Nelson Labrada. Photo: Jorge Luis Toledo
Nelson Labrada. Photo: Jorge Luis Toledo

Nelson, an extraordinary animal

15 minutos / María Camila Maury Vázquez

28.06.2019 / Reportages

Everything happens in a country where those who follow rock are always making music a contraband; of their favorite bands only have recorded sound, and watch the concerts on the screen in which other fans are those who despair, sing and cry. Meanwhile, they receive the emotions as if by contagion. It does not make much sense to jump or take off the shirt. The only thing they can do is rewind until the moment they like it the most.

They meet in the basses of a stage. They went there looking for a live show. Some take a drink, others smoke with style or talk non-stop. Many feel marginalized from the environments established or accepted by the majority. The girls have short hair and no ironing, and the kids wear it long. They wait for the band. Honey with Lemon suggests some chords, the reference of that well-known song is triggered, and when they break to play all the percussions, strings and the two cracked voices, it feels something different, the song was made three times better, those who listen they feel in the right to despair, nod and let out the emotion like a fan with their favorite band.

They just crushed the end of Come together, The Beatles. Nelson joins the last scratch on the strings of the guitar with a oh that is extended from the chest and speaks something indecipherable with an Anglo-Saxon accent. The drumstick occasionally hits the cymbal and the guitar babbles in the background. Present the next song. This time, one of those composed by the band says: "Even those who do not know it know the chorus".

He has no boots, no black leather jacket; it does not have any metal going through its skin either. He is standing from the bones that protrude from the knee to the column that carries the guitar, the long curly hair picked up because this is Cuba, it is May and it is too hot. That's why he's wearing a shirt that's rolled up with summer surf flowers in Hawaii. His beard is closed in the middle of his face, his eyebrows rest on his temples, and the dark curls hang from his forehead to his half-open eyes, his eyelids of bad character. He looks like he knows them all when, in reality, he accepts that he does not know anything.

He has always been the conversationalist, that is why he has had to write the lyrics. He makes verses and, sometimes, he writes everything he wants to say in prose. He and all of Miel con Limón graduated from university in science careers. His degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology influences the songs he writes although he is talking about love. As a child he was curious, now he uses the scientific method to solve any problem, including the need to match a rhyme with an idea, and to play the guitar he defined that he had to study more, because he had no school. He feels perfectionist, knowing that such a goal is not achieved. He is inspired to write three words and then criticizes them as if he had not written them. For him there is no separation between "the reasoning and the muse", reason helps him to elucidate a method to achieve what he wants, but at the same time it goes against him as the limit of art. It does not weigh him when he accepts that it is his burden and his cross, that he suffers his defects and enjoys his virtues.

Nelson Labrada and Honey with Lemon. Photo: Jorge Luis Toledo

As if it were about feeling towards a woman, she is asked how she feels about her voice. He responds that verbalization is the last phase of knowledge, that when you talk you think in advance what you are going to say, then you start talking about neurosciences, about the emergence of an idea, about how when you say something the sound goes reaching the ears, but at the same time it is perceived from the inside and explains that this is why the recorded voice feels different, just as it happens when you sit down to listen to your voice on one of the group's discs. 

"I never thought I would be a singer, I know that my voice is not magic. I think I can fine-tune, I can do an execution that is good. I know the things that I can do exercising and I know that there are things that have to do with my possibilities, those of my vocal cords. I think that feeling full is something that does not exist or that if you feel that way, it will prevent you from improving. I'm not always singing, I talk a lot, but I do not sing all the time, I know there are things that I flinch. "

Who did not know that chorus learned it at the time: I'm crossing the river, you know I love you, there's not much money, I've had a bad time (...). They let only the drums sound and they wait for the audience to repeat again and again what is for Nelson and for the band their philosophy. It's about making music always, even when it does not have that that moves everything and that is not love, but something that is carried in the pockets. It aims to subvert needs by perseverance. He knows that they need material resources to continue playing for a while in a place where they will not receive profits, but they want people to get used to the idea of having them there, as it was in the Bertolt Brecht and the Yellow Submarine. 

