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La Lupe’s Havana years

When Latin New York discovered her crystalline voice and her overflowing temperament, Lupe Victoria Yoli Raymond had already been, with a triumph of bizarre proportions, a fleeting prophet in her land, owner of an initiatory path that left little doubt in regards to the determination with which she walked through life. A few of those that knew her in her native Santiago de Cuba vehemently affirm that her wild spirit supported a really firm decision to be and do what she wanted and that it was nothing greater than singing.

The day in 1955 that young Rodulfo Vaillant sat within the Rialto theater in Santiago de Cuba, like another patron who got here to enjoy that amateur radio program, he couldn’t imagine anything that happened later with the girl who was in front of him. Accompanied by pianist Nené Valverde and portraying the character and tremendous emotionality of the diva Olga Guillot, she sang the bolero “Miénteme” in such a powerful and convincing way that she won the primary prize within the amateur contest organized by this system La Escala de la Fama, also often known as La Corte Suprema Oriental, hosted by Alberto Rosales “El Professor Chang-Ly” and which was broadcast every Sunday by the Santiago radio station CMKW. The magazine Radiomanía y Televisión, in a temporary commentary on its Radiofónicas Orientales section, had previously mentioned Lupe Yoli among the many candidates who, until then, “…distinguish themselves as future artists.”1 Vaillant and Lupe were classmates on the Normal School for Teachers from Santiago de Cuba, they knew one another well, he knew of her vocation for singing, but La Lupe exceeded all his predictions in that contest: she had unquestionably beaten the rival singer Adis María Cupull winning the utmost money prize and a round trip to Havana, with the chance to make two presentations on Radio Progreso’s “La Onda de la Alegría.”2

Enrique Bonne was clear about it: “I knew her well. She was at all times just a little crazy, nervous. But she at all times knew what she wanted. That’s why it didn’t surprise me that she got where she got. And since she had plenty of musical talent. She formally never studied much music, except what she was taught on the Normal School where she was studying to be a teacher. What she had was natural,” he would say a few years later.3

It is extremely likely that her parents paid attention to Yiyi’s — that’s what they called her in Santiago — inclinations and that, further goaded by the economic situation that further gripped the precarious situation of the San Pedrito neighborhood, one in all the poorest, they decided to maneuver to the capital of the country in 1955. Yiyi resumed her teaching studies, and in parallel began her artistic profession when she linked up with two boys who had equivalent musical interests: Eulogio Reyes Messias “Yoyo” and Agustina del Pilar “Tina.”4 Yoyo, with the charisma that everybody recognized as his supreme quality, conquers Lupe and an intimate relationship would change into complicated and destructive, but that may come later. They form Los Tropicubans — that’s what they were called of their beginnings —, a trio with a repertoire based on more traditional and popular genres, resembling guaracha, cha-cha and others, they usually make an impact on account of the strong attractiveness of every of its members and at the identical time, the coherence they demonstrated on stage.

Los Tropicubans (from left to right: Lupe, Yoyo and Tina) on the El Rocco club. Havana, 1960. Photo: Show magazine

Already in September 1958 they could possibly be seen on the Autopista club, in La Coronela area, in a show with Gina León, who was taking the primary steps of a promising profession.5 The next month, in October, Los Tropicubans were already within the centrally positioned Las Vegas club, one in all the busiest and most famous night clubs in Havana at the moment, where they shared the billboard with Juana Bacallao, already triumphant in her peculiar style.6 Within the early months of 1959 they were hired to remain 4 weeks in Mexico , a stay that lasted for a yr, given the success achieved by the Cubans, mainly on the stage of the Río Rosa cabaret.7 In the ultimate weeks of 1959 they returned to Havana and Show magazine announced in early January 1960 the discharge, under the Peerless label, of a forty five rpm disc by Los Tropicubans with the songs “No mi China” and ”Don Pantaleón.”8 In February they’re hired for a season that may be memorable at El Rocco club, on O Street between 17 and 19, in El Vedado. There they were accompanied, in line with the identical magazine, by Maestro Centrich on piano and Oney Cumbá on guitar. The road-up was accomplished by Nelo Sosa and his rhythmic group, and within the solid one other figure with great popularity: Orlando Vallejo.9 In March they complete a temporary contract within the Venezuelan capital and appear on this system El Show de Renny, on Radio Caracas, alternating with performances in spaces of the Conahoutu hotel chain.

