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Interviews Abel Omar Pérez. Photo: María Lucía Expósito. Abel Omar Pérez. Photo: María Lucía Expósito.

A Thousand and One Nights (scented) with Abel Omar Pérez

When Monday nights became hot again, a friend invited me to spend the night at a stranger's house on 26th and 19th. Cotorro-Habana, Havana-Vedado. Polo&Pan melting between the potholes and the yellow speed of the gazelle.

She, two musicians, me. The shadow first peeked through the balcony on high. She opened the gate and revealed her body, which fit loosely into her pajamas. Long braids clutched her chin. She opened her mouth. Hands in the same rhythm.

-What is your blood type, and yours, and yours, and yours, and yours.

Us: not a word.

-Well, how much money do you have upstairs, you, and you, and you, and you, and you.

Everyone said something.

-People know better about money than their own blood.

We entered. The room had a very ordinary atmosphere that the end of a staircase turned into a blue world, which inaugurated Marti's painting. Above the dark image of the Apostle, it read, barely scratched in pencil or crayon, "My samurai".

The soundproofed room began with green tones and then returned to blue, in a sort of dismantled studio. A Caetano Veloso cassette, bass, guitar, a piano in the shadows inside, all sorts of ghostly elements. The view rises a little above the white phone, up to a poster of a child and the phrase "Perfume de Mujer". In front of me, I have Abel Omar Perez, multi-instrumentalist and composer. But I won't know that until I leave this cave a few hours later, where I've just taken off my shoes to walk the carpets.

Photo: Maria Lucia Exposito.

Photo: Maria Lucia Exposito.

After that Monday, I looked everywhere for signs:

Moog headan Argentine blog about progressive rock, defines Perfume de Mujer as "one of those bands from which you don't know what to expect, whether it's a group with a sound close to pop-progressive or an indecipherable combo that becomes more amorphous, and whose sonic experiments have no common reference point, and they don't mind getting close to electronic jazz to, a second later, become a kind of cosmic operetta".

Abel Omar Pérez (Havana, 1968) is part, as a musician and composer, of the generation of artists of the late twentieth century in Cuba. A hermit guru. He says to take your hands out of anywhere and put them in a piano, his ten fingers. Known, above all, as founder and leader of the band Perfume de Mujer.

Let's go back to the first hot Monday. That night, well into the early hours of the morning, Abel Omar was wrapped in the suit that a friend had worn in the psychiatric ward, given to him as an emblem of the misunderstandings of the planet of the "sane".

Percussionists Isaíac Morales and Brayan Eloy (musicians from the Legal Mood project) sounded. They were the bodies that I accompanied that night, along with Cuban tattoo artist Amanda Santana. Abel chanted improvised lines and marked the rhythm with one hand against the mattress. Conversation and live music revolved around the recognition and the gaze of the new generations. The symbols in their children, contemporary with us, on the path of experimentation.

The references found place Perfume de Mujer as a Cuban band that fuses progressive rock, jazz and improvisation to give a singular sonority and has three recordings, all under the Mexican label Luna Negra.

A 2019 article by Cuban researcher Carlos Fornés, in this magazine, explains that during the 80s, 90s and 2000s, many Cuban albums close to rock were presented in cassette and CD format, some of them published by official labels, but most of them self-produced independently. In a motley list offered by the author that illustrates the diversity of national rock and the interest of several labels, some of them foreign, at that time, two albums by Perfume de Mujer appear: Farm chickens and The monologue of the snail.

As the 1990s progressed, a new generation joined the scene; rock and trova found an increasingly frequent fusion point in which "a profusion of styles (progressive rock, jazz rock, pop rock, grunge, acoustic rock) was cultivated" as a resource to differentiate themselves sonically in the national context, explains journalist and researcher Humberto Manduley in his Bad Grass. A history of rock in Cuba. In his second book, Patch. Rock Encyclopedia in CubaThe expert dedicates a wide voice to the trajectory of Perfume de Mujer, whom in an interview he had already considered among the most radical, extreme and transgressive that the genre has given locally.

Smoke, fire, water, earth, air

Many photos remained from the first meeting. Remarkable, more than the lights, the discovery. Around that time, my friend left a message on the chat room. Abel Omar Perez wanted to have all my photos.

I have been writing to you ever since (preferably in the wee hours of the morning). The speech is scheduled to be destroyed in seven days.

ML- These messages are renewed every week.

AOP-It is technology in function of a present continuous. The other is past imperfect.

ML- How did we forget that generations like this one (yours) have a permanent planet in the lyric? When (quantified time scheme) did we start to be too logical, square, terse, an advanced way of being blind?

