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Guitarra Mia

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Album Review

For years, there was coal, and there were trucks, and there was manual labor. There were chapped hands and sun-burned cheeks. And there was refuge to be taken in music, beginning with the conga drum, which Polo Montañez remembered playing when he was still so small he had to stand on a chair to reach it. And the Cuban tres, a traditional instrument with three doubled strings tuned to a bright open C major. And the tunes that he composed and taught to others without music, humming. Bachata, bolero, rumba, son. Then suddenly, there was an agent, too, and a recording contract and a first single at the top of the charts. Discovered playing with his band at a tourist resort in his native Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Montañez skyrocketed to stardom almost overnight. By the time that Guitarra Mía, his second album, was released in 2002, life was looking good for Montañez. Though it is impossible to listen to it without a sense of foreboding about what came next — a car accident that ended his life just days before he'd been scheduled to go out on a promotional tour — the astonishing joy and artistry that define Guitarra Mía ensure that this will be a lasting musical legacy. Guitarra Mía is an album full of stories about simple loves, rivalries, conquests, and triumphs. While lacking the sure hits of Guajiro Natural, it is a worthy follow-up, produced in very little time and proving Montañez's talent as a singer and songwriter. Although there are a few quiet moments, as in title track "Guitarra Mía," a breathtakingly tender duet between a man and the guitar he loves, and "El Bien de los Dos," in which the singer gives his broken heart a good talking to, for the most part the album sounds like the spontaneous victory whoop of one who's spent his whole life getting ready for this one glorious moment. Fans of tropical music will find plenty to dance to on Guitarra Mía, while those of a more cerebral persuasion could write an entire thesis on how the West African musical traditions that are the backbone of so many American genres — including self-toasting and signifying, call-and-response, and drumming — are differently but thrillingly manifested in the work of this one Cuban musician. It's easy to imagine Colombian audiences going crazy when Montañez, in a tribute to that first country to embrace him, pronounces Cartagena to be Havana's equal. It's easy to swoon to the boasts of the charismatic salsero in "Yo Tengo Mi Babalao." And it's easy to mourn the music that could have been while listening to the second and final album produced while Montañez was still alive.


Born: 05 June 1955 in Sierra del Rosario, Pinar del Río

Genre: Latino

Years Active: '00s

The news of the death of Cuban singer Polo Montañez on November 26, 2002, as a result of an automobile accident shocked and grieved fans of Latin music around the world. In Havana, where fans of the self-proclaimed "Guajiro Natural" -- a Homegrown Country Boy -- had been listening anxiously to hourly radio bulletins updating his condition, the loss registered as a national tragedy. Born Fernando Borrego Linares in the rural province of Pinar del Rio, Cuba, on June 5, 1955, his nickname -- adopted...
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Guitarra Mia, Polo Montañez
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