It's a Tuesday night in Havana. A difficult night, where nothing happens. Or almost nothing. A man, with long gray hair, tall and thin, crosses G Street and heads his destination to one of the trendy bars in the city. At the bar, three young instrumentalists prepare for what will be one of the many jazz downloads they will have for a while in that place.
Before the show begins the show, this man will enter, embrace the three young instrumentalists, talk about the weather, the family, how complicated it is to do jazz on a Tuesday night, and, at some point, about an idea: to do a record, a tribute, dust off songs, bring them to the 21st century. An idea that will reveal the final course of this story.
The story does not start at this bar, not tonight, nor with the three young instrumentalists. At least not with these three. The story, rigorously speaking, begins in 1969, in a booth of the Icaic studios in presentations at Chaplin and 23 and 12 cinemas; in a group of artists centered around a single purpose: to renew Cuban music. As? Taking advantage of how many genres and styles were within reach - the new trova, rock, jazz, rumba, Brazilian sounds, the Hindus - ruminating influences - from Beethoven to The Beatles - experimenting with electronic techniques and sounds of High aesthetic quality
That handful of artists became known as the Icaic Sound Experimentation Group (GES); its members - with Leo Brouwer in the lead - came not only to compose for the cinema, but also to become the highest exponents of music in Cuba. Their names will surely sound like something, because Pablo Milanés, Silvio Rodríguez, Noel Nicola, Eduardo Ramos, Sergio Vitier, Emiliano Salvador, and later Sara González and Pablo Menéndez, among many others, were the musical protagonists of those golden years.
But the history of GES is already written (eye: written, but not necessarily known, as it should). The story of the man with long and gray hair, tall and thin, of the three young instrumentalists and what began to be forged on a Tuesday night in a trendy bar in Havana, is just beginning. That is why we are here.
At the beginning is the voice. A voice that seems familiar to us, because many of us have grown up with it, playing again and again on television, on the radio, in schools and plazas. And we know Sara González, Corales first song of the Real Project-GES, which since last December 6 is available on several digital platforms - much less.
But Sara's voice is here a kind of sample. The original recording, that wink, sneaks like another instrument, and then gives way to another voice. It is there where we discovered Daymé Arocena, defending that theme composed by Sergio Vitier and that now comes with new arrangements, orchestrated by Jorge Luis Lagarza, pianist of Real Project, that band that broke into 2017 with a homonymous album and whose members we already knew since the album Mal tiempo, by its director and drummer Ruly Herrera, or because they play and tour with several projects or musicians of the Island such as Daymé, Interactivo, Carlos Varela, among others.
Radiography of an appearance is the second theme of this album-tribute that stops at Noel Nicola, a man who knows little but who composed songs as powerful as his two partners in crime: Pablo Milanés and Silvio Rodríguez. This version, that of Real Project, that of Ruly's arrangements, that of Yaroldi Abreu in percussion, leaves us with another flavor. A taste halfway between samba and bossa nova, an addictive flavor, where Yusa's interpretation is always heartbreaking, tremendous, with that imperative need to be, herself, a beautiful song.
The third track is Un hombre se levantaone of the most popular of the GES and its author, Silvio Rodríguez, defended many times by Sara González and that this time comes to us through Polito Ibáñez. It seems that the song was written for him. For Polito, I say. So that one day, after all this time, this troubadour that we love - and that in recent times has lost, perhaps, that touch that fell in love with me, Me muero de ganas, Las cosas simples, Sombras amarillas reborn, made it his own.
Because where Un hombre se levantaa man rises, it sounds, a priori, to a song-slogan, flag up, anthem of the new man; where knowing “worn out”, “saturated” by the mainstream mainstream of the political song makes us, perhaps, reject it, is where the new version surprises us, for good, with a contemporary, fresher and more daring sound.
Then there are other issues. In each of them, in the ten, Real Project leaves its mark. And is that Real Project-GES,with the original idea of Enrique Carballea, arrangements and musical production of Ruly, Lagarza and Roberto Luis Gómez, and licensed under the Bis Music label, goes about that. It is a tribute; perhaps the best of all, because it does not stop to sweeten anything. Real Project doesn't want to imitate, doesn't want to copy, doesn't want to invade either. The songs on this phonogram - some better known, some purely instrumental - are not his, but they could be. What better way to pay tribute to those who experienced before, than experiencing now. What better way to get into the skin of the other than being oneself.
In all, if we listen carefully, there are details, and in the details, certain jewels. Let's hear the songs one by one, in a loop, we get to the core, to that magnetic field that is the experimentation behind each instrument. To virtuosity: either Jorge Luis Lagarza on the keyboards (or on the vocoder), Ruly on the drums, Roberto Luis on the guitars (or on the banjo), Rafael Aldama on bass, or on guest vocals. Let's stop. Let's be silent What do they hear?
The most rocky riffs in Salgo de casa (author: Eduardo Ramos / performer: Erick Cimafunk); in Éramos (that text by José Martí, musicalized by Pablo Milanés and defended on this occasion by Roberto Perdomo); in Bachiana popular, by Sergio Vitier; in minute two of Los caminos - please, let's stop in minute two - that great song by Pablo that has everything: rumba, rock, trumpets, tumblers, trombone, sax, Rubén Bulnes in his voice and the Real Project in the choirs!
We also listen to the flute of Niurka González and Yasel Muñoz in Repentino (by Pablo Menéndez): a more classical one, a more contemporary one. Or the banjo in Raga, an unpublished song, a song by Silvio, a song that transports to another place perhaps because of that sound of the banjo, emblem of the country, the bluegrass and the music of the Far West, and that arrives with Roberto's arrangements Luis Gómez, who does what he wants with that instrument, for the good of our ears.
And then there is Tonada para dos poemas. The strawberry of the cake. On that subject we can say so much: that Rubén Martínez Villena once wrote two poems (La pupila insomne and El anhelo inútil), short poems, of four verses each, and that one of them is, in particular, shocking. We can also say that Silvio Rodríguez gave them music and voice, and that now, closing this album, Real Project takes them to a more instrumental, more intimate level. To that plane where only beautiful songs have a life of their own.
It is Friday, July 2018, and Real Project gives its first concert at the Casa de las Américas, the place where the Nueva Trova is said to be born and where, in addition, the Sonora Experimentation Group also had a space. It's funny: this Friday, almost fifty years later, the Che Guevara room welcomes other young people who want to defend what they believe in. The place is at half capacity, but Ruly, Lagarza, Roberto Luis and Aldama fuse sounds, sometimes more electronic, with a strong influence of jazz, world music, rock and roll. At times, one of them experiences, does a single, plays, has fun.
We do not know if by those days Real Project already thinks about that homage to the GES. We know, of course, that there is much more here than music. There's love. Love for the music. Maybe, at first, it was that.
Havana, then, had the taste of summer. People, meanwhile, allowed themselves to love.