Desde dentro / Kamankola
Kamankola's record (re) appearance in 2014 had a certain impact on the public of the Cuban alternative scene. They did not stop talking about Antes que lo prohíban (2014), promoted as the first Cuban phonogram financed by micro patronage through the crowfounding platform Verkami. Kamankola, who had made his debut in 2008 with the album Musas Desechables, quickly gained a loyal audience that packed the spaces where he performed and seemed to know even the songs that the artist had not yet composed. They were also mostly teenagers, which has some merit if we take into account that the artist is usually pigeonholed into trova, a genre whose popularity among young people has declined considerably. Six years and three albums after that return, Kamankola brings us Desde dentro (2020), his cleanest album to date.
Starting from the outside, the cover of the phonogram shows Kamankola's face made up of a compilation of all the Cuban clichés that exist. Come on, it could function as a moodboard for a tourist souvenir artisan: there are a selection of iconic buildings in the capital; tobacco and rum; the almendrón and the camel; the Soyuz 38 and truck cameras; sunflowers and royal palm; the CUP and the CUC; Christ and the Charity of Copper; the plane and the hummingbird; the baseball bat and supply book; the Van Van, the Rolling Stones and La Bayamesa… Maybe it will work, I wouldn't deny it: it is a nice, attractive and well composed collage that can connect the same with the chauvinism of the Cuban as with the simplifying curiosity of the standard yuma. The image seems to tell us that Kamankola carries all the Cuba inside, . But, does anyone doubt it at this point in the game? The musician has been telling us for four albums and, in that sense, this cover fits more with the content of his previous albums. Because in this Cuban thing hardly appears and never explicitly.
Despite the fact that, probably, the national reality continues to be his creative trigger, in this production Kamankola proposes a more universal, less localist approach: you no longer have to be Cuban to understand what is being said. There will be those who see this as something negative. There will be those who think that it is an attempt by the artist to reach new markets. There will be those who speak of loss of essence. And maybe he is right. For my part, I see it as a symptom of artistic maturity. Cubans - and Latin Americans in general - find it very difficult to transcend the national. It makes sense: our daily lives, cultures and identities have traditionally been made invisible by international circuits and as a response we tend to ponder it. But universal themes also belong to us, even if they have led us to believe otherwise. Inferiority complexes are just as harmful as external minimization.
In this album we find a more leisurely, thoughtful and intimate Kamankola who tries not to remain superficial, not to repeat pictures with rebellious overtones that have even become manners, and that tend to fall easily into porn-misery of which the Colombian filmmakers Luis Ospina and Carlos Mayolo warned, back in 1978. A more humble and simple Kamankola who does not attack with a torrent of shrewd phrases pretending to talk about everything —or risk of ending up talking about nothing—, but rather tries a more thoughtful and measured dialogue about what is considered essential in these times. In fact, the speech in From Within rests practically on three central ideas: the struggle of life for life, the true as a lifeline, and love as the ultimate truth to cling to.
Si en los álbumes anteriores Kamankola era un personaje hiperquinético, protagonista activo de una realidad en la que se movía como pez en el agua y a la que se enfrentaba agresivamente, aquí adopta un rol pasivo y se transmuta en observador cauteloso. En estos tiempos tan violentos y convulsos, la calle se le ha vuelto un medio demasiado incómodo, amenazador. Hostilidad esta que queda retratada en versos como “Puedo sentir / la niebla despiadada / y a las primeras hienas / oírles respirar". Aunque quizás el cambio lo sufrió él: ¿acaso la humanidad ha conocido tiempos más tranquilos? La realidad ha acabado por desgastarlo. Sufre un hastío que lo arrastra a pedir ayuda: “Alguien que salve esta vida”; a alienarse: “Dame papel para liar / que quiero relajarme / (…) dame tijera y tiempo / que quiero desaparecerme”; o, en última instancia, a refugiarse en sí: “Afuera llueven los alcoholes más baratos / y la vida más tranquila adentro / Adentro es caro / pero a veces lo prefiero”. Después de escuchar Desde dentro uno siente que Kamankola se ha abierto en canal para exponer los miedos, las preocupaciones y los remordimientos que asedian a Jorge Lian.
If there is something difficult and important in music and in art in general, it is saving resources; transmit more with the fewest possible elements; let the play make it seem that two plus two makes five. That is one of the strengths of this phonogram both in the compositions and in the musical.
The band is limited to three instruments: guitars by Nam San Fong, drums by the giant Rodney Barreto, and bass by Miguel Valdés. This basic instrumentation scheme is enough to give the texts a robust sound body. Sure, this is only possible with solid production work. Credit to Nam San, one of our most talented and versatile guitarists, who (I think) has been unfairly relegated to secondary levels on other occasions.
It's easy to imagine that there was a strong chemistry between producer and songwriter, that this delicate creative relationship flowed smoothly during the project's gestation, that Kamankola blindly trusted Nam San's genius. As a result of this, the guitar is the main protagonist of the album - something that was already announced from the cover. With a successful use of effects —especially reverb and delay— atmospheres are generated for those more relaxed and reflective songs, while in the more energetic and direct tracks acoustic guitars appear and heavy riffs predominate. That guitar-making sea - where Kamankola's voice floats and submerges at times - reveals the marked influence of Gustavo Cerati, mainly on Soda Stereo's end plates such as Sueño Stereo (Sony International, 1995) and Comfort and music to fly (BMG Ariola Argentina SA, 1997).
Nam San's work in his role as producer is impeccable to perfectionism and is exercised with a tremendous sense of control, methodically one might say. This does not contradict that sense of fluidity that I was talking about above. Moreover, it did not cut off or overwrite the spirit of Kamankola. And that is one of the essential characteristics of a good producer: that he guides the artist, but letting him be. With all this, expectations are raised for Unique Pieces, the solo debut of the former Habana Abierta, still in the recording process, and of which we have already been able to savor a first single precisely in duet with Kamankola.
From within it is one of those albums that divides fans and makes a few listeners lose and win simultaneously: even though one could not speak of a break, the divergence from his previous work is more than evident. Kamankola has perhaps reached a turning point in her career in which, either she returns on the trails of her previous work, or she launches again to search for new topics and ways of saying. I would prefer the second way, because this time I feel that I have heard Jorge Lian speak from within. And that I understand.
Melómano coleccionista. Ingeniero automático y otros disparates. Niño empedernido. Adicto a la guanábana. Siempre Feliúz, nunca inFeliúz. A veces con los pies sobre la tierra...