“We Come Merely to Sleep”: On the Death of a Friend in Cuba

Verónica Vega

Ananda Stephan and his father Joseph Röösli.  The Swiss percussion instrument is the “hang”
Ananda Stephan (l) and his father Joseph Röösli. The Swiss percussion instrument is the “hang”

HAVANA TIMES — Death is such a taboo for us that any news of it takes us by surprise. If the deceased was young and, to the best of our knowledge, healthy, our stupefaction is combined with a sense that they were cheated.

Confirming our fragility is not the only thing that slaps us in the face. It is also the extent to which we are disoriented, wandering aimlessly in a dense fog, without being able to see beyond the step we’re taking right now.

I thought about all this when I heard that Ananda Stephan, a young Swiss man I had met in Old Havana’s Obispo street, where he was playing an instrument I didn’t know at the time, the hang, had passed away.

My friend and colleague Yusimi Rodriguez, who had already interviewed him for Havana Times, had taken us to the apartment in Old Havana he was renting at the time. Shortly afterwards, I attended a concert staged by Ananda and his father, a talented organ player, an event I wrote about it in Havana Times.

I didn’t see him after that night, but I had heard he’d married a Cuban and was having get-togethers on the roof of his Vedado house, which I thought of attending occasionally, but never did.

Later, I found out he had bought a ranch in Guanabacoa, and, now, that he died unexpectedly on September 24 – apparently of leptospirosis.

The first thing I thought about was his parents, who must have been put off more than once by the choices made by their son, a globetrotter and avid explorer of oriental culture. I recalled the respect Ananda had towards his father Joseph Roosli’s work, and how this interpreter of the great classics had opened up to his son’s experimental pieces.

I thought about the album they did together, in which Joseph Roosli would improvise on top of Ananda’s melodies, how the organ would contain itself so as not bury the soft sounds of the hang with its might, revealing the infinite tenderness of a father.

That the wanderings of a young man from the First World should have come to a stop here, in this insignificant Caribbean island that is full of contradictions, strikes me as curious, but now I think about how fateful these circumstances became for his parents, and for Ananda himself, if he was ever aware that he was about to depart.

I heard a rumor that they would dedicate the next Love In Festival to him. I was happy to hear the news, though I admit I asked myself whether the reaction would have been the same had a wandering Cuban musician been the one who died.

I am also certain that no tribute will be sufficient solace for his relatives, but, since I know that, in his pilgrimage, Ananda not only looked to settle somewhere in life but also answers to his existential doubts, I am confident he has found something that can guide him in the unexpected journey he undertook a few days ago, that invisible journey that stalks us while we “dream that we live, as Netzahualcoyotl tells us.

“We come merely to sleep
We come merely to dream
It isn’t true we live on Earth,
we only do so briefly.

Like a flower in spring,
that is what our being is like.
The petals of our heart unfold,
Our body grows some flowers
and then withers.

For, even if it were made of gold,
It would fracture,
and even if it were made of jade,
It would break.

Like the plumage of a trogon that is plucked,
we will slowly fall,
like a painting,
we will slowly dry (…)

We leave among flowers,
We must leave this Earth.
We belong to one another,

And together we will go to the Land of the Sun.”

Veronica Vega

Veronica Vega: I believe that truth has power and the word can and should be an extension of the truth. I think that is also the role of Art and the media. I consider myself an artist, but above all, a seeker and defender of the Truth as an essential element of what sustains human existence and consciousness. I believe that Cuba can and must change and that websites like Havana Times contribute to that necessary change.