Detalle de la portada del libro Kabiosiles. Los músicos de Cuba, de Ramón Fernández-Larrea. Ilustración: Armando Tejuca.
Detalle de la portada del libro Kabiosiles. Los músicos de Cuba, de Ramón Fernández-Larrea. Ilustración: Armando Tejuca.

Literature feat. Music: Cuban geography of the memory

6 minutos / Ramón Fernández-Larrea

14.02.2020 / Articles

There is a great misconception in this world. The limits of Cuba are not geographical, but sound. It does not limit the east with the Gulf of Mexico, nor the north with Florida. Cuba is not an island, but a hurricane that extends without limits in the sea of the throat of Benny Moré, in the fingers without distance of Cachao and Bola de Nieve, in the imperturbable immortality of Barbarito Diez, in the “azúcar” (sugar) of Celia Cruz, in the light of Celeste Mendoza, sounding heels that taste forever to deep neighborhood, yo the black pain of the city and the abrupt mountain. 

Cuba is not an island. Those who think so lose the possibility of meeting in all the heavens with Ernesto Lecuona, or with Margarita, in front of "Babalú Ayé", that lament that in the voice of Miguelito Valdés lowered the torch to the Statue of Liberty, when by little New York catches fire with Chano Pozo's blood that smelled like a drum after he died. Since Ma Teodora started stacking firewood, Cuban geography is inaccurate like a child's dream. 

I was born in an open-door town where Amaranto and his giant band sang. The Sapphires came out of the windows, as if they lived there for a lifetime, mixing in the rum of the glasses of the bar, where Orlando Contreras made a hand in hand with Panchito Riset. I left one day, and then, in the distance, in streets of difficult names, I was assaulted by the sound of the guitar of Sindo Garay singing the other "Bayamesa", because before, long before the noise, and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and Lorenzo Fornaris had sung to the insurgent beauty of Cambula, reproaching him for not remembering a love. 

I was born in a town where Hugo Estrada, a dentist and night owl, wanted to ride a piano in the bed of a military truck, with the jet splendor of Ignacio Villa included, to shoot night down giving serenades. And I was born in a town as wide as music, where "Caraballo killed a rooster and peeled it with cold water", because, it lists Creole, cunning, and joy of eternal survivors: "Who has seen Caraballo with an empty belly?". In the afternoon of dense air walked Rita, the Caimana, entering her infinite madness to eternity, in the grace of Los Compadres, Reynaldo and Lorenzo Hierrezuelo. I was born in a town where Pimpo La Ó decided to die on his guitar at the age of one hundred and two because he had released all the music and had no saliva or love left. The flowers grew watered by the anguish of Rita Montaner, and the little houses, called from the Big Apple also by Antonio Machín, did not go to sleep without eating the peanut cone, all as a ritual of the heart. 

I was an astonished child that there was so much music in the air. On Sundays, in the afternoon of sleepy butterflies in the park, the Band was reeling slow danzones, and the barber Cazzatte escaped the owls from the bell tower with the story of the tree that scolded the girl who recorded her name in her bark, swollen pleasure. 

Then my feet went through many paths, but the sound was already on my skin, soft, soft, which is how I like it best. And at the Congo inn, in Catalina de Güines, I guessed the ghostly scent of those sausages praised by Ignacito Piñeiro in a huge parranda, before going to the Platanal de Bartolo, the most musical brothel in the world. And in the Ali Bar, the shadow of Benny moved every night of eternity the cane of sensual daring, so that the saxes and the sexes would challenge oblivion. 

I learned not only that I lived in an extended land towards every corner of flavor, watching Pío Leyva, El Montunero de Cuba, the only mortal who sang while his hair was being shaved, in the narrow barbershop of the Infanta Causeway, near the glass where the fat Fredesbinda García raised his thick boleros that foreshadowed death and life as a heavy tornado, three steps only from the alley of Hamel, and then the White Peak, where the hoarse Jose Antonio Méndez captivated so much of my girlfriends whit the filin that was going to spill over the world. And the parakeet was crying in the carnivals, so that Maria Caracoles enjoyed in front of the immense seawall where music and beer overflowed, with the complicity of the sea that seems to know everything. 

I slowly learned that the bolero and the conga reached the moon when he lacked the earrings that Vincent Valdés hid from somewhere in the abyss; that a tres played better with the eyes of the heart, like Arsenio Rodríguez looking for hackers for a stick; and that Simpson's heights sprouted from Barreto's magic bowler, while Manuel Corona shelled his lonely hunger in the bright cafés of the Prado. 

I slowly learned that the bolero and the conga reached the moon when he lacked the earrings that Vincent Valdés hid from somewhere in the abyss; that a tres played better with the eyes of the heart, like Arsenio Rodríguez looking for hackers for a stick; and that Simpson's heights sprouted from Barreto's magic bowler, while Manuel Corona shelled his lonely hunger in the bright cafés of the Prado. 

I never return to anything. I don't go anywhere, because I've never left what I love and it keeps me alive. Nobody rips me from where I belong and is absolutely mine. Under the Catalan night, in the melancholy streets of Paris, in old volcanic villages of the Canary Islands, I have a light. From that light rain falls like a splendid as life, with winks of a woman and smells that rock me, and the soul has fun and expands, and is the only reason that unites us and embraces us all equally. Too sad and serene, poets and bitter, widowers and cumbancheros, near and far. Those who will always meet in the only sea of our real dreams.

Introduction to the book Kabiosiles: los músicos de Cuba, Miami, Unos & Otros Ediciones, 2019.
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Ramón Fernández-Larrea

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