Magazine AM:PM
Worn-out record Selling it all. Design: Jennifer Ancízar. Selling it all. Design: Jennifer Ancízar.

selling it all

One day Vanito Brown attends a party. Lots of people, lots of cheap alcohol, lots of noise. "There is salsa, AIDS, drugs, rap and rock and roll," he says. (Notice how the author of divine script dodge the cliché and, instead of using the word sex, in which he surely thought —because the brain is lazy and will always pull towards the common place—, he replaces it with AIDS, a semantic qualification that immediately gives the print that new, tremendous force). At some point, perhaps in the middle of a conversation, a dance, or while singing something, Vanito, an observer with a professional license, saw this at the party: “There is an empty cross in the middle of the room / but the same path in every heart ”. It is that of the images that strike down, but so much so that you want to tattoo them next week. It fulminates because it describes, based on a specific reason, and with remote communication tools —because they are neither from the past, nor from the present, nor from the future—, the spirit of a time and a place, which is the abbreviated form in which they date the events for the record of all time. “An empty cross”, ladies and gentlemen. "An empty cross in the middle of the room." Welcome to Havana. Welcome to the '90s.

I underline this line because it's the one I like the most, but the whole album does that. The line belongs to the second cut, Light (And it's not the '70s) —a perfect work, because I don't know what more can be asked of a song—, and the album was Lucha Almada's only record adventure, selling it all, published by Bis Music in 1995. That same year another milestone in Cuban musical history came out: the emblematic Como los peces (BMG/Ariola), by Carlos Varela. With the advantage of saying this almost 30 years later, I have no doubt that if I am in the store and I only have enough to buy one, I will go with selling it all home, very happy.

I know that Como los peces it is the fetish-album of the decade in Cuba (at least within what we agree to call author song), and that consideration was well earned; a work that, at this or that moment in the lives of all of us who love this type of music, has been irreplaceable. However, if we consume culture with a historical perspective (which is how I think it should be done, because if not, it's not funny), it's a bit strange to sit down and listen to the fable of the '90s narrated by Varela, when there were more newer, newer modes, newer timbres, counting the same. Be careful, Vanito is only four years younger than El Gnomo, but when to understand the development of art we use the metaphor of generations (which is very useful, but that does not stop it from being a metaphor, a rather didactic resource) , dates of birth are only one of the variables, and not the most important. Although Vanito Brown and Carlos Varela belong, perhaps, to the same demographic cohort, they have very different sensibilities, which made the author of Habáname get together with Frank Delgado and the Havana in full color with Boris Larramendi. That is also why one uses the trope of the fish to indicate silence and resignation, and another "a love sleeping calmly, (...) hungry in the depths".

Also readDesign: Jennifer Ancizar from the cover of Nubes.


Carlos M. Merida13.10.2020

No other album of the '90s has the documentary vocation of selling it all, none narrates with that desire to narrate. It's as if Vanito and Alejandro Gutiérrez wanted to say it all at once, because they didn't know when another recording opportunity would present itself. There is no other record that better says the most important word of the decade, the word failure. When Vanito exclaims: “The century is ending and I have sunstroke” he is saying “The era is giving birth to a heart”, but the other way around. The failure (of the Revolution as a social project) is the central thematic block of selling it all. Most of the songs connect with this idea, even love songs like wanting you to feel good, where at the beginning we clearly identify that unnatural disposition of the mind that consists of surrendering completely to reality, and let it decide, because simply, nothing else can be done, very common in Cuba from the '90s: "I notice you altered, is it the same problem? / Do not make him any more coconut, that matter has no remedy”.

