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Wednesday, January 23, 2019
Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Patricio Ballagas: a Cultural Icon in Camagüey



By Juan G. Mendoza Medina / Journalism Student.

Patricio Ballagas.Ironically the song “Te vi como las flores”, written by Camaguey-born traditional singer-sonwriter Patricio Ballagas Palacio, was sung for the first time on February 15, 1920, the day he drew his last breath. Thereafter, the song was renamed “Adiós a la vida” (Farewell to Life).


Ballagas had departed for the Cuban capital four years before his passing away, on the sole ground of improving his luck in the world of music. But unfortunately he died, not being acknowledged as he deserved, in spite of his creative strength for which he was considered one of the greatest singer-sonwriters of those days, compared to Sindo Garay and Manuel Corona.

The man who wrote “La timidez” -his most popular hit- was always a very humble person, who devoted his life to music; however he was perceptibly inclined to carpentry, a trade completely different to music because of its roughness, though similar because of the tenderness he had to give it.      

When the Homeland needed his hands to take up arms, instead of playing the guitar, he proved to be loyal to his country and joined the war of independence of 1895.

This black man of poor backgrounds was the father of the so-called ‘contrapunto’, providing harmonic and melodic singularity to his compositions and especially to the background vocals.     

Patricio was not immune to the bohemian lifestyle that prevailed in the early 20th century, and so he frequented parks and bars singing to love and life.

His artistic instinct flew when he wrote the lyrics and the music of his songs, giving them originality and rhythm using the 4/4 time, a technique unknown for many authors in those years.

For him it wasn’t difficult to play the double bass, the bugle, the trombone, the flute and the guitar. His repertoire included the so-called cultured and popular music; and he enjoyed to get together with friends, especially every Sunday evening.

Although the talent of the young Camaguey-born musician set out guidelines in the ‘trova cubana’ genre, time has erased many of his creations, for most of his songs weren’t recorded.   

A day like today, as every year happens, the local troubadours remember -among guitars and chords- Patricio Ballagas, one of the greatest composers in Cuba’s musical history.  (Translated by Gualveris Rosales Sanchez).