A vocal music genre of Spanish origin, but distinct in its Cuban form by the second half of the 19th century. An important lyrical paradigm was the canción cubana, or Creole song. Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, José Fornaris, and Francisco Castillo Moreno jointly composed La Bayamesa in 1848, traditionally acknowledged as the first Cuban romantic verses set to music. The Cuban bolero also reveals influences from French romances, Neapolitan song, and operatic arias. The earliest attributable Cuban bolero per se, Tristezas, appeared in 1885 in Santiago de Cuba. Its composer was José “Pepe” Sánchez (1856-1918), a trovador (troubadour) and self-taught guitarist and singer. The bolero style had evolved in Oriente’s cities and towns where trovadores roamed the streets playing the guitar (in a syncopated manner called rayado) and singing sentimental and romantic compositions. The bolero reached Havana by the early 1900s. Among the genre’s greatest exponents for a national audience was the trovador, Sindo Garay (1867-1968), also from Santiago de Cuba, who inherited the bolero tradition from Pepe Sánchez.
However, the bolero reached an international audience with Aquellos ojos verdes. Nilo Menéndez (1902-1987) composed the music to lyrics written and sung by tenor Adolfo Utrera. First recorded in 1930 with musical accompaniment by Ernesto Lecuona (1895-1963) at the piano, it achieved immediate success and remains a classic in the genre. Distinguished among contemporary bolero composers, René Touzet’s (b.1916) songs have been interpreted by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Tony Martin.
From the 1920s onward, the bolero fused with the son to create hybrid styles such as the bolero-son, the bolero-mambo, etc. Another genre, that termed filin (“feeling”), evolved from the bolero in the late 1940s. Spreading first to Mexico and Puerto Rico, the genre flourished in virtually every Latin American nation. Thus, the contemporary pan-Latin balada (pop ballad) and salsa romantica trace their musical heritage back to the bolero.