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The Five Queens of Contemporary Cuban Music

The Five Queens of Contemporary Cuban Music

Posted by PanamericanWorld on November 07, 2017

In Cuba, royalty in music is clear to its sovereigns, especially among females, divas who have managed to forge and stay in popular preference for decades, despite coexisting in a guild of prodigal talent, high competitiveness, generations and modes in constant evolution, and in a contaminated-by-sexist-stereotypes society.

The five queens of contemporary Cuban music, women who according to the criteria of various specialists and experts on the subject are the highest-of-the-seat masters, represent not only a top space in terms of artistic quality and rooting among their followers, but which are referents in different styles, beyond those for which the Island has become known worldwide (salsa, bolero, guaguanco and feeling). 

Omara Portuondo, the Queen of Song

This isn´t the only title held by the multi-awarded singer born in 1930; "The diva of the Buena Vista Social Club" and "The feeling´s Bride" are among the epithets by which the former member of the quartet Las De Aida is known, where she shared with the voices of her sister, Haydée Portuondo, and the two immortal Moraima Secada and Elena Burke.

With about thirty albums, collaborations with hundreds of artists (Chucho Valdés, Los Van Van, Alejandro Sanz, Julio Iglesias and Compay Segundo, just to mention a few), and dozens of laurels among which is in 2009 the Latin Granmy in the Best Tropical Contemporary Music Album category, with her album Gracias [Thank You], the also member of the Buena Vista Social Club marked a milestone in the aforementioned awards, as she was the first resident on the Island to go on stage to present one of the prizes.

Her story has been narrated both in literature and in the movies, through the works Omara, the angels also sing (book by Oscar Oramas Oliva) and the documentary Omara, by Fernando Pérez.

Haila, the Queen of Salsa 

Haila María Mompié González, "The diva of the people", "The woman of steel", is a kind of "super-lady" that not only offers an exuberant presence on stage, an inescapable charisma and a torrent voice controlled with years of high domain; but she moves with grace and skill among a variety of popular dancing music genres, such as guaracha, timba, son montuno and, of course, salsa. "You have to take the career with dignity, with class... you have to know how to behave as an artist, and above all, know how to respect the public. That´s the one who applauds you, receives you, admires you, loves you, and that cannot be disrespected. One enters the houses, the hearts, the lives of people", she said in an interview conducted by the website Cubahora.

Former member of the renowned Septeto Tradicional, Habana Son and Bamboleo, the latter where she achieved greater notoriety, Haila has more than a quarter of a century on stage, in which she has shared with numerous groups and soloists, and has dedicated herself to promoting the path of younger artists, as she has done during the last two seasons of the television contest Sonando en Cuba.

María Eugenia Barrios, the Queen of the Lyrical Singing

Soprano and with a PhD in Art Sciences from the Higher Art Institute, she has played leading roles in works of this genre (Madame Butterfly, Cecilia Valdés, María la O, La traviata), and she´s distinguished for being one of the most applauded voices of lyrical art in the Greater Antilles.

Her interpretive quality and having been guided by high prestige figures such as Adolfo Guzmán, Gonzalo Roig, Felix Guerrero, Roberto Valera and Rodrigo Prats, make her deserve the title of "The lyrical voice of Cuba", as the director Manuel Jorge called her in his homonymous documentary. This Queen of Cuban music has managed to preserve the elegance and unique timbre that has branded her throughout her career. 

Alina Orraca, the Queen of Choral Music

One of the Island´s most eminent choral directors, she created the National School of Music Chamber Choir in 1979 (with which she received the Second Prize in the VIII Young Musicians and Performing Arts Contest, held in Vienna) and the Schola Cantorum Coralina, in 1993. With this last group, of which she is the director, she founded and led the program Cantorías de Coralina [Coralina´s Singing], where she works with children. In 2003, from this project, the Children and Youth Choir was created, made up of the selected talents in the cantorías.

 In 1998 she was in charge of the music for the Mass presided by the Supreme Pontiff, John Paul II, which took place in the Revolution Square "José Martí" in Havana, for which, in addition to the Schola Cantorum Coralina , 420 singers and Cuba´s National Symphony Orchestra were under her baton. After that work, she traveled in the same year to the Vatican to present her and her group as a primary choir in St. Peter's Square, at a Pope´s public audience, and consolidated her relationship with the Catholic Church´s highest office by also directing the ensembles that sang during the Popes Benedict XVI´s (2012) and Francis´ (2015) respective pastoral visits to the Island.

María Victoria Rodríguez, the Queen of Campesina Music

People say that the former Queen of the Punto Cubano, Celina González, reincarnated in this woman, who from a very young age began to defend traditional genres. With her performances in spaces such as Palmas and Cañas, María Victoria has managed to grow in the preference of all ages, with a spontaneous and temperamental style.

"Some young people surprise me in the street telling me that since I've been in Palmas y Cañas they see the show. This is estrange for me sometimes because I see them so young and they respond that there´s something in me that they like. They think it's me what attracts them, but maybe it's not me, but the music itself that leads them to listen and pay attention to this genre", she said in an interview with the Cubasí portal. Heir to the artistic gifts of her mother, Mercedita Sosa, this queen of rural melodies composes and interprets many of her songs, while at other times she pays tribute to figures such as Celina and Reutilio Domínguez.

Written by Anays Almenares Avila. PanamericanWorld. Havana

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