by Raul Menchaca
SANTIAGO DE CUBA, Dec. 10 (Xinhua) -- It is impossible to visit or talk about Santiago de Cuba without knowing the Casa de la Trova (House of Troubadours), a busy cultural institution which preserves the deepest roots of Cuban music.
In an almost century-old House, located just a few meters from the central Cespedes Park, tunes from guitars and voices from singers almost never stop as they keep alive the tradition of the troubadours, who began to appear in the city around 1850.
The troubadours lived a bohemian lifestyle, earning their living with their guitars and voices. They were famously able to interpret a wide variety of artistic expressions on daily issues, from love to politics.
"The 'Trova' (traditional ballads from the region) reflects the life of the people of Santiago," cultural promoter Santiago Puente, a regular visitor to the House of Troubadours since its inauguration in 1968, told Xinhua.
The House has been attended by the greatest Cuban musicians, and even by Paul McCartney, one of the members of the legendary British quartet "The Beatles."
The House, what is now an important Cuban cultural institution, was opened as a small restaurant in the 1940s and later became an informal gathering place for musicians.
The triumph of the Cuban Revolution in January 1959 opened a flourishing stage for culture and education, and the House became an award-winning official institution.
Inside the House, there is an unwritten convention that only those with good voices, capable of transmitting the special feeling of old Cuban songs, can sing.
Veteran Alejandro "Nene" Almenares is the son of Angel Almenares, one of the five founders of the "Casa de la Trova." He paid homage to his father from the trio "Los Tainos," as he sang and played the guitar with incredible mastery despite being 76 years old.
"The 'Trova' is the most significant, exclusive and genuine Cuban element that this heroic, prodigious city gives," Almenares told Xinhua with unusual passion, shortly after finishing his performance.
As a troubadour, a composer, a guitarist and a luthier, Almenares is a strong defender of a tradition that allowed him to approach great Cuban musicians, such as Miguel Matamoros or Nico Saquito, and start composing songs at the age of 13.
This legacy, passed generation by generation, seems natural to Jorge Ferrer. His mother took him to the House when he was a child, especially when his uncle Electo Rosell played there with his orchestra.
"The 'Trova' frames many things. More than a genre, it is a form of cultural expression. For me, it is part of my life," said Ferrer when commenting on his early exposure to the House of Troubadours.
Having graduated as a guitarist, Ferrer is convinced of the institution's authenticity and its influence on Cuban music.
The constant exchanges between professional and amateur troubadours make the Casa de la Trova in Santiago de Cuba a true cultural sanctuary where the purest essence of Cuban popular music may be appreciated every day.