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Dayramir Gonzalez at all costs

"A concert based only on the piano demands more attention and energy" -he commented to me as he left Café Berlin, as if he felt liberated from a burden, while he was waiting for the rest of the musicians. "Playing with a trio or a quartet, everything is divided between piano, bass, drums; the improvisations, the timbre, the attention of the audience or the management of emotions, become more bearable, and you can even relax at times. This way everything is more difficult".

A young Guantanamero couple interrupts us to show their gratitude for the concert. Dayramir receives them with the same deference he has shown me. Instantly, the four of us end up chatting on the curb -an ancestral habit among Cubans- while the noise of the Gran Vía resounds in the background, attenuated by a more orderly murmur of the tourist mass that usually crosses the Plaza de Santo Domingo every day.

Photos: Hal Masonberg

Demetrio Muñiz has opted for a low profile as a spectator, inside and outside the hall. I have only been able to distinguish him at the exit of the concert, apart from the small groups that have formed around the door. He also seems to be waiting for the rest of the musicians and other friends. Everything smells like a post-concert get-together. David Álvarez and Siscu Cruces are still to come out, the latter accompanied all the time by some local characters from the music industry. Jorge Glen and Alana Sinkey I do not manage to see them on this side of the gate before leaving. Only a while later, I would learn that the meeting was going to take place at the home of Cuban visual artist Carlos Garaicoa, also based in Madrid.


It had been about four years since the pianist had performed in this city. It is not so long for the expectation that was perceived in the hall from the beginning. But there has been a pandemic in between that reinforces the desire to show again, with more ambition, in a city that no Cuban artist of international scope can afford to do without; a very familiar one, that welcomes us with more affection than many Latin American cities.

Perhaps that is why anxiety was felt before pressing the first key, in the audience and on stage. Shortly after the welcome applause, after the greeting, Dayramir spoke of the similarities between Havana, New York and Madrid for Cuban musicians. Once again the "Cuba theme" and the distance. But this time I felt different, something confusing, difficult to explain. Between artistic protocols and conventions everything seemed more of the same, until the sound of the Guantanamera.

At this point, I confess that I can not avoid the feeling of wear and tear produced by the overuse, national and global, of a handful of our most popular compositions. But I find myself in Madrid, alone, in an underground club, small and dark, among a strange audience, pushed to that experience of feeling distant from the place where you will return in four days and close to those who are yours, that you have always had far away and will leave soon.

"I am a sincere man, from where the palm grows...", there are melodic lines that have more power than any idea. It doesn't matter if you've heard the speech all your life, neither does the melody, here or there. Nothing has more power than music to plant Cuba anywhere and play to get it out of that insular ostracism that historically condemns us. Especially when it is the same music as always, sung and told in such different ways that make it new and always exultant.

Thus he managed to walk, contrary to my initial skepticism, a Guantanamera very sentimental, with the respect that a good composer usually has for other people's compositions, handling the tempos and emotions with skill. While I was being a victim of my own shortening and distances, something made me return to the hall, because even without any guest artist having entered, the presence of the great protagonist of the evening began to be noticed, little by little: Dayramir's left hand.

Photos: Hal Masonberg

Little was enough to convince me that this was something else, the subsequent applause showed that the feeling was shared. The essence of that hand, even though it was only an initial hint, announced another way of narrating that would be constant throughout the concert. There is a deeper Cuba in that left hand, of a symphonic, concertist, more colorful criollismo, which feels privileged in this time of so much musical legacy and therefore usually forces its right hand counterpart to quote it, as poets quote the verses of others they envy. Let's say that the spectator knows nothing about the artist. Let's say that this prelude has been an appropriate letter of introduction that will be unfolded in repeated but well-chosen occasions throughout the concert.

To stay on the same wavelength, after this introduction, nothing was better than Lecuona. Nor is it difficult to realize that, beyond reinterpretations and virtuosity, Madrid must be seduced with the best possible cards. "If you look at me, if you kiss me, damsel...". It is very pleasing to remember, just from this city, the height of the Cuban romanza and zarzuela by the hand of one of its greatest composers. There is no virtuosity without embellishment and grace. That is why there is no facism in the "trap". It is an exercise in good taste, in its selection and, after that, in its very personal interpretation.

Alana Sinkey is an excellent singer, known especially in the Iberian area for her participation in the groups Cosmosoul and Patax. As soon as Dayramir concludes his performance of How it was, Alana captivates with her entrance on stage. And just by intoning the first notes, one realizes that her vocal organ was designed for the universe of soul, R&B and jazz. Her Portuguese accent from Guinea Bissau further enhances the performance of Vete de mí. She is Dayramir's first guest and her voice -naturally angry- achieves the intimacy that this part of the presentation requires. It was one of the extras I appreciated the most.

Photos: Hal Masonberg

But the high point would come with Capullito de alelí and Jorge Glen, a Venezuelan cuatrista who seems to have been born in Central Havana or Matanzas, judging by the rumba that he alone managed to put together with his small instrument. Beyond certain limits, as Dafnis Prieto recently said in his networks: rumba is not only a matter of clave and rhythm, but of attitude. Jorge manages, at times, to simulate with his cuatro the whole percussive base of a son with rumba, or vice versa -today they are almost the same thing. Cáscara, clave, marcha. There are only two hands, but there are plenty of fingers and, between melodies and touches on the cajón of the cuatro, he would achieve a challenge of question and answer with Dayramir, which becomes the moment of greatest complicity with the audience. Pure jam with only two instruments.

David Alvarez did not have time to rehearse with Dayramir. The singer is living in Spain but he comes from far away, Galicia has welcomed him and he seems to feel already in a familiar environment. Although the risk is great, because it is a question of walking along the sharp precipice of LonginaBoth knew how to solve, with the minimum options they had at hand, what the lack of time did not allow them to achieve. And for everything to go as smoothly as possible, nothing better than to bring, immediately afterwards, a guaracha, the best specialty of Juego de manos, guitar in hand.

There is no language barrier in Madrid, so the effectiveness of the guaracha is something you can't do without. Dayramir knows this, both from school and from what he experienced in his early youth. Roque Martínez, Cuban saxophonist, is another of the guests who joined the theme, combining virtuosity and caution in the precise doses so that the "descarga" never swallowed the composition, while also quoting Cuban classics with relevance and fluency, as Dayramir himself usually does. Alana and Jorge also joined in. And between one note and another, I kept thinking about how much our "choteo" has changed or remains unchanged since the times of Jorge Mañach. "That if Chopán is spelled Chopín, then Chappottín is said Chappottán", a montuno that summarizes, in an apparent nonsense, the dual face of resignation and survival of yesterday's and today's Cubans.

Photos: Hal Masonberg

Barely unnoticed, the interpretations went on longer than expected, judging by the signals Dayramir was receiving behind the scenes. Situations in 12/8from his album The grand concourse (Machat Records, 2018) was the selection for the closing, a song that he confesses to have composed when he was barely sixteen years old and that, judging by his performance on that Madrid afternoon, summarizes the "trance" of that very fertile tension that exists between music, nation, space and universality of art.

On my way back to my temporary destination in those days, I had no more questions or answers than before. But I left with the strangeness of receiving the usual ones in a different language and tone, like someone who has to play for the first time a character that is tremendously familiar.

Avatar photo Rafael Valdivia Wandering vinyl collector in the skein of Cuban discography. Engineer ever. The great soneros of yesteryear are never missing from his playlist. More posts

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