Dando la nota (Giving the note): Art Bembé
Now it seems the most natural thing in the world to say it backwards but in the early days we said "Pavel y Gema". I had chosen Pavel as the only person who would share with me the space that I named La Peña de Marta Valdés. His songs had nothing to do with mine and that was good for the health of those Saturday afternoons. What had to do and a lot, was our vocation for music, the stubbornness of both against the easy. On more than one occasion I had served as a jury in competitions where his songs appeared that reached the category of "finalists", but at the time of awarding the prizes the objections began and they were always applied to pieces that were artistically unobjectionable, the scheme that diverted things towards the level of interpretation by placing the little sign of "difficult to sing" or "difficult to learn for people". The last straw was when what I consider a classic in the work of Pavel Urquiza did not appear among those who came out to compete in public under the argument that "no one can sing that".
Every Saturday at that meeting of regulars in a hundred-year-old patio in El Vedado, under a sapling of zapotes, my throat would knot and my heart would quicken when the public - people of all ages, from all points of the city- he said goodbye until next week singing that same song as if it were a hymn: "... I want to see you at dawn, my dear Havana; I want to see my Havana, intact, all my life ... " This was only a year after the episode in which it had been nominated as a candidate for perpetual silence.
One Saturday in June at the beginning of the 90s, coinciding with the Boleros de Oro Festival that always takes place in Havana, Pavel appeared with a premiere. It was a bolero dedicated to me and he brought it to two voices with Gema Corredera. When I heard the Bolero Inconcluso for the first time, the emotion left me room to intuit, with all my lucidity, that something irreversible was beginning in Cuban musical history. And so it was, because from that same day at dusk, the concert closed with the usual hymn sung in chorus by those present but seasoned with the improvisations of Gema asking for "a downpour to clean my city of who is neither with God nor with the devil. "
The patio where we met is a special place. The house of the late nineteenth or early twentieth century where it is located was the residence of a Cuban family of ancestry. Its peculiar architecture makes it attractive to the eyes of the passer-by. For several decades its premises have served as spaces for various activities of the Teatro Estudio group. Its entrance looks towards Línea street, its patio, to the bottom, leads to the street 11, parallel to that avenue, by the only way traced with iron tiles that owns the city of Havana and that had to serve for the circulation of all type of vehicles used by the family. The afternoon that I conceived the idea of having my weekly reunion I was depressed after a setback suffered by some bureaucrats. I decided to shorten the route to the bus that would take me home by entering that road and reaching the avenue through the gate of the fence that surrounds the main entrance. When I crossed the patio I felt a tremendous desire not to leave there. I did not know if I was feeling nostalgic for some rehearsal sessions with actors (I worked as musical adviser to the group), but I looked at the space that surrounded the zapote forest and felt that something inclined me not to move from the place. It was so I conceived, as a way to transmit my songs to the people, the idea of placing my old American chair under the tree, announcing myself publicly and starting to appear there at a fixed moment every week. I turned aside and instead of going to my house, I knocked on the door of the group's director, the actress Raquel Revuelta, I confided my idea and got her the most generous response when she said: "Do not tell me anything else and do it…". I selected a cast composed of two or three actors and added, as I said, Pavel.
The patio of what we called Casa de Línea had been the scene, years before, of a movement of musical development designed for children by whom, in the late fifties, was my guitar teacher, Leopoldina Núñez. After some time, when Gema had become indispensable in La Peña by Marta Valdés, trying to explain where she got her ability to improvise and jam in some of my songs with me, I remembered that she had been among the children who entered the world of music and guitar by the hand of that same teacher in that same courtyard; I was reminded of the news that there was "a girl who sings and accompanies your songs, you have to hear her ...". When Gema first came with Pavel, I knew her and had even invited her to a television program dedicated to my work, as a younger performer. Now I came to the conclusion that she possesses the gift of discovering secret paths unknown to the author in music. Gema came to the same yard as a woman and made of Pavel and myself what she thought we could achieve as authors and interpreters.
Pavel began since then to be a singer who fit like anybody in his own songs; he began to compose songs that seemed custom made for that dialogue with Gema, for that way of interweaving that made the songs inseparable from the way they were sung and played; now he played the guitar enriching the rhythm, highlighting the basses, achieving some jumps that made us feel like the instrument had more strings; more amount of frets. I have never known where the moment of composing one of those songs of his may have ended and where Gema will have begun learning. The real impression that I have, I assure you, is that every time they sing something, even if they are not changing a note or an inflection in relation to another time they have sung the same thing, they are improvising it. Today, when listening to them, I am not interested in knowing what the work process will be like in which the composer becomes an interpreter and the interpreter highlights what there is of creation in the work. Thank God I have freed myself and I have managed to surrender when I face them and enjoy them.
At one point, Pavel and Gema began to be Gema and Pavel - it is true that it sounds more musical -; Gema and Pavel who insert other authors into their world as those who seek their peers to enlighten them and say "we are not alone". They unfold and force us to unfold ourselves in every jolt of the spirit. For them I knew, at this point of my life, so many faces of uncertainty, cold, hunger and fear, so many traps of time, that I will never be able to get bored. For them all the gods come to me at the same time gathered and intertwined in a language that I do not know and at the same time I recognize, that leads me to look at what is behind the jungle of Lam or in each precinct of my favorite city of Portocarrero, or from a Havana balcony of the beloved Mirta Cerra. For them I smell a Madrid smelling of nostalgia for black beans served with love in the midst of illusions that are assembled and disarmed to lead to the unusual discoveries that help us resist the weight of remoteness.
I don't know why I've been asked for a few words for this album if I'm saying more than four things that so many people will find out about them. That i travel with a tape full of their recordings and sometimes I meet people who know them and sometimes people who go out looking for them because they want them in their lives. That when the afternoons catch me listening to them alone, I start to cry because I really need them.
That they have spent ten years practicing the trade of always looking new; extending a hand and showering their grace everywhere; that there are many who have been touched by their healthy and luminous influence. That's why we are no longer fifty or sixty under the bushes but the largest theater in the city is full to spend time with them ten years after the premiere of that Bolero Inconcluso. That's also why I'm here, whether it's this or another album for which I've been asked for a few words.
Dear Gema and Pavel: it's five o'clock in the morning and something has taken me out of the dream on the eve of a particularly hard day, with the obsession to find an end to this message, knowing that time is short. I hope that all the illusions and sleeplessness placed on this record will definitely plant you in the hearts of all the people of the world. I hope my words serve to continue accompanying you in this splendid adventure that we have been sharing in complicity with time and distance. It's cold these days in our city. They say that Raquel has arranged the patio beautifully. I stitched this paragraph, as it is, with my head on the pillow. Then I memorized it, ran to turn the computer on and started to write, but when I came to this word I got a big desire to close as if we were in the Peña, humming what it says: I want to see you at dawn, my dear Havana / I want to see you my Havana, intact, all my life.
This message was threaded, with love, between the afternoon of December 28, 2002, and the dawn of January 10, 2003, in the Havana neighborhood of Almendares.