The Yiriyiribón of the Brazilian Soap Opera is Cuban

The Yiriyiribón of the Brazilian Soap Opera is Cuban
Fecha de publicación: 
2 September 2022
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In the Brazilian soap opera Dulce ambición, shown by television in Cuba, a nice music entitled Yiriyiribón constantly appears, and although with changed lyrics we must certify that it’s an essentially Cuban melody, created by Cuban Silvestre Méndez.


José Silvestre Méndez López was born in Havana on December 31st, 1926 and died in Mexico City on January 8th, 1997, when the rumba timba boom exploded in the Cuban capital. He was a composer, actor, dancer, showmen, and conductor, of Afro origin.


He mastered several Cuban musical genres and played a trio of tumbadoras, his specialty in shows. He in turn practiced swimming, tennis, track and field.


He lived in Havana until he was eight years old, when his mother died, and he went to live with his paternal grandmother in Nueva Paz, a town in Havana where Melquiades Fundora created the Sublime orchestra.


Over time, Silvestre Méndez returned to Havana and settled in the Jesús María neighborhood, where he became popularly known. In this suburban area they began to call him 'Tabaquito'.


Professionally, he began his artistic career in a big way in 1942, in the show Tambor en el negro mayor, directed by Gilberto Valdés, in which he sang, played, and danced with Chano Pozo, Benito González Roncona and Santos Ramírez. At that stage we must mention the support of Rita Montaner, a close friend of Chano Pozo.


He later performed on the radio station Cadena Azul, in a series of programs directed by Chano Pozo for the Comparsa La Jardinera, from Jesús María neighborhood, where he made himself known and where he composed El bombo arrollador.


Silvestre Méndez alternated in shows with Miguelito Valdés. For him he composed his rumba Tambó, where Miguelito excelled with the Casino de la Playa orchestra, and whose orchestration was in charge of René Hernández, who was later the star orchestrator of Vicentico Valdés and Tito Puente.


Ernesto Lecuona suggested that he make the popular music of Silvestre Méndez known; this is how he began to join recordings with Vicentico Valdés, Humberto Cané, and Antar Daly.


According to Marcos Salazar Gutiérrez, he was one of the most extraordinary rumberos in Cuba; his life was spent between vacant lots and party neighborhoods in the capital in the late 1930s and early 1940s.


One of the groups the composer remembered with nostalgia was the Sonora de Piñón, which he said was one of the best groups heard in Cuba.


He played percussion with Antonio Díaz Mena 'Chocolate'. I interviewed Chocolate in Havana and he revealed to me that it was Silvestre Méndez who taught Benny Moré how to dance the rumba correctly. Benny recorded Tocineta, Yiriyiribón, and other songs for him.


The work that gave him the greatest satisfaction is Yiriyiribón, because he seems to have achieved in the lyrics the description of many typical customs and popular traditions of Cuba. This song was recorded by various artists, including Benny Moré.


It was also included in movies like When the Fog Lifts, with Arturo de Córdoba and María Elena Márquez, where the song was performed precisely by maestro Silvestre Méndez with his music ensemble.


As a dancer, Silvestre was unique and this can be seen in some of Juan Orol's films or his participation with the so-called rumberas of national cinema. Other figures such as Tito Rodríguez, Panchito Riset, Tito Puente, the National Septet of Ignacio Piñeiro, the Sonora Matancera, the interpreters Lobo and Melón came to record his songs. Peret recorded the song Mi bomba Son for him, later recorded in New York by the Machito y Los Afrocubans band.




Silvestre Méndez lived in Mexico for a time, at the same stage in which Benny Moré arrived, between 1945-1956, a period when many Cuban musicians worked in Mexico City. He stayed at a hotel near the XEW, XEQ and XEB radio stations, and that same afternoon as he walked through the streets of City Hall, they shouted 'Silvestre, Silvestre!'.


When looking at who was yelling at him, he was none other than the 'Chocolate Doll' Kiko Mendivé, who invited him to the Smyrna Hall.


He became known through the films in which he participated in Mexico, where he appeared in 10 films. The first was Marco Antonio and Cleopatra, with Luis Sandrini and María Antonieta Pons. The last one was Songa, along with Mary Esquivel. He also worked with the Tongolele dancer in 1952.


He visited several Latin American countries with his art; he performed on dazzling stages such as the Cardinal Club, the Palladium, Chatea Madrid, and joined the Lecuona Cuban Boys orchestra, showing a great show, on a visit to the Monticello mountains.


He had already composed a few songs recorded by Juan José Ramírez, 'Fantasmita', who with the Hermanos Palau orchestra and arrangements by René Hernández, recorded El telefonito for him, which would be El Tata's sign song.


The first person to record it was Orlando Guerra, 'Cascarita', with the great Casino de la Playa Orchestra and Silvestre Méndez himself, who played the tumbadora. The orchestration was done by Dámaso Pérez Prado. The song turned out to be a musical hit of the time.


Later they recorded for Conjunto Casino, in the voice of Nelo Sosa; Kiko Mendivé, Trio Servando Díaz, Orlando Guerra 'Cascarita', Chuy Reyes and his Orchestra with the voice of Tony Gary, Willie Colón with the voice of Rubén Blades. He recorded an LP entitled Oriza for Seeco.


Other works: La rumba soy yo, a title used by other composers and also on the 2001 Latin Grammy Award-winning album by Bis Music. We only have left, for the tribute to be complete, to finish singing the song Yiriyiribón, by Silvestre Méndez, in the voice of Benny Moré:


Me gusta mulata la rumba, / Me gusta mulata la conga, / Bailar al compás de un tambor, / Tocado por manos de negros cubanos, / Que hayan jurado tocar el tambor. // En Cuba se corta la caña, / En Cuba se toma café, / En Cuba se baila el bembé, / Se fuma tabaco, se toma guarapo, / Y atrás de la comparsa, / Se va echando un pie. // Yiriyiribón, yiriyiribón, yiriyiribón.


Translated by Amilkal Labañino / CubaSí Translation Staff

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