It was about time. The younger daughter of Alejandro Garcia Caturla (1906-1940) was known for her extensive tenure with Cuarteto D'Aida and memorable contributions to Estrellas de Areito, among other things, but she had never recorded en album on her own. Supported by a lengthy cast of amazing sidemen and special guests (including such legendary vocalists as Omara Portuondo, Ibrahím Ferrer and Pio Leyva), Teresa García Caturla displays her charming intonation, distinctive timbre, and powerful rhythmic sense on the CD Llegó Teté. These vocal qualities are compatible, of course, with the moving arrangements applied by Germán Velasco and Andrés Alén to a repertoire mostly comprised of Cuban classics. Highly recommended la Teté's version of Drume Negrita, marvelously combined in the background with her progenitor's Berceuse Campesina, a composition that united Cuba's guajira melodies and Afro rhythms many moons ego in a rather unprecedented manner.
If you were fortunate to see the Afro-Cuban All Stars last year in Berkeley, you were treated to the charismatic vocals, chekere and energy of an amazing sonera and musician on stage: Teresa García Caturla. From a prominent family of music, Caturla has carried on the music tradition in her own right. We sat at her house in Vedado, where various street noises and construction sounds filtered in during the interview.
Can you start by telling us how things sarted for you?
Teresa Caturla: How did my career start? My name is Teresa García Caturla. I come from a town in the center of the island, Villaclara. My father was Alejandro García Caturla and, with all due modesty, he was one of the greatest musicians of this country. He was a composer, orchestra conductor and arranger… and he also was a judge. All my siblings, and we were eleven but only nine are alive today, have been musicians. I am the youngest. We would go to any social gathering, and we would play piano and sing, so that’s where my musical roots come from.
We came to Havana in 1958 and I started studying for a B. A. in Education. But soon I told my mom that I wanted to quit because my real wish was to be a musician. Three of my sisters had joined Anacaona [an all female band]. But my mom told me I had to finish my B.A. or otherwise a musical career was out of the question. I finished my studies, gave her my diploma, and in 1963 I started working with El cuarteto de Aida . First I spent a while with my sisters in Anacaona, but in 1963-64 I went to El cuarteto de Aida and I am still there today, as the leader.
This quartet had been formed in 1952 by Aida Diestro, the leader, and four young female singers. Quartet and piano only. It was very famous and it had travelled all over Latin America and Europe. Here in Cuba, it performed in the best clubs, Tropicana, La Campana… The founders were Elena Burque, Omara Portuondo, Moraima Secada, who has already passed away, and Aidé Portuondo, Omara’s sister. In 1960 they toured Europe and when they came back, by the end of 1963, I joined them. From then until 1970 we travelled to France, all the Soviet Union, and the Expo 70 in Japan.. We still went as a quartet, and Aida Diestro accompanied us. When I joined, only two of the founders still belonged to the quartet: she and Omara Portuondo. The other two were Xiomara Valdés and Lilita Peñalver. When we came back from Japan, Aida felt sick, she knew she couldn’t keep up with the job and she had the idea of forming a group that would travel with the quartet, performing a show. She passed away in 1973. It was a great loss. I was the senior member of the group and it was very difficult for me to keep the quartet together without her leadership. But I started as a leader, with new singers, and the singers keep changing al the time. Right now I have three new female singers, me as a leader, and a band. That’s my trajectory. And we have travelled to Venezuela, Panamá, the Soviet Union, Japan, Finland’s Carnival…
Q: How would you define your style?
TC: It’s Cuban music: son, cha cha cha, bolero… Aida taught me and I follow her style. In the show of Las de Aida you can find the whole range of Cuban music, although sometimes we perform a piece from another country. For instance, we have arranged a piece from The Beatles, Michelle, in English. I am the same, though. If there is need for a merengue, a cumbia, or music from Mexico, which we really enjoy a lot, we do it!… Many different kinds of musics! We haven’t performed rock yet [she laughs], but our pianist would do his little jazz incursions, everything!! We love music in general, guajiras, everything!
In 1980 appeared a group, Las Estrellas de Areíto, with all the stellar Cuban musicians. Juan Pablo Torres was the director and the producer was a gentleman named Diomandé, from an island of Africa. He and Juanito had the idea of reuniting all the best Cuban musicians for a recording. And this was a very interesting project for me, because I had always been with the quartet.
