By Helson Hernandez
HAVANA TIMES, Jan. 5 — HT interviews Reinier Mariño, a recognized flamenco guitarist from Cuba who left the island several years ago to pursue a fruitful international career.
HT: The guitar, did you learn to play it academically or were you self-taught, as is generally done among artists who have cultivated the flamenco tradition.
Reinier Mariño: I learned to play the guitar academically; in fact, thanks to that I’ve been able to teach classes in conservatories, even to teachers. I am a graduate of the instrument, though I did indeed learn the flamenco guitar in the street, through a system of chords and numbers instead of musical notes. I’ve finally had to agree with the gypsies because the flamenco guitar is learned in the street, in their old but not very scholastic way. If it’s not done like that, it doesn’t sound flamenco.
HT: What memories do you have of your first contact with the flamenco genre, though you’re from an island where other more forms are more popular among Cubans?
RM: My first contact with flamenco was with the guitar of Paco de Lucia. Up until that moment flamenco sounded too…Spanish, something I wasn’t familiar with. At that time I wanted to be a concert guitarist, but when I heard Paco playing the song “Entre dos aguas” I was captivated. From there I began to explore, until I began performing with the Spanish Ballet of Cuba and later with the Lizt Alfonso Ballet Company, and then winding up creating my own group.
HT: And later, what were the circumstances that led you to begin a serious career like the one you’ve had, ultimately becoming the most mentioned name on this instrument of flamenco cultivated in Cuba?
RM: I think that meeting Lizt Alfonso was something fundamental. What happened was — though I’m not a believer in Afro-Cuban religion — a woman on the bus prophesized that I would meet a woman who would help me a great deal. I laughed at her at the time, but look… Within six months I met Lizt, but not the Lizt Alfonso who’s now triumphed, but the one who was just starting out and was not known by anyone. She’s the person who I owe so much.
After being in her company I won the National Music Award from the Asociacion Hermanos Saiz. I believe that having Maylin Cejudo as the lead singer in the group also helped a lot. She gave me a great deal of strength to get started and to leave the Lizt Company to create my own project, which was born out of nothing and without much pretense.
Recently on Canaries Radio they asked me what I thought about being the only internationally recognized Cuban flamenco guitarist living in the Canaries. The answer was this: I believe that I’ve been lucky, both in Cuba as well as in the Canaries, because there are guitarists who are as good as or better than me.
HT: The group you created had recording opportunities with the Cuban label EGREM, keeping in mind how flamenco has not had many chances to be marketed in this sense given the other musicians on the island.
RM: The truth is that this was sheer luck. I have to thank Minister of Culture Abel Prieto for many things, and one of them is for the production of the first flamenco CD in Cuba: “Alma Gitana.” I’ve even presented it in different countries where I’ve performed. That CD was created in 2003 and later more disks came out, but whenever I go to a country I like to play “Alma Gitana.” Any other group could have made a Cuban flamenco CD disk, so once again I say that luck and persevering at being persistent were what allowed these results in addition to that first recording that I love so much.
HT: What goes on inside Reinier Mariño when you play the guitar and when you get inside your music?
RM: Really a lot of things happen. I love to play; it’s perhaps what I love most in life. I would dare to say, with all sincerely, that I like playing the guitar more than making love. Though the two things have little to do with each other, to me they have a lot in common. I love the guitar and I love playing it.
This past December 20, I received an award from Spain’s Corte Ingles (corporation) for directing the best children’s choir singing Christmas songs. Here in the Canaries, in addition to being a guitar teacher, I decided to create a children’s choir, which I plan to present in the next and most important Cuban recording event on the island: “Cubadisco.” I’m telling you this because of what you asked. Someone told me on one occasion: “The choir reflects the kid you carry inside, but when you play guitar you enjoy it so much that it doesn’t matter if there is an audience or not.”
HT: When you decided to leave Cuba to pursue a more international career, many of the artists who were working with you saw the end of a project that up to that point had an interesting future. What were the major concerns that motivated you to go abroad and to leave behind so many notable projects?
RM: If you want me be to be sincere, it was ignorance. I didn’t know Spain was like it is, though I’m not complaining today, but you can’t imagine how many times I regretted what I did. Now I can say I’ve been lucky. If I had stayed in Cuba I wouldn’t have had the most remote chance of doing all the things I’ve done or and playing in all the concerts I have. This is because of the lack of contact over the Internet; plus here I am able to call on the telephone to any part of the world at any time, Then there’s the speed of things; I can buy an airline ticket and in one second they’ll say “confirmed” and I’ll be in Holland the day after tomorrow. That’s only to give you one example of “my today,” but my yesterday (laughing) it was very hard.
Regarding my musical group in Cuba, it was going very well until the last stage. For various reasons we had very little work, but at the same time we had chances to do television, radio and publicity. I admit that sometimes I think about leaving all this and turning around to live in Cuba, in that land that calls out to me more than anything in the world…
HT: And what has Mariño found with his current international popularity. Concerts, CDs, some new working group that follows you like in the old times…?
RM: “Thanks to life” — as Mercedes Soda once said, who I was able to see in her last concert before her death — I’ve found, in addition to a new CD, a public in Las Palmas and in Uruguay, which is where I have the most following. I’ve found my vocation for teaching that I didn’t know I had and that now I adore so much. I will be going on tour throughout Latin America, I will be giving classes and I’ll organize concerts with my students (who when I now see them on TV Canaria saying that I taught them everything they know, it’s something that fills me with pride).
On the other hand I found my wife, Cecilia, who is without a doubt one of the most special women I’ve ever known, and perhaps I’ve even found myself, although I sometimes get mixed up and in my mind I’m in Havana.
HT: In any case, you’ve maintained a close tie with your country, because you’ve been seen in Havana on several occasions giving concerts in which you’ve brought what you are working on abroad. In addition, in these sporadic appearances of yours you have reunited with musicians and former members of your old project.
RM: I am Cuban and I will never stop going to my country. I plan on coming as long as I can afford to, although I admit that it’s a considerable investment, but for me to return to Cuba is to find Reynier Mariño, and I don’t mean the maestro music teacher or the Cuban guitarist who’s now just another face in the Canaries. It’s also to find my mother, who I love so much, and my father and the Cuban public, which I’ve always said is without a doubt unique in the world.
HT: What opinion could share with our readers concerning the flamenco that you left years ago in Cuba and the one you’ve seen upon your return to the island, also comparing your experiences a little in other countries.
RM: The level of flamenco in Cuba is very high, surpassed only by Japan, Argentina and of course Spain. In the other countries I’ve visited they don’t have the same energy. On my last trip I was greatly impressed by the groups that have emerged and others that have been developed but which unfortunately aren’t promoted enough in Cuba.
They are verrrry good and very interesting. In provinces like Camagüey, Holguin and Pinar del Rio I found efforts that should be followed closely. I believe that if they recorded a CD they would be a hit among people who like flamenco.
In terms of the media, I think they should be more interested in this art form and its development across the whole island. Unfortunately these very valuable artists remain outside of that apparatus called the “media.”
In August of last year I was able to get all of them together and to bring people from the eastern, central and western parts of the island to give a big concert at Pavilion Cuba in Havana. It would be lovely to have another flamenco festival like the one organized years ago.