Global Hit – Gonzalo Ascencio

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Our Global Hit today brings us to Cuba. The island is in the news because of Fidel Castro’s decision to resign as president today. But the music you’re going to hear predates Castro and his revolution. This is rumba.

It’s a musical genre born in Cuba from a mixture of African influences. Gonzalo Ascencio didn’t create the genre. But as a composer — he’s been called the “Irving Berlin of rumba.”

Ascencio — who also went by the nickname Tio Tom — composed hundreds of rumbas. This recording comes from a new CD featuring a modern rumba ensemble playing his songs. This is Tio Tom’s most famous song.

It’s called “Where are the Cubans?” He wrote it in the late 1940’s or early 50’s.

The song refers to an incident involving two drunk American sailors who defaced a statute of Cuban hero Jose Marti. The lyrics criticize Cuba’s then-president — Carlos Prio — for not doing enough about it.

That song landed Tio Tom in jail. Tio Tom’s songs remained popular though. But even though everyone knew the music — most Cubans had no idea who the composer was.

In fact, other musicians registered the songs as their own. It was only in 1982 that Cuban musicians, writers, and disc jockeys paid proper tribute to Tio Tom. The composer was then 63-years-old.

He died in 1991. The CD is called “A Tribute to Gonzalo Ascencio — Tio Tom 1919-1991.”

It’s just been released by “Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.”

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