In addition to all the heat and late nights, the past Caribbean Festival announced that its next edition could be attended by a Dominican merengue singer that was a total success during the 80’s: Johnny Ventura…Johnny who?!
Juan de Dios Ventura, better known among merengue dancers as the Caballo Mayor (Big Horse), is the interpreter of hits Cubans my age will hardly forget such as “Patacón Pisao” or “Capullo y Sorullo”. His possible performance in Cuban stages by the former major of Santo Domingo would be a part of the cultural group La Gallera, a band devoted to rescuing Dominican music, specially the work by accordionist Tatico Henríquez.
According to Jochy Sánchez, musical producer of La Gallera, this project also includes Maridalia Hernández, former member of 440, who already performed in Havana last November, and interprets songs by Fefita la Grande.
However, the highlight of next year’s event would be the attendance of Jhonny Ventura, who at the age of 74 is a strong defender of this musical genre declared Cultural heritage of the Nation, which is enjoyed in Cuba ever since it was much more than a catchy and commercial proposal by Juan Luis Guerra. Back then the Cuban people danced with Chicas del Can and Wilfrido Vargas, while La Sonora Dinamita wondered qué será lo que quiere el negro (what is it the black man wants) and repeated qué lindo es tu cucu (what a beautiful derriere you have), and Johnny Ventura toyed with ambiguous meanings in his cunning stories…
Furthermore, the story of provincial Catalino and Juan was also a success in Cuba as they got on their “machine for making people” (a lift), and got scared when the lift operator asked them “Which floor?”… Not me, and me neither…
Nonetheless, after Juan Luis Guerra by the end of 1980 and his Bilirrubina, merengue gave way to genres such as lambada, bachata and rap, and was close to the salsa and timba “boom”.
Cubans heard again about Johnny Ventura in 2004, when he expressed his desire to perform in Havana, invited by the then Dominican ambassador Rafael Báez Pérez, on the occasion of the 160th anniversary of the independence of the Dominican Republic. Even though he made clear the purpose of his visit to Cuba, many people added political shades and attacked him, so he cancelled the trip and left a lot of people looking forward to choiring “Oye, Sorullo, el negrito es el único tuyo”.
This man revolutionized merengue, updated its traditional format of guira, drums and accordion, with saxophones, trumpets, piano, drums, electric effects, timbales and other elements from other rhythms, never compromising its essence. That’s the reason why, the Cuban people is so excited about his visit to Cuba and even wonders how to get to Santiago –de Cuba, not de los Caballeros– to enjoy the Fire Festival, La Gallera and the Caballo Mayor… if he doesn’t change his mind of course…
Charly Morales Valido, OnCuba
July 17, 2014