A real sister act The Marquez sisters bring Cuban rhythms to Union City

It’s time to move your feet to a different rhythm with the Marquez sisters, as the traditional sounds of Cuban music come to the stage at Jose Marti Middle School in Union City.

On Thursday, April 26, the Grace Theatre Workshop, in collaboration with the city of Union City, will present “Life to a Guaracha Beat,” a multi-media event starring the Marquez sisters, one of the most influential acts and authority on guaracha.

The guaracha is a traditional Cuban rhythm that can be performed with the guitar and often has vocal accompaniment.

“They preserve all the originality of guaracha,” said Armando Lopez, director. “They have traveled all over the world, filmed movies in Mexico, and recorded albums.”

Both in their 80s, Trini and Nersa Marquez never tire of the road and continue to bring their act to stages throughout the country.

“It’s an amazing thing,” said Lopez. “I think it’s a secret formula they have for staying young.”

“I believe that the arts and music keep people young,” said Trini Marquez.

Tribute to a classic

According to Lopez, guaracha first appeared and evolved on the streets of Havana, mostly at the local seaports. Typically considered an early form of peasant music, guaracha was a fusion of traditional rhythms including Son (Afro-Spanish style percussion), and was made widely popular by the late Queen of Salsa Celia Cruz.

However, by the 1960s the popularity of traditional guaracha had died down, but its rhythms brought about the beginnings of salsa.

“What we are going to do is give a full tribute concert,” said Lopez. “We are going to speak on the origins of guaracha, which is one of the oldest Cuban rhythms that originated in the 16th century [in Spain].”

Lopez, also a columnist for El Nuevo Herald, has successfully presented this program starring the sisters twice at Instituto Cervantes in New York City, which is a non-profit worldwide organization that promotes Spanish as a second language and the advancement of the Spanish and Hispanic American cultures.

“They leave the audience with such a grand sense of excitement,” said Lopez.

Sounds of Cuba

Performing since the early 1930s in Cuba, the Marquez Sisters have been delighting audiences for decades with their traditional Cuban sounds, especially guaracha. The sisters originally began performing as a trio with their sister Caridad, yet now only Nersa and Trini play.

In addition to the guaracha, the duo performs many classic Cuban music styles such as boleros (romantic ballads) and guajiras (rural acoustic music).

“However, the most powerful was the guaracha,” said Marquez. “It was what the public loved because of its action and its spiciness. There is more movement than in boleros and guantanameras.”

They also appeared in most of Havana’s famous nightspots like the Tropicana, where they performed at the same show with luminaries Josephine Baker and Celia Cruz.

After arriving in the states in 1951, Nersa took time off to get married and have a family, while their younger sister Olga was brought in to complete the trio.

Eventually Nersa rejoined the group and Olga stepped down, but since 2004 the trio has become a duo of Nersa and Trini.

The duo also met renowned jazz musician Paquito D’Rivera in 1993. After that fortuitous introduction, the sisters developed a personal and a professional relationship with D’Rivera.

In 2004, D’Rivera worked with the sisters Nersa and Trini in Spain to record their debut album as a duo, which was nominated for a Grammy but didn’t win.

The Marquez sisters are scheduled to be honored on April 21 by the Association for Hispanic Journalists.

“Life to a Guaracha Beat” will be held at the Jose Marti Middle School, located at 1800 Summit Ave., on April 26, at 7 p.m. Admission is free and everyone is invited. Jessica Rosero can be reached at jrosero@hudsonreporter.com


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