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The Jam eyes with quavers like pupils behind a road that leads to a star. The background is outer space. Illustration: Mayo Bous / Magazine AM: PM.

Music and me: infinite love

I should have been a musician. As a child, I often heard my elders talk about me becoming a musician. It so happens that I come from a family where people dedicated to the art of sounds abound, from pianists, singers, percussionists, to professors at the old Municipal Conservatory of Havana, which later became the renowned Amadeo Roldan. 

The house where I have lived since I was born, is in the neighborhood of San Leopoldo, a very rumbera area of Centro Habana and where there is a proliferation of toques de santo. During my childhood, every Sunday they used to unload around the piano, located in the living room of the house. One of the first memories that comes to my mind when I was a child, comes from the sound of some of the record players that my parents had, including one that could be placed up to twelve plates, which were changed without the need to intervene in it. 

In such a way that, when I was not yet five feet off the ground, I took possession of one of those record players, a tiny one in the shape of a suitcase but that recorded an impeccable sound, as I evoke it with the passage of time. That is why it was not strange that among the gifts I used to receive on my birthday there was never lacking LP, EP or singles of very varied music in terms of genres and styles, but where, of course, Cuban music prevailed, in accordance with the taste of my parents. 

Because of my family environment, even if indirectly, since I was a child I also listened to classical music, especially CMBF, my father's favorite radio station. From very early on, in my ears rang the works of Mozart, Bach or Beethoven, but also Stravinski, Wagner and the rare sounds generated by names like Krzysztof Penderecki, Tadeusz Baird, Grażyna Bacewicz, Witold Lutosławski.... 

Thanks to my parents, when I was only eight years old, I began to attend the avant-garde music concerts that took place at the Amadeo Roldán Theater, with Leo Brouwer, Juan Blanco, Manuel Duchesne-Cuzán, Sergio Fernández Barroso, Roberto Valera, Calixto Álvarez, Héctor Angulo, José Loyola.... Those outings to the facility on Calzada and D, in Vedado, ended with a visit to the Monseigneur restaurant, located on the corner of O and 21, where the piano was played by the great Bola de Nieve, a friend or acquaintance -I could not say exactly what that detail was. from daddy and mommy...

A defining moment for my later relationship with music came when I started studying at the "Abel Santamaría" Special School for the Blind. Among the subjects we were taught there was one called Music Therapy. It was in that class where I was first introduced to an instrument: the guitar, under the guidance of teacher Deborah Cabrera. With her and another teacher named Juanita Cebrián I learned to recognize and differentiate the value of a semibreve, a half note, a quarter note, an eighth note, in the context of a measure. From there, it didn't take long to start taking classes from that great Frank Emilio, who taught me the language of musicography, that is, to take the writing of the staff to the Braille system used by blind people.

However, the "Abel Santamaría" Special School would mark my relationship with music in another particular way. Every Friday afternoon in the school's auditorium, important soloists and groups would perform. On one of those days it was the turn of the rock group Los Signos, a band that played covers of songs by people like Chicago. Their performance that day blew my mind and marked me for the rest of my life. Since that distant 1972, I have never been able to get rid of my love for rock. 

This was influenced by the arrival at the school of professor José Ramón Abascal, an outstanding guitarist who at the time played in the "guerrillas" dedicated to the world of cover. I used to stay in his classroom for hours, either listening to music or practicing with the acoustic or electric guitar. On one of those occasions, Polito (a former singer of Los Magnéticos in the 80's) showed up with a copy of the album "Los Magnéticos" and a copy of the album "Los Magnéticos". Deep Purple in rock. I think we repeated more than ten times the LP on the record player in the classroom.

My fanaticism for the second great sound language of the twentieth century was also influenced by a friend who studied at school, Juan José Becerra, a gifted guitarist with an extraordinary facility for English, a language of which he became a teacher. Under his influence and that of the radicalism that one experiences at certain ages, I dedicated myself for several years only to listening to rock, although because of my guitar studies at the Escuela de Superación Musical Ignacio Cervantes and because of what I heard at home, I maintained a close relationship with academic music.

The striking thing is that the transit through the listening of rock hard, art rock and jazz rock opened my horizons and at a moment that I can't define, I rediscovered Cuban music, especially that of the Nueva Trova. Perhaps it was decisive to participate as an instrumentalist in groups of the booming movement of amateur artists that existed in Cuba in the 70s.

When I finished ninth grade in 1978, I was offered the chance to study music in Prague, in a conservatory attended by blind people from the countries of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CAME). I was eligible for that scholarship and many people thought for sure that I would go to the then Czech capital. Those who thought so did not count on the natural rebelliousness of a teenager. 

