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The Centuries-Long History Of Changui Music In Cuba

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CUIDAO CON LA LENGUA")

LAS FLORES DEL CHANGUI: (Speaking Spanish).

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

In the Guantanamo region of Cuba, there's a style of music that's been around for centuries.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAS FLORES DEL CHANGUI SONG, "CUIDAO CON LA LENGUA")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's called Changui.

GIANLUCA TRAMONTANA: Long before it became a genre, Changui was the word for party.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Gianluca Tramontana. He's a music journalist, broadcaster and now producer of a new box set, "Changui: The Sound Of Guantanamo." He spent over two years traveling to Cuba, recording the traditional sounds.

TRAMONTANA: It came out of the rural plantation communities of eastern Cuba, mostly the Guantanamo region. And on Friday, after workers would work the fields, they would start playing music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CUIDAO CON LA LENGUA")

LAS FLORES DEL CHANGUI: (Singing in Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tramontana said the musicians had to improvise their instruments.

TRAMONTANA: You know, in remote rural communities, you didn't have unlimited instruments. So it was homemade, spontaneous music. They would maybe grab a machete and a machete sharpener and scrape that to make a guayo sound. They might get a couple of dried gourds for the maracas. Or they might even grab a cow skull, and the jaws - the teeth and the jaws rattle, and they might shake that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CUIDAO CON LA LENGUA")

LAS FLORES DEL CHANGUI: (Singing in Spanish).

TRAMONTANA: It's riff-based. It's different than most Cuban music. Generally speaking, Cuban music is on the clave. It's straight time on the beat. Changui is very different. It's syncopated. It swings, and it's call-and-response.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CUIDAO CON LA LENGUA")

LAS FLORES DEL CHANGUI: (Singing in Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tramontana says as he searched for the sounds of Changui, he found a lot of modern versions. But he really wanted to get to the root of the music.

TRAMONTANA: So eventually, I just had to go out to Guantanamo City myself. And what I found was a living, breathing culture. Changui is not really something you do. Changui is a life. You live and breathe Changui. The Changui musicians, they're born into it, and they're Changuiseros from the cradle to the grave.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Like this group, Las Flores del Changui.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CUIDAO CON LA LENGUA")

LAS FLORES DEL CHANGUI: (Singing in Spanish).

TRAMONTANA: They're an all-female group, and they all come from the Changui life. They all grew up in remote rural communities, and they all grew up around three-day Changuisis (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CUIDAO CON LA LENGUA")

LAS FLORES DEL CHANGUI: (Singing in Spanish).

TRAMONTANA: Floridia, who's the bandleader of Las Flores, learnt to play tres from her grandmother, who was a tres player. And Floridia's daughter is in the band, too. So she's continuing a four-generation tradition.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tramontana's recordings feature a number of Changuiseros. But above all, they capture the spirit of what makes the music from Guantanamo so special.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "INSPIRACION DE LOS PUEBLOS")

GRUPO FAMILIA VERA: (Singing in Spanish).

TRAMONTANA: It's communal. It's inclusive. It's largely improvised. If you have something to sing and if you want to participate, you can join in and sing and participate, and everyone playing the music will follow.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Gianluca Tramontana. He produced the box set "Changui: The Sound Of Guantanamo," out on July 30.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "INSPIRACION DE LOS PUEBLOS")

GRUPO FAMILIA VERA: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.