AOP - When the circus began, the circological took over everything. In Tönces was the Nothingness, the ill-loved... right there started the scheme you are looking for. In reality, zoociety needed to invent "the civil", to hoist it... the civilized/civilized fell from Trazz. Hoisting the civil waved the civic action (the race from Trazz to Länte) in Tönces to let rise in Elföndo the wanted (the competition) the absence of power, the achieved by the common hoisted civilized homo common symbol of prosperity (the circus).

ML- Tell me everything, from the first branch.

Abel Omar Pérez in the 1990s. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Abel Omar Pérez in the 1990s. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

In 91 I was in Playa Giron, they had sent me there. I was working in the scenery department at the ICRT, I had graduated before from the School of Design, and I was in charge of setting the scenery at the Institute. At that time a soap opera was being filmed in the Zapata Swamp, When water returns to land. I think I was a bit punished when they sent me there: there was a joke about "sending you to be eaten by crocodiles". I was very happy. I found a space of solitude to make music. There I composed a lot, between 91 and 93. More than 300 songs.

(Abel Omar is the author of the original music for the documentary film Monteros by Alejandro Ramírez, about the hunters of crocodiles and other wild animals in the Ciénaga de Zapata, considered a poetic and sensitive approach to these men and women).

I took an old organ I had and, at times, I also studied the saxophone. When I came back I began to record the songs and during that period Perfume de Mujer appeared. I have kept the origin of the name a secret, it comes from a very intimate place and a very particular experience.

Perfume de Mujer seemed to me to be an apt title for what I wanted: to go to the opposite zone, to where I was making music.

They were songs of a few minutes with texts that were, alone, taking possession of the work. There was no theme, I let them come out. I selected songs with a compact sense between them. I began to simplify and look for harmonies that were more between the usual and the understandable.

I strengthened a side that I had not exercised: communicating with people. It was a little difficult for me and I got bored a lot. The songs helped me to break that part of my personality.

Perfume appeared, I began to visualize it, I produced the first songs, I recorded them with the little I had, cassette recorders. It was very difficult, it is still very difficult, to have access to recording studios. In fact, I have never recorded in Cuba, although I was lucky enough to be able to do it abroad. A Mexican talent scout came to Cuba, got to know my music and Perfume took speed with this foreign record label. I wanted to know a lot of things. I had peeked at the National Laboratory of Electroacoustic Music, I saw the possibility, I recorded a song on the computers and that's how I was working.

Previously I had Sebastián El Toro, a more pretentious and surly project with the public. Around that time Landi Bernal, whom I had known since the 80's, appeared, at a time when I was part of a rather rare and significant trio in the underground which was called Cartón Tabla. Sebastián El Toro and Cartón Tabla shunned connectivity with the public.

I was a student of design and plastic arts. I played percussion, drums, organ and acoustic guitar. With me were the bass player Lino García and a violinist, a student at the conservatory Amadeo Roldán, who later played in Perfume in the mid 90s. Landi, then, was left alone and began to add electric guitar to my songs.

Abel Omar Pérez. Photo: María Lucía Expósito.

Abel Omar Pérez. Photo: María Lucía Expósito.

***

There was a concert in the middle of the Special Period in Bellas Artes called Incienso. A concert by Landi and myself. A group of machines from the Laboratorio Nacional de Música Electroacústica (National Laboratory of Electroacoustic Music) joined the sonorities. That was the debut of Perfume.

As a result of that, I began to put a little more interest in the possibility of maintaining ourselves, a way of releasing those rhythms. That's how we came up, in a natural way, because of that release of accumulated passions. Then Igor Urquiza joined us, who came from a band called Naranja Mecánica. In the 80's there were many bands with very interesting proposals: Teatro del Sonido, Ojo por Hoja -which I liked very much-, Música de Repuesto -that later was built by Lino, Landi and Pedro Pablo Pedroso. That was music that critics call progressive.

When our de-concerts began, I divided them by elements. The stage of Incense was the era of smoke. That initial line of Perfume was integrated by Landi and me. Then came the stage of fire in January 95 with a dis-concert in the Hebrew synagogue in El Vedado, on 17th Street. We were about 10 musicians; the concert was called The Last Supperwith songs that are part of the first album of Perfume de Mujer. There I did not use lights in the scenography, but candles; it was the Special Period and candles were very necessary. I bought 168. I illuminated the whole stage.

Then came the stage waterAlso in 1995, six months later, with an unconcert we did at the Casa de las Américas. We designed a kind of aquariumWe dressed up as sea bugs and before the beginning of each song I offered the audience a recipe on how to eat, prepare and chew the sea bugs. In this way another series of presentations followed with a central concept that guided them from the dramaturgical point of view; I was always interested in the visuality of the band, it was something that distinguished us. We did not offer normal concerts.

The normal thing in Perfume... was to expect that it would not be the same, that it would surprise, even us. This constant change was not only in the image, the projection, the attitude or the themes, but in the music, a constant change of formats and musicians, who came and went.

