Backstage: Jorge Rodríguez
That day when he had a record player in front of him and could hear him, Jorge Rodríguez remembers it in the same transcendental way in which the garciamarquiano Colonel Aureliano Buendía remembered when his father took him to know the ice. This act, at twelve years of age, was definitive in his life to choosing roads, and would become the closest thing to an addiction. The first thing was to find out who in Jovellanos, and in a more or less penetrable environment, had the coveted and mysterious apparatus. The research was so important to him that he still remembers the names of friends, teachers and upstarts who opened the doors of his houses and his record players. If the thing were to summarize, I would say that it has been that great since then his passion for the sounds, feelings and cultural essence that enclose the records, but we would miss the details of those paths, of the process of discovery and conscious assimilation by the one that Jorge Rodríguez Pérez (Jovellanos, 1946) traveled from that afternoon when he saw the small plates of 45 revolutions per minute for the first time with the voices of Fernando Albuerne and Olga Guillot.
Arriving in Havana on the eve of the 1968 revolutionary offensive and falling by chance into a medium totally related to music, was crucial for Jorge and strengthened in him the conviction that this was his medium. Fela Campos, a gruppie from the 40s and 50s; the great pianist and composer Felo Bergaza; the composer Candito Ruiz, and the singer Gina León, were decisive for Jorge in the knowledge of the Cuban discography prior to 1961 and propitiated, in diverse measure, his approach to the Egrem. There he arrived with a folder under his arm and some record projects that he did not know very well how to specify. The monopolistic condition of the Egrem was already established, as a producer and phonographic label, installed in the old Panart studios. The director at that time, Ana Lourdes Martínez, a musician herself and a producer later, believed in him and decided to try: she hired him on the payroll of “artistic talent” with a payment of 300 Cuban pesos per album.
“I entered Egrem at the time that Pablo Milanés was recording the studio albums of his series Filin —Jorge remembers. I knew right away that this was my place and that I was not going to leave here. I discovered what a recording studio was, a master and record archive; I discovered how to press a disc, how to cut a disc ... He came with too much desire to learn. It was the place where I wanted to be and I had to conquer it ... I was looking for my space little by little. First with something that was not on file: my Gina León project, which resulted in the record recorded at the Siboney Studios in Santiago de Cuba, under the direction of Juan Antonio Leyva, and then with the record projects with archive recordings "
But those shelves full of seemingly silent matrix tapes were an attractive mystery to Jorge: he immersed himself in them and made them part of his day-to-day life: “We listened to a lot of music. I had the opportunity to go into the archive and hear what I would like; I could touch the box containing the tape, look at what I had inside, the reports, the notes, all that started to fascinate me. Then the Egrem had another charm, a magic; the two recording studios that Panart had left were working, there was a copy bureau, a printing press where textbooks were made for art schools ... It was a professional place where professionals worked, there was no bar next door. Here everyone came to record: musicians, singers, poets (Casa de las Américas made here the excellent collection of poetry in voices of its authors), producers, great orchestra conductors; here came Arcaño, María Teresa Linares, Harold Gramatges, I saw here even the Spanish Paco Rabal I saw here. When a disc was recorded, it was immediately passed to the quality audition - in which I participated -, where everything produced was evaluated, including the archive. There was then a sense of what the profession was in creating a record. ”
Jorge wanted to immediately reissue albums as important as Esther Borja sings two, three and four voices, but, as he says “… at that time we knew that it was not possible, because after the nationalization the labels that had produced them had been relocated outside of Cuba and were still selling their records produced here. Then I focused on the already important archive that Areíto and Egrem had been creating since its inception. I worked the bolero repertoire as a genre, Los Zafiros, Roberto Faz mosaics; With this, the commercial productions begin at Egrem, and we realize that it has tremendous demand and great sales —I'm still talking about a vinyl record. ”
During this stage Jorge also produces studio albums: with Adalberto Álvarez and Gina León, with the Cuban Folkloric Choir, with Elena Burke. In 1990 he receives the Egrem Award Best Production of the year for the album Aché III, by Merceditas Valdés, and in 1998 the Cubadisco Prize for Folk Music for the album El reino de la rumba, from Celeste Mendoza and Los Papines. But nevertheless, His major imprint in Cuban discography is in the management and updating of the Areíto Studios archive with a historicity criterion, through his efforts to produce new monographic records or compilations. But easy, what is said easy, it has not been for Jorge Rodríguez.
The limited permanence of the persons designated in the decision-making positions, the non-correspondence with the professional and cultural profile, the absence of a commercial sense, knowledge of the market and sagacity to face the challenges posed by the isolation that the blockade submitted to Cuba, and in some cases the ignorance of the history of an industry that preceded the current business formation, have been elements of fluctuating presence throughout the life of Egrem and Areíto Studios. On this road we arrived at moments that lasted a long time, when it was believed that it was better to license matrices to foreign labels, including unpublished recordings, than to promote the own and exclusive production of records from the unique material treasure of their archives. The fast criteria prevailed toma y daca.
As a result, the Cuban music labels catalogs such as the Venezuelan Integra are of recurring consultation Integra, English Harlequin, the Spanish Virgin or Tumbao, several seals from Japan, just to name a few, that were very much nourished by that file, and the experience of Jorge Rodríguez. And if in view of these facts, Areíto-Egrem later knew how to face the challenge and follow the steps of those who made the box with the archives of Cuban music, that is largely due to the stubbornness and persistence of Jorge Rodríguez.
