Lecuona and Cugat, composers and leaders of the Latin music of the twentieth century

As already mentioned, the music of the first half of the twentieth century was marked by the weight of composers and conductors more than by individual performers. There were extraordinary authors who were also actors of their music on stage and many of them were pianists: from Garshwin to Duke Ellington, passing through Ernesto Lecuona and Renato Carosone. The last two have much in common: both child prodigies, they managed to bring the melodies of their Cuban and Neapolitan culture to the center of world music.
Today we give space to Latin music: we deepen the figure of Lecuona and that of Xavier Cugat, who has collected his musical heritage.

Lecuona: Cuban zeitgeist and zarzuela

Ernesto Lecuona left us more than 600 compositions, the first written when he was eleven. In the 1930s, his songs were translated into all languages and became part of the collective musical heritage. “Maria la O“, one of his most successful works, was translated from Spanish to English, from French to Italian, enjoying the same enormous success. He composed intriguing melodies, which managed to capture the spirit of the time (the so-called zeitgeist). “Siboney” is another example; it is not by chance that it was chosen by Fellini to temporally place a chapter of the film “Amarcord”.

Lecuona shared with Carosone a passion for classical music; his Cuban zarzuela (a theatrical music that dealt with local current issues) can be considered a bridge between Opera and Latin popular music. In one of the highlights of his career, he conducted his symphony orchestra at Carnagy Hall in New York in 1943, playing “Black Rhapsody” for the first time. Then he sets up a band that would bring Cuban music to the world, the Lecuona Cuban Boys, in which our Alberto Rabagliati also sings, enjoying worldwide success with his version of “Maria la O”.

The fate of Lecuona changed rapidly after the Cuban Revolution. Being against the communist regime, his music was set aside in favor of his compatriots artists who supported the revolution. Lecuona dies in exile and still rests in North America; his remains will return to Cuba only once the Castro regime has fallen.

Cugat, father of Latin music

One composer and musician who kept Lecuona’s music in the world spotlight was Xavier Cugat. Catalan by birth but raised in Cuba, he was an icon of Hollywood films in the 1940s. Unforgettable conductor who performed holding his chihuahua in his arms, thanks to his inventiveness as an arranger he laid the foundations of Latin music: from mambo to cha cha cha, in his orchestras two percussion instruments such as the conga ( an elongated drum, similar to the bongo) and the vibraphone (similar to the xylophone, but with amplified metal bars instead of wood); were his trademark.

His fame became even greater with the arrival of singer Abbe Lane, who later became his wife, in the orchestra. A historic performance in Rai in the early 1950s within the program Il Signore delle 21, in which Lane sings and dances “Malagueña salerosa” causing a sensation, shaking a white evening dress with long fringes.
Despite the media fuss that followed (or thanks to it), the singer established herself as a femme fatale of her time and embodying that role she participated in several films with Totò and Vittorio de Sica.

Los Carosones and Latin music

In the second half of the Los Carosones show we have fun exploring the Latin part of Renato Carosone’s production. Too often the spotlight is put on pieces inspired by North American music; in reality many of his successes were reinterpretations of rythms that came from South America: “Guaglione”,Chella lá”, “Carlotta”,Mambo Italiano”, “Sciù sciù”, just to name a few.
For some years our sextet has been playing in Barcelona in the Ritz concert hall built personally by Xavier Cugat, who lived in the hotel for many years conducting his orchestra. As a tribute to this great Latin music artist, we have added one of his flagship songs to our repertoire, the song “Eso es el Amor”.