Here we will share with you a brief description of Bolero history.
As we like to share the passion for dance, we also want to make sure we share the knowledge of its origins, evolution, and whatever information we know and find interesting. Some of you might not be so interested in this matter, but as we read and listen to a lot of mis-information, for us it is important to not just share steps, but also share the culture related with a particular dance. All the dances and music around the world are tied to a piece of history & culture, and it is the artistic manifestation of a collective or group, so we can’t forget about that, as we also have to acknowledge that it is an ever evolving entity, specially in our times, where things can change so rapidly.
Bolero, regarding of its roots, is definitely something Latino, part of their life and traditions, played in every home, and although mainly linked to Cuba or the Caribbean, it is a collective heritage that touches all Latino countries, from Mexico to Argentina and reaches also Brazil and Spain.
In the case of Bolero, its origins hold many theories, most states in Europe as the birthplace of the genre. Some believe, the Bolero comes from Spain and initially was a dance of light movement. There is also the theory that the name comes from the word Volero from the verb Volar, which means to fly, since the movement of the Spanish Bolero had some jumping that look like the dancer was flying. But the rhythms that come from Spain, which are 3/4, has nothing to do with what we know as Bolero today. Eventually, Bolero comes to America, specifically to Cuba, where the fusion of African rhythms in that wonderful magical area: the Caribbean, resulted in the rhythm of Bolero as we know it today, in its classic accompaniment: with a guitar and bongos and congas as percussion.
In Cuba, already in 1792, there are mentions of Bolero in a local newspaper: Hoja de Cuba. But what most agrees with, is that the first Bolero was written by Cuban Jose “Pepe” Sanchez in Santiago de Cuba in 1885, or around that time, and it was called Tristezas. Some historians don’t agree at all and it still creates a lot of controversy, but it is probably the first more widely known Bolero, so it is accepted that this piece gave the formal origin to this genre, it is classical style, which means accompanied by guitar and percussion, evolving from music in canteens to serenade music. So much so, that in 1985, in Miami, Florida, the Museum of Cuban Art & Culture celebrated the 100 years of the creation of the Bolero.
Jose “Pepe” Sanchez is known as the father of the trova style and the creator of the Cuban bolero. Untrained, but with remarkable natural talent, he composed pieces in his head and never wrote them down. As a result, most of these are now lost, but two dozen or so survive because friends and disciples wrote them down. He was the model and teacher for the great trovadores who followed.
The romantic touch of Bolero allowed it to spread through all classes, and the technological advancements like the radio, help to spread it all over. Vinyl discs, television and cinema helped perpetuate it.
Other events will also contribute to the proliferation of Bolero, and that is the unexpected death of the king of Tango, Carlos Gardel in 1935. With no other figure like him, Tango’s popularity decayed and allowed the expansion of Bolero. Latinoamerica also had some kind of cultural isolation during the first and second world war, allowing bolero to expand with no serious competition from musical influences from the US or Europe. Also some latino countries had military regimes, whose governments where interested in having the civilians entertained so they would forget about politics, thus allowing Bolero to excel.
First there was the time of Guitar Trios, then the big tropical bands, then orchestras like the Big Bad, and finally real symphonic orchestras. It is interesting to know that with the big orchestras, the singers of Boleros were mostly tenors, since they had to make huge efforts to sing over the whole orchestra, since at the time the technology was not so advanced, and that gave a special style to that time Boleros.
Spreading to different latino countries, also generated all kind of interesting fusions, like Bolero Son, Bolero – Cha, Bolero Mambo, Bolero Ranchero, Bachata (which is Bolero in its origins), Bolero Moruno (with gypsy style). The evolution of Bolero is different in different latino countries, but the 2 most influential where Cuba and Mexico. This evolution didn’t leave out any one: Cuba and Mexico became the artistic centers, but Bolero also had great composers and interpreters in other countries like: Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, even Spain and Brazil.
The golden times of Bolero lasted until the mid of the 60’s, when Latino-America broke its isolation and integrated into a more competitive world. Bolero got substituted by Baladas Pop, and in the dancing world, Cha-cha-cha and guarachas, got substituted by Rock n Roll. But Bolero did not die, nor disappear. Some of the best old time musicians, just changed their Bolero compositions and dressed them as baladas, but also kept interpreting their own romantic Boleros, until the end of their life.
In the 80s, Bolero became popular again, with a renovation and by young voices like Luis Miguel, Guadalupe Pineda, Alejandro Fernandez, Charlie Zaa, Edith Marquez, Mijaresy Carlos Cuevas, who revived old songs with new style, and created new compositions. This called resurrection can also be thought as a convenient market strategy, taking advantage of very popular and known pieces, which had many chances of a secure success.
The list of wonderful musicians that composed and sing Boleros, is too long to list here. It is a matter of another article.
The rhythm of Bolero is a 4/4. The way of dancing it, is very simple in most of the countries, which allowed it to become popular all over the world, spreading to all classes and all ambiances. I would say Costa Rica is the only country that really developed their own unique style of dancing it, that some say has a tango flair, but that really uses more space that just the little square used in most countries. This is also material for another article.
As a curiosity, Bolero is also a word used to describe a piece of clothing, still a dance style in Spain, and Ballroom has also adopted this name for one of the 5 rhythms of American style Ballroom. The dance in Ballroom is not the same as how Latinos in Latinoamerica dance Bolero.And in ballroom, bolero music is used for both Bolero and Rumba rhythms, mixed with balada music.
Have a great day and enjoy one good song today!
For spanish speakers, there some good websites with some videos also about the Bolero history. Check it out by clicking here.