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The salmon flight. From Brooklyn to Cayo Hueso without regrets

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“It’s not knowledgeable recording, but one can hear the drums here [and the sound reverberates]. And an almendrón that goes by every two seconds or the vendor of ice cream or avocados. Wow!” He sighs, but without feeling fed up, as Cubans do once they extract the humor from adversity, and looking out towards the roof of the room, he smiles, while by Aramburu Street, magically, what goes by is silence to refute his little agony.

Only three forms of people would dare to construct a recording studio in a house with a street door, without noise trap and in the midst of the endemic hustle and bustle of Centro Habana: the ignorant, the crazy and the optimists.

Andrés Levín (Caracas, 1968) isn’t in the primary two; although, psychoanalyzed, he wouldn’t be a stranger among the many second. Leaving aside the permutations of suspicion, we’re definitely facing a person stuffed with optimism that devotes himself to projects in Cuba that in prudent spirits could be politely declined. The cause? They demand a being very audacious.

TEDx to offer Cuba 2.0 an impulse

Like every intelligent man with initiative, Levin’s things occur. So, a New York morning in 2010 he woke up under the empire of a matter: “How do I do something with all these incredible people I even have met?”

On his trips to the island, which began in 1998 as a producer of Sony Music to make an album within the old Egrem recoding company with Cuban classics sung in French by a Frenchman, Andrés Levín dedicated himself to nosing around Cuban society. He didn’t know much. Within the Nineteen Eighties his reference to the Caribbean socialist bastion was music. Vinyl discs, amongst many others by Cachao López, one in every of his favorites. His inquiries were from top to bottom and vice versa. With gregariousness, tact, simplicity and, after all, much curiosity.

Andrés Levín at his Centro Habana house. Within the background, a neon Tribe Caribe, the artistic consultation platform founded and directed by the artist. Photo: Ángel Marqués Dolz.

That’s how he met personalities of spiritual culture and syncretism, equivalent to Natalia Bolívar, or the plastic artist Stereo Segura, acquired by the MoMA or an habitue of the Venice Biennial; but additionally people from the road, unknown rumberos, neighborhood musicians, undeserved entrepreneurs without fortune, speculators, shady businessmen. Then, through the first Obama government, one other query asked himself, she loves me, she loves me not: “Will they let me; will they let me not?” In spite of everything, TED, which implies technology, entertainment and design, for its English acronym, is a non-profit platform designed almost forty years ago by Richard Saul Wurman with Harry Marks and has landed in about 170 countries.

“I told myself: it should be inconceivable…but I did it,” Levín says, remembering, satisfied, the 2 TED talks on the National Theater of Havana — InCUBAndo (2014) and Futurisla (2015) — for which he needed to get money from U.S. Foundations and persuade each the State Department and the Ministry of Culture that “every thing was inside what was allowed and favored the agenda of the 2 governments; and to me it seemed improbable to be a part of them. Obviously, there have been recommendations of…don’t include anyone who has any political angle within the talk.” 

As an advance of what’s the factitious intelligence boom, in Futurisla many were speechless to see and take heed to Bina 48, on the time one in every of the robots with the best capability for socialization on the earth, composed of knowledge from many people. For the occasion it was programmed in Spanish and due to this fact could interact freely with the Cuban auditorium, about 3,000, mostly young, who crowded even within the hallways of the Avellaneda room to savor a slice of the longer term.

Levín maintains an ironic calm and a discreet prominence in his daily life. Photo: Ángel Marqués Dolz.
Levín maintains an ironic calm and a discreet prominence in his each day life. Photo: Ángel Marqués Dolz.

Peace concert, Pichi and a definitive love

In 2007 Andrés Levín had finished co-producing the album Papito, a successful double album of duets by Miguel Bosé. Upon leaving the recording studio, the Spanish singer-songwriter told him concerning the preparations for an edition in Havana of the Peace Concert, a Colombian initiative to assist peace efforts with guerrillas and other armed groups. Two years later, Levin landed within the Cuban capital with the singer Cucú Diamantes, then his romantic partner, two backup singers and Bosé’s band.

