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The first versions of the song “Songoro Cosongo“, and the one made popular by Hector Lavoe, evolved from a literary revolution as we saw in Part 1.
Here’s the rest of the story.
First Versions of “Songoro Cosongo”
Nicolas Guillen liked to use the then relatively young rhythm of Cuban “son” as inspiration for his poems. Perhaps the reason was that the “son” had evolved from the combination of whites and blacks in Cuba. In both books, “Motivos del Son” and “Songoro Cosongo”, his poems were written to depict the lives of Cubans. He also wanted to emphasized the importance of Afro-Cuban culture in Cuban history.
One of Guillen’s fans was Eliseo Grenet. Grenet was a white Cuban pianist, composer, and bandleader, who in 1927 had written “Ay Mama Inés” as part of a “zaruela” (a type of Spanish musical-comedy that alternates between spoken and sung scenes) for which he wrote the music with the legendary Ernesto Lecuona. Subsequently, the song became a huge hit, and took Grenet in the path of composing Afro-Cuban themed songs.
Eliseo Grenet made into songs several of the poems in Guillen’s poem book “Motivos del Son”. Perhaps the most popular was the one using the verses of “Si Tu Supiera”. However, Grenet re-named the song “Songoro Cosongo”.
In 1932, a year after Guillen published the book “Songoro Cosogno”, Grenet released the song with the same name. That same year he also released another song titled “Lamento Cubano”. The lyrics of this later song got him chased out of Cuba by dictator Gerardo Machado’s men. The lyrics asked why Cuba, so beautiful, was suffering so much.
Here’s the first version of “Songoro Cosongo” by Eliseo Grenet.
A few years later, the famous Septeto Nacional de Ignacio Pineiro also recorded the song. The lyrics in this version evolved slightly, and one of the “soneos” was used by Hector Lavoe in his version of the song. Grenet’s version did not have the call-and-response of the chorus and “soneo” that the “son” genre developed.
Hector Lavoe’s version in “Comedia”
Willie Colon extended the song to over 7 minutes (7:46) and included 4 mambos within the song. Hector, for his part, sang 21 “soneos” during the song. Hector Lavoe made good use of the 21 “soneos”. They gave him the opportunity to display his charm and wit in singing Salsa with his unique style. Who else would come up with a “soneo” in “jeringosa”?
Note: “jeringosa” was a tongue-twisting fad among pre-teens and teens that took place sometime in the early to mid-70’s. It was simply about putting a “chi” in front of every syllable of every word spoken. Puerto Rican teen girls were extremely adept at it, which keep teen boys from knowing what they were talking about, even when they knew how it worked!
Lavoe displayed his great charm and distinctive style in the “soneos”. And this, more than anything else, propelled the song to become a huge hit. Hector took the song, and made it his own, just like he does with his other hits.
Looking back to when the album “Comedia” came out, I would’ve never thought that a song like “Songoro Cosongo” would’ve evolved from a literary movement similar to the “Black Lives Matter” movement we are experiencing today.
With Hector Lavoe’s version of the song, you and I got to know “Songoro Cosongo”. So I’ll end this blog in the same way Hector ended the song in his 21st “soneo”…
…”dime si entendiste Songoro Cosongo, si no lo entendiste no repetiré” (“tell me if you understood Songoro Cosongo, if you didn’t I won’t repeat it”).