Descemer Bueno, I have many reasons to be in Cuba
By: Ana Laura Arbesú / Photos by Tito Meriño
Sheltered by a pleasant family environment, surrounded by friends and his two daughters, Dessy and Lucy, singer Descemer Bueno delights in being Cuban, having studied music on the island, and having a faithful public, colleagues that appreciate him, and many followers.
He has recently written a song for the Mexican singer Marco Antonio Solís and another for Romeo Santos—former member of the Dominican bachata duo Aventura. However, in the world of show business, he tries to go by unnoticed, and takes his distance from the glamour and lavish praise.
At his home in the Havana neighbourhood of Vedado, he chatted with Cubaplus about his roots, with a glance at the past and a view to future projects.
How and when did you enter to the world of music?
It all started when I was five years old, when I wanted to learn the piano. My mom took me to the Manuel Saumell, a music school
At that time I was unable to enrol, and I returned three years later to study the guitar. I spent four years there, and then continued my studies at the Amadeo Roldán (music academy), graduating as a concert guitarist.
Professionally, my first work was with singersongwriter Santiago Feliú's group, Estado de Ánimo. It was a really wonderful experience. Playing so many different genres was very interesting for us, and also for our public.
A lot of people remember that period, and in fact, an album is going to be released by the Colibrí label with recordings from a long time ago. Rui López Nussa, our drummer, has taken it upon himself to recover all of that music.
Afterwards you were in New York for a time. What did that mean for you?
I arrived in New York in 1998 together with the members of Columna B, another group I had been involved in, to teach a workshop on Afro-Cuban music at Stanford University, a very prestigious school. I appreciated the very rich program that they had for jazz, with some of its original musicians. There aren't many left; they are like a species of dinosaurs, although I think that jazz will never disappear, despite the new tendencies.
Many Cuban musicians who work abroad feel the need to return for nourishment, for finding new sources of inspiration. Was that your case?
I never would have wanted to remain outside of Cuba for two years; first, I wasn't prepared for that. My case was the opposite of many people that have demonstrated that they wanted to remain outside of Cuba. Now there is a more generalized idea of returning to your place of origin, based on a whole number of absences that we begin to encounter in those places.
What kinds of absences?
One of them is our music, although being there [outside the country] I was able to nourish myself and to know what was happening with African and Latino music, with Jewish people. That's New York, a city where spending time should have a meaning, an objective.
However it is the city where I saw how the [Twin] Towers fell; there was a really big change, and money became very important, or you couldn't survive.
It's a place that forces you to sleep in parks, to establish who are your friends and who are your enemies; everything is extreme. What's pretty can turn ugly at a given moment, but it was a great experience, unique.
In the end we realized that we could be closer in a spiritual sense, and in our country they accepted us. That is when the attacks by the incisive media began, especially the Miami Herald. Nowadays, I don't allow any journalist from there to interview me. They have a very erroneous concept of Cubanness, a lack of knowledge about culture as it is, its homogeneity.
For these reasons, many Afro-Cubans like me have had to leave Miami, because they don't accept us. They discriminate against that emerging postrevolutionary Cuban culture, which is extremely rich.
They underestimate you just because you are formally schooled and because you defend the idea that we are a single culture, and we are ready to defend it ourselves.
Latino music greats such as Juan Luis Guerra of the Dominican Republic and Enrique Iglesias of Spain perform your songs, but you always try to go unnoticed in terms of publicity. Why is that?
I admire both of them very much. I think that I am one of the few composers whose songs Juan Luis has sung, because he performs his own songs.
With Enrique, I have had a really nice friendship. A lot of people ask me why people don't know that [the hit song] “Cuando me enamoro” is by me, but he has said so in different interviews, and other people have found out who I am because of that.
A lot of musicians, such as Paulina Rubio, Ana Bárbara and the band Camila of Mexico, have called me since then, artists who have absolutely no need of me, but nevertheless have become interested.
I have other friends, like Julieta Venegas (of Mexico), who have opened many doors for me, doors that nobody can imagine. She is a very sensitive person, incredibly sweet.
You tell me that I try to go by unnoticed, and I will tell you that I am very distracted. Let me tell you, Enrique has called me and said to me, “Call me in half an hour, when you have such-and-such a paragraph of such-and-such a song,” and I've forgotten.
A few days later he calls back and says, “Descemer, your half hours are long…” and I think that this is what has protected me in working with such prestigious artists.
What are you composing now?
I've just had an experience similar to the one I had with Juan Luis Guerra. Recently I sent a song to Marco Antonio Solis (of Mexico), who has a solid, sizzling career. He performs his own songs and his public is all of Latin America, Latinos in the United States, Spain. Once again I'm going through the experience that an artist who sings his own songs is performing one of mine.
I also composed a song for Romeo Santos, a former member of the Dominican bachata band Aventura.
Your recent Cubadisco award for the CD Bueno, what does it mean for your career?
It has opened many doors. All of a sudden, life blesses you. It is a way of being consistent with all of my efforts. I've worked hard, gone through a lot of difficult times; I have been in the jungle, with the impoverished people of Africa, and in other places where children beg.
I am a defender of Cuban culture and of we Cubans who live in Cuba, and who have many reasons to do so.