Photo: Reno Massola
Descemer Bueno (Havana, 1971) is a genuinely Cuban and shy mulatto man, who has won a corner in the heart of the Cuban people. He had previously secured an important sector of the Latino market of some of the major music labels of the world (Sony and Universal) by showing full mastery of musical and poetic codes that make certain songs unforgettable.
His universal and contemporary music tastes like tobacco and rum with a harmonic combination of the flavor of a local rumba, the ancestral sound of African drums and the lyrical nature of the land that gave birth to bolero and son.
Following Bueno’s recording in Havana of his first audiovisual in his career, we held a conversation with him in the calm patio of the Maikel Barzagas studios.
You are part of a generation of Cuban musicians who stayed abroad for sometime, but who kept close relations with the island. You are included in that generation and there’s been a return to the Cuba music composed in the first half fo the 20th century. Is this exhaustion or nostalgia?
That’s correct, some of us have returned to our natural public and taken Cuban music into some kind of enrichment by combining it with elements of other cultures, such as the Spanish, French and African cultures. Among us are Raul Paz, David Torrens, Kelvis Ochoa, Raul Torres and others.
This includes some nostalgia and some gratitude as well; like of we were guardians of this part of our music. There is a sort of agreement among all of us to identify this music as our paradigm and the slogan would be “For music, based on a quite spiritual compromise, which does not mean our “unionization.”
It’s been hard. We have been highly criticized. This year, for instance, when we joined Havanazation, in Miami, bloggers from many parts of the world launched very ugly criticisms at us, including Zoe Valdes. These were very recalcitrant people who cannot understand our return and identification with our people. I call this plasticine stain.
We are musicians and the Cuban public is special, nice and demanding and sincere. If they are not convinced by the performance of an artist, no matter how famous, they stand up and go. Here there are art lovers with a high cultural level; they are demanding and this is part of a reciprocal relationship that we have with the island.
One of the most popular songs in the Bueno CD is the one you jointly recorded with Baby Lores, this famous reggaeton singer from Cuba. This fact has put you in front of a public with some aesthetics different from the one you usually defend. How can you explain this fact?
I recently attended a performance by troubadour Adrian Berazan at the Jose Marti Cultural Society. The public was made up of young people. The host sang first, the people voiced the lyrics and suddenly, that same audience began singing the reggaeton tunes of Baby Lores.
I think this is an achievement, the fact that the people sincerely sing a beautiful song and then dance to reggaeton. I am open, you know, and I danced, they saw me dancing and enjoying the music of Baby Lores and of Los Van Van. It is good to see this diversity going and that no differences stand between us, in the end, we all begin to the same group of artists that defend our country and we are the face for our music.
At the Lucas awarding ceremonies, in the Karll Marx theater, I found out that the same young people that voted for Los Angeles, also wanted to take pictures with me. This means that I am part of this world of “figures” of the music world that adolescent follow. Incidentally, I sat beside William el Magnfico, this other reggaeton player. We talked and expressed mutual admiration and it was nice to see that those who came for pictures with me would also take pictures with him. This fact proves a sort of integration of the public, which I consider to be valid. Kelvis Ochoa already set up a reggaeton chorus, which was something unthinkable five years ago.
And there is this trend towards the increase of this kind of public that prefers reggaetón, they are not that selective…
That’s right, I think that if compared to salsa or to reggaeton, winning more space for our music has been more complicated, but I blame nobody for this. Now they criticize reggaeton, but they have to admit that these kids have made a tough job. I know the story of Baby Lores, which is not an easy one, by the way. Here we had a story different from Puerto Rico, where drug and antisocial elements were in the backstage; although there were exceptions like Calle 13 for instance, but many could not help using dirty money to promote their work. Otherwise they would not have reached the place where they are now.
However, reggaeton players in Cuba have made it in a clean manner and they are at important places in the United States. I’ve seen some like Gente de Zona at the La Covacha, in New York.
But this issue about vulgarity is not exclusive in Cuba, it is happening around the world. Perhaps our reggaeton singers have a better rhythm and good taste, though the message is in tune with what is sold at the international market. I cannot make a song of those, but I would not deny the fact that I would use the talent if I had it.
At some point in time I criticized reggaeton singers, but now I admit that it was because I found it difficult to get my own space. In such circumstance it is easy to criticize others. But later I understood that this is not my space or my public, though after my duet with Lores something changed.
