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Articles Ove Brun. Illustration: Iran Hernández. Ove Brun. Illustration: Iran Hernández.

The smile of Ove Brun, a Norwegian cowboy in Havana

Steinar Seland is a man of few words. One of those who shun the lights and speak just enough, as if his voice would wear out if he used it too much. Dagoberto Pedraja, guitarist of Los Kents, says that this is because he is Norwegian, a native of Oslo, where people prefer isolation. Steinar is also a guitarist, leads the band Vieja Escuela and plays in shorts, open shirt and flip-flops, in front of a floor fan that gives away even more his condition of foreigner. Occasionally he smiles, but not too much, and rarely parts his lips, except to smoke a cigarette or indicate something to the band. But this Sunday evening at the House of Friendship, with a crestfallen audience and a guitar among white flowers, Steinar Seland will talk like never before, and a forty-something woman will swear that for the first time she saw a Viking cry.

-Brothers and sisters, we have suffered a great loss..." the musician announces in his Nordic accent. Our brother, Ove Brun, is gone. Neither Oslo, the Norwegian capital where he was born, nor Havana, the Cuban capital he made his own, will be the same without him....

They won't be, Steinar thinks, just as perhaps neither will be these Sunday night parties where his smile with his glasses, his flattened hippie looks and his rock, country and blues chords will be forever missing. Now that he thinks about it, he could have cancelled this April concert, locked himself at home to miss him and even stopped the band forever, but he knows that Ove would have said no, "long live rock 'n' roll and beer", and come what may, the show must go on. That's why he mourns it, yes, and celebrates it, because more important than the death of Ove Brun -multi-instrumentalist, singer, poet and madman-, was to have met him by chance, to play in a band with him and to be able to call him, before, during and after his cancer: brother.

They both played since they were kids and lived in Oslo for years, but their meeting point was in Santiago de Cuba in '98. Ove was seventeen years older than him, had been a bartender and props boy, and came to the Caribbean for music. and in search of tropical adventures. When she met him, he already played bass, guitar, banjo, mandolin and even the Cuban tres, and was fascinated by beer, rum, parties, people... "That was the difference between us," says Steinar: "He liked people. And me, well... -he smiles in Norwegian-, I don't like people very much".

People, from what can be read in the farewell messages, also liked Ove. With Miguel de Oca, lyricist and composer, and Javier Rodríguez, director of Extraño Corazón, he cultivated an interest in music, alcohol and jokes. He was never conceited or overbearing, they say, and once confessed to Migue that if he liked anything about him, it was that he listened to what others were doing and not just to himself. To Cristina Martin, a rocker in her fifties whom he didn't know very well, he gave her 17 Bruce Springsteen records one day at the Café Cantante. When she asked him how she could thank him, he told her: "Just enjoy them", and so that she wouldn't doubt his intention, he pointed to his wife, a Cuban, and said: "I know what it's like to be a fan like you". In the end, he accepted a couple of beers because, if there is something Norwegians like, it is that dark liquid with a bitter taste. 

Just ask his compatriot Steinar, or Alejandro García, another fellow traveler, who remembers how after a concert with Extraño Corazón in Ciego de Ávila, Ove showed up with two jabas of rum and beers, and warned them: "I don't know about you, but I'm going to get drunk...". 

"He was the closest thing to a hippie Viking I've ever seen," recalls Dagoberto Pedraja, "a guy with a hard-on, a f***er, a baseball fan, who would tell you: "Industriales is missing this, this, this...", and would leave you with your mouth open. In music he mastered the techniques and tunings, and in the studio and on the street he was just another Cuban, but blond and with his shirt open so as not to sweat so much. If I could have walked around in the buff, believe me I would have done it. One day it was freezing cold in Havana and he showed up in a T-shirt: 'This climate is ideal'".

Despite having two homelands, Ove Brun was never formally a Cuban resident. He entered the country on a family visa and alternated his stay between Oslo and Havana. His income as a bartender and utilityman allowed him to buy instruments and take care of his family. Once, while walking an old woman in a wheelchair along 13th and Paseo, he ran into Ramón Navarro, an old friend from the rock scene, and told him: "That's my mother". He himself, one day when he was upset, was patted on the shoulder and looked him in the eye: "Hey, go back to being you, I don't know you," he smiled. Rock and roll is medicine.

Rock and roll, Steinar repeats, which Ove really lived. He was 14 years old when Dylan started playing electric; 17 or 18, when Hendrix was ripping on his guitar. He listened and played country, blues, folk, and saw Led Zeppelin, The Who and other gods in concert. He even listened to punk, but didn't like heavy metal, and occasionally joked that he would make a heavy metal band. 

When Vieja Escuela started, back in 2013, his and Steinar's taste would influence the group's "unusual" repertoire, which tried to move away from the usual covers and distinguish itself from other bands in the backyard. Not even the marrow cancer he was found with in 2015 completely swayed Ove away from the Friendship House. He traveled to Norway for treatment and continued to alternate capitals, while his friends were surprised that he didn't pick up a fight with the hopeless. "Many would have broken down at that diagnosis, but he managed that living in the moment thing, which sounds a bit cliché, but yes, he managed to manage his time and devote what he had left to fulfill himself," Steinar assures.

In his last months in Cuba, before traveling to his native Oslo, he sometimes felt tired after the audio test and would lay his body on a sofa, a bench or a step. After the Vieja Escuela concerts, he would sit down to drink beer and chat with whoever approached him. 

-Ove was hard, hard, hard..." Steinar recalls in his parting words, and in the House of Friendship, a couple embraces and several geeks nod and drink. With tremendous flow, as they say now. But also sweet, and very generous.

"He was always in the details," he continues, and behind his back, someone cries. His idea was, 'I can't fix the world, but I know what so-and-so needs to make his job easier.' There are many of us who have enjoyed Ove's generosity.

"He wasn't religious, so I don't know if he would have approved of the theory I'm going to share with you now. No matter, Ove and I disagreed on a lot of things... I had Ove as a big brother, and I know I'm not the only one... Now... what I want to say to all of you who loved him, is that in the midst of this sadness, the gaping hole he left and the hole in the chest... he's here. He is in us. Remembering him, what he taught us, his hide and mutt, and everything else. Ove the Viking lives in us. The King is gone, but he's not forgotten".

And so it is, Steinar Seland says to himself, even though he can't hold back the tears in the courtyard of his club and his brother is not standing next to him with his open shirt and his glasses, his guitar and his sandals. Every time he smokes a cigarette, drinks beer and plays rock and roll, the memory of Ove will come back to Steinar. But not that of a sad and defeated Ove, because that's not how he wanted to be seen, but of a cowboy Norwegian who rides from bar to bar, who sells a couple of overpriced cigars like a skilled Cuban, who jokes about anything and when someone asks him why he doesn't leave Cuba, he says, with that smile of his and his Scandinavian accent: "I'd rather be half a rock star in Havana than a sick old man in Oslo". 

Junior Hernández Castro Junior Hernández Castro Freak and journalist. Reader and sleepyhead. Loves the sound of the keys, but finds it hard to write on demand. More posts

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