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Cuban Music Lesson: Trio Matamoros

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.

Have you ever been in a fancy Cuban or Mexican restaurant, and three guys with guitars come up to your table to sing for you and your girl? Usually, you are annoyed and you pay them a couple of bucks to get rid of them. Trio music can be great when sung by talented musicians when you aren’t trying to eat your ropa vieja in peace. Those poor schmucks are heirs to a tradition that goes back hundreds of years. One of the best trios, was a group from Cuba that achieved success worldwide: El Trio Matamoros.

El Trio Matamoros was formed in 1925 by guitarist Miguel Matamoros. He recruited Siro Rodriguez on vocals, maracas, and claves and Rafael Cueto on tres. A tres is a type of guitar indigenous to Cuba. It has three runs of two strings, with each set tuned to a certain note. The trio sang in a style called trova, which originated in Spain during the middle ages with the troubadours. These itinerant singers would travel around and make up songs about how awesome the local warlord was so they could get some food. Miguel adapted this ancient form, by infusing it with the melodies of the bolero and African rhythms. Their sound was sonorous and romantic, but you could also dance to it. If you danced real close and tight with your girl at a Trio Matamoros show, you were going to get some that night. That’s was the Trio Matamoros guarantee.

The guys stayed together until the 1960’s when they retired because they were super old and crusty. During their 40 year career they toured all over the world, influencing trios in Mexico like Los Panchos and Trios Calaveras. Today when you walk down the streets of Havana, you can swing a Communist party ration book and hit about 5 groups singing Trio Matamoros hits like Son De La Loma or Lagrimas Negras. If you stop and listen you’ll realize how beautiful the songs really are. So, next time a trio comes to your table at a restaurant, stop stuffing your face for two seconds and really listen.

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