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Juan Formell: "This love that does not die".

The taste for Los Van Van is, possibly, the only point of that ineffable thing called Cubanness that survived in equidistance once we got fully into the political polarization. It is rare, but rare indeed, to find a Cuban or someone born in Cuba, no matter how "patón" he may be, to whom Los Van Van does not stir the joyful side or, if he is far away, the nostalgic side. Or both in unison. The man who achieved, perhaps without consciously intending it, that miracle, was called Juan Formell Cortinas and he left the earthly plane a decade ago today. Nothing has been the same since then. About his legacy, his influences and what he is missed, some of the most important Cuban popular musicians speak here.

Manolito Simonet

Juan Formell meant a lot in my career. Los Van Van went to play in Camagüey and, talking to Formell there, I told him: "I'm going to Havana to work; I have a proposal to play piano with the Revé". He told me at that moment: "How are you going to play the piano with the Revé if you are a bandleader? You have to create an orchestra in Havana because Havana needs it; an orchestra like Maravillas de Florida, you have the capacity to do it". 

Formell has really made a great lack to the Cuban popular music; not only to the musicians, but also to the dancers, who always had a new offer coming out of Formell's creation. I think that today there are very few creators with Formell's level.

I remember at Disneyland, in France, we played together at a festival. Some journalists were after him to interview him, but imagine, Formell had just arrived. He told me: "these journalists have got me crazy". When Los Van Van started, the journalists came from the back and told him: "Formell, to interview you before the orchestra starts", and he said: "No, I decided something else: that you stand there at the console and listen to the orchestra, and write whatever you want. And leave me alone". 

 

Issac Delgado

I grew up with the music of the 70s. My youth was spent dancing with Los Van Van in school; I consider myself a Van Vanero at heart. And after I met him, I think I owe him, I am very grateful to him for being one of the first supporters I had as a musician, as a vocalist with an orchestra. I even had the good fortune to have him make me a song called Ashé for you when I left NG la Banda to sing it with Los Van Van on a television program; I always have it in mind so that, at a certain moment, I can do a version. 

Formell is an artificer of Cuban popular music, much has already been said about him. The concept of chronicle that he narrated in his songs is a seal, a way of doing. His absence has been very noticeable, first as a leader, a born leader to whom we all went for advice, for help of any kind.

Van Van is the flagship of Cuban popular dance music; it has the virtue of being a typical orchestra and at the same time a band of popular dance music of a new style, because he managed to keep the violins in his group and then add the trombones; I think it is a way of seeing music from that moment with a vision of the future; that is what we miss about Juan Formell. We miss his charisma, his friendship, his love, what he transmitted to us; and 10 years later it seems unbelievable that this has happened because people like him you can't allow them to leave your side. It is a reality that physically he is not here, but he is there as a mentor with his ideas, with all the beautiful things that Juanito Formell left us.

When we toured with that famous Team Cuba de la Timba, we were in Paris and he told me: "Mi chama, I'm going to give you a present". And Juanito's gift was that he sat down with his guitar and sang for me the chorus of The California sitea song that I did because he gave me the chorus, didn't he: "Welcome to the Solar de la California, the one on Crespo St. between San Lázaro and Colón". He put me in a bind as an artist, as a composer or as a performer when he gave me the task of making a song from a choir and, in addition, he gave me the satisfaction of being able to co-author a song with him, it is a song by both of us.

Candido Fabré

Oh, Mom, of course I do. Juan Formell has been a source of inspiration for many creators and particularly had an impact on me since I was an elementary school student. I was already writing my first songs, but as I listened to the music of Los Van Van and saw those infectious songs, I realized that we were in the presence of a man who came to be a driving force for Cuban music, to give a new touch to popular dance music and that impregnated me to this day. Juan Formell came to stay and to give life and strength to the creators, and I am highly grateful for his influences and his greatness.

