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Ángel Quintero: "I prefer respect more than fame".

On Monday October 30 last year was the first (and last) time I shared with troubadour Angelito Quintero and his wife, journalist and writer Estrella Diaz at their home, very close to the Calzada de Vento, in Havana. The reason was to inquire about the relationship of Angel Quintero (father) with several Cuban troubadours, mainly with Manuel Corona, during the forties of the last century. That did not prevent me from being updated on his latest projects after operations and treatments. In fact, when I arrived I found him in his small digital recording island. There," Estrella told me, "Ángel could spend more than ten hours every day studying and working on the demo of an album he was about to present to Ojalá Studios. And despite the reactions left on his fingertips by certain anti-cancer treatments, he continued to play the guitar, just as he did that morning I was with him.

Here I reproduce a part of that conversation, which was not intended to be a formal interview. I regret not having published it much earlier, as it should have been. The only guilty party will continue to be time.

Yo

-Angelito, since when do you not compose?

-I've never stopped doing it, although I haven't really been very prolific for three years. Now I'm on this project. Come and see it...

We enter the small room in the house that serves as his studio. On the wall hangs an electric guitar and some pictures of Cuban painters. This space is another world.

-In the pandemic, as you couldn't get out, I set up for this. It's a small digital recording island with a bank of timbres. When the base is there, I can record the guitars and at the end I put the voice. That's how I do things like the operetta The little princewhich I started in 1997.

-Is it already finished?

-Yes, but I am shaping it up. It's very difficult to do these musical works, I don't want the same thing to happen to me as with Where love grows [1983]. It was quite successful and was awarded a lot of prizes, but for me it lacked musical things.

Photo: Ivan Soca

II

Back in the living room, Angelito shows me the photo of the four greats of traditional trova, an initiative of his father. We also review the book The song in Cuba in five voices published by Ediciones Ojalá where a profile is dedicated to his old man.

"Between 1915 or 1920 a circus passed through Sagua la Grande and my grandfather Tomás Quintero was hired to lead a small picket that accompanied [musically] that circus. Among the people was Sindo Garay, not as a musician but as a trapeze artist, although he was already singing songs. During the tour he fell in love with a trapeze artist to whom he dedicated the bolero Japanese. According to what I was told, my grandfather heard that bolero and at the end of the tour he made an arrangement with the instruments they had: euphonium, trumpet, clarinet", he says.

-In other words, the musician was your grandfather, not your father....

-My father also studied the clarinet. But his life was defined by journalism and casuistic journalism, particularly linked to social struggles. When the cyclone of '26 my grandmother came to Havana to work as a maid to support her three children. My father was the eldest and they sent him to the Mabay de Oriente power plant, in the middle of the sovietwhere the workers had taken power. There, Dad worked as a barber and his first customer was Carlos Puebla, who did not yet play the guitar, but he did write poems.

"That sensitivity led him to always be very close to the trova. For many years he fought to create a state of awareness about the importance of the troubadours, that is why he did so much work so that they would receive a state pension, and he succeeded. Unfortunately Manuel Corona was only able to collect it for two months, as he was already suffering from tuberculosis. It was my father who was able to reunite Rosendo Ruiz, Manuel Corona, Sindo Garay and Alberto Villalón, in that well-known photo of the four greats of the trova. [The snapshot was taken at the Bacardi Society in Havana in the late 1940s]. Dad helped Corona financially with five or ten pesos".

-What happened to your dad after '59?

-My father received an honorary degree from the Manuel Márquez Sterling Professional School of Journalism. He was a journalist under capitalism and after 1959 he worked for the newspaper RevolutionThen he went to the ICRT and ended up working in a tobacco shop, first as a cigarette twister and then as a reader. They eliminated him, they didn't even give him a retirement. He died at almost 99 years old.

-Why didn't you go into journalism like him?

-I asked for journalism as my first choice, but I always wanted to study music. In fact, I took the exam at [the conservatory] Caturla. My mother was very orthodox: "You have to graduate," she said. Dagoberto Pedraja and I graduated from Saúl Delgado High School for the National School of Art Instructors. Dagoberto for literature and I for music. He did graduate, but I went to work for Radio Progreso in music statistics and I was also in charge of the musical production of Estudio 1.Laughs).