I almost sure that the same way he surprised me with his high musical level, others would do the same. Those who design the tracks for instance are very creative and they get big things just with little elements. They have nothing to envy from those who work in big studios with professional equipment.
How about your new projects?
We are now working on El Caballero de Paris; it is a musical play composed and directed Spanish Tomas Mazeira, who has written other pieces for Broadway.
We Cubans have idealized the figure of the Caballero de Paris, though he lived a very interesting kind of life, our work is based on that story.
Choreographies, which are very good, were made by Eduardo Blanco. The music is composed by Kelvys and myself, particularly for this occasion, with elements of pop, rock, mambo and others. Laura de la Uz is one of the actresses as well as children who sing and dance.
If I were not part of the work, I would be one of the persons that will be very amazed at the work, I’m sure. The premiere will take place January 17 at the Karl Marx theater, with eight following editions. I wish this helps recover musical theater, which was so important in Cuba.
Along with this project, I’m also working in a CD of Luna Manzanares, which I am producing. I will also make another with Jorge Villamizar, in which we make up a duet. And I am also the interpreter and composer of the first single of the Kumbia Kings.
Do you like working as producer?
I do not do that any longer. There are great talents out there, they are very creative and they are really working on that.
Some say that you do not usually stay in the same place for long, is that right?
Yes, I’m like those Taino indians who would travel around the Caribbean without knowing where to settle. I fell fine in this zone, visiting the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico is like being at home. I would have also liked to stay longer in African, travel back and force, because that’s my real motherland, though Spain means a lot to me, just like New York, and Havana, which will be the capital of the world in any moment.
Don’t you think it is an exaggeration tos ay that?
No I don’t. Havana has something that you cannot find in New York, Madrid, Barcelona. They did have it but they lost it. Over the past eight years, I’ve been coming to Havana and I have noticed its cultural and social development. This is a nice and very dynamic city. Night life is healthy if compared to other places and as to architecture, perhaps we would need to pull down some things and raise some new ones.
Your were born in the Old Section of Havana, where you always return to. How would you describe this relationship to your birthplace?
Since I was a kid, I took part at activities held at the Old Havana Cultural Center and I am very grateful to the professors of music, dance and visual arts. This was an unforgettable experience that allowed me meeting people that I have continue to meet with during my life.
Life in old Havana is intense and harmonic. I grew up in that social ambiance, which is not necessarily violent, though it is not that beautiful either.
For some time, you seemed to be very close to the hip hop movement, then to Jazz and now we see you like returning to Bolero to the trova movement, let’s say. What happened along that road?
I explored many roads. For some time I was not sure if I should sing. Then I worked on the Yerba Buena CD President Alien, with Andres Levin, Cucu Diamantes and Xiomara Laugart, that was in 2002 or 2003. And although I finally remained out of it as a singer, they kept my songs.
In 2005, I made Siete Rayos, with the Universal label and I tried to develop rap. Those were times in which reggaeton was already growing strong and the companies began to hire artists in that genre. Those singers, whom I referred to before, had a lot of money to bribe anybody, radio, tv, I did not so I asked the company for some kind of leave and they accepted.
Some of your songs have been interpreted by Julio Iglesias, Juan Luis Guerra, Luz Casals, Talia, Noelia and others. How did this relation to these international and famous artists develop? And how do you assess this link to the pure and tough music market?
They are looking for songs that keep their status. Many fall due to their lack of repertoire and here is where the publishers come in and hire composers to meet the demand for songs. Creators like me take contract with a publisher or with some of them for a given time and they give you a list of artists looking for songs. Later the singers pick the songs, but they never get to meet the composers, that happened with Thalia and with Noelia, for instance.
Do you like this kind of work? Is it confortable to work like this?
Yes, I have Little let’s say attachment as they say, and it is also part of my shyness.
You have traveled and lived in several cities of the world such as New York, L. A., California, Barcelona. Which of these cities have contributed more to your condition of human being and musician?
The cities that have left an imprint on me are New York, Barcelona and Havana. New York is cosmopolitan and intense, rich in musical terms with many styles and it allowed me meeting different people. In Barcelona, I met Arab and African musicians; I set up a band with X Alfonso, in which we made up a duet. I still got my public there. But, I always prefer Havana, this is home.
How do you imagine yourself in five years from now?
On the stage, composing and avoiding being this worried kind of artist hoping that someone sings one of my songs.