Steps over a city I don't know (or why revisit Inti Santana)
When I arrived in Havana for the first time I expected to find everything I had read - and heard - about it. For me it was like the wet street after a downpour, with old houses and orange shapes in the sky. I got off the train, went to where I was going to spend the night, and changed to walk from J, in El Vedado, to the little boat in Regla. I crossed the bay, went to Cristo, drank coconut water and got off. I returned to El Vedado to wait for two hours for some friends who did not arrive, with whom I was going to visit Juan Carlos Piñol. All night we talked about music, trova, bohemia. Everything I wanted to see, that's why I came to Havana. On my second day, I practically woke up at dawn sitting next to Lennon.
That was almost two years ago, and I have never seen in Havana all that I longed for from my terrace, in one of the noisiest neighborhoods of Holguin, when any melancholic record made my afternoon. I never got to know that Havana.
Here I don't have time to sit all night on the boardwalk, to go to any concert that starts at nine o'clock. Living in the periphery prevents me from doing so. I have to take, depending on where I am, two buses. Almost always the 27 to Palatino. From Palatino I wait for the A81, which is a route that leaves every two hours, and its last trip is at nine o'clock at night. I don't think I've fallen in love with Havana because a large percentage of the time I've spent here has been on a bus. And every time I get on a bus, so as not to hear the screams or to not feel the noise, I hear Cerro-20-Miramarby Inti Santana.
Whoever sees Inti for the first time encounters a tall man, half-serious, with little mirrors. A noble guy. Every time I see him I think two things: first, I remember the day I met him, he kindly received me at his house and after talking about all the topics that a cup of coffee can hold, in a childish outburst, he blurted out a phrase like a serpentine: I don't understand why there is no yogurt, if that puncture is made by bacteria! He is a biologist, and I cannot argue against that logic.
The second thing I think is that Inti Santana is amazing.
I think the first time I heard it was on TV, but who knows. I have always had Red and green in my music. Once he went to Holguín, about four years ago. I went believing I was the only one who listened to him. That place was stiff with people, I didn't get to see him.
The fact is that I always have an Inti song at hand, from that brutal album that is Paripé World (Bis Music, 2012). A multidimensional album that can be listened to from front to back, from back to front, you can listen to just the lyrics or just the music and you will enjoy it just the same. An album that is 10 years old, and that in Cubadisco 2014 received two nominations: Best Trova Album and Best Recording. He won in Trova, and for him to be nominated in Best Recording, where all the albums nominated that year compete, along with Chucho Valdés or Ernán López Nussa, is another award.
Although Paripé World has not been written about these days, it is in one of the few places of the contemporary Cuban trova that outlines what the city is, what is left of it.
The lyrics, clean of unnecessary ornaments, offer almost vivid images, and most of them throw more questions than answers. They explore the complexity and depth of the human being in the face of love, despair, nostalgia and even brazenness. Inti also includes irony, puns, and musicality in the language. These stylistic resources endow the album with layers and more layers of resignifications that revolve around the central axis of each piece.
You have to sit and listen carefully to the melodic composition, over and over again because, as I said before, it is multidimensional. We do not only listen to a synchrony of references: Africa, trova, jazz, son, Brazil, bolero, filin; we hear a music that also tells the story. I mean, it has a life of its own, it makes its life together with the text said.
If you ask me why return to Inti, I have to think why I return to Inti, taking short steps over a city I don't know. After ten years, Paripé World continues to blur the same map over a place, a country that no longer exists or at least ceases to be outside the lyrics of Santana's songs, outside that romance that inevitably establishes the public or the listener with the landscapes that are portrayed between loving balconies, the waves of the coast, the unbearable sweat and the hubbub inside an A20 from the Cerro to Miramar. The "meanwhile" in which we despair inside this blue whale, adrift, you have to give yourself the opportunity to live the music to nuance the scenario that touches us.
Inti gives us the chance to recognize among the immensity of worlds that sustain his musical proposal, between yambúes and sambas, the soul of the troubadour who does not escape the son -a "son oscuro" where the character hides his soul, is a parade of himself, betrayed by his environment-, as it does not escape either from the songs of high poetic and critical level of "the generation of the moles" -Carlos Varela, Santiago Feliú, Gerardo Alfonso and Frank Delgado- of the 80s and 90s, which already spoke of the failure of the project of the "new man", the war in Angola, the Special Period or classism and raciality in Cuban society.
His songs move among all this amalgam of references and return to the interior of the author to show us, among the clear water of the sea that he puts in his hands, after discovering the miracle of music as deity and salvation, the reflection of the truth that he wants us to see. Then he dismantles that truth in a last song, to tell us that, indeed, everything is a parade, not a deception, but a representation of multiple sung realities. He places us next to him, in the center of his sensitive world where each window opens onto a blue garden from which we choose to escape to venture again to live, to roll again, to love again.
A record like this is not made by a bacterium. It is made by a serious, noble guy, who builds millimetrically 12 unpretentious or baroque pieces, in spite of the melodic complexity they present, in spite of the poetic weight they have. It is an album to love, to listen to in the evenings, in the buses, in the parks, in any place where beauty has been lost.