Q: Was this your first CD?
TC: No, this was not a CD with the quartet. These musicians came from many different groups. For instance, there were Paquito de Rivera, Arturo Sandoval, Guajiro [Mirabal] on trumpet, Jorge Barona also on trumpet, Juanito, the director, Miguelito Cuní, Tito Gómez, Pío Leyva, Rolo Martínez, the Bermúdez brothers, (singers from Orquesta Aragón), Frabián García López on bass, Amadito Valdés on pailas, Rubén González… The only women were Magaly Tar and myself. Juanito [Juan Pablo Torres] invited me to participate. We did five recordings, and two of them were a hit in Venezuela and we travelled there in 1981, to perform at the Poliedro in Caracas. Juanito couldn’t make it because he had another group and was traveling, Arturo was also traveling, but almost all of the rest could go. We had a smaller group and I was the only woman that could make it. Meanwhile, the quartet kept working at the Tropicana. I asked for permission to travel to Caracas and when I came back I returned to the Tropicana.
Teresa Caturla, Guillermo Rubalcaba, Puntallita, Ibrahim Ferrer
And in 1998 Juan de Marcos presented me with a similar project, the Afro-Cuban All Stars. I was very happy to do it, because I loved the arrangements, the music, and the show was very interesting, very new in its field. And for an artist this is very stimulating. The best thing that can happen to an artist is to find occasions to learn, and learn, and learn. So I told him it would be a real pleasure to do it.
Q: Are there many women musicians here, in Cuba?
TC: A lot of new groups of women have come up but there aren’t many locations where they can perform and they don’t appear in TV. But in Cuba there are no limits for women.
Q: What are your next projects?
TC: I will keep working with my group and in whatever other project that comes up, since, as I’ve already told you, that’s very stimulating for an artist and it’s a good experience. An artist has to keep constantly working, because you never know what can come up. You have to give more everyday, you are never satisfied with your own work.
Q: Can I ask you how old you are?
TC: I am sixty years old.
Q: You are still a young girl!
TC: Ha, ha, ha, ha!!!
Q: Do you plan on working forever?
TC: I am a restless person, my mind is always thinking about what’s going to happen next.
Q: What do you do when you are not singing?
TC: I like to stay here, in my home. But I still think about music. It’s typical of an artist’s restlessness-you keep going. I need to learn to separate my home and personal problems from the stage, but I have this constant restlessness and I cannot keep calm for one minute: "Oh, I forgot something… Oh, wait a minute, let me get you a soda…". I don’t know if this just happens to me or to every artist.
Q: Is it the same thing on stage?
TC: The same on stage. One keeps dancing and doing stuff. Also, you know what happens, I’ve been directing my girls for so long that this translates on the stage because I have not been with Afro-Cuban [All Stars] for a long time yet. And the director is Juan de Marcos, not me. But I want that guy to dance, the other one to move that way, and you here, and you there… because it has been many years doing this kind of thing. I have to keep this in mind, or he [Juan de Marcos] will ask me: "Who is the director? You or me?". Or sometimes he tells me: "Teresa! Chorus!" And I am overthere, dancing with this guy, getting the next one to dance with me… I am restless. I am always dancing on stage, it must be because I am used of directing three women that I spend all the time dancing on stage… I can’t forget it in two days, and I like it, because I do it with tons of love and swing… The music just penetrates my body slowly.
Q: Do you have students?
TC: No, I don’t. I just teach the young women that come to my quartet.
Q: Are you invited often as a guest singer with other groups?
TC: Look, I was just telling my sisters that this is the very first year since I started in the quartet that I will spend the 31st of December at home. I have been invited, but I need to rest, because my job with Afro-Cuban All Stars is beautiful but it’s intense and you feel it. When I go on stage I forget that my feet hurt, my back aches… because I am an artist. But the work we did this past year was really intense. And I would like to rest these days, but maybe, once I finish eating, I will start my own pachanga. I am "la pachanguera", somebody that visited me the other day asked me if I was aware that this is how people called me, "la pachanguera". As a matter of fact, the guy who started the pachanga in Cuba was Rubén Ríos and I recorded a CD with him, I played shekere in that recording.
We ended here with wishes for Teresa to return soon to the U.S. She is featured in her own album for the first time "Llego Tete"..