A Cuban Radio Actor and Party MC
By Dariela Aquique
HAVANA TIMES — The radio, since its first broadcasts in the 1920s to the emergence of new technologies such as satellite radio and more recently internet radio, is a medium that has managed to transcend time.
With it, the act of speaking is essential. An attractive and trained voice is the basic tool for radio broadcasters, journalists and actors alike. Jose Angel Baez, my interviewee, is one of those radio actors.
HT: When, how and why did you become a radio actor?
JA: I became a professional actor in 2000, but I already had a background with that means of communication. When I was 13, I made my first foray into this medium as an amateur. It was totally by accident. I was walking by the station and I saw a sign that said they were auditioning for a character in a children’s program. It was called La edad de oro and the program still comes on the air today. Anyway, it caught my interest so I went on in and saw the station manager. He gave me a script and then had me read a few lines. He then explained his intentions and — surprisingly — he told me: “Well, you got the job. You’re the Little Prince!” And that was my first character and my first role.
HT: Usually, public recognition is very important for actors. However the radio is a medium where one is nearly anonymous, at least compared to the theater, television and film. What do you think about this?
JA: Absolutely. All actors are a little megalomaniac, even if it’s an unconscious phenomenon, and public recognition is always stimulating. On the radio this recognition is limited, because people don’t see you physically, they don’t know who you are. Nevertheless some people know who I am and sometimes they’ll greet me in the street. They’ll say things like “I liked your character in this series” or “You were good in that soap opera,” and that makes me feel good.
HT: Do you think that’s because sometimes radio is underestimated by some folks?
JA: I don’t really think it’s an underestimated medium – I think it is feared. Even great artists say it’s the most difficult medium. But I agree that some people appear to undervalue it, however I think that’s because they themselves don’t know where and how to get into it.
HT: Your stage name is Angel Enamorado. Does this have to do with any of the heartthrob hunks you’ve played in those romantic soap operas?
JA: (Laughter) Not at all. People might think it was intentional, but “Angel” is my middle name and “Enamorado” is my second last name. I really like my mother’s maiden name, that’s why I chose it for my stage name.
HT: Radio performance is different from others. It allows you to play characters of different ages, races or physical appearances. Do you approach it as a challenge to your theatrical skills?
JA: Absolutely.The magic lies in having to playing all those roles you mentioned, but only through your voice. I’ve played roles of an old black slave, an English lord, a teenager and others. That’s magic, because radio allows the listeners to dream. They hear our voices and have to imagine our faces and our looks.
HT: Do you have any anecdotes about having been recognized by someone or a listener who imagined you to be physically different from how you really are?
JA: Not exactly, but there was one time when I went to the radio station to meet a mother and her daughter, since they were delighted with the character I played in a soap opera. But I didn’t ask them if they were disappointed or if I looked like the same character they imagined from my voice.
HT: Radio language consists of a set of rules Does that make this a difficult job?
JA: Very difficult, it’s labor intensive. It’s a job that demands knowledge of specific techniques, but this also has to come with talent. However, what sometimes happens is that people master certain techniques without being very talented and can portray the character with a certain dignity. (Of course they must have a decent voice.)
HT: Because of your background in theater and television, are you one of those people who believe that a picture can say a thousand words?
JA: That’s a tough question. I’ve worked in all media, including the theater, which is my preferred and where I am not today due to circumstances. I started in TV as a child. From the age of eight I was on the children’s program El Cohete rojo (The Red Rocket) on the former Tele Rebelde channel. I’ve also dabbled in videos, film shorts and television dramas. I think the two things go together. The image is very important, but so are spoken words – ones well spoken.
HT: Right now, you’re clearly one of the most remarkable male actors for your varied performances in series and dramas, as well as for the awards you’ve won. Why have you remained at a local station and not gone to the capital?
JA: All of us want or have all wanted at some point in our lives and our careers to head to the capital, where the possibilities for performance are always greater. But for many years now, the very difficult economic situation that we’re facing in our country makes staying in that big city very expensive. Even when you are able to come up with a place to live, the rents are through the roof.
Now we’re fortunate in that our station can’t be considered just a local station, but an international one. I can say this because all our programs go out over the internet since we have servers for just that. This gives our work more of a global reach.
HT: How well paid is this media?
JA: It’s not as well paid as other professions in Cuba. If there are any advantages to it (if you can call it an advantage), it’s that we get paid per performance, with these depending on the program, the category of program, the type of character; if we’re starring, co-starring or in secondary role, and the number of calls for recording we have. That’s why we can earn anywhere from only 100 pesos a month to 1,000 (which is the maximum). This means we make from $4 to $40 USD. In my case, the most I’ve ever made was a little over 800 pesos (about $32 USD).
HT: Tell us about your work as master of ceremonies at private parties
JA: Well, this is side line of work for me. I only do it because of the economic situation. It’s a way to survive the crisis. I started working as an entertainer or a “master of ceremonies” for weddings, birthdays and “sweet 15” parties. That latter is a sort of custom that was inherited from the bourgeois habits that existed in our country but continued to linger around…actually I think there were many people who never stopped liking them.
When the country dollarized, these pompous celebrations began to resurface – with all their grandiloquent decorations, dances, toasts. Aesthetically these celebrations have nothing to do with my sensibilities. But, I have to do it … for the money.
JA: Thank you and Havana Times for the interview.