HAVANA TIMES — When I first saw him on Obispo Street, in Old Havana, I assumed he was one of many street musicians trying to make a living with their art. He seemed interesting with his melodies of the Far East, something atypical of the street performers I usually see in this city.
A few days ago, I stopped to take some pictures and enjoy his performance. He was playing two instruments at the same time (actually three instruments if you include the tender smile with which he envelops those who watch and listen to him). I wondered if he studied any instrument or if he used to be a dancer, but unfortunately the answer was no in both cases.
Listening to him talk, I discovered that this man who wandered the oldest part of our city with his music wasn’t Cuban, but Swiss. His parents named him Patrick Stefan Röösli, but years ago he adopted the name Ananda Krishna.
Ananda: I taught children in an elementary school for about ten years, then I studied natural medicine for four years, but I finally left Switzerland and went to live in a community in Portugal, where we had gardens, solar energy and many alternative things. For a while I traveled with a teacher from India.
HT: Do you practice a Hindu philosophy?
Ananda: No, my philosophy is simply to remember that we’re part of the Earth and that we must respect nature. The way we’re treating the planet in modern life provokes strong reactions since the Earth seeks to restore its balance.
HT: How did you come to this understanding, did you always have this awareness?
HT: How did this guru come into your life?
Ananda: I had this idea of learning something and it worked fine for a while, but later it didn’t. That was because he wouldn’t let me play the music that comes out of me, which is my natural music. So he didn’t like me anymore because I wanted to express my music.
He explains that the “hang,” one of the instruments he plays, was created in 2000 and is a modification of the steel drum that’s played in the Caribbean.
Ananda: In the Caribbean it’s played from the inside, with sticks. I learned how to play the tabla from India, and I also play the piano. My fingers adapted well.
The other instruments he plays are the Didgeridoo, from Australia, and the Shruti-box, from India. Learning to play the Didgeridoo took him about a year, but to master it took about six.
HT: When did you start playing in the street?
Ananda: In 2006, but last winter I started traveling to different countries with my music and playing it in the streets.
Ananda: With the money I make on the street with my music. Last summer I made a lot in Lisbon. I can generally make a lot in Europe. Then I travel and I make money as I go along. That allows me to go from one country to another and to continue playing. I try to economize on my expenses. That’s how I’ve been able to travel to about ten or so countries with the instruments. Before I had my instruments I visited about forty countries: Nepal, India, China, Thailand, Indonesia…
I also want to tell all of you a little about the world; I want to explain how it is outside of Cuba, and tell you about the illusions people here have…
As we talked, Ananda was taking pictures of other street artists who have become his friends. He constantly had to wave at one person or another. He promised gold body paint to one boy who works as a living statue on Obispo Street…
I come from the modern world, so I know how it feels to have everything. It gives you pleasure, comfort …but it makes you lazy too. I often speak about discipline, especially spiritual discipline. If you don’t practice a form of meditation that connects you with something higher, something that allows you to discover that we’re not just bodies, then you lose that other dimension and forget what you are.
We’re not only bodies, we’re reincarnated souls; I believe in reincarnation. The body gives us the ability to express something. The catch is that people believe that material things can give them pleasure, happiness, but that pleasure and happiness are ephemeral.
People look to offset their lack of spirituality with material things. There are very few people in the world who don’t travel that road of trying to have everything: a house, a car… but later they understand.
There are very few who don’t need to go that route but instead go directly to spirituality. There are such people in Tibet, in a few tribes living outside of civilization. But most people need that experience of possessing a lot of stuff. In that sense, most people here (in Cuba) want more and more and more.
I come from the other side. I think people who are less materialistic are going to come to Cuba because there’s a lot of culture here, and that’s more important than material things. People who create art feed their spirits and their souls. It doesn’t matter that things are simple.
Others prefer to go where there’s comfort. In January, when the laws become freer, a bunch of people are going to want to get out of here. That’s normal, I can understand it, but one day they’re going to realize that material things aren’t everything.
HT: Do you think we Cubans only want material things? Don’t you think that, above all, we’re looking for freedom? You can do all these things because you can travel, you can move freely. You also have the possibility to compare, Cubans can’t.
Ananda: Sure, sure. But I don’t want to get involved in politics, understand? There are laws in the world, laws of humanity. It would be nice if every country in the world respected them.
I’m very happy to be here. The music and the culture here are fantastic. There are so many people with a sense of heart. In Europe, most people rush around not looking at anything, they just pass on by. Here, they stop to listen to my music. They show me respect, recognition. It’s nice when you feel that people notice your work. Plus I get to learn a lot of Cuban rhythms.
HT: Until the end of February, people walking down Obispo Street will have a great chance to see and listen to Ananda Krishna singing and playing his instruments. But there could also be other surprises for lovers of chamber music and dance shows.
Ananda: Zenaida Romeu told me she wanted to make a recording with this instrument and her all-female classical group Camerata Romeu, or at least part of the Camerata. I’m also going to work with the Compania Retazos group. But I have to be on the street, because life, children, impulses, all of that is in the street.