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Articles Illustration: Alejandro Cuervo. Illustration: Alejandro Cuervo.

The best concert of your life. Volume I: My friends

On January 15, 2020, my friends and I attended, without knowing it, one of the best concerts of our lives. Only one of us knew what the band that would take the stage of the Cuban Art Factory in minutes sounded like. I really knew it: I had been listening to them for months, trembling with the powerful voice of Tarriona Tank Ball and the mixture of funk and rock and hip hop that accompanies The Bangas. But neither she, nor the others, were prepared for the tsunami that would sweep us away from the first notes, to spend the night looking at each other in bewilderment, letting ourselves be carried away by the mob from Nave 4 that jumped and screamed madly with that show out of another world: New Orleans. 

Almost a year and a half has passed since we last saw live music. Since we moved emotions to a screen, to Telegram voice chat, and improvised mini-presentations on the balconies with those two who can play music on a guitar, or sing on top of a background any. 

That nostalgia, which sometimes turns into physical pain, led me to ask a group of close friends what the favorite Cuban music concert of their lives has been. They were all disciplined and did the exercise of searching their memory, comparing and decanting. The reasons are as diverse as my friends, and they are all valid and beautiful. 

I start:

Sliding Gem / House of the Americas / 2016

It was raining like never before. People entered the Che Guevara Hall dripping, and settled in any corner of the corridors, on the floor, at the end. The concert had been delayed because Julio César González, the bassist, had not been able to arrive. It was the first time I would see Gema Corredera live and I was heartbroken in those days, for a change. I remember when he came out singing beyond the music, with no other accompaniment than the breathing of the hundreds who were on this side of the stage. I remember Marta Valdés sitting in the front row and Gema getting emotional when she discovered a very young girl in the audience singing José Jacinto. I remember that at one point he said: I don't think there's anyone sad here tonight, but hey, "If loneliness makes your soul sick...". Now, I don't remember anything more than my crying until the end, overshadowed by Gema's voice. The most beautiful voice he had ever heard in his life. 

Chucho Valdés and The Afro Cuban Messengers / Amadeo Roldán Theater / 2010

It is curious how the springs of memory work. I thought it had been in 2007, but no, that was another, although the protagonist was the same. The one in my head was in 2010, in May, at that time when I was listening to jazz with the passion of a convert, and I was chasing the concerts of Chucho Valdés with the energy that you only have at 20 years old. Chucho appeared at the Amadeo Roldán Theater as part of the Chopin Year actions and to celebrate 40 years since the presentation of his Misa Negra at the Polish Jamboree Festival. At 69, Chucho kept his energy and genius intact. In the same night, he demonstrated to the attendees the contemporaneity of Chopin's style, he left us with his Misa Negra as stunned as the world was when he discovered him in 1970, and he presented his new project at the time, the Afro Cuban Messengers, with which he reinvented himself at an age when most people live off their past successes. We didn't know it then, but it would be the last big concert at the Amadeo before it closed its doors again. A decade later we have no choice but to dream of ghosts. (Rafa G. Escalona)

Harryson / The Sidewalk / 2018

Promotional flyer for Harryson's concert at La Vereda.

Promotional flyer for Harryson's concert at La Vereda.

It was in April 2018 at La Vereda, an open-air nightclub in La Lisa. I was going as press, so I saw the concert sitting on the steps of the stage. The artists asked me for permission to upload. Then I leaned against the speaker, near the audio one. Downstairs there were I don't know how many people. The lights did not let me see well, but easy there were thousands. Los Atómikos danced and Los Científikos and Los otros sang. Then Harryson came up. People almost go crazy. I was already downloading his songs, but what I was doing until then was rather study them, not enjoy them. Harry premiered album, Plan B. The people downstairs knew the premieres, I don't know how. He sang songs that I did know, the ones they call classics. At some point in the morning a couple of fights broke out and at some point in the morning I danced on a brick so that they would not see me and at some point in the morning I bristled with the music. It was my first cast concert. When I began to understand it and understand what it brings and where it comes from. It was the day I got hooked. (Jesus Jank Curbelo)

Telmary & Habana Sana / Bertolt Brecht Cultural Center / 2019

Promotional flyer for Telmary & Habana Sana at the Bertolt Brecht Cultural Center.

Promotional flyer for Telmary & Habana Sana at the Bertolt Brecht Cultural Center.

I especially remember that concert because that night I felt and knew how I would like a group of mine to sound one day: the whole band as a single instrument, including Telmary, the choristers, the guitarists, the congas, everyone. I was blown away by how compact the sound was. There wasn't an extra note, a note in the air like when a song ends and someone starts playing. It was exactly the number of notes that the songs had, and placed where they go. I have not been able to forget that experience. (Martin Moya Fernandez)

Havana Septet / Vladimir Ilich Lenin Vocational School / 1996

Havana Septet. Photo: Courtesy of the band.

