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CARIBBEAN - music

Benny More's friends


Compliments of www.cubanow.net

Mauro once saw him singing a duo with himself in a bar in Central Havana. He thought it was an unusual way to please his friends and admirers. His friend Jose Maracaibo Castañeda also enjoyed it and recalls that in the Marianela Bar, he called for the metal doors to be closed and everyone to stay, saying the tab was on him. "He picked about 10 of his pieces in the juke-box and duetted with his own recording. It was unbeatable!"

Maracaibo met Benny in Santiago de Cuba at the Oriental Radio station, where he worked with Maravillas de Beltran and sang with Caridad Hierrezuelo, Ibrahim Ferrer, Geronimo Ibarra and others. The station contracted Benny for 100 pesos a day.

-One night at a dance in Jutinicu, a very rural area, there was a guajiro who was somewhat drunk, and he said to me "Mulatto, play Maracaibo." We sang the songs made popular by Celia Cruz, Arsenio Rodriguez, the Sonora Matancera and the Conjunto Casino in order to be in fashion; we couldn't abandon that repertoire in spite of the campesino. In addition to being a Venezuelan city, Maracaibo is a musical rhythm from the Sierra Maestra, known as changüi in Guantanamo.

-The guajiro's drunkenness gave me the idea of composing Maracaibo Oriental and I took it to Benny in Santiago. He said: "Not now. Save it for when I have my band in Havana because I like the idea." When I came to the capital I had the song in my head and I went to see Chepin who had been successful with Bartolo's Banana Plantation, sung by Ibrahim Ferrer. I visited him at the Boston Hotel and Columbie, who played with Benny, told me how to get to his house in La Cumbre neighborhood.

-Benny was happy to see me and asked me about the song. When I signaled that I had it up here (in my head), he said: "No, not like that. Bring it to me on paper, and come tomorrow with Columbie, because I still need a couple of songs before I start recording my album."

-Before I left he brought out a bottle of Peralta rum; the boxer, he used to call it, and we sat there until it was finished. When he drank he was funnier than ever. Often he began singing and dancing.

-The following day I brought him the song more or less written and then he gave it to Generoso to adapt it, but the day it was scheduled to be recorded, Generoso said that he'd forgotten it. Benny surprised him with: "Then, remember it," and he started humming it as if it were one of his own compositions: "ton, titin, ton, titin." Piano and base. "For you to dance, my Maracaibo son" Saxophones! pa-pa-ri with pa and the trumpet said -inspiration- How fabulous!

-When Benny was asked about the author of that song, he would say: "Jose Maracaibo. That's why people started calling me Maracaibo. At first it humiliated me and I went to see him to complain that the entire band was calling me that. He responded with "forget about it. It isn't a nickname; it's the artistic name I gave you."

Sometimes, after several drinks, Benny would arrive late to a commitment, his old friends recall. But there were also some managers who announced Benny in their advertising just to attract a larger audience when in fact he wasn't expected to perform. It was a fraud, but people would think he hadn't followed through. Although he wasn't always punctual, he always showed up.

Mauro recalls expecting him at 9:00 p.m. and not seeing him until midnight, but he played until dawn at the request of the audience. That is the origin of the chorus: "They thought I wasn't coming / but here you see me now / Benny More, what a band you have," while improvising.

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