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Alberto Pantaleón: music by inheritance

One day Alberto Pantaleón Lorán, a Cuban bass player with a solid career, sits down to tell you why he failed the entrance exam to the National School of Arts. He says he lacked three points. He remembers the face of the director, the moment of the bad news and the trip with his father back home, in San Antonio de Río Blanco, a small town in Jaruco, in the current province of Mayabeque. She was ten years old at the time.

At that time he was already playing up to five tumbadoras at the same time. He knew the claves, bongo and guitar thanks to his father, Alberto Pantaleón Hernández, who had designed a method to teach percussion and had in his son the closest student.

-Your first approaches to music were with percussion instruments, how did you discover that you wanted to dedicate yourself to the bass?

-I started in the Movement of Amateur Artists of the municipality of Jaruco. One day, when I finished my classes with Pepe, one of my teachers, I stayed to see how he taught a student to play the bass. I got home and asked my dad if he could teach me how to play it.

"My father did not master the instrument, but he taught me how to do bajeo with the guitar, and with that knowledge I joined the group Son Jaruqueño. They needed a bass player and I gave it a try.

"The members of the group were very old, sometimes they would fall asleep during rehearsals, but they would hit the beat as it is. We played in workplaces and cultural activities, even cabarets; me, as I was a kid, they didn't pay me."

Years later his father founded Pantaleón and his group, with a cast of men who practiced different trades but empirically mastered the rhythms of Cuban music. There Alberto had another school and trained with the participation in different events of the municipality once the group had gained a greater degree of specialization, thanks to the discipline of its members.

This is how he spent his childhood, far from the lessons of art schools and close to those of his father. Offering "concerts" outside his home. Applauded by people passing by and neighbors. Pupil in percussion and self-taught in the bass.

He owed that persistence that would always accompany him to his father, a man who trusted in music and, even without great economic retribution, dedicated to it the time and constancy it deserved; who devoted himself to study and teach it, especially to that curious son who carried the rhythms in his ear.

When he became a teenager, his father was a member of Colombo, a group that performed in hotels and tourist sites. There he was sometimes allowed to play the bongo, but his job was to carry the instruments from one place to another, before and after the performances.

The price of keeping making music was to remain with the group even without constancy in the presentations, taking from time to time the opportunity to demonstrate what he had learned since he was a child in percussion. Without dreaming, of course, of showing off his bass skills.

Eventually he had the chance to improve his skills at the Ignacio Cervantes Conservatory. "There, Silvio Bergara gave me guitar and bass lessons for the first six months," he says. "The other five and a half years I was a student of the former member of Irakere, Carlos del Puerto. I am a bass player thanks to him.

With the methodology of the academy he polished empiricism, mastered technique, studied the most professional ways of making music and at the same time maintained the style of a born creator, an eternal autodidact.

At the age of eighteen, Alberto Pantaleón had already finished his time in the music classroom. The rest of his education would come with daily practice. Then came his military service.

During this period he remained attached to music. Life as a soldier did not keep him from his desire to continue exercising his most authentic vocation. Even as part of the Naval Academy, Alberto was able to play with the prestigious Cuban trombonist Juan Pablo Torres, in what was one of his first professional experiences.

Back to civilian life, the desire to devote himself exclusively to music prevailed, but integrating himself into the artistic scene was a challenge for a twenty-year-old boy from a country town east of the capital. Nevertheless, he succeeded. The adventures in several small groups in Havana, some tours outside the country as part of them and the search for economic sustenance within music, defined Alberto Pantaleón's youth.

Making music outside the Island

-In 1993 you traveled to Mexico, did you decide then that you wanted to emigrate and settle in that country or did you have the idea of returning to Cuba?

-My departure from Cuba was not for political reasons. I belonged to a band called Los Trillizos and with them I arrived in Yucatán for a work contract. We were there for nine months, we returned to Cuba and a businessman hired us again to work, this time in the capital of Mexico.

"The gentleman, a great fan of Benny Moré, built a space for us, in downtown Mexico City, which was called Papá Jesús, and there we were performing. During all the time we were in Mexico we paid dues to Cuba for our contracts abroad, maintaining our legal migratory status with respect to the Island."

-In Mexico your connections with great international artists began. Did you keep your work in Los Trillizos?

-One day Jorge Aragón, the pianist of Pablo Milanés' most important recordings, came to see us at the place where we were performing. He told me that they were looking for a bass player for Eugenia León, a Mexican singer who was a great admirer of Cuban music. That's how I started to have job opportunities outside the group.

"At five years old I became independent from Los Trillizos but I continued working in Mexico and had the opportunity to play with artists like Yuri, whom I accompanied for six years, and later other musicians like Jaime Camil, Armando Manzanero, Emmanuel, Diego el Cigala and Chucho Valdés."

-On several occasions you were the only Cuban member of those orchestras, how did you assume that responsibility?

-When I played with maestro Manzanero I was the only Cuban, and also when I played with Jaime and Eugenia León. That represents a lot, because the world has a very high respect for Cuban musicians. They trusted me, even though I didn't play Cuban music, but pop, ballads, boleros and rock.

Over time, Alberto Pantaleón's aspiration of being able to make a living from music, of not dedicating himself to it as something occasional, was happily fulfilled and positioned him, by dint of his talent, on stages all over the world.

He describes his career without exalting the sacrifices, without boasting of not having abandoned the drums when, as a child, he could not enter the music classrooms, or when he saw others play and was content carrying instruments. Even when opportunities were elusive, remaining in that environment was always more of a pleasure than an effort.

At fifty-seven years old, Alberto continues to make music from the bass, the instrument that made him curious one day in his childhood and has defined the success of his musical career. For ten years he did it from the Afro-Cuban All Stars. He currently accompanies Eliades Ochoa during his presentations in the United States and is part of the cast of the group Cortadito Son.

Performing with such renowned figures of the international scene is not a fortuitous event, but the result of years of study and passion for music. He talks about his tours in Europe as well as his afternoons playing tumbadoras outside his home in San Antonio de Río Blanco. He lists the artists he has accompanied and, with the same, he returns to the old men of Son jaruqueño who used to fall asleep in the middle of rehearsals. The three points he lacked to enter the ENA were left on the way.

Adriana Fajardo More posts

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  1. Teresa Pérez Ontivero says:

    It is a beautiful story of love for art, his family and his country.
    His effort deserves the recognition of everyone who has fought for a goal and whether he has achieved it or not.
    A beautiful story, today turned into reality.
    Congratulations and many successes and health to accompany you always.

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