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An Anacaona girl that rejects oblivion

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Havana, Cuba. – At the age of 87, Anneris Canovas, member of the emblematic band for over a decade, recalls her vast professional career in favor of Cuban culture.

Slim and very active, all kindness, this woman from Matanzas welcomed us in her downtown home in Calle del Medio. She was already waiting for us. We climbed the straight and huge staircase and sat in the living room of the old house. She brought us some coffee. She goes inside and returns with a valuable photo album, documents, newspapers, diplomas and magazines.

Una Anacaona negada al olvido

We are immediately struck by the images in which she appears in long, full-length dresses, singing or playing drums.

I am a forgotten Anacaona”, she said tilting her head. Anneris Canovas’ historical memory survives in those exclusive snapshots, testimony of the days when she traveled with the famous orchestra founded on February 17 1932 by Conception Castro and her sisters. In its beginnings, it was the first female sextet to play Son.

“They have been more than a few attempts to buy the photographs; they seem to have some value; but are not for sale”, and smiles again.

She showed us many dresses, all with different designs, which she has kept from her shows in her lengthy career as an artist. She praised her mother’s painstaking work, which was in charge of creating special designs for her shows:

“Believe it or not, I never repeated the same dress on stage. My mom made them exclusively for every show. She was inspired by the musical motif; she sought the right fabrics, ribbons or lace, and made a unique garment.”

Her face has changed, but her voice still sounds vibrant: “I take great care of my vocal chords; no crazy stuff. Perhaps that’s why my voice remains the same.”

At 87, she still sings and maintains the work discipline as conductor of “Quinteto Anneris y sus muchachos”, besides sharing her knowledge as teacher of “Maravillas de la Infancia” children’s project.

She brandishes proudly her condition of Matanzas native and having been one of the main members, for 12 years, of the legendary Anacaona Orchestra, as singer-presenter and playing several percussion instruments.

She joined the orchestra in the late 1950’s, as a soloist and pursued her international artistic career with it. Her talent was admired in Chile, Colombia, Panama, Brazil and Uruguay, where the women’s orchestra had the chance to play next to Los Panchos and Nat King Cole. “We felt very proud as Cuban women when we were praised by these world class stars”, she said.

Actually, in Uruguay, Anacaona, accompanied by the local government authorities, welcomed at the airport the first delegation from the island that traveled abroad after the revolutionary triumph of 1959. It included the actress from Matanzas Violeta Casals, “The Voice of Sierra Maestra”, on Radio Rebelde. “It was awesome to greet and welcome our people and play our National Anthem in Montevideo,” Anneris recalled.

After a fruitful stage of success, Anacaona went into recess and Anneris went back to Matanzas, where she began a career as a soloist, which led her to sing in shows and musical revues in Havana. “It’s incredible, every time someone finds out that I used to be a member of Anacaona, he/she are amazed. Some people want to take photos with me and ask a lot of questions”, said this woman, the lead voice of Anacaona for some time, with a vast career in favor of national culture.

I was born to sing

The first direct contact of Anneris Canovas with music took place at the Higher School No. 2, in Matanzas City, where she joined his choir, conducted by master Justo Ojanguren. “I had been cherishing the pleasure of music at home; because my maternal grandparents used to hum and sing fashionable songs while doing their household chores.”

There was a radio program dedicated to Maria Teresa Vera, an idol in those days, which was always heard at home.

The artist told us of her beginnings with guitarist-concert man Idelfonso Acosta, with whom she made a memorable duo, winner of the only prize in the contest convened by Televisa Publicidad, in Havana, in the 1950′s.

In 1955, she graduated as Professor of Economics, Arts and Household Sciences, at Matanzas Home School. However, her passion for music prompted her to join, a year later, Las Sepias Trio, based in Havana and led by Isolina Carrillo, with whom she travelled abroad for the first time, to Haiti.

At the same time, she finished her acting studies and joined, in the mid 1960’s, a theater company in her hometown.

Nevertheless, singing had cast too strong a spell on her. Therefore she joined “TropiCuba” Quartet with Yoyo Reyes, Matico and Cary Dolet. Later on, she joined “Los Rudys”, with Pablo, Rogelio and Rudy Diaz. “One of the treasures I cherish from those days is the high honor of having sung for Cuban fighters in Angola, with “Yaguarimu” Orchestra, in 1978″.

Thereafter, she joined Gustavo Rodriguez and Ricardo Mederos to found a trio named after its members. When the first one died in 1995, the union ceased and unrelenting Anneris founded Santa Cecilia Quartet with which, expanded to sextet, she toured France in 1998.

For the work of her lifetime, the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC) conferred her “La Bella Cubana” Award, which has also been given to Celina Gonzalez, Omara Portuondo, Miriam Ramos, Sara Gonzalez and Argelia Fragoso.

She attaches great importance to her friendship with great Cuban singers, like Omara Portuondo, Elena Burke and Esther Borjas. The last two were members of the jury that evaluated and gave her the highest mark in “Sauto Theater.” “Esther called me aside and told me: you sang very well with musical accompaniment, and then we asked you to do it with a guitar. Your performance was excellent in both cases, but the guitar is your thing; don’t ever leave it. I remain holding on to that suggestion that has been so beneficial to my professional life.”

An Anacaona girl that rejects oblivion

No genre is alien to her, as a soloist, doing chorus or playing some percussion instrument: “But bolero is my thing.” She bid goodbye near the staircase, humming a song, almost whispering, as we go down hearing at every step Jose Antonio Mendez’s “La Gloria eres tu.”

Cuban Cultural Heritage

Anacaona Orchestra is celebrating its 85th birthday and remains a benchmark of Cuban culture and source of inspiration for countless female bands of danceable music all over the world.

Anacaona – indigenous word that refers to a golden flower – was founded in 1932 as a female sextet of Son, by Concepcion Castro and her sisters Ada, Alicia, Ondina, Xiomara, Algimira, Emma, ​​Caridad and Olga. They made their debut on February 19 of that year, at the Payret Theater of Cuban capital city.

Sisters Georgia and Dora Aguirre joined the orchestra in 1983, under Alicia Castro’s baton. During four years they were fueled by her experience and in December 1987, Georgia took over the band until today.

It (Anacaona) was declared Cuban Cultural Heritage in 1989, for having been the band that had uninterruptedly played longest with the same members. It has managed to position itself in the music market through the distribution of three albums recorded under RCA Victor and its performances on international stages with outstanding figures of danceable music.

By Hugo Garcia and Fernando Valdes-Fre, Juventud Rebelde

Translated by Pedro A. Fanego

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