In the Caribbean and South America, boleros are he ultimate expression of love and suffering. While their origin is found in Cuba, the genre quickly crossed borders. From the 1930’s through the 1960’s, Mexican composer Agustin Lara wrote some of the most recognizable and widely covered boleros. Boleros have also been popular in Puerto Rico since the 1930’s.
Miramar, singers Reinaldo “Rei” Alvarez and Laura Ann Singh and pianist and arranger Marlysse Simmons-Argandona, is a band that has been inspired by the long history of bolero music. Using traditional instrumentation that includes organ, piano, guitar, bass, percussion and an occasional string quartet, the group’s arrangements distill the essence of the golden age of boleros, particularly the “Duo Music” bolero style most popular in Puerto Rico.
“When I first heard Puerto Rican boleros in the duo music style, specifically Duo Irizarry de Cordova” says Rei, “to me it was a new expression of pain and longing. It was a concrete manifestation of everything that I love about romantic music.”
When Miramar started to record their first album, the idea of a tribute to Puerto Rican artist and composer Sylvia Rexach came naturally. The one record by Duo Irizarry de Cordova that had the strongest impact on the group was an album of all Sylvia Rexach songs. On "Dedication to Sylvia Rexach", the band approached her songs with awe but didn’t hesitate to add their own touches. They also added some of their own compositions.
In Puerto Rico, Sylvia Rexach has attained cult status as a bolero artist. Born in 1922 into a prominent family, Rexach was a self taught pianist and guitarist. A fiercely independent woman, Rexach eschewed the traditional path then available to women, and embraced the lifestyle of San Juan’s bohemia of which she became a central character. She began to compose and write poetry in her teenage years and went on to form the first Puerto Rican all female band, Las Damiselas. She contributed a regular column to El Diario de Puerto Rico, wrote radio skits in which she also acted and was one of the founders of SPACEM, the Puerto Rican Society of Authors and Composers.
Rexach sometimes performed her own songs accompanied by guitarist Tuti Umpierre but she never really considered herself a singer. Still, the one record we have of her singing her own songs is a masterpiece of raw emotion and intimacy, comparable in intensity to some of the work or Chavela Vargas or Violeta Parra.
Sylvia Rexach died in 1961, at the age of 39, from stomach cancer. Her songs have since become part or the Puerto Rican canon, but she remains mostly unknown outside of her native island.
With “Dedication to Sylvia Rexach”, Mirimar is hoping to change that.