saxophone in lieu of the tres put Moré’s personal stamp in the execution of ‘montunos,’ although he applied it to most dancing harmonies.
Part of his legend portrays different versions over the cause of death of this genial performer, the oldest of 18 brothers. Some say it was cirrhosis what took him to his grave, but among Cubans there is another sinister version. It’s said that the artist was the victim of a violent attack in México.
The Cuban exiles contend the attack was performed by the minions of Fidel Castro who ordered the assault after Beny snubbed him as the then-young leader of the Cuban revolution.
Beyond all these legendary clouds around his demise, there is no doubt his music is today an important part of the Cuban people’s musical legacy to humanity, an indelible slice of Cuba’s musical patrimony.
(Translated to English by Eduardo Cerviño)