Cuba is known for the name of its people and, in the same way, for the joy of its music. The oriental organ is an instrument of French origin that, for more than a century, was very well received by the island, becoming the protagonist of the most entertaining Cuban saraos.
Cuba is a point in the world known for being part of the Caribbean Sea and, consequently, having beaches with the most paradisiacal views. However, the heart of this island also has much to tell and, for this reason, UNESCO has recognized Havana, its capital, as an important territory of interest as a World Heritage Site. Cubans stand out wherever they are because they love music and seem to have the best rhythm in their blood to stand out by dancing the most moving sounds.
So when the mechanical organ arrived on the island, its acceptance and commercialization in Cuba was immediate. By seeing and listening to the way in which he interpreted each musical melody, what could be thought of as an element of transculturation at that time was received in such a way that in the course of time it became an essential element of the joy of each party. In fact, it is considered a heritage organ of the Caribbean island today.
The Gulf of Guacanayabo
Although the first capital of Cuba was Santiago de Cuba and the current one is Havana, the history of the eastern organ does not begin in any of them. It is believed that it was the southern coast of Cuba that welcomed French immigrants with its green landscape, who would be ecstatic with the present and surrounding beauty of the place. Among the contributions brought to the island, a peculiar mechanical organ of French origin would attract the attention of the inhabitants.
In fact, it was a merchant in the east of the country, in the Gulf of Guacanayabo, who would contribute to its expansion in Cuban culture and therefore its name as an oriental organ. As now, in the 20th century, this place, also referred to as Manzanillo, is a beautiful place that offers the murmur of the waves as a background and the sea breeze as a caress. From there, the Borbolla family began to accommodate this instrument in all the saraos that occurred in the area.
The Cuban joy did not wait to give him a warm reception and want to learn to dance the style of the best of waltzes, polkas and dances from Poland known as mazurka. In a short time, this musical instrument had become the center of the festivities and had added to its repertoire the guarachas, rumbas, boleros and sones typical of Cuban musical culture.
One of the most interesting aspects of the oriental organ is that its significance over time has been due to family tradition. Even today, those who are the great-grandchildren of the forerunners of this 19th century novelty are in charge. In the same way as their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, they now transmit to their children their affection for the sound of this organ that still stars in a large number of festivals on the island today.
The Borbolla family must be given clear recognition in the dissemination of the so-called manigueta organ. It was in the first decades of the 20th century when Don Francisco Borbolla became interested in this organ and his two sons Francisco and Carlo traveled to Paris to learn everything about it. They return knowing the whole procedure of this instrument and manage to enrich it with completely Cuban songs and rhythms.
It is fair to accompany this list of contributors with the names of the Fornaris, Ajo, Cuayo, Toranzo, Labrada, Contreras and Morales families, among others. All of them contributed a grain of sand to the impact of this organ on Cuban music.
A cranked organ
This mechanical organ deserves people who enthusiastically produce the best ground music. At the movement of its cranks or handles, as the Cuban calls them, instruments such as the violin, flute, cello and bass seem to be heard. The sound that this organ emanates is comparable to that produced by an internal orchestra that is reading and executing each musical note as a roll of cardboard moves through a cylinder.
A handle is the one that moves the roll that is perforated with square blades and that houses a note in each hole. The other achieves that a bellows produce the air necessary to operate the organ. So neither power outages nor musicians’ fatigue will stop an oriental organ from providing its rhythmic music for couples to dance to their rhythm.
Oriental Organ Festival
Although it was the best organ of the moment ( by clicking on this link you can find some options to buy ) at one time, it seems to begin to fade in the musical culture of the island. Current technologies and musical trends are forcing genres and instruments to reinvent themselves more and more if they want to continue in the taste of the people, especially the youth.
Since 1987, organ festivals began in various areas of the region and even managed to be taken into account by national television. From then on, they continue to be organized in some provinces. Granma, for example, has spent years dedicating the organ festival as an initiative to the preservation of traditions.
These are events that, in addition to dance competitions in pairs, also offer musical presentations with the organs, percussion workshops and theoretical events. At present, Cubans who are reluctant to let this organ disappear from Cuban culture have made it part of the musical accompaniment of street groups and even play their music alone so that people who pass by can enjoy very popular songs.
It is not a problem to mark the musical notes on the cardboard to later be perforated and be able to be played with all the rhythm. For example, a musical boom like the song Despacito could not be absent from the repertoire and is heard on the oriental organ in the streets of Cuba, so if you have the island in mind as a vacation destination, surely you can enjoy it.