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Cuban Music Lesson: Trova


Get ready to be schooled, asere. It’s time for a Cuban music lesson! Learn to tell your cha cha cha from your mambo without leaving your couch. Put on your dancing shoes, guayaberas, park your 57 Chevy, light up that Habano, and pay attention.

By Jack Tomas

In the middle ages, groups of itinerant musicians would travel from town to town trying to find work. They were lucky, they might make a few coins and not die of the plague. Today in the U.S., their descendants are the dudes that play on the subway. In Cuba, these traveling musicians are one of the biggest influences on the development of Cuban music. These musicians play a music called trova and the players are called trovadores.

Unless you didn’t figure it out, the word trovadores comes from troubadours. This style came to Cuba via Spain in the 15th century. It is said that members of Columbus’ crew brought guitars with them when they first visited Cuba. This precedes the important African influence on Cuban music. The Taino Indians didn’t get a chance to contribute because they all died from smallpox and swords through the head. Trova music is still primarily played on guitars, and incorporates boleros and improvised guajiro sonnes which are the main components of the Trova sound.

Trova was extremely popular in the 19th century. By the middle of the 20th century, trova had morphed into what was called nueva trova. These songs were more political and folky, like Silvio Rodriguez, the Bob Dylan of Cuba. Today, trova continues to be an important cultural influence in Cuba. The government has declared it a national treasure. Like, an important cultural tradition, not the movie with Nicolas Cage.

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