Still with the hangover of the greater than one million Cubans gathered within the Plaza de la Revolución wearing white clothes and chanting songs (never again has such a crowd, typical in the primary many years of Fidel Castro, gathered within the historic place), Levin sealed his commitment to the island.

“That very same night I met Pichi [Jorge Perugorría] and we decided to make a movie [Amor crónico, 2012, with Cucú and the producer himself in the cast] and from then on my interest in Cuba has multiplied, at all times creating increasingly more links and projects to bring here.”

Tribe Caribe. His great initiative and investment for a cultural voice in the Caribbean basin. Photo: Ángel Marqués Dolz.
Tribe Caribe. His great initiative and investment for a cultural voice within the Caribbean basin. Photo: Ángel Marqués Dolz.

Tribe Caribe

What value does Cuba have that justifies that energy towards us?

Look, it’s query. First, I at all times felt like family here, which I didn’t have in New York. At first I lived in Bahia, which I like, however it was very removed from the people I even have met, the projects, the music and here, in Cayo Hueso, a couple of steps from Trillo Park, I could make a difference locally, within the culture, within the lives of the people, not only those that are here, but those that come from there [foreigners] to here.

You commit to social transformation, a minimum of on the community level….

I took it as one in every of my missions to do a sort of micro and macro social change project. Micro within the sense of my friends who come here from there and who’re artists who spend 72 hours in Havana, return modified and leave something behind; and the projects that I even have been in a position to do here, like TED, and probably the most complex and impressive of all, Tribe Caribe, which is our content platform, each for music, art, but it’s also a hostel and in a certain way it is that this recording study and the intention is to create a Caribbean voice. Throughout my profession I even have been very fascinated with the fusion of Afro-Caribbean music, and tips on how to increase the little artistic communication between Cuba and Jamaica, Haiti, Colombia, Puerto Rico.

And Tribe Caribe is a facilitator of your ambitions….

Tribe Caribe is a base of exploration and inter-Caribbean collaboration. It’s just like the Caribbean tribe, it’s a play on words, the R, the I, the B, the E, are in each words, but beyond the lexical sense, it’s to affirm that we’re a tribe that has far more in common than not in common. It’s unraveling the knot of why there isn’t more interaction within the Caribbean, since it seems to me that together we’re going to make an excellent voice for global culture.

Andrés Lavín, who in 2016 brought the queen of Spanish pop, Martha Sánchez, to Havana to sing on the Week against Homophobia and Transphobia, is producing an album with songs that every fuse a minimum of a few Caribbean cultures. The Cuban band Osain del Monte is involved within the project, which is accountable for reviving genres equivalent to yambú, guaguancó, columbia, in addition to songs and toques belonging to Afro-Cuban religions.

With no less Caribbean will, one other of the initiatives took place through the opening of an exhibition by the photographer Juan Carlos Alom, (Havana, 1964), whose photographic series Nacidos para ser libres has been acquired by the celebrated collection of the British National Museum of Modern Art.

One Saturday afternoon, Levin cajoled the Cayo Hueso community with an unprecedented sound: contemporary music from Jamaica. He brought in, for the aim, a DJ from Kingston to “see what happens.” The result? “It was incredible”. He remembers that at the beginning the old ladies and youngsters within the neighborhood wondered what genre was coming out of the speakers. It was not reggaeton, it was not salsa, nor cubaton, nor timba; much less singer-songwriter music. So? “Here the range of musical styles is wide, but specifically what’s playing in Jamaica isn’t heard. Nevertheless, after an hour and a half everyone was having fun with themselves and partying, as if we were in Kingston!”

With his beloved Chinese lap dog that follows him everywhere. Photo: Ángel Marqués Dolz.
Along with his beloved Chinese lap dog that follows him in every single place. Photo: Ángel Marqués Dolz.

How was the sustainability of the project conceived?

