“I’m concerned about what the majority of people are consuming now in terms of culture.”
By Helson Hernandez
HAVANA TIMES — Cesar Diario Rodriguez has strong convictions about his responsibility as an artist to make decent music, and with his talent, he’s on the road to a having a very successful career.
HT: Why are you so interested in the cello?
Cesar Dario Rodriguez: I like everything to do with the cello, its emphatic and nostalgic character, its womanlike wooden frame, its human tessitura. The cello sings in frequencies that never go over the top, and its presence, in any form, covers ranges that are needed not just in classical music but in popular music too. When I found out that the cello had a “soul” when I was a child, I didn’t know that they were talking about the bass bar it has inside. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve also become more convinced that the cello’s “soul” is much more than this, and it sings in tune with my own.
HT: How old are you now and what year are you in of your studies?
CDR: I’m 20 years old, although I began studying the cello at beginner’s level when I was eight and I’ve never stopped my studies. I lived outside Cuba for seven years, where I went to national conservatories and academies in Peru, Bolivia and Brazil, each of them had a very different curriculum to the ones we have here. Once I returned to Cuba, in order to pick up my studies in art schools here, I had to demonstrate my skill and technique which I’d learned abroad and started studying again from the beginning of intermediate, irrelevant of my age. That happened when I was 18. That’s why I’ve only recently finished my 2nd year at the Amadeo Roldan Conservatory, along with other students a little younger than I. This necessary four year “gap” has had its advantages too though, you mature a lot intellectually and I’m able to take better advantage of what we’re taught at school, and if this is the best path for me to become a musician, then I’ll follow it happily.
HT: What career path would you like to take in the future?
CDR: I want to play the cello and to make music, not “easy” music, but music with rigor and content, which allows me to communicate something, in order to bring art to the people. I also see myself teaching in a school or as part of a music project. It’s a way of saying thank you, of serving the people, and of giving back a little bit of what I received when I was studying. However, I’m more certain of what I don’t want. I’m not becoming a musician so as to get onto the commercial route, nor do I want to compete with others, the only thing I want to do is to make music.
HT: How do you divide your life between music and the daily life of a young man your age?
CDR: Music get’s the lion’s share really. It even sneaks its way into my everyday life. For example, If I’m sleeping, a solution on how to finger a difficult piece can wake me up. There are very few days in my house where music isn’t the topic of our after-dinner conversation… Of course, I still make time for my girlfriend, for my family, friends, for going out and having fun and for my dog who always comes to listen to me play when I’m hunched over my cello.
HT: What are the main challenges you want to overcome in the career you have chosen?
CDR: The greatest challenge for me is to overcome the conventions and mediocrity that dominate society today as well as in the cultural world. People create what they want according to what they’ve experienced since the moment they’ve been born, especially in the media. I’m concerned about what the majority of us are consuming in terms of culture, and the release of what is labeled “Cuban music”, sometimes naively and other times simply irresponsibly. The challenge doesn’t lie in mastering or maintaining this instrument, nor does it lie in a shortage of teachers, but in assuming our responsibility for creating a useful and better art which feeds the collective spirit.
HT: Did you have any influences growing up that made you choose music?
CDR: There are a lot of musicians and poets in my family, but nobody dedicates themselves exclusively to music. I have a grandmother who was a teacher, who sings and composes; an I.T. engineer aunt who sings in pitch perfectly, a fun family who organize drama performances and there’s never a party without artists present. When I was a baby, I don’t think I ever heard one out of tune lullaby. More recently, I’ve been very lucky that my mother had a relationship with a trovador who I admire a lot, and who has passed on a lot of valuable knowledge on to me so as to be able to understand and approach music. I’m talking about Pedro Luis Ferrer. Watching him work, orchestrate, make arrangements, give workshops on every new song, record… it’s like some kind of intensive labor-union course which has also helped shape me as a musician.
HT: What music genres do you most identify with bearing in mind your own personality?
CDR: I identify with any music that is musically intelligent and creative. If there are words, they have to be original and beautiful. I love classical music, but I also love traditional and new trova music, Latin American songs, Peruvian waltzes, Argentinian and Uruguayan tangos and milongas, chacareras, habaneras, Cuban son, cha-cha-cha, rock and jazz which are well-made. Any genre can work, the most important thing is the song itself and how it defends itself. The same song can convince me or not, depending on how it’s presented to me, while others are just unpresentable.
HT: What does a young man like yourself think about music as a career in a country like Cuba nowadays?
CDR: Cuban musicians are very well prepared technically speaking, on the whole. The level they demand from us at conservatories here is very high. Maybe we lack guidance about the meaning of the music we make. I have friends who, even though they are very talented musicians, play in bands whose song arrangements are quite basic and only imitate the worse commercial music that’s trending nowadays. In that case, I think it’s a great waste, but I understand that this lends itself to the very real need to work in order to earn some money.
That’s why I think that music careers in Cuba would greatly benefit from good pay and better working conditions, as we don’t even have specialized music shops or repair shops where we can get a hold of instruments, pieces and accessories. Luckily though, this is a beautiful profession and you do it every day literally to make “art for art’s sake”.