The Lost Soul of Cuban Musician Manuel Leandro

Osmel Almaguer

Manuel Leandro. Photo: lajiribilla.cu

HAVANA TIMES — Though 22-year-old Manuel Leandro is one of Cuba’s youngest folk musicians today, he could well be described as one of the most talented, part of a generation that hasn’t yet defined itself as one.

His songs are loaded with feelings: pain, nostalgia, anger, the raw materials for songs that invoke different moments of his life in his native Holguin.

Since 2010, he has performed in different venues around the country with his band, combining music with promotional strategies in a very peculiar way. A case in point is his project Quiero una cancion (“I Want a Song”), aimed at divulging and promoting part of the work of Cuba’s artistic vanguard through different, alternative media.

Quiero una canción has given birth to an anthology by the same name which gathers the works of many of the best Cuban folk musicians today.

Leandro’s music has earned him numerous awards. He is currently a member of the Hermanos Saiz Association.

Alma (“Soul”)

Alma has gone out looking for you, / she never trusted the rain or the afternoon. / There are no more excuses to flee / and her fate is to love you to the end.

Alma has gone out looking for you, / she dressed in a hurry and called me a coward, / said I was no good at this business of being alive, and, like I told you, loving you is her fate

What will come / after everything ends, after I rise in the morning / and life begins again / and your hands save me, as though in a war / and what will come / after you tell me you’ll come back, late in the night / and your lips once again kiss / the shadows of this room I discover by touch.

Alma has left and didn’t say where / we should spend our sad hours when night falls, / Alma has burnt my sunflowers / and stolen my full moon and my reasons.

Alma left one afternoon and left me / a thousand unfinished songs and much pain, / Alma remained in the mattress / of my memories.

What will come / after everything ends, after I rise in the morning / and life begins again / and your hands save me, as though in a war / and what will come / after you tell me you’ll come back, late in the night / and your lips once again kiss / the shadows of this room I discover by touch.

If we opt to cling to conventional patterns of thought to interpret this song, we will have a hard time understanding these lyrics. Here, the recurrent motif of the pain a loss causes us has been taken to an extreme, to the very dismemberment of being. Consequently, the words chosen by the artist denote the duality that dawn on someone who feels that he is both inside and outside himself.

Everything the subject of the song has lost is portrayed as something of vital importance. As such, the singer acknowledges that, after this experience, he is both alive and dead at the same time.

In this song, loss, the type of loss we hear so much about, manages to restructure itself and become reinvigorated in order to grab hold of us, in all its authenticity, once more (as unlikely as that may sound in an age like ours).

The atrocious madness of the singer remains inside him. Externally, he projects only the feebleness of a gradual and happy death. Externally, he inspires a kind of tenderness that is unacceptable to the being suffering inside him. Such a contradiction may be the fuel that sustains his painful existence.

Being abandoned by Alma doesn’t mean being abandoned by any woman or individual with a special set of characteristics. Being abandoned by Alma isn’t death in the literal and vulgar sense. Being abandoned by Alma is the cosmic experience it was Manuel Leandro’s lot to live.

This is why we could say Alma is closely linked to Leandro’s poetic soul, that it is Poetry itself that, on fleeing – and therein lies the beauty, the paradoxical nature of the experience – provides the artist with the foundation for creation. Writing songs is that duality of dying and going on living every day, of re-discovering oneself in one’s ghosts.



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