David Torrens on the HT Musical Bridge from Cuba

Osmel Almaguer (*)

David Torrens.  Photo: cubadebate.cu
David Torrens. Photo: cubadebate.cu

HAVANA TIMES, Feb. 3 — Singer-songwriter, musician and composer, David Torrens belongs to the third generation of Cuban Nueva Trova.  His music is marked by the influence of Argentinean rock, Brazilian sounds and traditional Cuban music.

He was born in Guanabacoa, Havana, on March 30, 1968, and grew up in a not-so-unique environment: one with mixtures of African religions and cultures, a characteristic that would contribute much to the spirit of the future artist.

He began his musical studies at the Guillermo Tomas Elementary School of Art, which took him to the ninth grade; though back then music was only his hobby.  He continued his pre-university studies at a military school for “Camilitos” (emulators of revolutionary leader Camilo Cienfuegos), and once concluding his high school went on the university where he graduated as an engineer in mechanical design.  All of this occurred, of course, without him never putting aside his guitar.

By the middle of the 1980s, at just fifteen, he debuted as the keyboardist with the group Canto Libre, where his first compositions emerged.  Later on he was part of a unique movement made up of poets, painters and trova musicians that took the name of his native Guanabacoa.  This was in the 1990s.

In 1995 he signed a contract with the Mexican recording company EMI Music, which meant his moving to Mexico City.  Paradoxically, though consistent with a trend that predominated over the last couple decades, his breaking into the music scene in Mexico opened the doors to a wider Cuban public.

He returned to the island with his first album titled Mi poquita fe.  Its lead single, “Sentimientos ajenos,” received the ERES award as the most requested song of the year.  That song’s music video, directed by Ernesto Fundora, was also awarded as the best production in Cuba’s Lucas Video Awards Festival.

His second disk, Ni de aqui ni de alla, came out three years later, in 2011, marking a new height in the singer’s popularity thanks in great measure to the video of the song Quien me quiere a mi.

If in Mi poquita fe there appear elements of Latin pop music and other accents that are somewhat commercial, Ni de aqui ni de alla was able to successfully fuse pop music with other rhythms such as rap, rock, son, bolero, ballads and many others.

Recently David Torrens presented his third disco-graphic production titled Razones, of which some of its singles are still being promoted.  In it the artist fused genres such as danzon, pop music, trova, bolero, ballads, conga and rock, without straying from other influences such as jazz, cumbia, and the Central American and tropical music that he mastered as a result of his experiences in Mexico.

All of that endows the CD with a peculiar quality, which is enhanced even further by the participation of prestigious figures like Pablo Milanes and Kelvis Ochoa as guest artists on that disk.

In the more than twenty years of his artistic career, David Torrens has shared the stage with Peruvian singer Tania Libertad, Mexican artists Susana Zabaleta and Diego Schoening, the Cuban rock group Habana, as well as other creoles like Amaury Gutierrez and Francisco Cespedes.

His second album, Ni de aqui ni de alla, the lyrics begins with the following refrain:

I’m not from here / and I’m no longer from there / I’m not learning how to live / in the comings and goings and comings / (this repeats).

You got me used to eating from your hand / like a friendly dog, happy with his master / Bumming around the world has made me less human / I no longer find love so healthy / and if they gave it to me today, I wouldn’t understand it anymore / (Refrain, repeated once).

I make my way without roots that cling to any place / I have no owner and I’m the owner of no one / Nor do I have a love to anchor me / I don’t have anyone to pay / I’m the captain of my wandering ship / and when the bill comes / I’ve paid it with loneliness / there’s no benefit without a price / nor a future without a past / (Refrain, repeats once).

There linger memories / of pure loves / that stayed there / where there was innocence / with cold absence / I make my future / and each step will be / an echo in my consciousness / and when the bill comes / I’ve paid it with loneliness / there’s no benefit without a price / nor a future without a past / (Refrain, repeats once).

This song is a reflection of the feeling of being uprooted in a foreign land, with the special characteristic that this phenomenon has in the case of Cubans. It is the net product, the summary of a stage in the singer’s life.  As is custom with him, Torrens has viscerally up-ended his feelings with a spirit in which the up-rhythm of the instrument conceals itself, thus creating a sweet and sour mixture, a kind of oxymoron.

An oxymoron is a rhetorical figure in a type of logic that consists of harmonizing two opposed concepts in the same expression.  Trilce, the book of poems by the brilliant Caesar Vallejo, has an oxymoron for its title as it integrates both sad and sweet terms.

We Cubans usually live a great deal in the spirit of the oxymoron.  Our sense of humor is a knife that on occasions radically penetrates the most delicate phenomena of our existences as a nation and as individuals.  From this comes our legendary fame that we ourselves have earned, or through convenience we have turned ourselves into as a people who laugh at our own misfortunes, typically maintaining an affable character.

This myth is partly true.  What’s certain is that Torrens was able to instill all of that in his song.  He astutely gives a special treatment to the language that — in addition to poetic beauty and flight — endows the lyrics with an ambivalence that allows it to serve as a simple love story for less alert listeners, but as a confession with political hues to those of us who are closest to Cuban reality.

He continues to be a Cuban musician who creates his music inside as well as outside his country.  He has become universal because his music is singular and he knows it; what’s more, he is taking advantage of this quite effectively.

With this song, David situates himself as a human being who demystifies his very self.  He admits to having lost his innocence and he reveals his relationship with society without falling into a position of comfortable recrimination.  With this music he pays homage to old groups and to traditional Cuban rhythms in a flavorful mixture that also contributes more modern sounds.

The allusion to that loss of innocence takes us back to the rupture that at the beginning of the 1990’s created an insurmountable wall between two epochs.  Something cracked, effectively, and the impact had an irreversible character that has compelled every Cuban to trail behind the dream of never being that “friendly dog, happy with its owner.”

(*) A Musical Bridge from Cuba: This is an effort to find new bridges that promote communication between peoples of the diverse regions of the planet.    I will be using simple narration in a series of articles to connect with those who are interested in the messages transmitted by Cuban songs, which due to their limited commercial potential and the difficulties posed by their translation, languish in a state of communicational stagnation – despite their being true jewels of Cuban culture.

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