Florencio Morales Ramos, better known as Ramito, was an expert singer and composer of jíbaro (peasant) music. Born in 1915 in Caguas, Puerto Rico–which he would often extol in his songs along with his neighborhood of Bairoa—Ramito became familiar with the seises and aguinaldos (the main styles of jíbaro music or trova) during his childhood. By age six he was already singing décimas, the ten-line octosyllabic rhyme scheme emblematic of seises, and by the age of eight he was already improvising them. As Ramito told Pedro Malavet Vega during an interview in 1987, his mother Leonarda Ramos was key to his musical education: listening to her sing and improvise as she cultivated tobacco and washed the clothes was his school. He also credited a sister with teaching him some décimas (1).
It was at some point during the 1930s that Florencio Morales Ramos, having sung on a radio program hosted by Rafael Quiñones Vidal, became “Ramito, el Cantor de la Montaña” (the Singer of the Mountain) -- so impressed was Quiñones Vidal by his talent that he baptized him as such. This experience opened the doors to a prolific recording career—Ramito recorded more than 150 LPs (2)—providing him the opportunity to meet and befriend some of the most important Puerto Rican singers and musicians of the time such as Jesús Ríos Robles (“Chuíto el de Cayey”), Jesús Sánchez Erazo (Chuíto el de Bayamón) and Ladislao “Ladí” Martínez, a prominent composer and player of the Puerto Rican cuatro, Puerto Rico’s national guitar and the key musical instrument in trova. In 1949, after singing in the inauguration of several radio stations, he joined Ansonia Records, with which he would record for the rest of his career.
Along with his brothers Luis Morales Ramos “Luisito” and Juan María Morales Ramos “Moralito,” Ramito brought jíbaro music to the United States, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Mexico, among other countries. According to Jesús Vera Irizarry in “Flor Morales Ramos ‘Ramito’ una voz que no se olvida,” (3) Ramito performed in twenty Latin American republics and around thirty states of the US, including Hawaii. Known for his repertoire of aguinaldos and seises, Ramito also recorded and composed many plenas, an Afro-Puerto Rican rhythm born at the beginning of the twentieth century characterized by the use of panderos (handheld frame drums) and its use of call and response. According to David Morales, with the exception of Manuel Jiménez “El Canario,” no other artist recorded more plenas than Ramito (4).
Throughout the 1950s, Ramito, and other trovadores such as Ernestina Reyes “La Calandria,” participated in good will tours to the United States in support of Governor Luis Muñoz Marín’s foundation of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (in Spanish “Free Associated State”), an attempt to purportedly end, through a series of reforms, the still on-going colonial relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States stemming from the US invasion of 1898 (for more on these tours see Licia Fiol-Matta’s The Great Woman Singer). In 1960, after going back and forth between Puerto Rico and New York City since at least the 1950s, he moved to the Big Apple where, with his music, he would delight an ever-growing Puerto Rican diaspora before returning again to Puerto Rico in 1972. Tragically, after having been diagnosed with cancer, he committed suicide in Salinas, Puerto Rico in 1990.
Today, Puerto Ricans evoke Ramito anytime they listen to El Gran Combo’s salsa version of his “Eliminación de feos,” or Tony Croatto’s version of “Nuestra sangre,” or Lucecita Benítez’s and Moliendo Vidrio’s versions of "Las Cadenas del 1800.” More generally, and this is fairly common, Puerto Ricans continue to remember and celebrate Ramito anytime they gather (be it on the Island or in the diaspora), to sing his “Qué bonita bandera,” an emblematic plena of cultural pride where the Puerto Rican flag, a symbol derided by US colonialism that was illegal during the first half of the twentieth century, is praised.
"El Cantor de la Montaña, Vol. 1" features Ramito accompanied by his group Rosas del Plata and Claudio Ferrer y sus jíbaros. Claudio Ferrer, a prolific composer who had vast experience playing jíbaro music, was quite popular having been the second voice of the famous Quartet Marcano (based in New York City), and the Quartet Mayarí (based in Puerto Rico) throughout the 1930s and 1940s (5). The album includes “Nuestra sangre,” a seis fajardeño written by Plácido Figueroa (6) where Ramito shares his views on the Puerto Rican “race” as one emerging from the biological mix of Spaniards, Africans and Taíno Indians (the original inhabitants of Puerto Rico or Borikén). Taíno Indian women, sings Ramito, were “sandungueras” (party-lovers) who “seduced” the Spaniard colonizer fulfilling their procreational “destiny.” African women, for their part, brought from Africa once the “brave” Taínos had been “ruined” by the Spaniards (that is, once they had been eliminated through genocide and miscegenation), were treated “meanly” by the conquerors who turned them into their “concubines” against “divine law” (insofar as they were not married). Both mixes, however tragic and unfair, sings Ramito, led to the birth of the Puerto Rican “race.” “Nuestra sangre” would continue to reverberate throughout the decades in Puerto Rico: in 1977, it was recorded to a different music by Argentinean singer-songwriter Tony Croatto, a founding member of the ground-breaking Puerto Rican nueva cancion group Haciendo Punto en Otro Son (7).
The album also includes the upbeat plenas “No me la confundan” and “Caguas.” In the first, Ramito calls for not confusing this Afro-Puerto Rican rhythm with other musical genres from Dominican Republic and Cuba such as merengue, guaracha, mambo, cha cha, and guaguancó. Throughout this enjoyable piece one can hear the plena panderos (handheld frame drums), the güiro (scraper), the Puerto Rican cuatro (the Island’s national guitar), and the guitar, though the highlight is to be found in the interplay between the accordion and the clarinet. The second plena “Caguas,” which closes the album, is a tribute to Ramito’s hometown of Caguas. It features some great accordion solos that are enriched by the scales and arpeggios played in the background by the Puerto Rican cuatro.
If these songs, along with the Christmas aguinaldos “Alegre navidad” and “A los Borincanos,” give a lighthearted ambience to the album, sadness and tragedy also inform the recording. “Llorar no es delito” is a bolero sung in décimas, where Ramito stresses that crying for a woman is not a crime. “La esposa muerta,” for its part, is a seis mariandá where he reflects on what it means to be a widower. According to one source, this song sold more than 10,000 copies (8). Whereas in “Una mujer en mi vida,” another bolero, Ramito sings about a woman who left him. Because he did nothing to deserve being abandoned, God will “punish” her for not corresponding to his love; in the meantime, he only thinks about “revenge.” According to his brother, the trovador Luis Morales, Ramito dedicated this song to his second wife after she divorced him (9).
“Quererte como te quiero” and “Mensaje a la mujer” are also worth highlighting, particularly because of their musical implications. These songs are both in the style of the seis llanera, a seis created by Ramito and Tuto Feliciano in 1953 (10). This style of seis—according to Jaime Bofill-Calero there are more than ninety seises although only around forty-five continue to be regularly played (11)—would become widely popular in Puerto Rico during the 1970s when Puerto Rican nueva cancion singer-songwriter Andrés Jiménez recorded “¡Coño, despierta boricua!” in the same style (12). If Ramito’s lyrics were about love and about praising the beauty of women, Andrés’ lyrics, written by Francisco Matos Paoli, Andrés Castro Ríos and Guarionex Hidalgo Africano, called for Puerto Rico’s decolonization from the US and outright revolution. Interestingly, and unknown to most, the famous melody of Andrés’ chorus is but a variation of the melody of Ramito’s chorus in “Mensaje a la mujer,” a fact that illustrates how Ramito’s legacies have continued to shape Puerto Rican musical culture in unsuspected and subtle ways.
(1) Navidad que Vuelve by Pedro Malavet Vega (1987: 157-163)
(3) Published in Resonancias, Año 2, num.3, 2002: 39-40.
(11) “Improvisation in Jíbaro Music: A Structural Analysis” (2013: 48-49)
-Dr. Mario R. Cancel-Bigay
released June 2, 1958