I work outside of Cuba so I can do things here. Within the case of the jazz festival, they lend us Trillo Park, the lights, no tickets are sold, there isn’t a label behind my albums, every thing is completely independent. Obviously, all musicians receives a commission, but when there isn’t a money, there isn’t a money, and so they play the identical. There may be far more artistic flexibility than in another city on the earth that I do know.

What does your work abroad consist of?

I work in publicity in Mexico or the US. With a industrial I will pay for a few songs, for instance.

Do you want making them?

Yes, I like them. I don’t do many in order to not grow to be a toothpaste factory, but luckily they call me for more cultural projects and I like them. For instance, last yr I did a canopy for the song “Gracias a la vida,” by Violeta Parra, for the Tequila Patrón campaign. I did it with American soul singers, with my arrangement completely a cappella in English. It wasn’t only a jingle.

One other thing I did was the most recent campaign for Mexican beer Victoria — which, like tequila, I like — after which we brought your complete team to do post-production here. Jon Batiste, for instance, wants to come back and record here. I feel that this humble studio will be used for music from in every single place. Cucurucho Valdés, Yaroldy Abreu, Alejandro Falcón and Oliver Valdés, amongst others, have already passed through here.

A friend of the painter Carlos Quintana, his canvases hang on the walls of the studio on Aramburo Street. Photo: Ángel Marqués Dolz.
A friend of the painter Carlos Quintana, his canvases hang on the partitions of the studio on Aramburo Street. Photo: Ángel Marqués Dolz.

Vintage, oil paintings, yoga and a rooftop Havana landscape

Within the project’s sustainability equation there’s a luxury variable: the Tribe Caribe Cayo Hueso hostel. Conceived as a boutique hotel, the eclectic five-story constructing in-built 1930 features eleven intimate rooms and suites, private balconies, vaulted ceilings, original classical tiles, chandeliers and a cage elevator. Each room is decorated with locally sourced period pieces and original contemporary artwork by Cuban and Pan-Caribbean artists. The bar, on the roof, means that you can dominate the old and modern areas of the town, with its gray tones, its flocks of pigeons and its twilights on the foot of the Gulf. If you get up, a yoga service can restore lost balance if it was a rough night. Only the oldest do not forget that the Neptuno bar was there, which ended up being a seedy refuge for the numerous broken hearts of all time.

On the community level, is there a spillover of those profits to the residents, for instance, or is the neighborhood simply a part of the decoration and the hostel is a sort of pearl within the swamp?

Within the sense that there are thirty or forty people employed on the project, there are tangible advantages. I’m not the one partner, luckily. This isn’t a foundation, however it works as a sort of mentoring, so that individuals learn to do sustainable projects, and that requires quite a lot of attention to expenses, the punctuality of inputs, changing with the times and their difficulties, because enough people will not be coming, or there’s no gas, or eggs for breakfast, then you’ve to do something else.

The necessary thing is to proceed generating projects for the people of the neighborhood and that they proceed to be free. I don’t see a time after we’re going to sell tickets at Trillo Park. The day of Van Van’s concert it was obviously free and a couple of,000 people got here, individuals who had never seen Van Van of their neighborhood. The price of that, in comparison with the result, gives you the worth of the contribution, which is the chance to do more with less.

“Manteca 2.0”

Memory, sensuality, history, identity, joy, legacy, vitalism, updating of the parable converge in “Manteca 2.0,” a powerful video directed by Amén Perugorría, filmed in black and white, with arrangements and lyrics by Alain Pérez — “among the finest and most impressive musicians on the earth” —, Gradelio Pérez and Andrés Levín himself.

“The song is a tribute to this neighborhood, to its values, through one in every of its sons, Chano Pozo, whose vital journey from Cayo Hueso to New York, where he meets Dizzy Gillespie and together they compose “Manteca,” in 1947, modified jazz and its history without end when Afro-Cuban percussion entered.

Bringing back to Cayo Hueso the musical powerhouse that’s Luciano Chano Pozo González, who was shot six times in Río Bar Grill, situated on the corner of 111th and Lennox streets, in Harlem, in 1948, also extends the exercise of memory and recovery of the legacies left by other luminaries of the community: Juan Formell, Omara Portuondo, Moraima Secada, Félix Chappottin, Carlos del Puerto, Los Zafiros, the historian Eusebio Leal and Pedrito Martínez, who grew up here and whose family still lives within the neighborhood.

