“All human wisdom can be summed up in two words – wait and hope”
– Alexandre Dumas Pére (French Poet)
Do you ever feel as though you wait an eternity for certain things to happen? Maybe you agonize for a positive outcome to a specific situation, or quietly wait for restitution, or recognition, and perhaps even vindication, yet time passes by without even looking your way? If you are like me, you find yourself at times thinking out loud; What’s up with that? Why does Johnny or Susan get an answer and I have to wait 5-10 years for mine? I mean how fair is that? If I am not careful, I could get very resentful about stuff like that, but I’m old enough now to recognize “patience is ‘indeed’ a virtue.”
Take for instance my dear father. The man had music engraved in him probably since birth. He loves music and as a young man, he met with a group of his buddies and together they formed, La Sonora Manatieña band (the name is derived from their town, Manati) in 1957. These guys were very talented, so much so, that soon they became regulars in the music scene in their native city and neighboring towns (this was back in the day in Puerto Rico). They recorded a few albums and their music inspired many.
A few years later my father was playing with another band when he came across a well known musician, the great maestro, Cesar Concepción. El señor Cesar is accredited with writing and composing many of the islands most loved ballroom music, and more specifically the plenas. It was on that encounter that something interesting happened… My father asked Mr. Cesar Concepcion why he had never written a plena about Manatí(many of the town’s names I mention here are indigenous to the island). At the time, Cesar had already written many beautiful plenas about most of the island. El maestro Cesar tells my father that he didn’t know much about Manatí and therefore it would be wrong for him to write a song about a town he is not familiar with, however, he said, “if you send me some detailed information about your town , I will write one.” So they shook hands and my father got to work.
While my father was writing his thoughts about Manatí on a napkin, it dawned on him that he, himself was a musician and since he knew his town better than anyone else. He resolved it in his mind that he would go ahead and write the plena himself, and that is exactly what he did, giving birth that day in 1964 to the plena, Manatí with it’s poignant verse, ” Manatí, Manatí, tierra de mujeres bellas, cuna donde yo Nací…”
My father met with his Sonora Manatieña buddies and showed them the plena he had written and they loved it. That same evening they played it and the audience liked it so much, they kept requesting they play it over and over again. My father tells me that eventually the band recorded the plena twice and although at the time my dad was no longer a member of the band (He was with the band from 1957-1963), they did mentioned his name as the writer of the plena briefly. The thing about that though is that my dad never registered the plena, and so as the years went by, everyone forgot he was the author and he never received royalties or recognition. In the recent years, the plena, Manatí has gone through a sort of revival and it is being played frequently in carnivals, parades, concerts, and during local games and other venues. However, the author still remains anonymous.
I’d like to say that my dear mother, Elba along with my sisters, Lourdes, Vivian and Yamila would have fought for my dad and made the people aware of this “omission”, of him as the author, but the truth is my dear father never cared to make a big deal about it. He simply wanted to leave it in the past as a memory of what once was a pinnacle moment in his life. He figured, ” if the good Lord allows for something to come out of it, then fine, I welcome it then”. I will tell you though that my sisters and I always prayed for him to be given his due honor some day. However, this to our dismay, was one of those prayers that felt like it was falling on deaf ears.
My father is 69 years old today. Many years have gone by since those early years of his youth and now time has began to take a toll on him. I see the wrinkles on his face and his hands, and the aches and pains that inevitably come with age are evident. Now, if you give my sweet dad a pair of bongos or congas, that 15 year old boy who grew up around “el Alto del Cabro” in Manatí comes back alive and you have yourself some good fiesta music you can dance to for hours. He’s still got it!
After all these years, though, something wonderful happened recently. Two weeks ago, on January 5, 2011, my sister Vivian called me excitedly because she had just found out the radio station Radio Atenas of Puerto Rico was interviewing the remaining members of the Sonora Manatieña in their special program dedicated to them and the music of that era. My father and his friends were reunited after so many years and the room, they say, was full of emotion, tears, hugs, kisses and many great stories and many precious memories were shared on the air.
Call it restitution or an answered prayer, but for the first time ever, my father was finally recognized for writing his beloved plena, Manatí (on the air to hundreds, perhaps thousands of listeners across the island and over the internet and facebook). Oh it was such a wonderful day for him, for his buddies and for the family! I listened to his buddies recall stories of days gone by and I felt so inspired and proud of those wonderful men who contributed so much to the beautiful music of the island.
And so, my dear readers, I don’t mind bragging about my father, but only to say that dreams do come true and that our prayers, no matter how long it takes for them to be answered, when you finally get your answer, it’s like honey on your lips; sweet to the soul!
To see a link of the Interview, click here: