Photo: Larisa López
Photo: Larisa López

The Inside era

14 minutos / Lianet Hernández

07.10.2020 / Reportages

A year ago I listened to Cambio and immediately asked about the other songs on Inside. If that was X Alfonso's new album after a decade, then I didn't need one single, I needed them all. Speaking with the arrogant euphoria of a historical fan and with the double rush of a young mother trying to master domestic boredom, seek a respite from intellectual work, and film alongside the cultural mainstream, I told a friend: “This is a scam ”. My friend worked on the album launch campaign and she also knew me well, so she looked at me the way you look at someone who doesn't understand anything. Someone who is not in tune, but still passes himself off as incorrigible.

A year ago I didn't understand what Inside was. I found out some time later, when the album's conception process showed me that it had nothing like a conventional phonogram. That is why we had to wait a month between one topic and another, that is why we saw the city full of graffiti, or the occasional mural, that is why X Alfonso had moved to social networks and a powerful communication campaign accompanied him in that new collective and multimedia adventure. Precisely, the artistic transversality of what we thought at the beginning as an album and now, it was its best profit. We confirm it now, a year away and almost on the verge of closing a magnificent cycle next December with its volume II. The first also had nine songs and the latter we still have six to discover.

Inside. Vol. I. Diseño: Nelson Ponce

Inside. Vol. I. Design: Nelson Ponce

Un símbolo ha guiado todo ese recorrido: la mariposa creada por Nelson Ponce como imagen oficial y que varía con la salida de cada nuevo tema. Según explica X Alfonso, está basada en el famoso efecto mariposa: “un ínfimo acontecimiento puede alterar a largo plazo una secuencia de sucesos de inmensa magnitud. Además, se asocia también con la teoría del caos, pues pequeñas variaciones en las condiciones iniciales de un proceso pueden implicar grandes diferencias en su comportamiento futuro e imposibilitar una predicción a largo plazo”. De acuerdo con esa filosofía, el equipo detrás de Inside asumió una total libertad de creación e improvisación a lo largo del proyecto y eso, entre otras cosas, lo ha mantenido interesante y activo, incluso durante una pandemia.

Photo: Larisa López

Photo: Larisa López


Thus, at this point the butterfly is already overflowing its purposes, some have even tattooed it, and continues to travel the world. We were moved, for example, by the one used by a Cuban doctor in Spain after making this music be heard even in hospital rooms, an event that we would have to share a thousand times on the networks as an emblem of love, hope and resistance. When I sent him some questions to put together this text, X himself summed up the whole project as a “wonderful journey on the wings of this butterfly”.

I didn't get to tell him that at first I had to misunderstand everything myself. I was embarrassed, and I didn't think it was worth it at this point. Inside took care to justify himself more than anything, at least for me. The basis of everything, X confirmed to me, lies in the experience acquired in the Cuban Art Factory (F.A.C.) and in the trust in teamwork: “listening to each other, learning from each other and reaching a common result together. Music is the engine for ideas, both when designing, and when considering the promotion strategy of each song, so I think the great challenge is to reinvent itself every month with the release of a song accompanied by audiovisuals, designs, various ways of promoting, strategies ... We knew from the beginning that it would be a risky project, but that still motivates us much more ”.

Work in progress

I have no memory of something similar to Inside in Cuban music. The difference was to assume it from the beginning as a living organism, the result of the efforts of many professionals and protected by the attentive and demanding gaze of each one of them. That, and the strong presence in the virtual world have set a post Inside era. In a society where if you don't move they will crush you, where events and cultural consumption occur as fast as we can move our finger on a screen, the author of the unforgettable Heart, Santa, Civilización, Habana, Cambiará and many others to Throughout his 30-year career he understood that the time to listen to a musical theme is probably a hundred times shorter than it was in the analog age. Starting from his particular link with the industry, he understood that the album is no longer the most recommended for many authors, but that the path becomes more bearable through singles. Inside can never be seen as a fortuitous event, everything that is experimental and transgressive has its basis in the detailed study of the context where it intended to launch. It is the resurgence of an "X Alfonso 2.0" that has not stopped doing what it always did; compose, make his own video clips (and everything he can think of), but this time he decided to break the inertia of the years with something that surely very few expected and that at 12 months is already a natural, diverse and necessary.

Sandra Lopes knows the Inside process better than anyone. She is X's manager and accompanies her in life, so she fully understands the transformation that it entailed for her and, according to her account, the biggest challenge was controlling her own nature as an artist. “He has always been the one man show in his record productions, he has always done everything practically alone, and it has been a challenge (a beautiful challenge) to get him to let himself be carried away and guide in everything that the project has entailed. New promotional strategies, social networks, open up a little more to the world, because there is great shyness and humility associated with the earthly person that is X. One of the biggest challenges was to keep the campaign active and attractive, to conquer and reconquer the public. I think that the most important lesson for those of us who made it possible was to always think in an open and elastic way, adapting each month to the new situations that arose and to the expectations of both myself and those of a hyperactive artist like X. It is a constant work in progress ”.

Part of Inside's strength also lies in the alliance with Bonus Track, a creative agency that was in charge of thinking, from communication and musical production, how that new music was going to look like that would return to the stage all the powerful machine of making art called X Alfonso. Yoana Grass is a producer, leader of this team, and confirms Sandra's idea: “We assumed it from the beginning as a flexible and dynamic work in progress, with the ability to adapt to new challenges and contexts. That may have been our best tool to face the new reality that the pandemic brought, having the disposition to react spontaneously. In addition, we had the facility to make monthly cuts, even when we had general objectives outlined, in a timely manner, we planned and coordinated mini campaigns for each launch; therefore, that has given us the possibility to rethink something that has not worked before, to propose a new action in tune with the theme that the song addresses, etc. ”.