Filmed in an eight-block square, “Manteca 2.0” has the added bonus of authenticity: a mirror during which about forty people from Cayo Hueso look and recognize themselves. The watchmaker, the boys who box or play soccer (there may be never a baseball scene), the pigeon breeders, those that work within the rubble of the constructions or reconstructions of the community, the road vendors, the drinkers of rum and other fragrant herbs, the pedicab drivers, the tai chi practitioners, and motley neighbors, whose glances towards the camera lens document their very own — and sometimes precarious — existence. And, in the midst of the parade, we discover a smiling Andrés Levín who takes off his welder’s mask in a metaphor of an acquiescent filler of wills.

“Cayo Hueso because the cultural and musical epicenter of Havana and Cuba is a subject that interests me lots,” insists Levín, whose video “Manteca 2.0,” which features Los Van Van, Alain Pérez, Pedrito Martínez, Yissy García, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Rashawn Ross and Ron Blake, shall be launched on international platforms this September 15, being accompanied on the Tribe Caribe hostel’s Manteca Bar with two drinks of ingredients under absolute secrecy: Dizzy and Chano.

Conversation on the celebrities’ couch

You may have a Jewish surname and were born in Caracas. Something bizarre behind it?

The short version is that my Argentine parents were political exiles in Caracas within the late Sixties and I used to be born there. My Jewish ancestry comes from Germany, I even have a German passport. In 1937 my Jewish exiled grandparents fled from Berlin, via London, to Buenos Aires. I’m really German, Argentine, Venezuelan, American, wanting to be Cuban.


Exactly. Of all of the passports, the one that basically works is the German one.

If said by a Jew, it’s something…curiously ironic.

Yes, I went to the German embassy in Caracas saying that although my parents will not be German, but Argentine, I needed to skip a generation and I told them: “If it weren’t for Hitler, I could be a Berlin boy, so take a look at me here in Venezuela, I even have to get something in exchange, right?”

Were your parents left-wing militants?

They were left-wing students, Argentinian, hippies, not very religious, so I used to be not raised within the Jewish rite. My grandparents were traditional.

Don’t you’ve a menorah or kippah here for once you exit?

No. But I even have used it when I even have worked within the film and music industry. My friends from those sectors are all Jewish, so after I became knowledgeable I began to practice more, but more for social reasons; although I even have the soul of a Jew. Nevertheless, I’m not a excellent businessman.

Are you a jeweler or do about jewelry? Are you perhaps a mathematician, in order to not pass over any clichés?

Well, I’m a musician and I make a living from it. I even have a brilliant dry humorousness.

Woody Allen style?

A la Woody Allen. That’s a joke, as they are saying.

In your biographical profile it’s stated that you simply are a philanthropist. Do you deserve it or is it exaggerated?

In principle, I even have fifteen or twenty social projects that I even have done with foundations, but I’m not a millionaire who’s donating the stays of his Jewish family’s fortune to Cuban culture. (Laughter)

The legendary sofa brought from NY, where stars like.… Behind it, hangs a piece by Cuban Carlos Quintana. Photo: Ángel Marqués Dolz.
The legendary sofa brought from NY, where stars like.… Behind it, hangs a chunk by Cuban Carlos Quintana. Photo: Ángel Marqués Dolz.

I read that you simply studied on the Berklee and Juilliard academies. Are they as reputable as they are saying they’re?

Obviously not, because they let me in.…

You don’t lose your humor….

Infrequently. After I was at Berklee, the nice thing was that it gave you the chance to work very hard, and also you had the tools, but there have been also kids who only went to check to learn tips on how to make rock music arrangements, and on the opposite side was Keith Jarrett and other great jazz players. Juilliard is far stricter, and clearly focused on classical music, unlike Berklee; but they gave me a full scholarship there, they paid for every thing. I never knew if it was my talent or because they’d to have a quota from a Latin American and I used to be there.