The media prioritizes popular or traditional dance music because they are the accepted manifestations of Cuban music. He feels that people do not know them at all. He says that the Cuban Rock Agency does not work as a representative, does not promote or support production, but rather is in the middle of the payment they receive, charging a tax and delaying salaries for up to two months. That the acoustics of the places is not the best to give a good show. In spite of everything, you should always get hold of the emotion, the only resource that remains. Continue, knowing that your music is Cuban because it is made in Cuba, goes to the Maxim Rock when the Agency offers it, because it is another opportunity and reiterates, again and again, the same sound so that it does not depend on a good scenario in which to acquire all the profit. Nelson returns, does not make peace with the complaint and is bound by the circumstance.

"Although we look for other sides, although we puncture in other ways when we go to the cuartico to rehearse with the heat there, we do it because we know that there is something we like to do and it is music. In the end we want to get something that is a song ".

The other day of the concert there are four of them inside the rehearsal room. At the bottom of a house surrounded by banana trees in the Casino Deportivo, it's like a room of relief that only keeps frets when they arrive with all the instruments and audio equipment. The sessions should end before the afternoon, because there is no lamp on the ceiling. Light and a little air enter through two windows with wooden shutters. The walls are short and mediocre, it seems that someone wanted to paint them and gave up, at some point they decided to hang something on them, all relics of music, a couple of vinyl records, some drum cymbals and a greenish poster of Metallica, the band Nelson's favorite for being the first one he heard, but the adornments are not enough to give a room environment where rock is made. Even so, it is done.

There's Yoendri Montero, the Yoyo, the lead guitar, a Squier Stratocaster, he sings almost in silence: I want to know (...), and he opens his eyes to Alexis Ferras, this one agrees, opens even more his in response, while keeping the rhythm flexing the legs and moving the head as if dodging the blows of his own bass. José Fernández closes his own, throws his head back and presses his lips every time his forearms press against the battery. Nelson still does not move his eyelids, the veins of his arms are connected to the guitar, and they are actually the ones that give him the electric sound, he grimaces and whispers: Have you ever seen the rain (...), a song from the Creedence Clearwater Revival song. 

The Sterling by music man with which she plays she is borrowed, she has not yet been able to buy her own guitar, she had to sell her grandfather's house to buy another and become independent, the money she earns monthly is not enough to raise the 300 dollars and live. When Wilfre was in the band he could also count on his. He met Wilfredo Gatel at the La Lenin shelter, learning to play. Nelson, who had given some classical guitar lessons, taught him the first things, the chords, the major and minor notes and what was a triad. Then he saw him become an instrumentalist whom he admires. They became close friends and together they composed many themes of Honey with Lemon. Wilfre tried melodies, Nelson was filling them with lyrics, otherwise he was the one who wrote something and then Wilfre looked for some model that would hit him.

By the time they were sitting in the shade of the bunk, Nelson remembers the idea of forming a band. They joined Yoyo, Luiso and Peniche and rode Hey mi love, of Maná, for the block of culture in which his unit should participate. He was in eleventh grade, had entered the high chemistry performance and had made the preselection for international competitions. After the first semester, I only received classes of this subject, gave organic chemistry, inorganic and chemical analysis. He was in separate rooms from the rest, but his music partners were in regular course, so he only saw them at night walking the cubicles. 

"I remember that the preselection teachers scolded me, because chemistry was something to which I had to dedicate time and I dedicated time, which I have never been able to divide one thing from the other. Then I taught, but when I could I was going to rehearse with these people in the place they would lend us. If the teachers saw me, carrying the instruments or something like that, they looked at me with disapproval, like you are derailing"

Nelson Labrada. Photo: Jorge Luis Toledo

Nelson Labrada. Photo: Jorge Luis Toledo

There was an event that made him feel that music could also be the definitive way. After playing for a while at the Peñas del Pop Rock of Juan Carlos Pena and performing with artists like Osamu, they entered a play: The story of Juan Lennon, directed by Enrique Núñez, where they played live The Beatles songs. Being there for three months, three days a week, gave reason to that feeling. For the first time it was, for him, something serious. 