It bothered me that people thought that because I was blind I was called to be a musician. The conception that people who do not see are always bearers of a remarkable sense of musicality is one of the great absurdities that are repeated without the least sense. I, who studied surrounded by blind men and women for ten years of my life, can assure you that a good number of them had a totally square ear for music. So I told those who tried to convince me of the trip to Prague and the "bright future" I would have if I studied there, that I was not going to do that at all, and I opted to go to pre-university and then to study journalism.

But as "he who does not want broth is given three cups", when I graduated from the University of Havana in 1986, given my condition of "poor little blind man", no press media wanted to give me a job, so I went to the José Martí Publishing House to start a project of Braille editions. However, my real interest was journalism and, in June 1988, luck knocked on my door. 

Through my partner Alexis Triana I had met Angel Tomas, then head of the cultural pages of Juventud Rebelde. I don't remember how it happened, but at one point I proposed him an article to talk about young troubadours at that time unknown in the country. The text was called The mole generation and it had a great impact at the time. Ángel Tomás (now deceased), to whom I owe much of what I know as a journalist, asked me if I dared to write a column on music for the newspaper. It would be a trial period, to see if it would work or not. If it didn't interest the readers, that's as far as the classes would go. I loved the idea and so it was born, in June 1988, Los que soñamos por la oreja, which remained in circulation for 29 years and 9 months, until March 2018, when our daily censorship rang my bell to signal the end of "recess time".

I confess that I was not that bothered by the act of censorship, since I am of the opinion that in any society -be it capitalist, socialist or whatever- he who pays, rules. To this must be added that, in the Cuban case, after January 1, 1959, it has never been clearly defined what journalism is for and what its function is in a project such as the one we are trying to build. What pained me about that abrupt end to my relationship with Juventud Rebelde was the little or no attention that both the cultural institutions and the musicians themselves experienced before the disappearance of the column, despite the fact that they constantly complained about the absence of music criticism in the public media in Cuba. From then on, my relationship with music, as a journalist, changed.

I must say that in my approaches to popular music, whether as a journalist or as a scholar, I act as a scholar-fan. This term has been used for some years now to refer, in general, to the first British and European sociologists, musicologists and historians of the 80s of the last century, interested in approaching the serious (read academic) study of popular music, genres and styles that had impacted them as teenagers. 

From this it will be understood that I approach the "scientific" exegesis of the musical phenomenon as a personal, subjective matter, that is to say, because of the tremendous importance that the work of numerous rockers, singer-songwriters, jazzmen... had in my youth, rather than by the traditional criteria used in the academy. I admit that, with such a procedure, there is a risk that not always the sacrosanct objectivity for which science pronounces itself, guide our observations, but it is a danger that I run at will.

I like to approach the universe of music from a sociological and philosophical perspective. This has to do with my own training as a journalist. Although I have some knowledge of music, I am not a musicologist, so when I approach the subject, I never do so from a purely technical analysis, which is valid and necessary. However, cultural dynamics, including musical phenomena, are much more complex and encompassing. 

Humberto Eco (for me one of the most important cultural theorists of the last decades) wrote that, in order to understand contemporary society, it is necessary to study what happens in an apparently unimportant place such as the discotheque. In line with this line of thought, when researching and analyzing various topics in the field of music, it is necessary to also study the cultural expressions that make up the correlate of a given musical event. 

In such a case, it is necessary to formulate studies from a sociocultural perspective, in which different knowledge of contemporary science is mixed. Such inter/trans/multidisciplinary approaches are very rare in Cuba, where there is a proliferation of good exegeses in the field of musicology, but generally lacking the integrative perspective. 

Today, as an old boy in my long relationship with music, I am not sure I will end my days as a journalist, as I am more and more attracted by the desire to return to the instrument and thus earn a living from playing to playing, even though this is the worst time for it, given the lack of work for musicians. 

In any case, what I can assure you is that between music and me there is a love that I do not hesitate to call infinite.24

Joaquín Borges-Triana More posts

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  1. Valia Valdés Rivero says:

    I loved it

  2. AlePendiente says:

    What a defective memory mine is. I remember those of us who dreamed by ear as an idea associated with Radio Havana City or El Caimán Barbudo. I still remember and appreciate your writings, I was part of the audience of that generation of moles.

  3. Rafael Eugenio Leyva says:

    Thank you for introducing us to a fundamental thread of the weaving you have been doing for those of us who continue to dream by the ear. Dont't give Up

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