Do your musical beginnings return to childhood?

Yes. My father made experimental music, and after I was 7 or 8 years old I even have photos during which I’m with headphones doing sound effects and sound art principally after which I got into rock and roll, I played in fifty kids’ bands and since there was a studio at home I made recordings playing all of the instruments, and that’s what I sent to Berklee, which is why they invite me to check there. After a yr I left.


Because I discovered New York. There I started to check at Juilliard and do part time in studios. I applied to thirty-five and only two admitted me. I happened to fall into one where Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson worked, and in the opposite room, Nile Rodgers. I used to be excellent at programming synthesizers. So as a substitute of constructing coffee and cleansing toilets for 3 years, which is what kids do, three or 4 weeks later I used to be within the studio programming a system price one million dollars, which was owned by Stevie Wonders, Rodgers himself, who was my mentor, and Trevor Charles Horn. There have been about 4 or five on the earth, because they were very expensive and sophisticated, and I knew tips on how to use them. That was a steppingstone to with the ability to be within the studio at 18 with Diana Ross, Chic, The Vaughan Brothers.

In the primary 4 or five months I used to be involved in records of that stature as a programmer and in some cases composing. I worked 20 hours a day. I had no life, I had no girlfriend, I had nothing, no friends, nothing. The opposite studio was at forty seventh Avenue and Broadway. Hip hop was recorded and the singers all carried guns.

All of that was like in two or three years after which Misha, an English soul singer, calls me when she hears a few my demos. I did her second record, and that put me on the map as a music producer on the earth of soul and rhythm and blues. The album was very eclectic and really interesting, and when it got here out Chaka Khan, Tina Turner, Gladys Knight called me, they sat right down to talk over with me on this sofa where we are actually, after which I did quite a lot of rhythm and blues, and I began to delve into Brazilian music. I had a success before with Martha Sánchez and Olé Olé. The song was called “Soldados del amor.” I ended up moving to Brazil for several years, and that’s after I worked with Caetano Veloso, Carlinhos Brown, Marisa Monte, Arto Lindsay, Brazilian-American composer and guitarist from the New York underground and avant-garde scene. Then I went to Nigeria to do a Fela Kuti tribute, and in the midst of all that, I did half a David Byrne record.

You furthermore mght have a history with Latin American rock….

I made the primary iconic rock records in Spanish by the bands El Gran Silencio, Aterciopelados and Los amigos invisibles. I also worked with La Portuaria, I made two albums with them, but there have been more Caribbean ones.

And Yerbabuena, when does it appear in your creative life?

In the midst of all that maelstrom. We worked for nearly ten years. Records, tours. Yerbabuena was the musical mixture of every thing: Africa with jazz, R&B, cumbia, the fusion of all those things that I loved, and in live that band was a train, fourteen musicians on stage.

The proven fact that you selected Cuba isn’t pure whim. What values do you detect in Cuban society, even within the midst of this unresolved crisis that we’re suffering? Do you think that culture saves and saves us?

A really difficult query to reply. It’s like…what we’re left with is culture. I’m also seeing the good exodus of individuals from here. Obviously with the potential of coming and going, but I do feel that there’s a new generation that I didn’t learn about and that they’re excellent creators. In other words, I’m also very optimistic typically, I even have individuals who tell me: “But you like everyone.” I don’t live without knowing the truth, not the apparent; but I at all times attempt to help more often than not and the projects have that community part, I feel what I can do is get more resources to do more projects here. That’s the part I do. Yes, in that sense culture can save. There are very interesting projects that may change people’s lives each here and there. I see my role as a sort of bridge and that’s what I’ve been doing for a bunch of years. Did I answer your query?

In one in every of the numerous incursions that Dizzy Gillespie made to Havana, starting in 1977, he visited the neighborhood of Cayo Hueso and asked where a statue or a bust or a plaque of Chano Pozo was, although actually Pozo was born in La Timba, a Havana neighborhood adjoining to the Colón Cemetery, where the percussionist is buried. Amongst your plans could be to settle that debt of others?

