Illustration: Mayo Bous
Illustration: Mayo Bous

Backstage: Cary Diez

8 minutos / Ned Sublette

27.04.2020 / Articles

You see, reader, that I am not impartial. For more than 30 years I have worked with Cary, a resident of El Vedado, daughter of San Miguel del Padrón, pupil of Argeliers León, and current godmother of the Cuban rumba.

Together we have accomplished enough to justify my presence on earth. But I must confess that our joint achievements are only a small (although brilliant) portion of the projects of this visionary daughter of Yemayá, musicologist, music producer, ambassador of Cuban music, teacher, manager, audiovisual producer and proud mother.

She has been behind many of the most important moments in Cuban musical history in recent years. She was the founder of Artex, which means that she was a key part of the moment when Cuban record production began to be systematically marketed in the United States and other parts of the world. For the productions of my record label Qbadisc in the 1990s, his advice was decisive.

Co-founder of the Cubadisco Festival, she also co-produced (together with Rosa Marquetti, and under the leadership of the Spanish producer Francis Cabezas) the project El Son Más Largo del Mundo, the strongest musical event I have ever attended, which as part of the first edition of Cubadisco kept the best orchestras of the whole Island playing in La Tropical for 120 uninterrupted hours, in March 1997. Bear in mind that in the year we are talking about there was hardly any email or cell phones, and calculate the organizational feat that this macro event meant. Since then, there has been no edition of Cubadisco that has not counted on their participation and dedication. 

It was Cary who did the research, traveling throughout Cuba to meet the musicians from every corner for the project La Isla de la Música, initiative of Francis Cabezas, with the help of Ciro Benemelis from the Cuban Institute of Music. This, plus her previous and subsequent desire to study, makes his knowledge of Cuban music enviable; and who says the music says the life, the religion, the culture, the flavors of Cuba.

However, when I asked her one day what, in her opinion, were her greatest achievements, she immediately replied: "my work with the rumba". It is that path to which I propose to dedicate the rest of this text, beginning, of course, with the older rumba musicians, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas. Cary has worked 32 years with them, entering their Matanzas world as one more family member. She has been present in all their recordings, their tours as a group, and must have witnessed around 750 of their performances. It is not an exaggeration to say that Cary Diez is another Muñequito. 

Under his aegis, the enormous success of the Los Muñequitos de Matanzas tours in the United States served to break down the barriers against the presentation of Cuban music in that country. They defended their homeland with dignity always and always returned happily to Cuba. From there, the group reached a new performance level that it has managed to maintain despite the physical disappearance of the major oaks, which has caused the cast to reorganize several times over the years. Counting on the wisdom, experience and strategy that Cary has brought it, along with the vision of director Diosdado Ramos, the group has been able to maintain itself to a very high level for so many years and is ready for a next generation. The result is that Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, 67 years old, remains as a young group and has a bright future.

Her work with Los Muñequitos would be enough for a whole career, but Cary Diez has also participated in more than 300 phonographic and audiovisual productions. To highlight some I will say that in 2001 the Latin Grammy (a new award at that time) was awarded to La Rumba Soy Yo, an album that had a cast of stars of the rumba and timba, that left for posterity multiple modalities of rumba for all tastes. The phonogram was devised by Cary Diez, who also took over the musical production together with Joaquín Betancourt. The album is already a classic, and was followed by a hot, well thought out, and more experimental second volume, La Rumba Soy Yo. Con Sentimiento Manana (2005), whose cast included Luis Carbonell, Rumbatimba's first studio recording, and, with a view to the future, a very young Telmary.

When Cary had the idea to combine singers like Issac Delgado, Mayito Rivera, Haila María Mompié, and Paulo FG with rumberos, there were very few clubs for live rumba in Havana , and the ones that were there were quite formal compared to what is the true street rumba. The rumba was little seen on Cuban television. As the reader should know, this genre was not highly respected at the time in the circles of music promoters, something that came from time immemorial. But in the reality of the neighborhood La Marina de Matanzas, the rumba and not only guaguancó is not merely folklore but an expression of black contemporaneity, comparable to hip hop in the United States. Los Muñequitos had to succeed in that country before they could play a concert in a larger theater in Havana. It's not like that.

At Cubadisco 2008, Cary produced The Longest Rumba in the World, which crossed the country in a continuous rumba, beginning in Holguín, a marathon whose history could serve as the basis for a novel. More recently, in collaboration with this humble server, we produced El Rumbazo(2017) and El Rumbazo # 2 (2018), the biggest rumba festivals of all time since the discovery of fire. The # 2 especially had national visibility and won for the rumberos facetime on Cuban television, where generally these are not included among the "celebrities". We present 18 rumba groups, with the great Pedrito Martínez as a special guest. (Rumbazo # 3 was postponed thanks to Trump, but he already has a date for February 2021).

Cary has not done anything alone, of course, but another of her virtues is that she knows how to organize collaborative teams. She always has many good wills because the rumba is truly popular. It is incontestable that, of all the people involved in the production of music in Cuba - which are not few - it is to her that we owe many of those dedicated to Cuban rumba. In recent decades, no one has done more in the institutions and the media to gain space and prestige for this, the most Cuban of genres.

Perhaps the most spectacular achievement in this regard was the designation of the rumba as Intangible Heritage of Humanity by Unesco, a process that took years, and which began with community initiatives to declare the rumba National Heritage. It was obviously not the work of a single person, but if we had to point out one among all to whom this achievement is due, you already know who I am talking about, reader. 

It was and continues to host what until now are the only television series in the world dedicated to rumba: two seasons of En Clave de Rumba, followed by Caminos de la Rumba and a new one will be added soon, in the pre-production phase: La Rumba Soy Yo.

She has contributed a lot to an entire generation of new rumberos that has emerged throughout Cuba among them, Rumbávila (Ciego de Ávila), Ochareo (Cienfuegos), Timbalaye (Havana), and of course Rumbatimba (affiliated with Los Muñequitos). She has advised them, has helped them to play in the capital, has produced records and concerts for them and has presented them to foreign businessmen. And she has proudly seen his creative development.

Across the country, Cary Diez has cultivated relationships with an impressive number of community projects, both religious and cultural. Either working with the güineros from the Patio de Tata Güines in their De Acera a Acera project, or visiting religious dynasties in temple houses in Matanzas, or assisting a child bembé in the extraordinary Yoruba community of Central Álava in Colón, or the Cabildo Kunalumbo in Sagua la Grande, or witnessing the beautiful project of Haitian roots in Cueto, or many more, she is building a network, raising councils. And she doesn't stop. Watch out.

Ned Sublette

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    Gracias, Ned Sublette, por hacer ponernos delante a esa Cary Diez total que no todos conocen. Gracias por hacer justicia, focalizando sus grandes aportes. Gracias, por poner en orden las cosas, que si hoy la rumba es Patrimonio Inmaterial de la Humanidad, un porciento altísimo de la preparación documental y gestión de ese premio, tiene un solo nombre: CARY DIEZ. Un beso, Carita querida!!!

    Geronimo Labrada


    Un gran aplauso!!!!!! Buenísimo articulo, creo q esta era digital hay que hacer un recuento de todo lo que gesto y produjo Desde fin de los 80 recorriendo los 90 y hasta la fecha, el tardío salto al digital dejo un vacío de información que hay q revertir.
    Cariños a todos!!!!

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