Rafael Bassi with Eddie Palmieri in Barrranquilla. Photo: Rafael Bassi / Jacoviche Melomanía Archive.

Bassilón

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His name was Rafael Bassi Labarrera but from his last name he derived a nickname for joy, Bassilón. Because enjoy ('vacilar') in the Caribbean has nothing to do with doubt or uncertainty, but with the ability to fully enjoy music and life. Don't you remember Rico vacilón, the cha cha chá of Rosendo Ruiz who during the 50s of the last century was infamous among dancers? So Bassi was Bassilón earlier than you can imagine and, to reinforce the idea, he decided to call Rico Vacilón a bar in Barranquilla that gave him more losses than profits, from so many friends who came to share musical hobbies and have a drink at home between pieces.

When I was told that Bassi had died last Monday, April 27, I thought it was a joke. Hours before, I received the announcement of his next radio talk show, scheduled for Saturday, May 2, a dialogue about salsa and literature with the Cuban writer Leonardo Padura —not only the narrator of police novels; from his head came the script for the formidable film Yo soy del son a la salsa , by Rigoberto López—, so I believed that my colleague and friend were fireproof. In addition, the news came from Medellín; I did not know that for a few months, Bassi had been in the city of the paisas and not on the Atlantic coast.

His heart suddenly failed him, not his smile, nor his way of giving himself to our Caribbean music, a trait that will remain alive. Bassi was a Barranquillero from top to bottom. As a young man he studied Chemistry. Formulas and equations entered through sight; by the ear the bombs of Rafael Cortijo and his Combo, the boleros of Benny Moré and the sounds of the Sonora Matancera. Music ended up prevailing over Chemistry.

There is a concept that I like to claim: musicographer. If Musicology is science, Musicography is testimony. If the historical sciences cannot do without written or oral testimonial literature, chronologies, documents and whatever exponent the record of a fact or process contains for its further analysis, Musicology cannot look over the shoulder at Musicography, nor beings like Bassi, memorable ones who transcend the vanity of the data provided, of the specific experience, of the timely conversation, of what happened behind the diffusion of a record or a concert, of the timely confession, of the elitist itch of some music lovers collectors. In this category I include all those who write and work passionately for the memory and construction of meaning of music, but with seriousness, ethics and responsibility: critics, promoters, activists, chroniclers, communicators.

Rafael Bassi. Illustration: IPCC Cartagena.
Rafael Bassi. Illustration: IPCC Cartagena.

Bassi shared knowledge while looking for it from all possible sources. Aware of the possibilities of the mass media, on the radio he found an ecumenical and democratizing platform. Thus, he conceived venues such as C Concierto Caribe, Jazz en Clave Caribe and Vámonos de fiesta in Uninorte FM Estéreo, in Barranquilla. A random selection of the productions for this station allows us to seize the breadth and depth of their commitment: monographs on the new salsa orchestras in Europe, a tour of the masters of the tambora, the links of the song with the poetry of Federico García Lorca, and a critical review of the work of Rubén Blades.

Of course, in these and other endeavors, he had his sights first and foremost on the music of his country, and especially his closest environment, the Colombian Caribbean. There he was to consolidate the legends of Joe Arroyo, Pacho Galán, Esthercita Forero, Alejo Durán, Toto la Momposina and Lucho Bermúdez. Together with another countryman of the same lineage, Sergio Santana Archbold, he prepared the most complete book that can be conceived on an essential figure for Colombia and Cuba. He published it in a company created between the two, the Santo Bassilón publishing house, with a catalog of books on salsa and traditional Antillean music, put into circulation with more will than solvency.

Bassi's relationship with Cuban musical life was particular. He traveled several times to the Island in search of records, concerts, books and festivals, the same in Havana as in Santiago de Cuba. For him, professional friendship with Leonardo Acosta was providential. About it, he said: “I already knew his books Del tambor al sintetizador and Elige tú, que canto yo, when in Barranquijazz 99, I had the privilege of personally meeting Don Leonardo. I was able to meet the great human being, the simple man, and I knew from him that what I did was useful ”.

For decades the Barranquillero promoted the classics Miguel Matamoros and Ignacio Piñeiro, the sones of Formell and Adalberto, the virtuosity of Niño Rivera and Pancho Amat, the songs of José Antonio Méndez and César Portillo de la Luz, the improvisations of Bebo and Chucho Valdés , and was up to date with the new generations of Cuban musicians. From Mexico he loved the interpretations of the old danzoneras and left pending, as he confessed to me months ago, a comparative study of the public's taste for the bolero tradition in Cuba, Colombia and Mexico.

We also honored Bassi in Cuba —José Dos Santos, whom I rightly consider a Cuban Bassi, recalled that the Colombian was responsible for many jazz players from the Island appearing at the Barranquijazz festival. Composer Edesio Alejandro mourned his loss. Promoter Alden González, who contributed a lot to the Septeto Santiaguero, joined the duel. Rosa Marquetti, a musicographer like him, will not forget that Bassi owed the decision to gather for the first time the exhaustive chronicles of the blog Desmemoriados, a kind of new and underground encyclopedia of Cuban music.

To this music lover, music producer and journalist, “captain of the troupe” - as many remember - we say goodbye also from these pages, with the certainty that his cultural legacy will continue to live in these lands, through other lovers of popular music like him.

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