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Homegrown Plus: Changüí Majadero

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In this photo of Changüí Majadero, four men and a woman hold musical instruments. Photo is accompanied by the Homegrown 2020 logo, which includes the words "Library of Congress American Folklife Center Homegrown 2020 Concert Series, "Homegrown at Home."
Changüí Majadero. Photo courtesy of the band.

In the Homegrown Plus series, we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both videos together in an easy-to-find blog post. (Find the whole series here!) We’re happy to be continuing the series with the Cuban American band Changüí Majadero.

Founded by tres guitarist and vocalist Gabriel García, Changüí Majadero was the result of García’s pivotal pilgrimage to the Guantanamo region of Cuba, where he learned the musical style called changüí from the living masters of the style. He says he was inspired to spread the spirit of Cuban folkloric music mixed with a dash of East Los Angeles grit.

According to Gabriel, Changüí is the predecessor of son cubano and salsa. It’s a style of music specifically from the region of Guantanamo, Cuba, whose origins can be traced back to the 1800s, during the days of slavery in Cuba. Changüí is to Cuban and Latin American music, Gabriel says, what the blues and early jazz are to the music of the United States. Changüí Majadero has played their modern take on changüí in a wide variety of settings, such as Lincoln Center, SF Jazz, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and even Dodger Stadium.

Changüí Majadero’s route to performing in our Homegrown concert series included a performance in the AFC’s Archive Challenge Showcase at Folk Alliance International in 2020. To prepare for that performance, my colleague Jennifer Cutting suggested the band listen to AFC’s online presentation Florida Folklife from the WPA, which includes field recordings of Cubans who were living and working in both Key West and Ybor City in 1939-1940. Ybor City, now a neighborhood within Tampa, was settled in 1886 by Cuban cigar companies to avoid the unionization of their workers. Gabriel found it to be a very interesting period of Cuban-American history, and after poring through all the field recordings of Cuban musicians, he chose a few pieces performed by Sesteto Encanto at Key West, Florida in 1940. You can find these archival recordings at this link.

Over 80 years after these songs were recorded by folklorist Stetson Kennedy in Key West, Florida, they sprang back to vivid life, first on our showcase stage in New Orleans, then in the band’s homegrown concert. Gabriel was attracted by Sesteto Encanto’s laid-back groove, great melodies and passionate lyrics, as well as the field recordings’ surprising parallel to his own life and work. When introducing his showcase performance, he mused:

So, the composer…is actually a Mexican that lived in Florida with Cubans… and the funny thing is that I’m a Mexican-American. We have three Cubans in the band, a Puerto Rican, and another Mexican. So I feel like I’m the reincarnation of this man. When I saw this, I was like, “Wait… it’s a Mexican dude playing with some Cubans!”

As a reminder, the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we did these concerts in 2020 and 2021. Instead of doing live concerts in the Coolidge Auditorium and Whittall Pavilion, we asked the artists to produce concert videos, either solo or with whatever musicians they could safely work with in pandemic conditions. So Changüí Majadero’s concert was recorded live in their studio. See the results of their research in our archive, along with other songs from their repertoire, in the player below!

In our conversation, Gabriel told me about his own journey as a musician, both his figurative journey of learning music and his literal journeys to Cuba and Mexico to learn with master musicians. He told me about his mentors, members of Changüí Guantanamo in Cuba, about the cultural exchange between Cuba and other Latin American countries, and about the traditions he studied. He described his own instrument, the tres, which is a six-stringed guitar tuned as three courses, that is, three pairs of strings with each pair tuned to the same note. The instrument can play chords of three notes at a time, which leads to the name tres. He also described the other instruments typical of Changüí music, including the marimbula, an instrument like a big bass xylophone, which they use in their concert. He also explained some of the things that make changüí music different from other styles. In all, it’s a great introduction to the band and to the unusual style known as changüí.  Watch it in the player below!

You can find both of these videos with more bibliographic information on the Library of Congress website, with the concert here at this link and the oral history at this link.

Thanks for watching, listening, and reading! The American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert Series brings music, dance, and spoken arts from across the country, and some from further afield, to the Library of Congress. For information on current concerts, visit the Folklife Concerts page at Concerts from the Library of Congress. For past concerts, including links to webcasts and other information, visit the Homegrown Concerts Online Archive.

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