The birth of Cuban punto music dates to the era of the conquest and colonization of the Americas. When the colonizers arrived in the Antilles, mostly from Andalusia and the Canary Islands, they also brought their customs and traditions to American soil, including their music. The Spanish brought with them their folk music that drew on various forms of Mediterranean singing and speaking. These verses and rhymes had significant Arab contributions and addressed the circumstances of the lives of the Spaniards, dealing with a variety of topics for all occasions. This music underwent huge changes when it arrived in the Americas, mainly in the farming regions, where there was little communication with Spain about life and circumstances there. According to Argeliers León, folk music was transformed and adapted to the new situation and social relationships, not only among the white sectors of the working class, but also among the black slaves, who also adopted the form. This musical style became the rural form of music and over time became an integral part of Cuban national music.

There are different kinds of punto and they vary by region. There are the vueltabajeñopinareñoespirituanocamagüeyano and other forms of punto. The punto libre is found in the provinces of Pinar del Río, La Habana, Matanzas, Cienfuegos and the western provinces. The punto fijo is most common in Villa Clara, Sancti Spíritus, Ciego de ávila and Camagüey, and among its variations is the punto en clave or punto cruzado. The guitar, the lute or the Cuban three-stringed guitar, the tiple, sticks and maracas provide instrumental accompaniment for the punto. The lyrics are written in ten-line stanzas. The mode and tone are melodic and harmonic.

Luis Felipe Ramón y Rivera and Zobeida Ramos Venero compare the punto to the Venezuelan galerón, mainly because both arose from similar circumstances, including the fact that they came from rural regions, internal and external isolation, and amid an economy of small farmers. Ramón y Rivera emphasizes that the punto, both in Cuba and in Venezuela, had various names that many times referred to the style of singing and other times to the character of the music.

The punto appeared in Cuba in the 18th century, although little is known about these beginnings because the only references are to the use of string instruments, the ten-line stanza as the structure, and foot stomping as the form of dance. Its development and evolution were finally determined regionally. In western punto, independent performances are very important and are generally performed by the lute, while in the central region solos are not so common and are played by the three-stringed guitar. The singing resembles a wave form and is limited to little more than an octave. Melodically, the verses are pairs of phrases or partial phrases with different characteristics and functions.

In punto libre, the singer has total independence and the overall nature is that of a recital with a fixed meter, while the instrumentation only provides some strumming and plucking as harmonic support. The main characteristic of punto fijo, in the west-central region, is that the singer follows the regular and constant meter of the accompaniment, creating a cool air and an exact meter and rhythm. On the other hand, the punto cruzado or punto en clave is a variant or modality of punto fijo and its most notable element is the syncopation of the song, alternating with a stable rhythm by the accompaniment that is marked by the percussion. In summary, this punto consists of the contradiction between two different rhythmic planes: the one developed by the singer and the other by the musical accompaniment. There is also the punto de parranda, with stable configurations, except on certain occasions when the bongo, which sets the meter for the group, plays a solo rhythm. There is also another modality, called tonada menor, española or Carvajal, that is more similar in its melodic characteristics to the songs of Andalusia and the Canary Islands. It is called menor, or minor, because it is played in a minor key. This variant is found in the western zone. One or more of these styles may be part of the tonada con estribillo, which is frequently found in the central provinces and Matanzas. Punto espirituano is sung with two voices. It is a modality of punto fijo, but performed with two voices and in a fixed meter. The melody generally follows intervals of thirds and sixths. Many of these variations have fallen into disuse. Such is the case with the seguidilla, in which the singer performs several ten-line stanzas without interruption and begins with a free meter, and then the singer and the instrumental accompaniment develop a fixed rhythm and exact meter. This form is practiced in the province of Camagüey and stories, often fantasy, are also told in this form.

Author: Grupo Editorial 
Published: December 26, 2011.

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