Havana Septet. Photo: Courtesy of the group.

Vladimir Ilich Lenin Vocational School, December 1996, temporary shelter for delegates to the IV Anir Congress. We are on an exceptional vacation. A few of us “suicides” remain at the school as volunteers. They tell us that live music is going to be guaranteed. Objective: to persecute the orchestras of the moment. In the plaza of Unit No.1, seven mature men display their instrumentation, as exotic as it is meager. It's not what we expected. I wait for the first measure and the key, looking for a minimum of empathy. The seven sound. I cannot avoid the strangeness. The general timbre is serious; guttural voices. Leather, wood and metal are round and heavy, they blend together. The air is thick. I take my time. There is something in this that belongs to me. I just discovered Septeto Habanero. (Rafael Valdivia)

X Alfonso / Tomas Terry Theater / 2010

X Alfonso at the Tomás Terry Theater. Photo: Modesto Gutiérrez Cabo/ AIN

X Alfonso at the Tomás Terry Theater. Photo: Modesto Gutiérrez Cabo/ AIN

If there is something in the world that can, every time, provoke me and restart me, it is music. The relationship I establish with her is purely emotional, not far from the link with other centers of pleasure, such as sex or food. I recognize that there have been very few live concerts that have managed to leave that mark; only a few survive loop dedicated to “the best concerts of life”. the of X Alfonso, in February 2010 at the Tomás Terry Theater in Cienfuegos is, without a doubt, in my top spot and, to be honest, I can hardly remember what musicians accompanied it or what song it opened with. I remember, yes, the euphoria, the wonder of a band exploding on stage; the corridors of the theater full, the friends scattered on the floor, the jumps, the choirs, sands of solitude, SantaRevolution… The music of my generation, live, in my city, with my people, when we were all together. X, with that ability to destroy and put pressure on a closed sound, which had been telling what we all wanted to say. After the show I stayed up all night. I couldn't sleep; and if that's not one of the most powerful reasons there is to love a concert, and specifically, music, I don't know anything anymore. (Lourdes Elena Garcia Bereau)

Synthesis / Payret Cinema / 199?

Formation of Synthesis in the Payret Cinema stage. Photo: Courtesy of the band.

Formation of Synthesis in the Payret Cinema stage. Photo: Courtesy of the band.

Faced with the challenge of choosing a Cuban music concert that has marked me forever from among the hundreds that I have enjoyed at this point, I have beautiful flashes, but in my head (bear compassionately in mind that we are talking about 30 years ago) resonates as a unique concert the very powerful image of the Síntesis group at the Payret Cinema, in front of the National Capitol. I know it was the early 90's; hard years, very hard. I call Ele Valdés to tell me what concert that could be, what exact date, what was being fulfilled. Oh, surprise of forgetfulness... Síntesis he lived in the Payret and made this cinema his headquarters for four years (1991-1994) and every Saturday they played there. I, part of that audience of young zombies with only one meal a day in our famished bodies, and who, eager for spirituality and hope, overflowed the audience each time, must have been in many: similar, different, rituals, gregarious, boisterous and trembling. Impossible for her to know which one I mean and impossible for me to define THE concert —in the singular— in my memory. But, when I sincerely try to evoke one —from Cuban music— that stirred my insides until today, it is that one that emerges. (Darsi Fernandez)

Real Project / House of the Americas / 2018

Real Project concert at Casa de las Américas. Photo: Kako Escalona.

Real Project concert at Casa de las Américas. Photo: Kako Escalona.

When Diana asked what my favorite Cuban music concert was, “in life”, the first thing that jumped out at me was this—and I trust my instincts a lot, so here it is. In July 2018 I made my debut as the organizer of the Casa Tomada project, in the mythical Casa de las Américas, together with Camila Valdés León and Aimelys Díaz; I had to conceptualize a program, invite young writers and artists from the continent, think about snacks, lunches, transportation, budgets. However, the biggest challenge was the closing concert. Any event worth its salt has a great show as a climax, but who would be that musician, music, what band would play in the Che Guevara Hall on Friday, July 20? The name of Real Project he jumped up. I remember that Ruly Herrera, Jorge Luis Lagarza, Roberto Luis Gómez and Rafael Aldama did not stop thanking for the opportunity; it was the first time that the band appeared on stage where some shows region of. So they put everything into it: bestial solos by Aldama on bass; Roberto Luis experimenting with sounds and atmospheres, guitar through; the stratospheric connection between Yoyi and Ruly, keyboards and drums communicating, playing. People could see how much they enjoyed it. Pure energy that orbited between walls, Tree of Life, murals by Matta and Raúl Martínez, which reached the public seated in seats that sometimes seemed unnecessary. The next day, a Saturday, Real Project would repeat a concert at the Fábrica de Arte Cubano. I went to see them. It was not the same. How could I? (Lorraine Sanchez)