Los Tropicubans (Lupe, Yoyo and Tina) in the program El Show de Renny, on Radio Caracas, Venezuela, 1960. Photo: Show magazine.
Los Tropicubans (Lupe, Yoyo and Tina) in this system El Show de Renny, on Radio Caracas, Venezuela, 1960. Photo: Show magazine.

The Trio Tropicuba — as they were called now — began to make Rocco their undisputed place, as suggested by the subheading that Show magazine inserted in its April 1960 edition, and which labeled them as “the wonderful rhythmic and danceable trio, the one with probably the most flavor in Havana.” And definitely, Yoyo knew get one of the best out of the talented Lupe and Tina, who revolutionized any stage where they planted their statuesque figures and their pretty faces, and were the expression of a force that, at the least in Lupe’s case, was about to blow up, with implications beyond all calculation: Lupe was Lupe, too original to stay calm within the face of any try to discipline her, too spirited to stay silent when she disagreed. After many disagreements, Yoyo expels Lupe Yoli from the trio with the hackneyed prediction: “You’re going to starve to death.” Nevertheless, as Rafael Casalins, one in all the critics who backed her probably the most, would write, “Lupe didn’t die. She searched for work and located it in La Red. There, little by little, with the true publicity that comes from the general public’s enthusiasm, La Lupe made a reputation for herself. ‘Have you ever seen La Lupe?’ became the query of the day. Without realizing it, La Lupe was becoming famous.”10 The truth is, in line with her sister, she suffered lots when she left Tropicuba, but she didn’t let herself be defeated: she decided to start out her own solo profession, debuting within the month April 1960 at La Red club, on the confluence of nineteenth and L streets, also in El Vedado, whose promoting slogan honored the communication codes of the time, assuring: “where love is trapped.

Entrance to La Red club in 1960. Photo: Creator’s archives
La Lupe at La Red club. Havana, 1961.

One of the vital extraordinary myths of Cuban entertainment had been born, of unexpected lasting within the Cuban popular imagination. Suddenly and without prior warning, La Lupe managed to direct all eyes and in addition steps towards La Red to take heed to her in fiery and difficult boleros, and even unprecedented congas and inside the 4 partitions of that basement, all seasoned with an unprejudiced delivery, visceral and without referents within the immediate Cuban music scene. The performance of La Lupe within the small stage of that basement became a nightclub would place it eternally on the map of that ghetto of music and entertainment that that area of ​​El Vedado became firstly of the Nineteen Sixties, and La Red would eternally remain impeccably linked to the name and myth of La Yiyiyi: it was there that the beating of her wonderful high-heeled shoes on the resigned shoulder of her pianist-martyr Homero Balboa would change into famous; it was there where she would stick with the wall, just like the ivy to which she sang exalted, where she died each night and was reborn in each song. It might be the scene of her definitive status in her country. It might seem that that forceful and clear voice was not enough for it, and that she needed to deploy all of the weapons of her temperament to feel that her dedication was complete: “she waves her hands like a possessed woman and begins to moan, to shout, to curse, to literally disintegrate within the ecstasy of a song.…”11

At La Red. Havana, 1961. Photo: Show magazine.

Even passing travelers got here to see her incredible performance, her show of high heels and frenzy: Ernest Hemingway, Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Tennessee Williams, and there are those that say that even Marlon Brando and Gerard Phillipe were abducted by the La Lupe phenomenon.12  They are saying that the then Soviets Mikhail Kalatozov and Evgeni Evtushenko also saw her at La Red and, even though it didn’t occur in the long run, they valued her possible inclusion within the film Soy Cuba. Her repertoire could possibly be classified as pleasantly disconcerting, since she made people shudder with the reproaches of “No me quieras así,” by Facundo Rivero, or surprised along with his way of taking up the song “Ódiame,” by Rafael Otero, or astonished together with her personal version of the international hits of the moment, “Fever” (Cooley-Davenport) and “Crazy Love” by the then object of youthful adoration Paul Anka, or stunned the spectators of her theatrical rendition of the calypso “Con el diablo en el cuerpo,” by Julio Gutiérrez.13

