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Monday, August 09, 2010

Passing of composer of "El Reloj" and "La Barca" - Roberto Cantoral (1935 - 2010) by Raymundo Eli Rojas

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Roberto Cantoral: 
Passing of Mexican Song Writer
by Raymundo Eli Rojas

Roberto Cantoral
(June 7, 1035 - Aug. 7, 2010)

On August 7, 2010, Mexico lost one of its greatest song writers, Roberto Cantoral. Born in Cd. Madero, Tamualipas, Mexico, Cantoral's songs have made him immortal.

Hermanos Cantoral and Los Cuetreros

It is 60 years ago now that Roberto Cantoral and his brother Antonio formed Los Hermanos Cantoral. However, Mexican music historian Yolanda Morerno Rivas says that the brothers were in an earlier group called Los Cuetreros around 1947.

Though the trio romantico's reign had begun in 1940s, it was the 1950s that would be it's golden years. Los Hermanos Cantoral were not a trio, but a duo, they relished in the popularity of the trio romantico in post-World War II Mexico.

However, not only were these ensembles popular in Mexico, but the trio romantico would gain popularity in the United States with its large Chicano(a) population as well as in many parts of Latin America.

Los Tres Caballeros

Roberto Cantoral was the primary song writer of this duo, and he would take his song writing skills to new heights in 1952 with Los Tres Caballeros.

This trio consisted to Roberto Cantoral, Benjamín Correa Pérez de León on requinto, and Leonel Gálvez Polanco. Galvez, before his passing, was the principle singer with with the Puente brothers (Gilberto y Raul) as part of Trio Los Tres Reyes. 

Los Tres Caballero was a super group of sorts. Benjamin Correa, better known as Chamin Correa, was one of the best requintistas of this day. Correa would go on to become a big time producer, arranger, and he would record with such artists as Joan Baez, Gloria Estefan, and Dave Brubeck to name a few.

With the huge radio play of popular music in Spanish in the 1950s, Los Tres Cabelleros quickly gained fame.

In 1952, they release the slow huapango “Crucifijo de Piedra” and Correa's “Invierno.” Moreno Rivas states that the Cantoral brothers also played “Crucifijo” with Los Cuartreros in the last 1940s.

Los Tres Caballeros toured the United States, Japan,and Argentina. Mostly recording on the Mexican label Musart, Los Tres Caballeros biggest hits came in 1956 with the boleros “El Reloj” and “La Barca.” Also in 1956, they released the huapango “Cuando se acuerde de mi.”

In 1957, Los Tres Cabaleros released “Demasi.” The bolero would become Cantoral's forte with hits such as “Te perdono" (1954), “El Preso No. 9” (1955)(which has been played as a bolero or  huapango). Moreno Rivas and Juan S. Garrido differ on the dates of the release of “La Barca” and “El Reloj” with Moreno Rivas saying '56 and Garrido '57. Los Tres Caballeros would release “Tu condena” in '57.

In 1958, they would follow with Cantoral's “Dejame Solo,” “El milagro,” and “Regalame este noche.” They ended the decade with such songs as “Contigo no puedo” a cancion ranchera, “La cuz de encino” a song based on the son huesteco, a huapango called “Rafael Cardenas” and another song based on the son huesteco called “Mis cinco sentidos.”

Solo Career and more compositions

In 1960, Cantoral would pursued a solo career, although Los Tres Caballeros still released songs. The 1960s, not only Cantoral would be singing his songs, but there were many artist covering Cantoral's work. Among the songs were the boleros “Noche, no te vayas,” “Siete noches,” “Alitas rotas,” “Amor de la vida,” and “Otro” with Dino Ramos.

Cantoral continued into the 1970s with such songs as “El triste” (winner of the Orfeo Negro prize in Bulgaria), “Volveremos, “ “El Paria,” “El pobre cristo,” and “El solitario.”

Singers who covered Cantoral's songs included Joan Baez, Jose Jose, Lucia Mendez, Lucho Gatica, Luis Miguel, Marco Antonio Muniz, Raul de Blasio, Richard Clayderman, Vikki Carr, Linda Ronstadt, Javier Solis, and many more.

Other song by Cantoral include “Al final,” “Noche no te vayas, “Regálame esta noche,” “Yo lo comprendo," “Chamaca,” “Quijote,” “Soy lo prohibido,” Qué mal amada estás,” “Me estás gastando,” “Un poquito de pecado,“ “Quiero huir de mí”, and “Yo no voy a la guerra.”