"Then came the Varadero '81 Festival and Armando Hart [Minister of Culture from 1976 to 1997] decided to professionalize a group of troubadours, among them Donato Poveda, Santiago Feliú, Xiomara Laugart, Anabel López, Alberto Tosca, the Moncada and Mayohuacán groups and myself. But when I arrived at the Agrupación Nacional de Conciertos there was no salary fund and thanks to that I still have a job. Jorge García Porrúa told me: "don't worry, there is an open competition for the Symphony Orchestra" and that's how I got in. They examined me and I passed with 86 points. After I was professionalized, I continued my studies at the Escuela de Superación Profesional de Música Ignacio Cervantes and here I am after forty years.

Roberto Chile

III

In the early 70's at the Teatro Guiñol, Angelito and his friend Alfredo Carol (1956-1979) performed a concert. Later on, some Nueva Trova groups such as Moncada and Manguaré performed their songs. The song: "soy lo que fui / y lo que fui es lo que seré mañana también / porque yo soy, solamente una ventana" became popular thanks to the boys of Mayohuacán where Kiki Corona sang. Angelito continued writing and the following were born The giraldilla, The Cathedral, Bolero and nostalgia and many more.

"For me, what I've always loved is composition. This [he points to the computer and instruments] is the greatest thing: recording in real time is the ultimate. I'm a happy guy sitting here, doing what I do. As my head keeps generating music, I want to dedicate this last stage to the musical. In Cuba there was an attempt to rescue musical theater in the '80s and the situation that allowed that was frustrated, they bombed it, they disappeared. Before that and before I turn seventy I have to make my official retirement with a concert and say goodbye to the stage".

-And then?

-Keep composing! What I really love is this. Now I'm putting my work in order, I'm recording it in demo format.

-Can I take a picture of you?

-Yes, come on. Look, with this I want to open the author's album, I want it to be Silvio and me:

Song without pedigree / daughter of the soul / that had neither cradle nor crucible / but paths from there to here / Song absent of glamour / without much glitter to think / when imperiously light and shadow / lives its essence the intensity / Song without pedigree / the one that nobody listened to but that said yes / when everything was no. 

-I notice that you are not like other troubadours?

-Being a troubadour is an attitude towards life. It is not the same thing to be a singer-songwriter as a troubadour....

-What is the difference?

-The troubadour is the guy who goes around with his guitar, playing to the world and to what happens in a very bohemian way. The history of trova has always been like that. The troubadour works by sticking to the people.

Angelito distances himself from stereotypes: he doesn't stay up all night, he doesn't move in herds, he's always been a loose electron," says Estrella Díaz.

It's true," Angelito returns, "the trova moves in herds and that pigeonholes it, fucks it up... I prefer respect more than fame. Writing songs is a very serious commitment, you have to study a lot", he ends.

Photo: Ivan Soca

IV

Six months after this conversation Angelito Quintero passed away. On April 19, 2024, "a sincere man" as Silvio Rodríguez wrote in his blog Segunda Cita, passed away.

The troubadour Heidi Igualada was another of his friends. She first got to know him referentially through the song Where love growsperformed impeccably by Mayra de la Vega and Ovidio González. Then, personally, during Heidi's first steps in the world of the troubadours, specifically in the peña of the boys of 13 and 8, those who would later become Habana Abierta.

"I remember he approached me and told me very nice things about my songs. Then he became much closer, thanks to my friendship with Martica Campos, because they had always been close friends. And then came the time in Guatemala and together we climbed the Cuchumatanes mountain range to sing to the Cuban doctors who were on a mission in those lands. Since then our songs became sisters.

"Angel was a troubadour sui generis. His work -while swimming in the waters of the aesthetics and essence of all Cuban trova- had very peculiar codes, especially in terms of rhythm, harmonic progressions and song structure. He was a born chronicler of his time and his context, without neglecting lyricism. He also rightly wielded humor in his songs, as he did in The Piratesto name a few. Today I think he should have been (and still should be) given more attention for all the contribution he bequeathed to the Cuban song.

"Personally I say the same as Silvio a few days ago: Angel was a sincere man and I would add that he was also consistent at all risks with his ideals and his dreams," Heidi tells me.

At Ojalá Studios they are working on Angelito Quintero's latest recording project, the same one he told me about months ago. The musical production is in charge of Ana Lourdes Martínez with the participation of Silvio, Beatriz Márquez, Frank Fernández, Kiki Corona, Anabel López, Heidi Igualada, Kiki Corona, Frank Delgado, Juan Carlos Pérez and Alejandro Valdés. So far the name of the project is Song of light.

 

Angelito Quintero and the author. Photo taken by Estrella Díaz on October 30, 2023.

Jaime Masso Jaime Maso Torres Neither a journalist, nor a radio show host, nor as serious as in this photo. More posts

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