Within the words of critic Rafael Casalins, “La Lupe sings like nobody had done before, and he or she declares with a shrug: ‘I sing because it involves me.’ And like her, nobody had considered it before. Her repertoire is inexhaustible: whether she physically melts into the sweetness of a bolero, which she sings like one in all the carnival street dancers, or lets herself die feeling that appears like a Spanish jota with mulatto blood. Lupe dances with a Cuban flavor that Ochún has given her: she dances together with her whole body, because she dances together with her soul. She sings with the fury of 1 who sinks right into a pagan rite.”14

La Lupe and El Benny. Havana, 1961. Photo: Show magazine

Echoes of the fascination for La Lupe had reached the management of the Capri Casino and in June they decided to rent her as the primary star of the prime time show, with all the standard luxuries and privileges, where she performed with great success from her first night, but she didn’t stay long within the solid of what was then the primary cabaret in Havana: some say that a lot pageantry was alien to her; that she didn’t feel comfortable continuing to throw stools, cursing at this one and joking with that one. Others, like some media outlets, were quick to affirm that her demand to extend her fees to 200 USD per week, as an alternative of the 100 for which she had been hired, had not prospered.15 In any case, the diva returned to her small stage at La Red club, where he reigned with all of the attributes of her wild and popular royalty.

Full-page commercial on the back of the quilt of Show magazine. March 1961.

The polarization of opinions across the La Lupe phenomenon had already begun. Venturing to indicate her beyond the meager perimeter of La Red club, or the lavish Capri Casino and making her appear on radio and tv, ended up generalizing the controversy. In fact, perhaps at the moment La Lupe should have been an artist not for most people, but for that group of beings in a state of grace who could understand her dedication, which, by the way in which, was increasingly more adjusted to her own mind-set “To see La Lupe, you will have to see her ‘live,’ without censorship, in her unique ‘nature,’ which is expressed through a devilish set of gestures and words like arrows. It doesn’t matter who has sung a song before her, she manages to make or not it’s forgotten and recreates it, searching for variations that the number didn’t have, as within the case of ‘No me quieras así,’ which the general public has baptized as ‘La Pared’ after hearing it by La Lupe, because she interprets it reclining on a wood platform. Others think that her climax number is ‘Juguete’ and one other one, that it’s ‘Las Jardineras,’16 a fiery conga from the identical Santiago de Cuba neighborhood where La Lupe launched the primary of her famous howls. With so many various opinions, the uproar created within the room when she starts to sing is something incredible. Everyone asks for his or her song, but La Lupe’s unusual sense of rhythm turns even the noise into music: she takes advantage of it to start out clapping, which the spectators do little by little together with her, and, without realizing it, she has formed the prelude to ‘Quiéreme siempre.’17

To a fantastic extent, Lupe’s success was supported by an element of Havana’s intelligentsia and its followers who, let or not it’s said, in those years were on the mercy of dissimilar foreign influences, amongst them, the existentialism of Jean Paul Sartre, and his positions on assuming art as a private commitment, which led them to bet on figures they considered, as transgressors of a certain established order, paradigms of absolute uniqueness and artistic value, as was the case of La Lupe. Relevant figures — each in their very own — resembling Miriam Acevedo, Antonia Rey, Fausto Canel, Odalys Fuentes defended the singer’s style. Canel even stated that we were within the face of “probably the most attractive night show in Havana.” Famous journalist and author Guillermo Cabrera Infante, then still in Cuba, was of the opinion that Lupe gave the look of a psycho-somatic personality.18 Entertainment critics went to extremes in judging Lupe Yoli Raymond, and clashed on the identical pages of the newspapers from completely opposite positions. Along with Segundo Casaliz, also from the pages of the newspaper Revolución, Luis Agüero, for instance, in his Audiovideo column in the identical newspaper stated: “Confronting Lupe is confronting a very unsuspected phenomenon. La Lupe sings prefer it was never imagined one could sing (biting her hands, pinching her breasts, kicking a chair, hitting the cymbals). La Lupe has gotten too far ahead, hence the nervousness she provokes at the primary meeting. The columnist knows that many will fight La Lupe. Coincidentally, after I was writing this comment, someone said that La Lupe was ‘the anarchy of music.’ The definition, along with being inaccurate, is unfair. Orlando Quiroga has said that the ‘strong words’ that La Lupe says, that’s, the bad words, are intended to shock the bourgeoisie. And unless La Lupe’s swear words shock bourgeois and non-bourgeois alike, the statement is incorrect. All the weather that La Lupe incorporates into her songs (the bad words, the moans, the bites, the rude signs), have a single objective: as an example the song as accurately as possible, even whether it is crucial to resort to pornography. The entire above has no other reason than to try to elucidate her phenomenon, which is not possible to elucidate. And in addition, to determine the position of [the column] AUDIOVIDEO: Defending La Lupe, probably the most powerful artistic event that has occurred in a protracted time.”19