It will be project. The concept is to make a large graffiti on the facade of a constructing in Cayo Hueso with the image of Chano and Juan Formell. The issue with those things is that you simply put one and exclude the others. Individuals who have been here for lower than thirty years don’t know who Chano Pozo was, but I feel that with three concert events we are able to change that.

And do you think that that at the extent of jazz, this new generation of Cubans is contributing as much because the pioneers did within the Nineteen Thirties and Forties in the US? Machito, Bauzá, Camero and plenty of others….

I might say yes, although they’re different. Any American, Senegalese, Brazilian percussionist who sees Pedrito Martínez play goes to say “waooo,” the identical with Dafnis Prieto, with Horacio el Negro, or with Gonzalo [Rubalcaba]. All of them have a uniqueness — not only in talent, but in vision — that makes them unique. But jazz is in great danger of being repetitive, and I feel that jazz in Havana needs an injection of concepts. It has a powerful level of musical virtuosity, but original ideas don’t flourish every two weeks. I feel that not having the Web for thus a few years possibly limited a bit access to what alternative music is. In New York or Bahia, Brazil, there may be far more experimentation that generates ideas and plenty of more possibilities of places to play. Here making a living from music is practically inconceivable, unless you travel.

The musician and producer is committed to projects of identity and social self-affirmation in the Cayo Hueso neighborhood. Photo: Ángel Marqués Dolz.
The musician and producer is committed to projects of identity and social self-affirmation within the Cayo Hueso neighborhood. Photo: Ángel Marqués Dolz.

And on a more elitist level, if the term suits, have you ever found here the potential of making a more technically elaborate music project?

Here, elitist, yes, no problem. Have a look at me, Jewish, German, Juilliard, I even have a Chinese dog, I don’t even make its food; I even have a non-public boxing coach, he’s a friend of mine and due to him I recovered the wallet that was stolen from me a few days ago within the agricultural market on account of carelessness. It was hilarious, because they wanted a reward for handing over the wallet and he told them: “I’ll work with him and tell the one who stole the wallet that the reward is me.” And the subsequent day he already had the wallet, without the cash, after all. Here everyone seems to be multipurpose. Even me.

And the work with the batá drums?

I’m again cooking something with the batá drums. And I even have made several pieces on the Havana Biennials with batá drums. I did a chunk called “Abatar,” interactive with thirty batá drums on the street, after which in Fábrica de Arte a choreography with Claudia Hilda, I wrote like a collection for nine batá drums, but totally twelve-tone, contemporary.

Like Schoenberg.

Yes, kind of. I like the sound of the batá.

It strikes me that you may connect with neighborhood music and with, let’s say, sophisticated music, without blushing. The music is one.

As a toddler I used to be exposed to experimental music, which is the perfect thing that may occur to you because should you start with noise, what you learn, in a technique or one other, is an organized variation of that noise. So I like electronic music, classical music, improvised music, jazz, and I feel that unlike my contemporaries (that is the longest interview of my profession), who became great rock producers, great jazz producers, they only make music for movies, or promoting, I’m at all times changing my style and dealing lots on different musical universes at the identical time and that’s what I search for and it keeps me more alert. When my father invited me to play the guitar, a blues, for instance, he scolded me if I imitated Hendrix. He forced me to detune the guitar and search for something strange within the sound. I at all times had that college of experimentation and if I had children and so they were musicians I could be identical to my father.

What prevents you from resting in your laurels?

Curiosity. I feel.

You’re lucky you’re not a cat.


A few of his many friends in the US have seen Andrés Levin as a salmon swimming against the present to spawn in Havana. Knowing a couple of things about here and ignoring many others, their common phrase was: “What the fuck, man?”

Still from the “Manteca 2.0” video clip. Andrés Levin enters the New York Subway. His jacket says “Estoy pa Cayo Hueso.”
Still from the “Manteca 2.0” video clip. Andrés Levin enters the New York Subway. His jacket says “Estoy pa Cayo Hueso.”

Angel Marqués Dolz Angel Marqués Dolz

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