This generation of singers (the one from 13 and 8, or from Habana Abierta, as you prefer to call it) is very given to self-recognition and, consequently, they constantly seek to differentiate themselves from their direct ancestors, the people of the new and very new trova. In selling it all it is noticeable everywhere. The differences, we know, range from the reinterpretation of the profile of a committed singer to the use of explicit sexual allegories, never seen before, or seen very little in the genre ("I can fill your piggy bank with liquid"), but the most notable, the What jumps out first is that this new offspring doesn't shy away from the dance floor. Vanito and Alejandro do not stop reminding us: "I'm dancing rockasón with the boys", "(...) dance my conga, mom, wiggle with what I think", "Your movement of the waist moves me and makes me folklore". Likewise, they are perceived as always making sure that the listener knows that they are dealing with a different mechanic, with a new way of troubadour: “And at this point, sweetheart, / I'm looking for another song”, “'Cucha el tumbao (...), rockanroleao”, “People know well what they don't want, / and I dance, and I dance rockason”.

The continuous reaffirmation-differentiation is a direct consequence of the lack of opportunities that has marked this group of musicians. Vanito and Alejandro are not willing, once they record, for the listener to finish the album without knowing what has happened there. They are not going to wait for him to go to the National Library and, after consulting a thousand files and coming across a thousand names, he realizes that up to the year 1995 there has been no proposal like that in Cuban musical history. They are already telling you. If, in the end, you decide to buy how you fish it and face the decade from the sorrow, alone, lying on a sofa looking at family photos, well, very well, it would be a more than legitimate decision, but it will no longer be for them.

The Lucha Almadas, unlike Carlos Varela, in 1995 still do not speak like adults, and that is what makes their readings of the Crisis completely different. For example, The Gnome vigorously proclaims in The woodcutter without a forest that he is not going to play the buffoon; fine, but the alternative, the consequence of it is be forgotten. Alejandro and Vanito had not yet reached that level of lucidity at this time, which is why we heard moments of beautiful and sad candor, like these: “I'm not going to dive in, / I don't feel like it”. That's why, too, he says "I'm feeling better" and "Nothing worse than a shattered dream" in the same verse. Certify that twenty-year-old luminosity in an album whose main theme is failure (because that was the main theme of the country), and having observed how reality later charged that entire generation, how Alejandro Gutiérrez does not have an entry on Wikipedia (which does not means nothing, but what we are doing here is exaggerating, so that it is better understood), makes listening to selling it all, almost 30 years later, is a highly recommended experience.

I end with two images, an example of how these boys kept the filters of their humanity clean, a terrain that I don't know if they have stepped on again, after life required them to be more practical. The first is from the ninth track, Generation: “A guy jumps and kills himself trying. / I think his fall was a flight to the sun.” The second, with which he closes the album and then we continue singing in our heads, goes like this: “My heart (my heart) / has a motor (has a motor). / It's already released (it's already released). / Whoever takes it is yours”. These were Alejandro Gutiérrez and Vanito Brown in 1995, in Cuba, just before deciding to leave the party, not climb any cross, and assume that the road was going to be, for the time being, the Gran Vía.

Avatar photo Carlos M. Merida hearer. Collector without space. Lawyer. Afraid of bees and hurricane winds. More posts

Leave a comment

View published comments
  1. Maritza Garcia says:

    I was happy to find this tribute to Selling Everything. That album is nineties-Cuban and timeless in equal measure, it is a pop delight and musically an educator of ears -the melody of Wanting you to feel good is a Cuban Technicolor Butterflies, without the need for parallelism (just as Alejandro does not need a Wikipedia entry , but to be understood). And well seen, the lack of epic pretensions of those who were not the most mature Varela, the contingency, the light Bukowskian debauchery punctuated by the material magnitude that characterized life and the bittersweet combination of the entrenched hope of youth and the hopelessness of the times that were running makes me prefer it to Varela, because it captures what a bowline we were and left, how sandwiched we were between the ideals and slogans that ordered our childhood and adolescent worlds and the rare freedom of the blackout, the invention and the sword of Damocles of emigration. They almost didn't show them on TV, I think they only showed the video of Vendiendo Todo and on the Juanito Camacho program. I had to rediscover them on Youtube already emigrated and with Wi-Fi. Vanito is one of the most neglected geniuses in our contemporary musical history. It frustrates me a lot that the Spaniards of his Habana Abierta era had not known how to read it because it was "too" Cuban and "conjunctural" and that he now lives in Miami, where people are too busy selling houses. His accomplice public is dispersed.

View published comments

We also suggest