Caricature of La Lupe, published in Bohemia magazine. Havana, 1960.

And it’s that Orlando Quiroga, one of the reputable critics, was slow to know the essence of the La Lupe phenomenon and assumed at first, presumably, a position of harsh criticism from the pages of the Tele-Radiolandia section within the magazine Bohemia, which, by the way in which, didn’t appear signed. For instance: “La Lupe appeared again on television. She did it on the ‘Fin de Semana’ program, which [Armando] Roblán hosts. When you’ll pardon those that have turned La Lupe right into a sort of sacred monster, it seems to us that she has little or no to contribute to our screens. As a transient and ‘clownesque’ phenomenon it was wonderful. But once the general public’s curiosity is satisfied, all that continues to be of La Lupe is, for strange viewers, who’re the bulk, an absurd and schizophrenic kind of singing. And if due to that they query our critical judgement, what are you able to do about it?20

Quiroga was not the just one: one other insidious criticism would seem months later, from an uncomfortable anonymity, within the pages of the newspaper Revolución: “Her performances are disastrously inappropriate and unsightly, completely against good taste and lack the slightest expression of art. La Lupe is sort of a public threat and defending her is nearly a sin.”21

Nevertheless, for a lot of it was clear that Lupe Yoli, in addition to Freddy, was the bearer of an authenticity unknown in Havana nightlife, something organic and bonafide, but unexpected and subsequently, she already had legions of followers and fans willing to defend her right to this unusual mode of expression, “a more adult public that desires intelligent artists, and never silk and rag dolls, for the ravaged taste of superficial tourism…,” as stated in a vital anonymous comment in Bohemia magazine.22

The Cuban record industry reacted quickly to the weird success of La Lupe: through the manager for Cuba, Eliseo Valdés, RCA Víctor offered the diva an exclusive contract for the recording of her first long-playing album, as was announced in Show magazine in its September 1960 issue, which also highlighted the conclusion of the agreement within the recording, initially, of a forty five rpm disc with the songs “Quiéreme siempre” and “Fiebre.”

In October 1960, she appeared in a musical revue on the Estrada Palma theater (later Nacional) along with Venezuelan Héctor Cabrera, who was extremely popular in those months in Cuba on account of his success with the song “El Pájaro Chogüí” and others. The press basically considered the passage of La Lupe through the Prado Coliseum as a confirmation of her popular roots, although Show magazine assured that her debut on stage was not entirely successful and didn’t satisfy the general public,23 while she continued to generate inflamed controversy by each signs on her presentations in nightclubs and tv. That very same month she declared to the magazine Bohemia that she was not going to just accept any contract to look abroad before December 31, “if I’m still of interest,” she added modestly, and affirmed that she had twelve different proposals.24

Eliseo Valdés, RCA Victor representative for Cuba, presents Lupe with the trophy as probably the most outstanding singer of 1961, in line with Show magazine.

