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The Golden Age Of The Danzon Music And Dance Genre

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Having its roots in the contredanse and habanera, the danzon music and dance genre quickly gained popularity and became the national music genre of Cuba in the 19th century (A. Leon). Over time, danzon became widely popular in other parts of Latin America, most notably in the port city of Veracruz, Mexico and the genre has also influenced many other types of dance and song throughout Latin America. In more recent decades, there has been much research into the feelings of nostalgia regarding danzon. Danzon has become widely regarded as music for the “older” generation because of the time period of the music genre’s prime. This paper will explore the “golden age” of the danzon music and dance genre and discuss the feelings of nostalgia regarding danzon felt today.

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The history of the danzon starts in 17th century Europe with the English Country Dance which began in rural England but later made its way to France. Elites altered the dance to make it seem less “peasant-like” and named it to be contredanse which transliterates to mean lines of women and men facing each other. Through the French’s formation of Haiti, contredanse eventually made its way to the island of Cuba and evolved its way into danzon. Danzon had its first official performance was of Miguel Failde’s Las alturas de Simpsons in 1879 at Club de Matanzas in Cuba. It took some time for this piece or the composer to really be recognized, however, due to the racial implications against Afro-Cubans as well as the political climate at the time. After all this, danzon gained huge popularity and quickly spread its way into Mexico where it became an integral part of the culture there, especially in Veracruz. The port city of Veracruz has always had a very strong Cuban influence at its core, so it was only natural that the danzon would become very popular and important to the people in the city.

Many historians refer to the adoption of danzon into Veracruz’s culture as a sort of “invented tradition” meaning that although the origins of danzon do not lie in Veracruz or even simply in Mexico, the influence of danzon on the region is so great that it became a traditional part of the culture there. In her article on the cultural rescue of danzon in Mexico, Malcomson explains that, “Veracruz was considered the ‘adoptive’ parent of danzon due to its Afro-Caribbean ‘heritage’ and close ties with Cuba”. So although the genre did not originate in Veracruz, the city is very well known for some of the most talented danzon dancers and performers ever to exist. The considerable presence of danzon in the region over time created a new culture and tradition for the people who live there and that tradition has continued to flourish even in recent times. Much of the nostalgia of danzon in Mexico lies in the fact that the so-called “golden age” of danzon was in the 1970’s after a huge economic and political power shift in the country. The golden age refers to the notion that the danzon performers, including dancers and musicians, as well as composers were in their prime. Seeing as that time period was almost half a century ago, many historians have started to refer to danzon as more of an older peoples’ genre of music. Malcomson refers to the “1979 first centenrary of the ‘first’ official performance of a danzon” as the moment that sparked a “rescue” of the genre of danzon in Mexico and even trickling into other parts of the world. After this performance, danzon saw a large increase in performance and participation as many schools created danzon dance groups which helped some of the younger generation gain exposure to the danzon genre. Despite this effort to revive danzon, the vast majority of the danzon genres audience remains to be the older generation that originally loved danzon.

In more recent years, some Latin American composers have attempted to add the danzon style into our modern repertoire. One of the more well-known of these is Arturo Marquez who composed a piece for orchestra entitled Danzon No. 2 (this is just his most famous of a large group of danzons he composed). Marquez, though he grew up in California, was born in Mexico and later went back to study at a conservatory there in his 20’s. Later in life he was inspired while on a trip back to Veracruz to bring danzon back into the forefront of musicians’ minds by composing several danzons to honor the tradition that was established in that city so many decades ago. Marquez was quoted saying, “I was fascinated and I started to understand that the apparent lightness of the danzón is only like a visiting card for a type of music full of sensuality and qualitative seriousness, a genre which old Mexican people continue to dance with a touch of nostalgia and a jubilant escape towards their own emotional world”.

Speaking from personal experience, I have gotten the opportunity to play Danzon No. 2 at three points in my life and each experience was exceptional in its own way. Much of the reasoning behind choosing this topic for myself was that I had some very elementary knowledge of danzon but wanted to know more about it. Though considered to be an older genre of music, danzon still has managed to live on through the works of some emotionally inspired individuals.

18 May 2020

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