In my rediscovery trip of Havana, searching for stories and traditions I found the singular story of the Sprees of Pepe Nieves, that were famous in this capital at the beginning of the XX century and they gave place to a sentence: “The music tames the wild animals, but not to the Galician women.”
The phrase came from certain neighborhood located toward the south of Havana, then called Jesus del Monte and today Diez de Octubre, location for numerous dairies that supplied fresh milk to the neighbors of the Cuban capital. One of them, owned by an emigrated Spaniard named José Nieves Lorenzo, Pepe Nieves for his numerous friends. The place was famous not only for the quality of its milky products, but also for the formidable parties that were run in the house.
During the day he milked his cows, but in the nights used to rest in a very personal way. Several times per week, he gathered his friends under the hanger next to the manger, and there they spent the nights amid cheerful revel, dancing to the compass of the rumba and the tapping (1) that Pepe Nieves played masterfully in his guitar while they drank industrial quantities of rum.
As the old chronicles say, maybe because of the saying that music tames the wild animals, the days that Pepe Nieves played the guitar his cows milked more and better. Without thinking twice, the Spaniard began to give dances every night, perhaps with the idea of increasing his earnings in a very pleasant way.
Apparently, Pepe Nieves was a forgotten pioneer of the modern dairies, because as it is known, in many of them the cows listen music selected to create an atmosphere that benefits the milking. Those parties made history in the popular strata of Havana’s from beginning of XX century, and every week were more the dancers, musicians and town people that went to the already famous dairy, and during weekends came more than two hundred people.
This way, Pepe Nieves playing and the cows milking, everything went as slight as the tapping that was danced, supported by the addicted friends of the Spaniard with all their soul of revelers. But the man proposes and the woman disposes, and that was Pepe´s wife, Doña Petra, a Galician with bad ear for music and the dance.
Certain night when the party was more scandalous than usual, Mrs. Petra got tired of the drunkards that shrank her cellar and disturbed her sleep, armed with a big stick and without thinking it twice she started to blow the dancer’s heads. The battle wasn’t registered in the military history, but all Jesus del Monte listened the screams of the wounded and the skulls fractured by the Mrs. Petra stick.
Trying to save the little blood that last in their alcoholic system, the revelers ran away from the combat area, leaving as trophy the guitar to the victorious Galician, which was played virtuously… on their husband backs. The chronicles of the time don’t pick up the final destination of the cows of Pepe Nieves, neither if the ceasing of the parties affected or not to the production milkmaid.
But from then on, as oldest neighbors remember, the aforementioned phrase was coined: “the music tames the wild animals, but not to the Galician women.”
(1) tapping: Dance typical Cuban to the compass of a rural guitar of three strings.
Data taken by the author in the historical files of the Museum of the City.