Poet and singer who was part of the 1960s generation, which was known for its critical and analytical attitude toward Puerto Rican history and culture, based on Marxist ideology. He was part of the group of poets who published the magazine Guajana, which followed the new trend toward revolutionary poetry and social commitment. He is principally known, however, as a singer and songwriter.
Antonio Cabán Vale was born on November 22, 1942, in Moca, the son of a violin maker. He was raised in the Caraima sector in the town. He finished his primary and secondary education in Moca and Aguadilla. As a child, he showed an early interest in poetry and music. When he was an adolescent, in the late 1950s, he joined the Moca trio Los Tres Vale. He enrolled at the Río Piedras campus of the University of Puerto Rico in 1961, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences (1966). After finishing his university degree, he worked for a while as a teacher.
In 1964, while he was studying in Río Piedras, he joined a group of poets involved with the magazine Guajana, a publication created in 1962 by Vicente Rodríguez Nietzsche, Andrés Castro Ríos, José Manuel Torres Santiago, Marcos Rodríguez Frese, Wenceslao Serra Deliz and Edgardo López Ferrer. These young poets broke with the literary trends of the previous generation and promoted poetry based on social consciousness and Marxist-Leninist ideas. They also admired the politicized poets of Latin America and Spain, such as Pablo Neruda, Miguel Hernández and César Vallejo. A considerable number of young poets who shared this philosophy became known through the pages of this publication, including Ramón Felipe Medina, Marina Arzola, Juan Sáez Burgos, Edwin Reyes and Cabán Vale himself. It was during a poetry reading by this group that Cabán Vale was given the nickname “El Topo” by fellow poet José Manuel Torres.
He was one of the ten poets from the group selected to be part of the Antología de poetas jóvenes, which was published in 1965 by the Institute for Puerto Rican Culture. In 1977, he unveiled his book of poetry Un lugar fuera del tiempo, in which he spoke nostalgically of the Moca of his childhood. Each of the poems had a short introduction written in lyrical prose.
In his second book of poetry, Penúltima salida, which was published in 1978, also showed nostalgia for his memories, along with his political poems. However, the poetry in this book shows more maturity through the existentialist character found in many of the poems. Among the poems in this collection are “Sonetos de la soledad,” “Canto isleño,” “Los bárbaros” and “Tribu,” among others.
Cabán Vale’s poems not only addressed political topics, but also explored themes such as love and loneliness. Cabán Vale’s lyrical style is unique. It focuses not only on the thematic, but also on the formal and aesthetic quality. He used both free verse and more traditional meters.
In the late 1960s, El Topo became interested in popularizing his poetic creations, so he turned to music, which was more accessible for the masses than printed verses. His songs were influenced by the Latin American “nueva canción” movement, which was rooted mainly in folkloric elements that were used to protest the political situation and to demand social justice for women, minorities, workers, and those who were oppressed, in general. His songs show influences from various musical genres, including aguinaldos, cadenas, salsa, la guaracha, la décima, la plena, boleros and trio music, as well as elements of rock ‘n’ roll.
In the early 1970s, he founded and joined Grupo Taoné, which performed many of his songs. Since that time, he has continued his artistic career both as a soloist and accompanied by a variety of musicians. He has composed more than 200 songs, including the danza “Verde luz,” one of the most popular, which talks about patriotic love felt from a distance; “Antonia,” in honor of Antonia Martínez Lagares, a 21-year-old student who died at the hands of police during a student protest on March 4, 1970; “En esta tierra baldía;” “Expresa lo que sientes;” “Las manos del campo;” “Perdido en mi pensamiento;” “Amo esta casa extraña;” “La casa sola;” “Amante corazón;” “El pescador de Culebra;” and “Solina Solina,” among others.
Over the course of his career, he has recorded many albums, some of which are Las manos del campo (1975), Cantos de altura (c. 1982), Un metro de ternura (1993), which included the direction and contributions of Dominican singer Juan Luis Guerra; En Bellas Artes Concierto (1996), Lo que mi pueblo atesora (1998); Antología: 35 aniversario (1999); and Inmensamente (2004).
El Topo’s songs have been performed by a considerable number of artists, including Puerto Rican singers Lucecita Benítez, Haciendo Punto en Otro Son and Ismael Miranda, and Argentine singer Raúl Di Blasio.
In 2001, the Sixth International Book Fair in San Juan was dedicated to him.
“Antonio Cabán Vale (“El Topo”)”. Fundación Nacional para la Cultura Popular. Web. 22 marzo 2010.
Ayoroa Santaliz, José Enrique. “Antonio Cabán Vale, poeta” La Canción Popular 12.12 (1997): 119-123. Impreso.
Medina, Jorge H. “Antonio Cabán Vale, El Topo”. Resonancias 1.2 (2001): 20-29. Impreso.
Pratts, Edgardo. “El folklore musical de Puerto Rico y Latinoamérica de los años ’60 al presente”. La Canción Popular 3.3, 1988. 16-18. Impreso.
Rivera de Alvarez, Josefina. Literatura puertorriqueña: su proceso en el tiempo. Madrid: Partenón, .
Soto Torres, Edgardo. “De tertulia con el Topo y Tito Auger”. Diálogo febrero 2002: 40. Impreso.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 03, 2014.
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