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The year was going great for Miguel Matamoros until the summer. That’s when things suddenly seemed to have taken a downturn for the aspiring musician.
The 34 year-old slim and light-skin Santiaguero had just being fired from his job as a chauffeur. He still held the unopened envelop that his now ex-boss handed him with instructions not to open until he got home. The envelop remained closed not so much because Matamoros was following the instructions given to him, but because his mind was occupied trying to figure out how he would make ends meet if his income from music didn’t increase rapidly.
The year 1928 began with a lots of hopes for Mataromos. The news spread in Santiago that the RCA Victor company would be doing a promotional tour with their Cuban recording stars, the Sexteto Habanero, which featured singer Abelardo Barroso, one of the best singers of the “son”.
During the tour scheduled for February, RCA Victor planned to hold auditions for possible new talents. Mr. Terry, the artistic director for RCA Victor, liked to travel to Cuba this time of year when temperatures where mildly warm in the Cuban winter while escaping the freezing cold of New York.
Miguel saw this as his great opportunity. It had been 3 years since he teamed with guitarist Rafael Cueto and singer Siro Rodriguez to perform as the Trio Oriental.
“Guys, this is our big break! We have a decent following in Santiago which likes our music. But I believe that we’ll never be able to live only of music until we make a recording that’s played in the radio”, said Miguel to his two friends.
The relatively new technology of radio had now been in Cuba for almost six years. Havana got the second radio station in the world, right after the first one went on the air in New York, and just before San Juan, Puerto Rico got the third one. In six years, radio stations multiplied around the world, and by then, there were 3 radio stations operating in Santiago. The technology had proven to be a valuable marketing tool for artists as more businesses and people began buying radio units.
The audition took place around 1:00 pm in the ballroom of the hotel in Santiago where Mr. Terry and his partners from Havana where staying. The Trio Oriental played three for their best songs for Mr. Terry and his partners. But Miguel, who besides being a good musician, singer and composer, also had a keen ability to read crowds, sensed something didn’t go right.
Matamoros was aware that the music he developed with his Trio Oriental was a different style of “son”. It certainly was a bit different than what Mr. Terry was used to with the Sexteto Habanero. Matamoros’ music, and specially his lyrics, borrowed heavily from the Cuban Trova, the music he grew up with. His compositions, in any genre, were of excellent taste.
Additionally, he and Cueto played the guitars a little differently than most groups. Miguel played making sharp improvisations, while Cueto kept the basic rhythm as he hit the body of his guitar simultaneously with the strings. Harmonically, Siro’s voice made a beautiful contrast with Miguel’s, and he also played the maracas and the guiro. The trio had polished their style for three years, to the delight of Santiagueros.
“Good performance. Thank you Mr. Matamoros. We’ll let you know if we decide we have any interest in recording your group.”, was all Mr. Terry said through one of his Cuban business partners from Humara y Lastra. Miguel knew this was a nice way for Mr. Terry to say he wasn’t interested.
“Gracias Mr. Terry”, Miguel responded while approaching the man seated at a table of the almost empty hotel ballroom. Matamoros needed to think fast on how to save the situation, before his dream ended without a chance to get off the ground.
“Mr. Terry, we play tonight in a nightclub down the street. I think you’ll get a better picture of how people like our music if you see us playing for a crowd. Besides playing as a trio, we’ll alternate playing as a septet, which you haven’t seen. We start at 9 pm. I believe it will be worth your time sir.”, Miguel said in a soft voice, but with as much confidence and respect as he could muster.
“Thank you for that information Mr. Matamoros. We’ll consider your invitation.”, responded Mr. Terry uncommittedly, while he rose from his seat to shake Miguel’s hand. Miguel and his trio left the hotel without any idea if his effort to save their dream had worked.
Note: Stay tuned for Chapter 2; “Second Chance” in this flash fiction story of Cuban lengend Miguel Matamoros.