The brothers Enrique and Roberto RUÍZ-CUBERO play bluegrass with guitar and mandolin. They are inspired by artists such as Bill MONROE or Merle HAGGARD, but they are also deeply rooted in the traditional music from central Spain. The style of melodies typical of the dulzainas (schawms), as played by the late Agapito MARAZUELA (Segovia province, Castile) or the band LA RONDA DE BOLTAÑA (Aragón, central Pyrenees mountains), are translated into north American folk sounds by the strings and the skilled fingers of Hermanos CUBERO.
Pío Fernández: So, who are Hermanos CUBERO?
Hermanos Cubero: We are a folk music duo born and raised in Guadalajara, the capital city of the Guadalajara province (Castilla–La Mancha, Spain’s central-south region). The Cubero brothers are :
How did you start your career in folk music?
From an early age, we began to become interested in music in our hometown, and here we learned to play our respective instruments. We performed concerts on stage and we also played in several local radio stations.
Which style of music and which instruments did you play in your early years?
We started around 1992–1993 recreating the traditional music from our traditional region of La Alcarria. This area comprehends part of the Castilian provinces of Guadalajara, Cuenca and Madrid. Our instruments at that time were Spanish guitar (Quique) and laud (lute, Roberto), and with them we started playing the local trad music. In those days, we were also listening and playing north American music, and we soon started learning about bluegrass. Sometime later, we decided to switch to acoustic guitar (with steel strings) and to mandolin, and our music became deeply influenced by the style of Bill MONROE : the father of bluegrass.
Which were your favourite musicians at that time?
We have always listened to the traditional music from La Alcarria, from local bands such as ALQUERÍA, or LA RONDA DEL ALAMÍN, but also from bands in other parts of Castile such as EL NUEVO MESTER DE JUGLARIA or LA MUSGAÑA. Also since the early 1990’s we have become interested in American artists such as Bill MONROE.
Have you played in some local bands of Castilian folk or country music?
We have always played as a music duo, but also in some local groups : Roberto played with THE HILLTOPS (a western-swing band), and Quique played in several rock&roll and country music bands.
Have you always played these kinds of string instruments, or have you tried others, for example: the Castilian dulzaina (schawm)?
Our progression was from Spanish into acoustic guitar (Quique), and from Spanish lute (laud) into mandolin (Roberto). We have tried a few other instruments, but mostly at basic level and we have never played them in concerts. We are fascinated by the power of the dulzaina, the energy it projects on the audience, and its long history. But we have not tried it yet.
Why and how did you start playing bluegrass?
Since the beginning, we have been interested in this style of music and we progressively applied all what we could learn about it by listening to other bands and recordings. We loved its acoustic character, its eclecticism and the straightforwardness of its messages. In this regards, we also found many similarities with the traditional music from our home region.
Hermanos CUBERO in the 2010s
So how would you define the music that you perform today with Hermanos CUBERO?
Such kinds of definitions are always quite subjective, but I think that our self-consciousness is well reflected in the lyrics of our song ‘Cordaineros de La Alcarria’. You will not find the word ‘cordainero’ in the dictionary. The musician that plays the dulzaina is called dulzainero in Spanish. We then invented (just joking) the word ‘cordainero’, to name the guitar or the mandolin musician (‘cuerda’/‘cordón’ means ‘string’ in Spanish). Therefore, these instruments should be called ‘cordainas’.
Have you found any kind of similarity between bluegrass (mostly typical from the Midwestern USA: Kentucky, Ohio,...), and the music from La Alcarria or from Castile in general?
We have found many points in common between both styles of music. We never needed to make any adaptations to the traditional Castilian melodies that we incorporated in our bluegrass repertoire. This could be an indication of their similarities and maybe even some of their common roots. The first common aspect is that both kinds of music belonged to the people and their purpose was to amuse their daily lives. The fundamental difference is that even though the north American bluegrass has a relatively short history when compared with the Castilian, it has not stopped evolving along the latest centuries, and their performers seem to have a very clear idea of where they want to take it. In those regards, the trad music in Spain has gone through a kind of long stagnation process, and it has only been recovered during the latest decades, in order to become again part of the people’s culture and to continue its natural evolution. But many things have been lost along the way, and the majority of the Spanish population has lost contact with their musical roots.
Which artists are the key references for your current work on American bluegrass and Spanish folk music?
Just to mention a few of them, we can say :
Which records would you recommend to someone that wants to start learning about Castilian folk, bluegrass, country, Americana music...?
Which other styles of music do you listen to besides bluegrass and Spanish folk?
We listen to all kinds of music, roots, jazz, classical, rock & roll, pop, Spanish melodic singers: Flaco JIMÉNEZ, Duke HELLINGTON, LED ZEPPELIN, Pablo SARASATE, Elvis PRESLEY, BARÓN ROJO, MOCEDADES, Camilo SEXTO, Charlie PARKER, ÑU,.........
Which instruments do you play nowadays?
Quique’s acoustic guitar is of the ‘dreadnought’ type, and Roberto’s mandolin is an F type.
Which traditional songs have you incorporated in your repertoire?
The traditional Castilian folk songs that we have adapted to bluegrass for our first CD ‘Cordaineros de la Alcarria’ are:
Which songs have you composed yourselves?
In our first CD you will find :
In which places in Spain have you played so far?
This year (2011) we have mostly played in several cities in Castile, Aragón and Catalonia.
Have you played in other countries?
With the Hermanos CUBERO project we have not played outside of Spain. We may do it in following years.
And what about playing in the birth place of bluegrass: Midwest USA,...?
It would be great to go there and to show our own way to understand this music. But we do not have any plans for the near future. Nevertheless, our music had some promotion over there thru www.bluegrassblog.com and www.mandolincafe.com. Maybe this will help us to find a chance to go there and play our songs.
Bluegrass Music in Spain
Is there any place in Spain that you can recommend for bluegrass music gatherings (pubs, sessions, festivals,...)?
The great bluegrass music event in Spain is the AL RAS Old Time & Bluegrass Festival. It takes place every November in Mollet del Vallés, Barcelona. The participant artists are mostly musicians from Spain, but they always bring some guest artists from other countries.
Do you know any other bands in Spain doing a kind of crossover music similar to yours?
No, we do not. But we would be happy if there were lots of ‘cordaineros’!!
Which records have you published so far?
We have only released ‘Cordaineros de la Alcarria’ up to now. It was recorded in ARMANDO RECORDS, Valladolid. It can be purchased in CDBaby.
Is there any internet link where we can see you playing?
We have played in Television Española, in the TV program LOS CONCIERTOS DE RADIO 3.
Do you foresee any kind of evolution for the style of music that you make in Hermanos CUBERO (maybe with more musicians and instruments : fiddle, banjo,...)?
For the moment we will keep playing as a guitar and mandolin duo, but we would also like to broaden our sound with more musicians. We guess that time will take us through a natural evolution process. We will see what comes in the future.
What plans do you have in 2011 – 2012?
We would love to keep playing in the whole circuit of Spanish folk music festivals, and even to play in other countries. We also have lots of songs to record more CDs, and it would be fantastic to publish them in the near future.
Photo Credits: (1), (4) Hermanos Cubero, (2) Agapito Marazuela, (3) Bill Monroe (unknown).