From Havana to the Canary Islands

by Fernando Aramis

Me directing the recording.

HAVANA TIMES — After moving around Havana like an outcast, I was able to get into one of the city’s best artistic venues, the Delirio Habanero cafe, located on the top floor of the National Theater. I started off by closing the show on Wednesdays and I ended up working all week long. It was a great place, a place where I could rub shoulders with some of the most important artists in Cuba. It was 1998 back then.

My time in misery was slowly fading to the background. I already had an agent and I gradually became familiar with Havana’s music scene, I became more and more well-known. After a year of working at the Deliro Habanero, to my agent’s and my own good fortune, a friend we have in common introduced us to a Spanish businessman who had come to Havana looking to produce Cuban musicians, Tomas Call Paranos was his name.  We immediately clicked with Mr. Tomas and I would be signing my first album contract just a few days later. It was a dream come true.

In my small room on 14th street, I began to design the album’s pre-production. In a week, I had the song arrangements, and in another week, I had rehearsed with the musicians I had invited to record with me. I told some friends who live in Bayamo about what had happened, a promise I had made when I left my city.

– Be ready, I’m going to call you when I can record my first CD – I told them.

My father recording the accordion.

Ana Maria Jimenez, a Chilean friend who lived in Cuba and who I had met a few years ago, was a great support for my career. She helped me pre-select the tracks and other artistic matters, as well as having been a very important source of support in my personal life. We produced my first CD with her, where I put to music seven poems of Angel Escobar one of the most important contemporary poets on the island and also her husband, who participated in a symbolic way in the production.  One sad day, he decided to jump from the fifth floor at Ana’s apartment. It was an effort in tribute to him.

Finally, the long-awaited day rolled around, my first musical production. The ICRT Sono Caribe recording studio was rented out, a new studio, recently set up to record and, to top off all of this, I was the first person to record using equipment that had just come from Germany.

It was all too perfect for me, and even though it felt like a dream, it was a living reality. Passion is the right word if I have to define the feeling I put into this production, and even though I was knee-deep in happiness deep down, I realized that during the recording it was turning out to be an arduous and stressful job.

On the one hand, my agent Niurka Gonzalez was worried about the songs I had chosen and was waiting for the artistic concept which we had agreed on, asking the studio director about my arrangements. And, on the other hand, the Spanish producer didn’t take me for my word about the money he needed to give me for paying the musicians. My dream was really becoming a nightmare.

Ana Rolof recording the flute

Just when I found myself in the middle of recording, I was told about the death of my paternal grandmother, Avilia Llanes. My father, who was already living with me in Havana, came to give me the news.

I immediately picked up the phone to talk to family members, and they told me that my grandmother had given them a message to tell me that I shouldn’t stop recording.

In spite of the new bad news, not everything was disheartening because the producer paid me 100 USD per week for production over a reasonable time. I finally finished my album: now everything was ready for me to travel to the Canary Islands for the album launch. Tomas and my agent, Niurka, first traveled to organize the preparations for the launching and my arrival.

Two days after they left, I received a phone call from a desperate sounding Niurka.

– Fernando, everything we heard from Tomas was a lie, he is keeping me hostage in his house, he isn’t letting me leave to go anywhere, and I can’t take it anymore. I have thought about leaving, but don’t worry; I will get enough money for your trip, but forget Tomas. When you come here you know you have to struggle, there aren’t any album launches or anything of that sort.

After hanging up, I remained in shock, after so much struggling in Havana, all the stress of recording, we were back at square one, with a slight hope of being able to travel to the Canary Islands, but on one condition, the struggle doesn’t end but continues. I said to myself:

– If I have been struggling so long in Havana, I would prefer to continue doing so (or trying to) on the Canary Islands and finally have a chance to cross the pond (the Atlantic).

Me recording the guitar.

Niurka escaped from Tomas’ house with the help of a friend who had lived a long time in the Canary Islands. She managed to get the money together to pay for my trip with the help of a man who was the owner of a Pub in the South of Tenerife, who she was introduced to by her friend. He lent us the money. The trip was set for June 30th 1988, there was still over a month to go.

My desperation increased as the date drew nearer. I couldn’t bear the heat in Havana. I couldn’t wait for the blessed moment when I would step foot on that airplane which would take me to discover the First World. The wait was really torture. We never saw Mr. Tomas ever again and we couldn’t report him. He took all my work, although Niurka was able to recover one of the Masters of my album.

The departure date arrived and my parents went with me to the airport. When I went through the Immigration door, that door you go through and feel a comforting peace because you know that you are already on the other side, I found to my great surprise seated in the waiting area my musician friend Fernando Lores, who had recorded the keyboards on my CD.

Master!, we almost said in unison. We greeted each other with smiles on our faces.

Where are you going? He asked me.

– I’m going to the Canary Islands for the album, I told him.

And you?, I asked.

– I’m going to Spain with the Cuban group Mayoguacan – he told me.

He kindly presented me to the band’s leader. They had already made a suggestive version of one of my songs: I waited for you while sitting down.

We kept each other company until my flight was announced over the loudpeaker. I said goodbye to Fernando and headed towards the boarding gate. Almost there, almost there, I said to myself silently. I got onto the plane and we began to take off, when the plane suddenly slowed down and returned to the gate. Afraid, all of the passengers began to ask what was going on? A very friendly flight attendant told us not to worry, that it was just a small problem and that it would be fixed in a few minutes.

We returned to the runway and I finally saw myself take off and head towards the First World. Yup, that’s pretty much what happened in the run up for me getting my trip from Havana to the Canary Islands.