In AquariumFor example, there was Manuel Clúa on the flute, Pedro Pablo on the violin, Igor Urquiza on the acoustic guitar and the participation of friends who were also part of the group, fellow painters and writers. We had vicissitudes. The songs were not repeated. Every concert had new songs. Many people criticized that, the break with the usual. They always approached me to tell me that I didn't take advantage of the possibility of turning the band into something more commercial, with recognizable patterns. I enjoyed taking risks, experimenting and improvising.

In this de-concert we did CocuyoThere is a poem, in the first album released by Perfume, where the first version of that song appears. It goes something like this: "in the beginning it was me and there was nothing to eat, then you came and fruits appeared, then the others came, the wine arrived and in the end I was much hungrier again". It is a mutant song.

We have experimented from all angles: fusion, jazz, traditional music, flirting with other worlds, such as electronics. The lyrics of CocuyoI live in the dark side of the moonI live waiting for the light to be put on. reveals meanings and interpretations. From the rest of the world they have written to me with different imaginaries. In Spain they have played that song, in Mexico and Argentina. It is a piece that I wanted to cover. All the Cocuyo's have different arrangements with a different format of musicians, but it is still, in essence, the same song. It has a kind of hook a little bit kitch in the same line: "the dark side of the moon", in allusion to a great piece of music by Pink Floyd. There is something related to time and youth. It is a young man speaking, and he shouts that he is renting that youth.

After the era water the formation of a quintet came and so we recorded the album. Farm chickens. A landing stage that enhances the possibility of giving the first tour. I recently found out that Perfume was the first non-professional Cuban band to tour abroad. It was already Perfume... in a more homogeneous way with what music is and its relationship with that barbaric thing they call industry.

This album, which was quite well accepted, was released by the Mexican label Luna Negra, which is the one that proposed a tour to that country. At that time I was working in Teatro Estudio and as theater musicians we were able to travel defending that album, in a series of meetings entitled Estado Mayor. From then on we traveled several times, different musicians. Leo Ángel joined us on drums, but he did not attend that trip because he went to play with Síntesis in Spain. We then took Piro (Jorge Luis Barrios de la Cruz). From that tour, at the end of 1996, Igor and I went back alone.

The year 97 came, which took me inward and that is why the album The monologue of the snail. Igor was the only one I let into that introspection. This other album was also released by Luna Negra and got good reviews, especially in Europe.

I became involved in the project in 1998. Quesofrom which an independent album was released with an extremely magical being who is no longer with us: Raul Cyrusa troubadour coming from another band, called Superávit. Then I went through a new stage, another de-concert that was called Auditoriumwith other musicians.

I forgot that during the formation of the Farm chickens -which is the era land- there was a rather closed concert that we did in the Atril Hall of the Karl Marx, which was called Symphony, Women and Money. We went on stage with transvestite bodies. We were defending something that in that context had little visibility, I am talking about the mid-96's. Dressing as women disconcerted the audience. It was rich, liberating.

Perfume de Mujer's accumulation of shows is represented in the following venues Smoke, Fire, Water, Earth and Air. These are the elements of our trajectory. All this change of eras spanned only two years, and consisted of the making of a special art in environments hostile to dreamers.

Abel Omar Pérez. Photo: María Lucía Expósito.

Abel Omar Pérez. Photo: María Lucía Expósito.

A not so spring-like moment

One Sunday, Abel Omar woke me up with a link to their social networks. The cromagnon I had left a crack open between the enclosure and the low lights, to show a little.

1 oztro symphonic/symbolic moment of the mentioned event/sonic

1 not so spring-like moment

1 chronological winter temporary

1 circológico hell in its natural heat

1 color to "oyster reality" 1 color to "oyster reality" 1 color to "oyster reality" 1 color to "oyster reality

1 pass around whatever it was in mid-January 2017 /PeRFuMe of MuJeR in Reality.

I listen to excerpts from the album The monologue of the snail. Well achieved passages cross at the same time subjectivities impossible to dissociate. The musician confesses days later:

"The monologue of the snail is a poem that tries to express a single purpose, the pleasure of understanding a musical work that interacts with the plastic and textual information. A monologue dedicated to the infinite spiral, which has a beginning that once had another and has an end that is followed by another. One can enter at any point of these three paths, which lead you to those very turns that the snail takes and that start from something real. It is the story of a precious being like the polimita, a snail that is found only in the northern part of the island and that, if you look closely, is alive and is music. The idea comes from a research I did, where I managed to merge the real history that is on paper, the history of men, a lot of Cuban graphic history and a bit of poetry.

