Havana, Cuba. – Her name is bound to the foundation of Cuban Nueva Trova Movement, next to Silvio Rodriguez and Pablo Milanes. She is considered one of its highest exponents and lives forever in the collective memory.
And she will live on, mainly through two songs that became immortal in her voice. Nothing can match the way she sang “Su Nombre es Pueblo”, Eduardo Ramos’ anthological composition. What can we say about “Giron: La Victoria”? She wrote that equally unequaled tune and sang it beyond compare.
Contrary to what many could think, the troubadour was commissioned to write this song for an April 4 celebration. However, the mastermind behind it was maestro Frank Fernandez, producer of that gala where other milestone songs first saw the light.
I mean Silvio Rodriguez’s “Preludio a Giron” (Prelude to Bay of Pigs), Amaury Perez’s “¿Quien sabe mas?” (Who knows more?) and Pablo Milanes’ “Cancion por la Unidad Latinoamericana” (Song for Latin American Unity).
Sara Gonzalez said Frank Fernandez asked her to write a song that reflected the victory of our people in the epic battle of April 1961. Nobody could do it better, because of her enthusiastic, impulsive and passionate nature. This is how “Giron: la Victoria” was conceived. This emotional song has been gladly heard for more than 35 years.
It is twice as valuable because no one will ever be able to sing that anthem to the Revolution like her. She wrote this song as if she had been part of Giron victory when she was barely nine years old.
Sara Gonzalez was born in Havana in 1951 and made her first foray into singing in the early 1970’s. She made her debut with “Los Dimos”, a popular band in those years. She also used to make duets with singer/songwriter Pedro Luis Ferrer in those days.
She had met Silvio Rodriguez and Pablo Milanes when she was a student and they encouraged her to set Jose Marti’s “Simple Verses” to music. That experience became her debut at record making.
That phonogram was recorded in 1975, under the title of “Jose Marti’s Verses sung by Sara Gonzalez.” It combined the singer’s tenderness and musical strength with the spirited inspiration of Marti’s poems. The songs in this record dug into the deepest and purest feelings of our people. That trait characterized Sara Gonzalez’s artistic career ever after.
She also joined the Nueva Trova Movement, where she stood out as its most representative female voice. She even followed the path of her peers, by joining ICAIC’s (Cuban Film Institute) Experimental Band. This opened a new and enriching stage of her career where she began to appear in radio and TV shows and write music scores for movies. When ICAIC’s Experimental Band broke up, Sara Gonzalez moved on, like other band members, accompanied by her guitar.
But she also sang with other troubadours and bands like “Irakere”, “Manguare”, “Los Cañas” and the “All Stars Orchestra.” In that stage, Sara Gonzalez also started to untiringly tour international scenarios.
Thereafter, she represented our culture abroad and became one of the most outstanding artistic communication phenomena in Cuban music. Next to Alejandro Garcia (Virulo), Carlos Ruiz de la Tejera and Jesus del Valle, she joined “Conjunto Nacional de Espectaculos” (National Show Company). This satirical angle of musical theater was very successful in Cuba and abroad. It brought more experience and maturity to her artistic development. Sara’s second record, “Cuatro cosas” (Four things), was released in 1982. It contained Nicolas Guillen and Fina Garcia Marruz’s poems set to music and other political songs. They were dedicated to Nicaragua, Bolivia, Che Guevara and Haydee Santamaria, heroine of the attack to Moncada Garrison.
Sara Gonzalez joined ranks with the band Guaican in 1984 and started a very interesting experience in her artistic career. Guaican was made up by musicians with no professional training, but Sara Gonzalez started to teach them. She ran with them a sort of experimental and development workshop that worked until the end. Although some eventually left, others stayed to become “Sara’s musicians”, as they proudly call themselves. The outcome of that work with Guaican were two albums titled “Con un poco de amor” (With a little love) and “Con apuros y paciencia” (With rush and patience). Both are representative of Sara Gonzalez’s work in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.
Going through Sara Gonzalez’s discography, one cannot miss the CD “Cantos de mujer” (Woman’s Songs). This work, rather recent, vindicated the contribution of female songwriters to Cuban popular music. It is a two records series, where she sang songs written by our female composers of all times. Unfortunately, death kept her from continuing this project, because in her last days, she was already working in the third release of this series. She had even chosen the entire repertoire of songs.
She had projects like “El Jardin de la Gorda” (The Fatty’s Garden), one of her most remarkable contributions in the final stage. Little by little, this monthly appointment became a space for dialogue between the community and arts. Many Sara Gonzalez’s friends sang there and they keep doing it, because this monthly gathering has not stopped although its creator is gone.
With her powerful voice, of fine timbre and wide color, Sara Gonzalez’s repertoire included Cuban genres as Son, bolero and the Nueva Trova. She also tried other international rhythms, especially Latin American. Sara Gonzales sang every song with unlimited passion that usually exacted standing ovations from the most demanding publics.
Some called her a Diva without make-up and even compared her to Joan Baez or Brazilian Elis Regina. Yet, she was truly unique with her Cuban hallmark that achieved deep-rooted communication with the public. She combined a solid style with the captivating magic of songwriting and the endless vocation of singing to the Homeland and the entire humankind in any scenario.
By: Grisel Chirino
Translated by: Pedro A. Fanego