I’m Not Home: Cuban Musician Ariel Diaz

Osmel Almaguer                          

Ariel Díaz.  Foto: filzic.cl
Ariel Díaz. Foto: filzic.cl

HAVANA TIMES — Ariel Diaz is one of the few artists belonging to Cuba’s so-called “lost generation” of folk musicians who has enjoyed an acceptable degree of publicity. His lyrics are profound and emotive, as befits his critical spirit and versatility (a versatility that has allowed him to be, in addition to a musician, a journalist, writer and visual artist).

In addition, Diaz has been the host of television programs such as El ojo de la aguja (“Eye of the Needle”) and A guitarra limpia (“Pure Guitar Music”), for which he also wrote the scripts.

His works are collected in different records: Volume 4 of the Antologia de la Nueva Trova (“New Cuban Folk Music Anthology”, EGREM, 1998), Estoy en casa (“I’m Home”),  a live concert aired on A guitarra limpia, organized by the Pablo de la Torriente Brau Cultural Center, Trovanomima.cu (Bis Music, 2001), Frida y Diego: Voces de la tierra (“Frida and Diego: The Voice of the Land”, Pablo de la Torriente Brau Cultural Center, 2008), Colores (“Colors”, featuring Liliana Hector, 2009) and others.

He has shared the stage with Silvio Rodriguez, Noel Nicola, Santiago and Vicente Feliu, Compay Segundo and other renowned Cuban musicians.

I’m Not Home

This afternoon, I lock myself in, / I forgive myself for my sins, / I take down the ads, / I don’t finish my sentences. / Today I drive children away, / burn all my bridges / put all announcements on hold / and postpone all trips.

This afternoon, I am free / to fly inside / where I am more credible, / where I am no longer violent. / Today, I do not want you to lend me a hand, / don’t come looking for me, / don’t offer to save my soul. / Today I want to be alone.

Because this afternoon is all about the air / and the time that tastes of you.

This afternoon I am alone / I declare myself in penitence. / Today I hide from everything, / today I will not open the door, / I will turn away all embraces. / Today, I free the enemy / and claim a spot / to cry alone.

This afternoon I distance myself / from the old songs, / from the hunger and the horror / of revolutions. / Today, I do not belong to history, / I do not belong to the world. / Today, I have lost all memory, / today I collapse.

I didn’t count my riches, / I put down the flag. / My head is a mere decoration, / my veins are open.

Because this afternoon is all about the air / and the dream that gropes towards you.

Though the beauty and depth of these lyrics are self-evident, I will nonetheless indulge in sharing my impressions about them.

No estoy en casa is one of the songs that ought to be included in any anthology of the folk music produced in Cuba over the last twenty years. It is a song that captures the spirit of the age – the great earthquake of the nineties – when the world and our view of it were turned on their heads and people were plunged into deep soul-searching.

At first glance, it seems that the speaker is a sullen man enduring a kind of spiritual mutation in which socially accepted values begin to collapse.

At first glance, it could also strike us as the depressive state of someone who does not fit in and whose weakness pushes him to suicide. Many such readings would be licit, were it not for the universal meaning and existential connotations the poet infuses his work with.

As I suggested above, the lyrics sum up the change of mindset Cubans experienced in the nineties, when the disappearance of the Soviet Union opened the country’s doors to neoliberal ideologies and the world ceased being understood on the basis of dichotomies such as capitalism/socialism, justice/chaos, goodness/evil, which were once the basis of our Manichean vision of the world.

Postmodernity had reached Cuba, and it did so precisely through the gap that Capital was opening up – a capital that didn’t look as though it was owned by the people, that partitioned reality as surely as it divided people, limiting access to hotels and basic resources, twisting people’s dreams into material longings.

In this maelstrom, some spirits remained sober. The maturity with which young Diaz interpreted this course of events, at a time that was so violent people could be knifed down on the street for looking at someone the wrong way and some went as far as killing relatives for a bicycle, is striking.

The musician dredges up courage and makes his voice plural. When he sings, we hear millions of voices demanding an inner and solitary spirit, a place where finding oneself is nothing other than a dream, in a world where blood pours out of the arms of a society that has slit its veins.

The afternoon the musician alludes to is, quite obviously, the moment before night falls and one is terrified about what could happen in the dark – which is why it is preferable to close one’s eyes.