A Musical Bridge from Cuba (*)
By Osmel Almaguer
HAVANA TIMES, Oct. 12 — From the generation of musicians who rose to fame in the 1990s, the work of Kelvis Ochoa fuses eastern Cuban rhythms (sucu sucu, guaracha, montuno son, conga, trova, etc.) with foreign, more modern melodies such as rock and the ballad.
His first group was called “Cuatro Gatos” (Four Cats), and with it he made his way in alternative rock. That was the period of the boom in salsa, which is why the movement of Cuban musicians on the fringe —and even its most established members— had practically fallen off the edge.
Trova musicians, rockers, soneros, rappers (reggaeton had not yet arrived) were equally undervalued when it came to the Cuban media. Some commentators even wound up referring to salsa as “Cuban music,” as if the rest weren’t.
This is was why Kelvis’ early career failed to find fertile ground, at least until he joined forces with musicians like Alejandro Gutierrez, Ihosvany “Vanito” Caballero and Boris Larramendi in the project “Habana Abierto.”
They had gotten together in Spain to record the CD “Habana Oculta,” produced by Gema Corredera and Pavel Urquiza, and later came out with the disk “24 horas.” Both efforts turned out to be extremely popular on the island as the music was passed along from hand to hand, since no record company or distributor oversaw its marketing.
It was with Habana Abierta that Kelvis would define the base for his subsequent musical inclinations. When beginning his solo career he turned to his origins in Las Tunas, the eastern province where he had absorbed the influence of his musical family since he was a boy.
Arenas de soledad
CD Havana Blues (soundtrack of the movie of the same name)
In the voice of X Alfonso, this is the first song heard in the film Havana Blues, which impressed me deeply. When I got the soundtrack in digital format, my partner and I listened to it several times a day for a long time. At first I didn’t give its lyrics a lot of thought, but later something happened that made them become a part of my personal history:
One morning I woke up and found my wife crying. She was upset and had dropped a pitcher of water on the floor. I asked to find out what was going on with her, but she only responded that she was tired. I thought that she was referring to the economic times we were going through. She was studying, just like me, and we were both working jobs that paid next to nothing.
So I told her that she should use music therapy, since it had worked for me to start my days off feeling more energized. I said she should try listening to music that made her feel good inside, music that made sense to her.
She chose the song “Arenas de soledad.” This was the first time I was interested in it for its words. It turned out to be a song of encouragement though it had a sad mood, or rather pain from the past.
The essential character of the song, which relies on universal sentiments and ideas, prevented me from seeing what it meant that she had chosen that specific song:
To begin again / without destiny and without having / a certain road that /
teaches me not to lose faith / and to escape from this pain /
without thinking about what was /
how much can my heart take / without the beat of believing /
In the beauty of truth’s hope for this thirst for love /
in the feelings that remain / the dreams that last /
and I looked for and went up and was imprisoned between the wings of love /
without distance and without reminisces in the sands of this loneliness. /
Prey of a broken silence / children of the dawn / who never reached that light /
so confused in the pleasure / so I close my eyes / only to understand /
how much my heart can take without the beat of believing.
A while later our relationship terminated tragically. Later I recalled that morning and I could feel that she’d been yearning with all her force for a new beginning.
The routine of poverty had corroded our faith. She’d already found another love, a new love, because between the wings of the old one she had felt imprisoned. That’s why she transferred her story into the song’s lyrics.
When hearing Kelvis’ song again in concert some time later, it left me in tears. Now, however, I suspect there’s another meaning of “Arenas de soledad” (Sands of loneliness), a more metaphysical and at the same time more concrete idea.
Sand takes my mind back to the desert, and in the desert one can be alone. But when I think about who’s singing, I want to escape. So I’m drawn to the sand more than to the beaches or the coasts, whose meanings are well understood by those born on this island.
Could the song then express the pain of leaving the earth, which for many of us —no matter how much we are held by it— we cannot stop loving it. That love, however, is not enough for us to be satisfied with our sad condition.
The feelings that were inspired by this song were surely very mixed ones in Kelvis’ heart. That’s why he sought to describe a feeling, and not to tell a story. That’s why in it fit all types of similar stories, such as mine. That is the power of poetry.
In its ideals of love, hope, life, light, dreams and dawn are contrasted silence, pain and confusion.
(*)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.