The reviews of the yr 1960 within the media, pointed her out among the many five most eminent revelations of the period, together with Eduardo Davidson with the overwhelming success of his song “La Pachanga”; singer Pacho Alonso, the vedette Nelly Castell and Roberto Blanco.25

She had also managed to be a part of the vital list of exclusive artists of RCA Victor and in addition of those managed by the famous Cuco Conde, who had change into her personal manager. Her LP record Con el diablo en el cuerpo, the primary, quickly and in a really short time reached exceptional levels of sales, to the purpose that in February 1961 she was given, with great publicity, the gold record of the RCA Victor, as one of the outstanding artists in 1960, for her hit “Quiéreme siempre.”26 She was accompanied on the lineup of those awarded with gold records, by none apart from Benny Moré and Pacho Alonso and bolero singer Luis García and the Aragón orchestra, that label’s exclusive artists. For the ceremony, the management of RCA Víctor selected La Red club, the location of Lupe’s biggest hits. She was among the many greats of the moment, and if one needed to summarize it might must be affirmed that 1960 was in Cuba, no doubt, La Lupe’s yr.

In the beginning of 1961, the local Discuba label related to Victor at the moment, announced — and the press highlighted — the discharge of one other long-playing record of she who they called “probably the most eccentric singer in Cuba.” It might be the last of the one two LPs the diva recorded in Cuba and whose master tapes managed to be preserved, in line with information from the EGREM recording company, in its historical archives, although this second album, apparently, was not distributed in Cuba. The primary recordings of her biggest hits from her early solo days were made in Cuba, not New York.

In April, Show magazine, crucial on this planet of entertainment in Cuba, gives her an award for the triumphs she has achieved in the course of the yr she has been on the La Red club, and in September, in a celebration held on the Le Mans club — where she was performing often and which her partner on the time, Pedro Pacheco, was in command of —, created a category especially for her and proclaimed her “the eccentric singer of the yr.” She doesn’t escape reflection, that such classification didn’t have in mind her possible — actually real — vocal virtues, but essentially her singular scenic and performative projection that, without hesitation, capitalized the eye towards the La Lupe phenomenon. Regarding Yiyiyi’s impact on Havana’s nightlife and on the music scene at the moment, Show magazine commented: “It was one in all the prizes we award to those that become very characteristic attractions of the moment wherein they’re discerned. But the very fact is that La Lupe didn’t stop there. Her triumphant trajectory has continued with even greater speed, already becoming an obligatory subject of criticism. She took over a cabaret that was practically bankrupt — Le Mans — and merely her name being advertised on the billboards, raised it from the ruins, causing unprecedented crowds. The Le Mans cabaret, on fifth and B in El Vedado, is irrefutable proof of how much La Lupe influences the hearts and popular admiration. Simply that her style created by and for La Lupe — since it is exclusive — places her within the artistic classification because the eccentric singer of Cuba.”27 Indeed, in the identical yr, La Lupe revived two nightclubs in clear decline — La Red and Le Mans —, placing them on the zenith of nightlife. Nevertheless, near the top of 1961, the diva left Le Mans, when the management of the establishment modified. For the second time, she received the Show magazine’s trophy for Best Eccentric Singer — although every thing seems to point that she left little room for others who desired to imitate her and had no opponents — and her photo singing at Le Mans earned photographer Fernando López the Photo of the Yr award.

In 1961 the contradictions between the nascent Cuban Revolution and the federal government of america intensify. In April the Bay of Pigs invasion took place and the complexities of the situation contained in the country change into more acute, including in the sphere of culture and entertainment. Precisely the yr wherein she decided to affix the exodus of musicians and artists, La Lupe was neither more nor lower than the very center of the Cuban media-musical hurricane, which reflected the tremendous success that she had achieved in just below two years of profession as a soloist. Almost twenty months had passed by between her debut on the La Red club and her departure without return to Mexico first after which to her marked destination, New York, where there was waiting for her, after certain moments of hardship and the rigorous adjustments within the face of the arrival in an unknown country, successful just like the one achieved in a short while in Cuba, but greater due to comprehensiveness of her imprint on the history of Latin music, due to its unquestionable international repercussion. Perhaps Lupe Yoli, the one who loved the rainbow —it was not for nothing that she lived in a Havana constructing with that name and the way she named her daughter, Rainbow — in English — didn’t know what to do with that Havana conquered for higher or for worse, the town where for the primary time, fame became an interesting and cursed lure for her, the Havana that may have seen the emergence, perhaps, of the tragic sign that marked her entire life: the dilemma within the face of utmost situations and her inability to advertise or make one of the best decision in her favor. Probably, the antagonistic extremes of the controversy surrounding La Lupe and the uncertainty of the months to return ended up frightening her and maybe, from her small space in La Red, Lupe Yoli was certain that hers would never be a traditional and joyful life. When she left Havana, never to return, she couldn’t imagine all the great things that were coming her way, that she would hold the throne of Latin music, or that she would touch the glory of fame. She, too, must not have imagined that together with her outlandish and outgoing style she had begun to construct one of the persistent and universal myths of Latin music of all time.

