HAVANA TIMES — This past Saturday one of my dreams came true: I saw a live performance by renowned Cuban musician Paquito D’Rivera.
When Paquito entered the proscenium of Quito’s Casa de la Musica concert hall holding a saxophone and clarinet, joining the no less virtuoso musicians of the Brazilian trio Torrente, he began to settle a debt he had contracted with me more than twenty years ago, when I heard his music for the first time.
The artist, a Cuban through and through who left the island over thirty years ago, never to return, not only gave us a masterly lesson in saxophone and clarinet playing. He also showed us his heart has never strayed far from Cuba, that the ties which bond him to the island are fastened at the edges of passion itself.
After seeing such an archetypal Cuban who has lived outside his country of origin for so long, I have come to the conclusion that, if the life of the émigré is a horrible experience for us simple mortals, then the pangs of nostalgia endured by a musician of the stature of Paquito D’Rivera must be close to unbearable, something akin to torture.
It’s not just a question of being denied one’s native public; it also entails having to do without the sounds and rhythms closest to one, those that combine to give birth to one’s music and give strength to his performance.
Paquito has accomplished the feat of remaining true to his Cuban identity in a country and culture that are very different from those of his native soil. In fact, the closest Paquito has been to Cuba since leaving has been the times the planes he takes on his regular trips fly through the island’s airspace.
The concert’s most touching moment was when D’Rivera played three pieces by Lecuona, as tribute to the “greatest Cuban composer of all times” who passed away fifty years ago.
The concert hall wasn’t packed, as admission was a tad expensive by Ecuador’s standards. Those in attendance enjoyed hearing Paquito’s life experiences, identifying with them as inhabitants of the Caribbean.
At one point, I began daydreaming and pictured Paquito playing in Havana. I even imagined the warm reception his audience would give him.
I hope the fate of Celia Cruz, who died before being able to return to Cuba, isn’t in store for this artist. I hope Paquito can perform in Cuba again, sooner rather than later, to stage the reencounter that both he and the Cuban people deserve.