"The album consists of three movements: 'La Cultura de la Concha', 'La Concha de Oro' and 'Baile'. The first movement is about the polimitas, and how they are integrated into aboriginal life and subsistence. I perceive this interaction as a musical form that has to do with the relationship between the nature of the snail and the nature of man. The following is a labyrinthine memory where everything is mixed and the information is not only musical, but also includes graphic parts or texts, with an established order. 'Baile' is, effectively, a real dance with improvised music. I decided to include it as the end of the album because it breaks with the parts written in an almost mathematical way and gives way to a theme with more sense of humor".

Another night of conversation. Green and white messages. Still not finished counting. There are lines that double tap the eyes.

AOP - It is a work that lashes out, from the irreverent spelling of its title, against any academic imposition, against any institutionalism, against any prison. A triphonic poem, 1 poem / problem, 1 slight detail that I make clear from the beginning in its first part: The Culture of the Shell. From there I make 1 "very particular journey" to the year 1997, date of its composition. The snail is a being from which we could learn a lot. It is not by chance that its shape coincides with the spiral that progresses exponentially towards all space/time. Our DNA is snail. Our Galaxy is snail. Micro/Macro. In the center 1 being able to build its house inside its own body, 1 being that without the need to pass schools, without "civilizing", knows perfectly when to stop, when to stop building 1 place that for its own "time", it will not use. It knows how to end. To begin with we could place ourselves in the fact that if we learned to do this with our thoughts, we would not only be saving energy and time, but also being coherent and therefore respectful with our passage through what they call "life".

ML -A different curve is breathed in the spiral....

AOP -From the "emotional" zone, it was a time when I felt lonely enough (thanks to selfishness and the classic d/+ foolishness) to face the circumstances that were cracking my skin at all times: the impossibility of the slightest dialogue... the very instant where my monologue begins to self-create. Loneliness. Incomprehension. Injustice. Irresponsibility. Battered egos. The rest of the band had emigrated. Landi to Spain. Pedro to Argentina. Piro to France... The monologue is composed, played, instrumented, arranged, interpreted, produced, sung, written, thought, suffered and enjoyed in its immense totality by me. That is why it is a monologue.

ML- Yes, a sad curve....

AOP - Although, thanks to the twists and turns of 1 snail, I included in some parts the company of the only musician who did not emigrate: Igor Urquiza... which makes "my monologue" 1 place where there is room for at least 2.

(Fragments of the January 2017 de-concert at the Centro Hispanoamericano de Cultura are posted on YouTube. Colors diluted in red and white wings. A painter narrating on the golden stroke).

AOP - That house, located at Malecón and Prado, was a place where in a certain period of time events occurred with certain characteristics related mainly to the impossibility of doing things in the official and cultural world. I do not like to know too much about these gossips and these topics. The fact is that that place was chosen to hold the first sound art event in Cuba. It was an art exhibition. Perfume opened the expo with an unconcert, with every intention, we have never done a concert. That was produced with our own efforts.

Abel Omar Pérez. Photo: María Lucía Expósito.

Abel Omar Pérez. Photo: María Lucía Expósito.

The dance (final)

"The last time Perfume was on stage was at the Casa de la Amistad where there is still the peña La Vieja Escuela. They do classic rock versions. In these times the only way for musicians to make four pesos is, unfortunately, that: to cover foreign rock. I thought it was important to participate, since we were invited. I made a cover of a piece by Joan Sebastian Bach. That's my cruel side, because this audience is from the more commercial spectrum. I chose the suite room number two for cello, very beautiful, taking advantage of the fact that a cello student of mine, a Mexican with a scholarship at ISA, was there. I played three pieces, the one that I mentioned and A lot of hearta bolero sung by Benny Moré.

"Then I did an instrumental piece of my own, on guitar and cello. It was a bit stormy for that audience. In a final act of nobility, I did a version of Cocuyo with cello, drums and electric guitar that lasted almost half an hour. It was on July 7, 2019. Then came the coronavirus... and until today."

"The fact of producing technologically with the scarcity of Cuba is part of the making of Perfume. I don't try to look like something that doesn't exist. I make with what I have and what I can in these times."

Abel is a Piscean. Muta. He submerges. Intuits. He has a tactile between his fingers. He gets used to it fast. The voice spreads in my headphones like a great improvisation. Sometimes with pianos, sometimes with an endless whisper. It rises a little higher with the variation of minutes. It flies.

"Look, I don't have enough time to finish and I can get sidetracked. Remember that I am polymathic, with my Marti's religion. Martí wrote that freedom is the ultimate religion and that a religious people is destined to die. So tell me what the interview is about.

Maria Lucia Exposito More posts

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  1. Jorge perez says:

    Greetings. How can I contact you? I am a Cuban journalist based in Puerto Rico.

  2. Rafa G. Escalona says:

    Hello, Jorge:

    You can write to us at [email protected].
    Greetings.

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