HAVANA TIMES — I grew up in a small neighborhood east of Havana known as Berroa, a kind of no-man’s-land nestled between Alamar, Guiteras and Guanabacoa. Berroa was, and still is, a place ideal for breeding animals, growing crops and building industries (which, over time, have only helped pollute the city more thoroughly).
There, I grew up surrounded by animals and relatives and, like all children, in need of guidance. My sister, who was four years older than I was, was that guide I sought, even though, at the time, she was still a teenager with an attitude problem (thanks to certain episodes during her childhood).
I was nine and she was thirteen when we got to know Tanya, or, better said, when she fell in love with Tanya and I followed suit. For me, what our family described as imitation was (and still seems to be) the most natural way to share a person’s tastes.
I think that is the reason I had something of an early adolescence, an early and somewhat feminine adolescence. Posters, song lyrics and several novels written by my sister (where the main characters were always Tanya and the members of the band Monte de Espuma), were our way of giving life a different flavor.
But it was more than that. My sister learned to play the guitar and I learned to play the drums, though I would soon content myself with merely writing songs. An intense spiritual world had emerged from all that. Only now am I conscious of what that moment in life represented for me.
It was a quasi-religious system, where Tanya was the main deity and her concerts were a kind of liturgical ceremony. I recall we went to about four of them. I always played the poorly-dressed hillbilly, sitting in a dark corner of the theater, dreaming I would one day be special and that she, our goddess, would discover me from the stage.
The last concert was held in Havana’s America Theater. That night, I had to bend over under a statue at the Fe del Valle Park, because something I’d eaten wasn’t sitting well. That weekend, she had repeat performances on Saturday and Sunday, and we went on both occasions, as though fearing an imminent development.
Months later, we found out Tanya had “left.” It was the beginning of the 90s and the barriers separating Cuba from the rest of the world were almost as absolute as those dividing life and death. Leaving meant dying to all who remained back here.
Beyond my perception that Tanya was actually marked by what she felt, she was a talented singer and it was natural to expect her triumph would be so scandalous it would break through the wall separating us from the capitalist world.
That, however, was not the case. We waited for news of her, we waited for signs, and time passed. We evoked her the occasional afternoon until cassette players became extinct, and, with them, the last trace of her passage through our lives.
One day, we realized that other deities had replaced her entirely. Later, we ceased needing anyone. My sister also “left” and, as in Tanya’s case, I feared she would become dead to us, though things in the country were no longer the same. Some laws had fallen along the wayside and even a different president (with the same last name and the same ideology) was ruling us.
One afternoon, while rummaging through an underground computer network, I came across a folder title “Tanya.” I was surprised to find this in a teenager’s computer. I opened it. It was the album Acorralada (“Cornered”), which Tanya had recorded with the Cuban label Egrem, I think, before leaving.
Hours later, back home, under cover of night and with the lights off, I put on the headsets (for I didn’t want to share the experience with anyone else) and listened to the album. Suddenly, a million memories and sensations came alive inside mw and made me cry. I felt nostalgia for that time when others seemed to share my naivety. Many beautiful things and also much sadness began to weigh on me.
Musically speaking, the album struck me as immature, but that’s something I noticed after listening to it three or four times. “Tanya deserved better,” I said to myself. She deserved a shot at maturing here and making a career for herself in the country, without anyone stifling her, if that was the reason she left. She deserved the right to choose, at least. I think she would have been one of the great ones, of the stature of Omara Portuondo and others.
She was denied that, and I was denied her presence in my life, or, at least, the right to grow disillusioned naturally. She came back, offered a concert and left again. I didn’t get to see her. I don’t remember what I was doing at the time or why I didn’t think to go see her.