SANTIAGO DE CUBA
Located roughly between Alto Pino and San Agustin lay the mythic neighborhood of Guayabito – the Lazarus of the six congas. Inextricably interlaced within the titanic shifts of Santiago de Cuba’s profound history, when La Conga El Guayabito have actually formed to play, despite often drifting away from the drums to pick up the knives and guns of the battlefields, throughout a 150 years of existence in many different molds (as a tumba francessa, as a tahona, as a compassa, as a conga), when La Conga El Guayabito rises out of the ether back into a consciousness of sound to make music out on the streets throughout the generations throughout time their sound has always been a crowd favorite.
Born directly out of the colonial La Tumba Francesa associatons, La Conga El Guayabito was a pioneer in the Conga tradition. Formed in the late 19th century and tinged with an amalgam of Creole rhythms from Haiti and the sounds of the Fon and Bentu people from the gulf of Benin, El Conga Guayabito has always been a storehouse of new beats. The strong 1st iteration of La Conga El Guayabito only lasted some ten years until 1892 -just a few years before Cuba’s 3rd war for Independence from Spain, (an often unsung successful slave uprising) when many of the musicians put down their drums and drifted up into the cloud forests and became soldiers in the rebellion army beating back the Spanish and Creoles all across the island in a bid for freedom for all. They used the music of la conga to march into battle, to inspire courage, to touch the sound of god.
Then in 1915 Arnaldo Cruz, a natural drummer and prestigious Conga leader, chose a selected group of musicians from his neighborhood and from the ashes once again La Conga El Guayabito rose from the roots to become an instant rival of Los Hoyos and the burgeoning Conga El Tivoli. Unfortunately, Arnoldo Cruz died suddenly in 1922. And with his death came a leadership vacuum resulting in a band of great drummers breaking off on their own and forming La Conga de San Agustin in a bordering neighborhood.
Once again La Conga El Guayabito drifted out of site off the street submerging back down deep into the mysteries of the collective subconscious. It would be this way, a tall tale, a great story, a myth of a fountain head of sound made by a band of warrior drummers who took the rhythm of la conga and focused it into a revolution; old folks’ yarns spun to spur the youth on to fight on to higher heights no matter what obstacles stood in the way.
La Conga El Guayabito would lay within the land of dreams for nearly 40 years till the Cuban Communist Revolution of 1959, when among the main priorities for the new government was to develop a solid cultural program in all sectors of society. With these new reforms, the focus was on massive participation, rescue of endangered traditions, centralization and unification of talents. The new Marxist government knew of the power of La Conga to unify the masses of these marginalized Negros ( Castro grew up only 15 miles outside of the city of Santiago and knew the power of the sound) and carry messages of hope and redemption and right through the inevitable free style call and response chants that always swept the deeper emotions in the Conga parades. This time, the chants could also be messages of social unity and change fomented by Castro and his new style of leadership. Under this novel hope the newly appointed carnival commission decided to reestablish La Conga El Guayabito in the early nineteen sixties. But big sounds need great rudders of personality to direct that flow of spirit in a positive direction or else, historically, these congas have imploded under the weight of their own force. You can’t make these personalities by way of want nor ideology no matter how good your hopes or intentions.
In the new millennium fate would deal El Guayabito a winning card; in early 2001 the Carnival commission decided to call on tete aka El Hombre Carnval ( Carnival man). Tete has been given this distinction by the City’s Carnival Museum. Tete, a free spirited, strong willed, disciplinarian, has a reputation of an artistic general and already has directed two other congas – San Agustin and San Pedrito – demonstrating a propensity for taking struggling groups and making them into perennial contenders for the best conga of the year. Like he did with aforementioned Congas when they finished in the top three in the Carnival competition the three years that he was director.
Since El Hombre Carnival has been leading El Guayabito, La Conga has been a perennial top three in popularity during the Carnival street competitions. They have been a formidable challenger of Los hoyos, dethroning them in several carnivals and even wining back to back first place in 05 and 06.