I have several anecdotes with Juan Formell, although we did not live in the same city, we did not share the stage so many times; but there is a very curious one that marked me and I remember that at some point they did an event in Havana, at the Karl Marx, which was called "The Karl Marx". Irakere in Good Companywhere the main musicians were to represent their groups accompanied by Irakere. I was to sing The yarey hatBut maestro Pachi [Naranjo] didn't present the arrangement, which means that I didn't have a song to sing. In the repertoire that Irakere was playing there was an anthological theme, -I'm not going to say now which theme-, and I was going to insert myself in that one. When I tried to do what I had to do, I remember that maestro Oscar Valdés, God rest his soul, wrote me a quatrain and I respectfully told him: "Look, excuse me, I'm not used to having people write me anything, I improvise; anyway, if it doesn't suit me, you tell me and I'll learn this one, which I'm grateful you wrote". Then when I was improvising in the montuno, Tony Calá interfered, he was a fighting cock, he interfered and maybe told me two or three things, and I, who have always been a warrior of the stage, answered him, and things were getting a little hot. That was during the rehearsal, and that's when that immense man called Juan Formell stood up to ask, please, that he had come and that he was giving himself the luxury of listening to Cándido Fabré with that unique style of improvisation, and he wanted to listen to me because during the night he was not going to be able to do so. I remember that this prompted Chucho to stand up and say: "José Luis - I remember José Luis saying to El Tosco, may God rest his soul - tell your singer that when Cándido is singing, don't bother him". That is something that marked me so much because, for a man like Juan Formell to get up from his seat and stop to say that he wanted to listen to Cándido Fabré with his unparalleled style..., filled me with much joy and gave me more confidence as well. 

Juan Formell came to stay in my heart because he always knew how to recognize what I did, he always knew how to stimulate me. One day when Los Van Van came to Manzanillo, I had a cold, a terrible cold and I remember I told Mayito: "Don't call me, I have a fever, I can't sing or anything". But Mayito called me and I could not, I did a little bit to "get out of the way" and I explained that I had a cold, that I was not well, and Formell told me: "No matter how you are, you are Cándido Fabré". That was Formell, immense.

Alexander Abreu

For Juan Fomell, the reaction of the dancer was very important. He was walking ahead from generation to generation. That is why his orchestra has so many years and remains today in the first places of public preference and, above all, of many young people who keep them alive. And that is one of the things that I have tried to do throughout the 17 years that I have been with my orchestra: to look for the way to evolve and to look for the way not to be left behind, because just as one gets old, music gets old, generations pass and new creators come. But for Juan this was always very important, and that is one of the greatest things I have learned and one of the strongest influences I have from him.

Ten years without Juanito are ten years without his work, without his mastery; ten years where we would have to go to the archives to keep them alive. They are ten years of a very great loss for our music. Ten years without a driving force, without someone who cares about the welfare and health of Cuban music and Cuban musicians. Juan was our flag, he was the man who was always arguing and defending us; these are ten years without him and I, personally, miss him very much, I miss him very, very much.

When I gave him the disk Passport to make the notes, it was something very important to him. Juan spent his life telling people that Havana D'Primera and Alexander Abreu were the ones of the moment, the ones who were coming right now to support this music. When he heard it, he called me and told me that the album was great and that he liked all the songs. His favorite was The jealousbecause it was a different rhythm, it was very similar to the things he had done in his life. He really liked the chorus "Turn, turn this page". He was very excited about that track, but he told me that you forgot who i am had a very long chorus, that for him that song was not going to work at all. Imagine you, when you finish the album, and the older guy tells you that this song has a very long chorus. Time went by and the song worked, it is one of Havana D'Primera's classics, it created a style. It was hard for me to let it go, but well, I had to trust myself at that moment. Time went by and, when he saw me again, he told me: "You beat me, the song worked".

 Maykel Blanco

Juan Formell has been one of the musicians who has most influenced my career, not only me but also many musicians of my generation and others, with a tremendous clarity and ability to know what the dancer wanted. As a composer he had a spectacular creativity; creator of a genre that has made Cuba and the rest of the world dance so much. His very peculiar way of drawing the bass in popular dance music was what made me admire him since I was a child. So much so that when I founded my own group I decided to defend songo, of course, from my perspective, but songo nonetheless.

His absence is felt from the contribution he gave to all his creation and being the driving force that he meant for his orchestra as well as for others. For many he was also a shoulder to lean on with his wise advice; in addition, he was a messenger and mediator to defend criteria and needs that sometimes did not depend on the musicians but on the institutions that represent us, and when he was in the middle, because of a very well earned respect, they were more taken into account.

With maestro Juan I have a few anecdotes, I think the most significant was the first time I extended my hand to him; I felt I was shaking hands with a God of music.

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