“I must say, even if it seems immodest, that the only one interested in that file was me. No one touched that file. What mattered in those years was to produce new records. We should also talk about the possibilities and problems we had then. At the beginning of the era of CDs, the first important work with the footage was done in 1991 and it was not Egrem's idea. The arrival of Havana by Cuban-Venezuelan businessman Eduardo Hernández, an incident that affected Los Van Van in Canada, and Eduardo's intervention in its solution coincide. At the request of ARTEX, which was already starting to produce records, its remuneration is agreed with it by licensing a number of matrices for the manufacture and distribution of a collection with archival music, now in CD format. There I also worked, and somehow it was the beginning of this concept, which was not within Egrem's strategy at that time. As a company, they did not plan to make these files profitable. I also worked on the first compilation that could produce an American label and be sold in the United States: the double album Cuba Classics 2. Dancing with the Enemy (Luaka Bop, 1991) and then I participated in other projects of that court, generated by foreign labels from licenses in our archive. In the recent project with Sony I was present at some moments of the work, but I was not called to the music curatorship of the collection that they published from the agreement: The Real Cuban Music, nor for any other. ”
In the nineties, Jorge Rodríguez's work with the archive catalog will begin to be more understood and valued at the level of awards and recognitions: from 1991 he receives 10 Egrem awards and 23 Cubadisco awards for the production of important monographs designed and produced by him, with recordings ranging from María Teresa Vera, Elena Burke, Snowball, the Casino or Pacho Alonso Set, to the Matamoros, Celina and Reutilio Trio, Benny Moré, Arsenio Rodríguez, Enrique Jorrín, Carlos Puebla, La Aragón Orchestra, covering genres such as son, rumba and country music. Of these awards, six would be special awards for the collection El Gran Tesoro de la Música Cubana (eight volumes), and the CDs Original de Cuba: Benny Moré. El Bárbaro del Ritmo; the double album De Matanzas a La Habana with Los Muñequitos de Matanzas and Papín y sus Rumberos (the immediate antecedent of Los Papines); two albums by Omara Portuondo - one of them in tribute to Paulina Alvarez - and another for the CD Merceditas Valdés. La Reina de la Música Afrocubana.
“But paradoxically,” says Jorge, “most of the projects that I generated have been awarded, because it is not commonly thought, commercially, of everything that can be done with this file. They only do it when someone comes from another country with their interest. The proof is in another paradox: for decades there was no legal basis, a resolution that would cover the work of a producer of archival material: it was only regulated and there were possibilities of retribution to the work of the record producer associated with an artist, which contemplates a budget for all the actions of that process, from its gestation to its distribution. For file disk no. And in fact, there were stages in which this type of records did not have the corresponding economic counterpart in favor of the producer, which did not stop making them. This changed a little, but not enough, because it still looks like something different, separate from the commercial activity of the album ”—explains.
Although perhaps it doesn't be like that, the creative independence that has marked his career in Egrem, is not seen by Jorge as the appreciation of his phonographic wisdom but as a symptom of disinterest: "I did not always have support to do my historical-musical projects, but I did not let myself be defeated and moved on. Today I am glad that nobody has ever marked me (or now), a strategy or a plan because I am at a point in my life where I want to do what I want to do. Luckily, at this moment I have all the support of the current direction of Egrem, to produce the records that I have been conceiving from the archive and its treasures, as I also had in previous years - and now - the support of Elsida González in his stage at the head of Art and Repertoire of Egrem ”.
There were moments of uncertainty and misunderstanding that motivated Jorge to sharpen his creative ingenuity: right there, in the middle of Areíto Studios, where they planted a bar, Jorge does not let himself be defeated and bets on culture. Together with the legendary engraver José Pérez Lerroy, Joseito, he founded a space of singers and troubadours, another with the Septeto Habanero first and then with the Arsenio Rodríguez Ensemble; and a third, that of the rumberos, all active. After his repeated presence at the Cali Fair, he arms and inspires, against all odds, the meeting of collectors and music lovers, escorted by two essentials: the young collectors Rafael Valdivia and Rigoberto Ferrer.
When you ask him what would be the three discs of that archive of his loves that he would save in case of a hypothetical catastrophe, Jorge replies:
“I would have to save more than three, many more. But first: Jesús Valdés y su Combo, the two discs. That is the record beginning of Chucho [Valdés] as an artist, and also of the Egrem. Pure year 1964. The album by Frank Emilio and Los Amigos, Grupo Cubano de Música Moderna, of 1962. Those I did not see them do, but these two others, yes: the first album Ancestros, de Síntesis, and Aquí el que baila gana, by Juan Formell and Los Van Van ”.
Jorge Rodríguez is a producer of legend, who has never liked the reflector of fame, but we know that nobody like him knows the ins and outs, the secrets, the virtues, weaknesses and brilliance of the Areíto Studios archive, and about National phonography If today we can listen to the entire concert at the Lincoln Center in New York of a union that never happened again - Elena Burke, La Aragón and Los Papines; if the performance of Bola de Nieve at the first Varadero International Hotel; If today you find out that Celeste Mendoza, Orlando Vallejo or Vicentico Valdés was something tremendous, all that and more must be thanked Jorge Rodríguez. No one like him has been able to share it with us through the many albums he has produced.
At the moment, Jorge is there and very active. You can find it prowling the streets of San Leopoldo, or anywhere in Centro Habana, like anyone who walks tormented because of the heat And you won't even imagine that this man has a work for which he has deserved the Distinction for National Culture. If you are looking for it, where you will surely find it, it will be in the Areíto Studios on San Miguel Street, in that place from which, he affirms with total seriousness and firmness, he has no plans to leave.