Cantoral served as president of the Sociedad de Autores y Compositores de Mexico or SACM and served as president several times of the Comite Iberoamericano de la Confederacion International de Sociedades de Autores y compositores (CISAC). He had been honored by the state of Texas in the United States as well as gained recognition from the first ladies of France and the United States (Lady Bird Johnson) for his song “Pobre navidad."

La Barca and El Reloj

By far his most popular songs remained “La Barca” and “El Reloj.” In the 1990s, Luis Miguel would cover both songs bringing the song into popularity with a new generation of listeners.

One of my favorite recordings was a 1990s popourri of 1950s boleros by Mariachi Tlaquepaque de Antonio Ramos (California) arranged by Juan Manuel Cortez. It included "La Barca" and another famous bolero (also later covered by Luis Miguel) -- "La Puerta".

Both boleros were covered by rival trios of Los Tres Caballeros, but also by such artist as Pedro Vargas and Placido Domingo. Some versions of “El Reloj” played a distinctive clock chime as well as an hour chime, what hour it was, escapes me.

Commentary on "El Preso No. 9" and Domestic Violence

I am surprised Cantoral's “El Preso No. 9” has not received much of the feminist criticism that other canciones mexicanos have received, especially corridos. There are a number of corridos that involve domestic homicide, and “El Preso No. 9,” though played either in bolero or huapango style, rings like the narrative of a corrido.

In “El Preso No. 9” a husband is confessing to the priest how he killed his wife when he found her with another man:

El preso numero nueve ya lo van a confesar
esta rezando en la celda con el cura del penal
porque antes de amanecer la vida le han de quitar
porque mató a su mujer y a un amigo desleal
Dice así al confesar
los maté si señor
y si vuelvo a nacer
yo los vuelvo a matar

ay. yayayayayyyyy

El preso numero nueve era un hombre muy cabal
iba la noche del duelo muy contento en su jacal
pero al mirar a su amor en brazos de su rival
ardió en su pecho el rencor y no se pudo aguantar
al sonar el clarín se formo el pelotón
y rumbo al paredón se oyo al preso decir:

Padre no me arrepiento
ni me da miedo la eternidad
yo se que allá en el cielo
el ser supremo nos juzgará
voy a seguir sus pasos
voy a buscarlos al más alla.

ay. yayayayayyyyy yaay

A tragic song, it is also disturbing. Who knows if Cantoral based this in an actual event. In my work with domestic violence survivors, this song comes to mind many times.

I frequently recalled “El Preso No. 9” in law school. In my first-year criminal law course, which covers the common law (which is not used in Mexico by the way), there were several categories of homicide: murder, voluntary manslaughter, and involuntary manslaughter.

A homicide would not amount to murder, but would amount to involuntary manslaughter, if the killing would be murder but for the existence of adequate provocation. Among the “adequate provocation” was provocation that “aroused sudden and intense passion in the mind of an ordinary person, causing him to lose self-control.”

The example often given for this was a man finding his spouse with another. This would be adequate provocation as long as the “defendant was, in fact, provoked, and there was not sufficient time between provocation and killing for passions of a reasonable person to cool” and “the defendant in fact did not cool off between the provocation and the killing.”

Now most states have done away with the common law, but this survives in some sort or another in many states. Adding to the sexism  of this is in some states, this only applied to a husband killing a wife, not vice versa.

How this applies to Roman law countries, I don't know. But as good as “El Preso No. 9” is, I always found it disturbing and it comes to my mind each time I hear the news of a spouse (and it's usually the women) killed by the other spouse.

Nevertheless, the song was recorded by Joan Baez and Chavela Vargas. So go figure.

My favorite recording of this was a 1992 recording by Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano of Los Angeles (Canciones de Siempre - Peer Southern)(hear Los Camperos' version). The song involves some falsetos by three singers, thus imitating the trio style. Luis Damian would sing the principle with Ismael Hernandez, Juan Jose Almaguer, and Jesus Guzman doing the trio. The liner notes credit Nati Cano with the arrangements on that album, but many suspect Jesus Guzman had a large influence on the arrangements in that album.

Cancionero of caliber

Song writers of Roberto Cantoral's caliber are rare these days and as these great song writers and poets pass, I can only wish the lyrics of Cantoral's “El Reloj” could come to fruition: “Reloj no marca las horas...”

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