Although the videos of Reflection and I feel that, for example, were presented with the usual magic that X Alfonso is born in each audiovisual, the way he has to point to where it moves the most, where almost nobody would look and make a visual poetry and musical; the video for Tell me what to do appeared with a new charm. A challenge became trending in the networks and the same strangers as celebrities, adults, children and even the members of Inside themselves sent their interpretations of what is - I think - the most joyous theme of the first volume. Before that there was a Q&A at Fábrica de Arte, which was transmitted by streaming, and it was undoubtedly one of the best moments, full of public. These actions and the powerful website where the X Files are included - a review of the three decades of creations passed by the first-born of the Alfonso - make up the new digital machinery of the new X in the Inside era.

Pandemic project

In the initial plans a great concert was agreed in December 2020. There perhaps X would use his old hobbies and obsessions with the set design, visual effects and, surely, the event would make those who have been enrolled in the adventure lose sleep for weeks or months. But in the initial plans, obviously, the scourge of a pandemic was never counted. The first encounters with the public promoted by Inside were free of nasobucos, physical distancing and antibacterial gel. It is logical then that the idyll of the great concert is postponed as long as COVID-19 decides. Meanwhile, the road continues. "Give up anything," remarks X.

The team has had to mutate into new decisions during these more than six months, yes, but the pause was never handled as a possibility. “Adopt teleworking, brainstorming on WhatsApp for the first time, etc. With regard to the campaign, we lost the spaces that were destined for physical actions (exchanges in art schools, murals in public spaces, encounters with the press) ”, says Yoana. And she adds that "it has been a challenge to hold the attention of the public and the media for such a long time, hence the need to be in constant search of creative paths."

During the question and answer session at F.A.C. Photo: Larisa López

During the question and answer session at F.A.C. Photo: Larisa López

Sandra comments that this has been a new awakening, because although the F.A.C. occupied the times and dedication of X in recent years, consolidating her maturity as an institution, the artist decided it was time to return to the load. He felt that “the musical world, its messages and the new generations were about to enter a frantic spiral, quite far removed from current social realities. That is why their messages range from the rescue of the ancestors, to the human essence and its values. All this accompanied by new sounds and technology in tune with the times. In the Cuban context, once again, X sets a standard, raises the bar and makes no one in the sector feel comfortable, but rather begins to rejuvenate and update. There is a before and after of Inside in this context ”, he highlights.

X Alfonso's music, we already know, is a mixture of many things, and he himself has always underlined it. If we go to the records we find first jazz and fusion, then electronic and hip hop, then African drums with a symphony orchestra, then rumba with funky and so on ... At this point I imagine very few genres that have resisted it. That's why Inside sounds anthological to me in sounds from all that past / present. I feel that it could have been perfectly heard in Reverse, or Tell me what to do, it could have been included in Revoluxion and Something is not right in Civilization. The Inside era is not marked by the music of each volume, but by the transgression of the closed concept of the album itself, that beyond where the project and its adventure in general are included. Because music doesn't have a fixed time or moment — this I must have heard from X himself at some point. When contemplating the songs of Inside you do an exercise in involuntary introspection, the music leads you to that and at the same time you find hope and fear, passion and frustration, comfort and unease, suffering and love, you finally find the world as we know it. I don't know about genres, I know little or nothing about arrangements and accompaniments, but I know a little about what is good and bad. And since what is good and bad is defined only by the filter of individual sensitivity, I assure you that Inside's songs are an oasis of beauty. To the Cuban music that the experts rate it, and that they save it, if it needs it. To X's, let's take it to the limit. The first time I heard It's Only Time to Give Love I wanted to hug my daughter, write to my husband. Those songs save us.

I asked X himself what had inspired him while writing Inside, although in reality the song titles and lyrics return the answer itself and present it in some obvious way. But X rounded it off with "everything that surrounds me." Although later he was detailing it a little more: “The bad, with which I do not agree. What is consumed as ‘art’ in Cuba. The dissatisfaction with what the media and society want to impose, the lack of values, the lack of vision about the future and the apathy of a parallel universe about the reality that we live ”.

¿Habrá final para Inside?

More than a project, more than an album, even more than a temporary mark, agreed upon by a novel type of artistic creation, Inside is an ideology. At least it showed X Alfonso that “it is possible to make dreams come true” and that is enough to also assume it as a lifestyle. "It has been a total learning for everyone and I think that sometime we will have to study and go back to Inside," says Sandra. Meanwhile, Yoana points out that it will be necessary to take into account its updating nature, "of impact on the Cuban music industry, and also in view of the importance of communication in any artistic project." According to her, a greater future impact in Latin America would be well deserved, where we know there is a lot of potential public for the music of X Alfonso. Or maybe a collaboration with a musician from the region. Thinking that these and other goals will be met, I go back to Sandra Lopes and ask her if there will be an end to this project. She answers me without further ado: "I want to believe that no ...".

Inside will not end, because the music does not end, just as art does not end, nor life, nor love, nor feeling. Everything transforms and goes on.

Lianet Hernández

Madre de Emma y periodista, en ese orden. Necesita un día de 48 horas. Tiene una gaveta mental de proyectos que espera realizar. Le habría encantado ser artista, su frustración es no saber pintar .

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