"We became professional musicians in 2014. We were in the fifth year of the race. I am a professional musician before I graduate, because we auditioned in April for the Cuban Rock Agency and then, in June, we graduated from the university. Since then, we had the papers and we started working. "

Wilfre began as the band's director, but he found it hard to assert his opinion; with Nelson the opposite happened, he can spend hours talking, so he stayed in that position. He says it's just a label for the papers to sign. A while ago the director was his friend for Nashville, Tennesse, as a guitarist for Sweet Lizzy Project, he keeps repeating that it marked a turning point for Honey with Lemon, that Wilfre was the soul of the band, then he stays He is silent and he misses him.

He proposes to the others to take a five and they all leave the room. He sits down and takes out a soft mint-flavored cigar. He only takes part in the parties that they make at the end of the concerts, in those occasions his voice goes out, he listens to the first reggaeton, he starts to dance and according to him he "rips". Light the cigar and, before taking it to his mouth, he returns to talk about Canasí. For there have gone on several occasions those of Honey with Lemon and friends. Every time he remembers he smiles a lot and words like isolation, paradise, campaign houses, fishing, nightfall, ceremonies, two hundred meters of river crossing, climbing, rum, vodka, open sea and flags come out. And what excites him the most is cutting wood for the fire. He likes to make fire.

His first partners he had in "Holguín, Holguín"; with them he listened to the first rock bands, around the music equipment that his grandmother gave him, copying from a cassette. They were the ones who taught Metallica and System of a Down; since then he has spent many hours listening to music, but those first sixty minutes are the reason why he wanted to do rock & roll. At that time he had realized that it was a "romantic", he went from preschool to sixth grade in love with the same girl, and it would be the first time that would happen.

Now he's wearing a gold ring around his right ring and a watch in the same hand. It gives time back: "Sandra appears in my life and with Sandra something happened to me. I was physically the type of woman that I liked, besides, I danced and I love to dance, our relationship started much more crazy, I do not know how, it was a surprise for both of us, we were writing constantly and one day we sat down to talk, she She said she was in love and I answered: I'm in love with you. " It seems that this will be the last time she confesses, since December 23, 2015 that she asked for her marriage.

Nelson Labrada and Honey with Lemon. Photo: Jorge Luis Toledo

Nelson Labrada and Honey with Lemon. Photo: Jorge Luis Toledo

They return to the room and start the song. No Ordinary Animals gives name to its second disc, produced in BandEra Studio after One thousand five hundred and fifty (MCL), and four hundred one concerts together. Before the choir, Nelson sings: Feel it, this is who we are (...), and at the end he explains: "That song is about what we are as a generation, it has to do with what happens and has happened in Cuba, with being isolated, both geographically and in other ways. It is very common for our generation that everyone has left the country, and we are here. The song will draw attention to what we are supposed to do as young people. I put the terms of not ordinary, because there are many people who do not feel to think that and live life in an inertial way. Here there are many things that people have always been silent for thinking that expressing their ideas will not cause any change. Quit giving a fuck,  Stop letting things not matter to you, do not live life simply day after day, going through work or trying to get used to being alive, instead of looking to make life the way you want. "   

What he is able to put in his voice has grown as much as him since the first time he sang something. It was in that neighborhood of Holguín, which was not very beautiful, of the Santiesteban district, in the house from which the small gateway was located next to the main road. Remember, he has a cassette with the video that his grandfather made, and he would like to repair it. He was crossing the street, he was singing a song by Augusto Rodríguez that his mother used on weekends: "The time our love lasted" laughs, "Nothing to do with rock".

María Camila Maury Vázquez

María Camila Maury Vázquez

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    Ana Gloria Madruga Torres

    30.06.2019

    I loved reading that story that tells a lot of the life of my kitten, the most important person in my life, thanks for tearing tears of happiness and pride

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    DARKMAN

    15.01.2020

    me encanto esta entrevista,me emociono mucho pues tambien soy musico autodidacta y rockero,ademas de arquitecto y me senti identificado con su camino y mentalidad.


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