*Because of Rodulfo Vaillant and Enrique Pineda Barnet for his or her collaboration.

**This text was originally published in Desmemoriados. It’s reproduced with the express authorization of its creator.


[1] “La Escala de la Fama, programa de la CMKW obtiene nuevos éxitos.” In Radiomanía y Televisión. Yr 19. No. 4. April 1955. Page 30. Also in the identical magazine, Yr 19 No. 5, May 1955. Page 34

[2] Radiofónicas Orientales Section within the magazine Radiomanía y Televisión. Yr 19 No. 7. July 1955. Pp. 48 and 49

[3] Taken from: Radamés Giro: Diccionario Enciclopédico de la Música Cubana. Letras Cubanas publishers. Volume III. Page 45

[4] Within the name of “Tina” it has been taken from the voice dedicated to La Lupe within the Diccionario Enciclopédico de la Música Cubana (Volume 3, Page 45), by Radamés Giro.

[5] Show magazine. Yr 5. No. 56. Page 54. October 1958.

[6] Show magazine. Yr 5. No. 57. Page 74. November 1958.

[7] Show magazine. Yr 6. No. 64. June 1959. Page 60.

[8] Bohemia magazine. January 3, 1960. Teleradiolandia Section. Page 108.

[9] Show magazine. Yr 7. No. 74. Page 49. April 1960. Page 49

[10] Rafael Casalins: “La Lupe.” In newspaper Revolución. 4.7.1960. Havana Cuba.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Radamés Giro: Diccionario Enciclopédico de la Música Cubana. Letras Cubanas publishers. Havana, 2007. Vol. 3. Page 45.

[13] Adriana Orejuela: El son no se fue de Cuba. Letras Cubanas publishers. Havana, 2006. Page 155

[14] Rafael Casalins: “La Lupe.” In newspaper Revolución. 4.7.1960.

[15] Show magazine. Yr 6 No. 79. Page 67. September 1960. Page 33.

[16] This assertion in regards to the Havana carnival street dancers doesn’t appear to be exact (Creator’s note)

[17] “Lupe: un caso sico-somático que divide en dos a Cuba.” Unsigned article in: Bohemia magazine. Yr 52 No. 43. October 23, 1960. Havana. Page 86.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Revolución newspaper. 9.7.1960. Audiovideo section. Page 14

[20] Bohemia magazine. Teleradiolandia section. 5.3.1961.

[21] Revolución newspaper. 20.9.1960. Page 15

[22] Bohemia magazine. “La Lupe. Un caso sicosomático.” 10.16.1960. Page 86.

[23] Bohemia magazine. 6.11.1960 and Show magazine. Yr 6 No. 81. November 1960. Page 24.

[24] Bohemia magazine. Havana. Cuba. 30.10.1960.

[25] Bohemia magazine. Yr 53 No. 7. 12.2.1961

[26] The LP “Con el diablo en el cuerpo” can be distributed under the local DISCUBA label, also controlled by RCA Víctor. (Creator’s note)

[27] Show magazine. Yr 7. No. 101-102. October-November 1961. Page 28.

The documentary “Lupe: Queen of Latin Soul” by Cuban-American filmmaker Ela Troyano has also been a vital reference on this investigation.

Rosa Marquetti

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