Liuba María Hevia / National Theater / 2000

In the exercise of selecting one among the many concerts that have marked my life, I had some clear things: the first and most important, that I should look for a time when chance had not yet led me to work in music, because once inside the industry the experience is different, just as intense, but with other nuances. Since I produced my first show I have not looked at the stage with the same eyes again. So I went back to those years of absolute innocence, when magic seemed to me to be a thing for magicians and not for artists. It was my first concert Liuba. He knew all his work, he had heard all his songs a thousand times, but it was the first time he would hear it live and, as if that were not enough, in the presentation of From the verse to the sea, an album that keeps some of my favorite pieces from his entire discography. I had prepared for it to be a memorable night. I remember that they gave us some candles at the door and that in the air you could breathe the care that they had put into every detail, the lights, the scenery, the program. I also remember my excitement throughout the show, and the laughter and the crying, and the moment when all the lights went out and the theater turned into a bunch of little flames lighting up from the seats... (Yoana Grass) 

Tribute to Santi Feliú / Cuban Art Factory / 2015

Time has passed and not an eagle by the sea, but life. “Ay, la vida!”, as San Santi would say, the irreverent lefty, lazy and a half, joker who is still spending it on us, and very good. I don't remember, but I think it was that concert for the first anniversary of his most serious fucking with death, at FAC, where I spent the night taking photos by hand and foot because I was sure, completely sure, that he would appear in any moment behind the curtain with his guitar upside down, blowing the harmonica so as not to gagueo with laughter. I believed it so much that night that I'm still waiting for it, because life is that shit that happens while we plan. (Racso Morejon)

X Alfonso / Mella Theater / 2005

Civilization it is more than one of my memorable Cuban concerts. All the talent and energy of X Alfonso shook the Teatro Mella that night in 2005. I had the happy idea of giving my eight-year-old son the live experience of the songs that accompanied our daily lives. At the first chord, the entire audience was on their feet to vibrate with X, and my little boy stood up without permission on the seat so as not to miss any detail. We were an enraged audience, the balconies also overflowed. Impossible to be seated or immobile. We all chanted with impetus “this is my city”, “living is the only thing I want”, “dog that barks”, and so many other songs, while we sweated and laughed full. Together we discovered happiness in the enigma of music. Hundreds of voices in each gesture of X, a tireless dancing minstrel who moved between lights from guaguancó to rock, gifting magic. I was with my family that night, but not only with the brothers and nephews who sang, we were all from the same enchanted clan, a handful of chosen ones. That was not the first, but it was the inaugural memory of the complicity that I have lived until today with my children, in every chord of living Cuban music. We returned home happier, humming again and thankful for having come to that appointment. Time never lies, that is why today —like a sustained note— that unique moment remains in our memory. (Danay Ramos Ruiz)

Alain Pérez / The Sauce / 2019

Promotional flyer for the Alain Pérez concert at El Sauce.

Promotional flyer for the Alain Pérez concert at El Sauce.

Its so much freaky the history. We were at the Isa, and the beca overlooks the back of El Sauce, I think it was February 14 and the place was packed. We had little money and it was to buy alcohol (quantity before quality). We threw a stack of rifles over there on the side of the fence, and we were unloading on the concert from there, in shorts and flip-flops. When the note went up to us, we said: let's jump the fence and get in there! It was one of those concerts that Alain gave here after returning, and he was bursting the league. That was full of artists, people from the world of culture, all well dressed, and we jumped the fence from the back, through the bathrooms, and we gave watercress at the concert, which was really good. (Nosley Exposito Salas)

Oscar D'Leon / Karl Marx / 1983

I've liked salsa since high school, especially Rubén Blades. When in 1983 it was announced that Oscar D' León would come to Havana, I was in tenth grade and at the height of my passion for popular dance music. Neither before nor after I was able to dance well, but I enjoyed those rhythms with an intensity that would surprise those who know me today. Attentive to what was broadcast by the Venezuelan, I came to have fifty-odd songs of his, painstakingly recorded on my Sony cassette deck (mono). When it was announced that he would come to play in Cuba, it was as if God came down to earth. I managed to buy two tickets and thought a lot about who to invite. Overcoming a shyness that has been erasing me, I invited the most beautiful girl in the classroom —the one who would never have gone out with me— and she accepted. I remember my deep impression before the enormous creative and energetic dedication of Oscar D' León. That night he was able to bring five thousand people to a paroxysm, with the incomparable beauty of his music, the powerful sound of the band and his unique personality. (Pepe Menendez)

Diana Ferreiro Journalist and editor almost all the time. Addicted to ink and the color red. He writes less than he wants to and listens to more sad music than he should. "Coffee, beer and perreo" as a mantra. More posts

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  1. Lili says:

    Santi at Casa de las Américas, year 2012

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