Marco Alonso has just finished an electroacoustic music course in Budapest, Hungary. Before continuing to Havana, the Cuban drummer traveled to Spain to spend time with his family, and shortly after his arrival I took the opportunity to meet and talk about his career.
In Madrid it is very cold. The afternoon looks like a fridge and people take shelter in several layers of clothing to protect themselves from the low temperatures. Marco wears a kind of scarf, a heavy winter coat, and looks for a place that is as warm as possible to shelter his body, accustomed to the Caribbean. Although he shares his days with his parents and his brother in the Madrid town of Las Rozas, his thoughts are on Cuba.
We ordered two coffees and began to talk about his Reversible project and the first album recorded under his band’s label, which he defines as a power trio, and which also currently includes guitarist William Pacheco and pianist Sandor Saint-Hill. It is an independent record that moves between progressive rock, ambient and the so-called World Music, and which bears the suggestive title of Caminando a ciegas.
“The Reversible project is an idea that emerged during the pandemic, from the distance we experienced,” explains Marco. “In the midst of this complicated situation, I sought to do things that I had wanted to do for a long time and focus on my own projects, because until then I had dedicated myself to working for other musicians. I had collaborated with Raúl Paz, with Anima Mundi, with Eddy Escobar, and for the first time I felt the need to make my own music. This is how I had my first encounter with music production, with software, with recording and, of course, with composition, and from there I began to create Reversible.”
A saxophone graduate from the National Art School (ENA), the musician is 32 years old and has an interesting career in the Cuban metal scene. He started with the band Médula from Pinar del Río and since then he has maintained collaborations that, due to his diversity, speak of his understanding of music as a universe in which anything is possible. In fact, he refuses to label his work within established genres.
“People label progressive rock as a subgenre of rock. But I would classify the Reversible record as progressive music that draws on some of the classic prog rock of the 1970s. I see it as progressive music that expands much more stylistically,” he comments.
“There is a search in jazz, in world music, in ambient, in electronics. There are African sounds. The concepts are very avant-garde, eclectic,” he adds. “We are making free music that functions as a laboratory of concerns.”
With Médula, Marco recorded, among other projects, the soundtrack of the film Boleto al paraíso, a testimony of an era — early 1990s in Cuba — and of very significant events within the underground Cuban rock scene.
“That was an invitation from Edesio Alejandro. They were looking for a soundtrack that sounded a bit thrash to accompany the story of the freakys who injected themselves with HIV in those years, and Pinar del Río was one of the provinces with the most records of such incidents. Edesio called us and we recorded three songs, one of which was interpreted by the band Qva Libre. We recorded the scenes playing live at the Alamar Amphitheatre, in Havana,” he tells of that experience.
The drummer has in his file a job that defined his way of seeing rock and music as scenarios that expand radically. These are his recordings and concerts with Anima Mundi, one of the jewels in the crown of rock made in Cuba, a lineup that is more recognized outside the island than inside, and that mixes currents such as progressive rock, symphonic rock and new age.
“Going through Anima Mundi was a school. All the influences that I was acquiring with them gave me a lot, including performing at festivals with big bands like Jethro Tull and The Flower Kings. Having shared the stages with those bands expands one’s vision and tastes,” he affirms.
“With Anima Mundi I recorded the album I Me Myself (2016). Then we did two tours of Europe and then recorded the album Imsonia. They have been victims of the same thing that all of Cuba is suffering: the exodus. Several of its musicians have left the country and the band is now taking time at the level of realization and production,” he explains.
Marco mentions the word exodus several times during our conversation. He says that his band has also suffered the consequences of emigration, one of the most serious conflicts gripping Cuba today.
“In the process of recording the album we were victims of this problem. Our first bass player, José Bermúdez, a spectacular musician on bass and violin, left Cuba during the recording of track 4 of the album and the process had to stop. Then a second bassist appeared, José Machado, from the jazz group Cauce, and we finished the record. He provided that sound that we were looking for because we wanted to mix the jazz parts with the sounds of the synthesizers. We are happy with the result, but Machado decided to stay during Omara Portuondo’s tour of Spain and the project was once again uncompleted,” says the young musician.
“The three of us who remained in the group plan to continue in Cuba; do things from Cuba and move towards festivals. But right now, it’s difficult to maintain stability at work and in the lineup,” he reflects. “I don’t think there is any band on the island free from exodus. Many musicians, like so many other Cubans, are considering existentially and at a creative level if they are going to stay in the country. It’s something very serious.”
Marco plans to release the album in Cuba in the coming months. Caminando a ciegas had as a prelude the recording of the four-song EP titled Respuestas, based on an ancestral divination system and whose music is already on digital platforms.
For the debut of the album, the Reversible musicians have planned a concert at the headquarters of the El ciervo encantando theater company or at the Fábrica de Arte Cubano. But, as Marco himself points out, “it is difficult” to specify it with certainty.
“Cuba is in a great existential crisis. There is not a sector in society that does not suffer from this situation, and music, of course, is one of the victims of this phenomenon. I am a 100% romantic individual and I am excited to launch this project of three friends in our country. But I think it’s definitely hard to be able to do something like this right now in Cuba,” he laments.
At this point, the conversation takes a not very optimistic turn to which the cold of Madrid does not help. With a second steaming coffee as an ally, I then try to change the tone and not delve into the pain that many of us carry inside. And for this, nothing better than going back to the roots, and giving the interview a more formal twist.
How did your identification with rock and roll come about?
Rock and roll is the music I love. It is the background that I carry inside. When I joined Anima Mundi I began to feel an affinity for other genres, for other world music. Now I am interested not only in rock, but also in jazz, ambient.
Right now, I have just returned from Budapest, from an electroacoustic music workshop, something that in my beginnings I never imagined doing. This is another important search for me and I think that experience has been good for the Reversible project as well.
Do you feel part of the Cuban rock scene?
Cuban rock has stagnated on a conceptual level. It lacks evolution. This has happened with many bands in the world too, which don’t evolve because they already know what the public expects. That may seem like a comfortable thing, sure, but artistically I find it impoverishing. Cuban rock lacks experimentation, risk, support. I feel like my music is a bit outside of that scene on a conceptual level.
What did the course you took in Budapest consist of?
It was a two-month course that gave me a lot; a new experience that opened up other horizons in my career. Electroacoustic music is a very vast world. I had had some approaches, for example, to the music of John Cage. Now, that proximity to the synthesizers, the loops, was exciting.
I think this course will be a catalyst for the vision I have as a composer. In Cuba there is a lot of virtuosity, but the absence of a certain texture of art in some music is noticeable. What we are looking for with the first Reversible album is precisely the exploration beyond virtuosity. In short, it is a more personal search.
What expectations have you set for the album?
I haven’t lost the hope of doing something with the record on my return to Cuba. Hopefully I can count on some help and some budget to launch this project.
It is no secret to anyone that a good part of my generation and others are thinking of leaving or have already left the country. But there is also a part of my friends who have the illusion of returning, because they carry within them that “Sergio” from Memories of Underdevelopment. They have unfinished business with Cuba and they have it on hold. And they would like to carry it forward, just like I want to.