The Music Plays On, Beyond the Stage

 

By Donato Cabrera│medium.com/@donatocabrera
September 15, 2020

 

The Mexican composer, Silvestre Revueltas, is a composer for whom I have had a fascination with for many years. In fact, it is his music that helped me begin to exploration of my Mexican heritage. Sensemayá is one of his most famous compositions and is the first piece that I conducted of his music.

Sensemayá is based on a poem written by the Cuban poet, Nicolás Guillén, which reenacts an Afro-Caribbean chant that is performed while killing a snake. Listen to Guillén recite the poem and pay particular attention to rhythm of his recitation.

Sensemayá, Canto Para Matar una Culebra

Mayombe Bombe mayombe
Mayombe Bombe mayombe
Mayombe Bombe mayombe

La culebra tiene los ojos de vidrio
La culebra viene y se enreda en un palo
Con sus ojos de vidrio en un palo con sus ojos de vidrio

La culebra camina sin patas
La culebra se esconde la hierba
Caminando se esconde en la hierba
Caminando sin patas

Mayombe Bombe mayombe
Mayombe Bombe mayombe
Mayombe Bombe mayombe

Tú le das con el hacha y se muere !dale ya¡
No le des con el pie que te muerde no le des con el pie que se va
Sensemaya la culebra sensemaya
Sensemaya con sus ojos sensemaya
Sensemaya con su lengua sensemaya
Sensemaya con su boca sensemaya

La culebra muerta no puede comer

La culebra muerta no puede silbar no puede caminar no puede correr
La culebra muerta no puede mirar
La culebra muerta no puede beber no puede respirar no puede morder

Mayombe Bombe mayombe
Sensemaya la culebra
Mayombe Bombe mayombe
Sensemaya no se mueve
Mayombe Bombe mayombe
Sensemaya la culebra
Mayombe Bombe mayombe
Sensemaya se murió

Revueltas composed Sensemayá in 1937 while living in Mexico City. He first scored it for a small orchestra of just 15 musicians. Here is a performance of the original version, which is seldom played but is every bit as original as the more common full orchestral version.

The poem was also put to music by the great Chilean band, inti-illimani.

In 1938, Revueltas re-scored it for a very large orchestra and here are my two favorite recordings.