By Irina Echarry, photos: Caridad
HAVANA TIMES, May 6 – Havana’s Malecon seawall offers a reprieve for many residents of the capital looking for a break from the city’s steamy tropical heat. On the other side of the wide seaside drive and between Prado and Capdevila streets, is the Spanish American Cultural Center, a place offering a host of concerts by different artists throughout the entire month.
On Saturday, May 2, while the seawall was packed with people, the concert hall in this center was practically empty. Did people know what they were missing? Perhaps they preferred to relax under the sun instead of entering a calm locale to listen to some of the best music made in Cuba. Or maybe they just didn’t know about the concert? It was a shame; they only had to cross the street to witness a rendition of love.
The Maykel Quartet displayed all its virtuosity playing everything from their version of Hotel California to ragtime-with a Cuban danzón, a jazz tango and a three movement suite in between. The basic objective of the quartet is to make known the wide possibilities into the most varied musical styles with the guitar known as the “Tres” (for its three pairs of two strings) This instrument originated in the Cuban countryside, livening up rural fiestas.
Maykel Elizarde, a Tres player and director of the group, shared his ideas with us: “We try to take the Cuban Tres” guitar to the infiniteness of music. Up to now we all know that the Tres is a stringed instrument that is plucked not strummed, and that it’s the most Cuban of all of the stringed instruments played on the island, but that doesn’t mean that it’s limited only to Cuban music, rural music. The idea that we stand for is that this instrument can be incorporated into all types of music.”
The group demonstrates this when playing pieces of the Latin American repertoire, such as a Venezuelan joropo blended with jazz, or genres so diverse as Baroque and Romanticism, in which one can hear the sound of a harp coming from the body of this Cuban instrument, or when they played Condado Sur, an Afro-Cuban piece mixed with free jazz.
The homage to Joseito Fernandez, author of the Guantanamera, is made felt in the theme Guajiriando (Countrysiding) – a composition that forces the audience’s shoulders to sway.
Other band members are Caesar Bacaro, on bass guitar; Alexis Arce Bermudez, on percussion; and flautist Isabel Cristina Perez Garcia. These are superb musicians who leave the marks of dynamism and freshness with their performances.
Since 1999, Maykel Elizarde has also been a member of the group Trovarroco Trio, through which he has received national and international recognition. He is an unassuming youth who loves his profession and defends it. He has written most of the Maykel Quartet’s compositions. In them, he fuses disparate rhythms to demonstrate the tonal and rhythmic possibilities of the Tres guitar.
Maykel, why the Tres? How did you fall in love with it?
“I stumbled on the Tres by chance. In the city of Santa Clara, there is not much of a precedent with the instrument. I think that the tradition of the Tres is passed down in a hereditary way. It turned out that in a cultural center where I was enrolled there was a teacher who was versed in the instrument; at the same time I was teaching myself to play it. He was crazy about it, but I was the one who was able to develop it, from a physical and rhythmic point of view, so I was the one who took it on. That’s why I say that I began to fall in love with the Tres over time.”
What is there of the Trovarroco in the Maykel Quartet?
“I’m still in Trovarroco, it is a group that’s full of virtues, but I believe that an artist needs freedom. In Trovarroco, I’m defending an idea: the mixture of Trova with Baroque, and that suits me. But for some time I had these other works that didn’t have anything to do with that idea, instead they expressed another notion that I wanted to share. They are more contemporary works, they move in another direction.”
Do you still live in Santa Clara or have you now settled in Havana?
“I live in Santa Clara and all of my work has been developed there. Now we’re in the process of making a CD here in Havana, in the Ojalá studio of Silvio Rodriguez; he offered it to us gladly. Where there’s work, we’re there. We found some in Havana, so here we are.”
Besides Cuban music, what it is that you like most about Cuba?
“Look, to me, one of the things that I like most is Afro-Cuban dance and rural music. I think they have extremely rich value in terms of our culture; they are that part that comes closest to our Hispanic roots. They fascinate me. They are what identify us as Cuban, despite the fact that we tend to underrate them a bit.”
Do you have a venue where you play regularly?
“We still don’t have a fixed venue, but we’re forging ahead. With Trovarroco, we had a change in the group, now we rehearse with a new musician. With the Maykel Quartet, we’re just starting out; we still don’t know each other real well. The most time we spend together is when we’re working on the CD. We’re now recording, and soon we’ll have to approach some record label that may be interested in our work. I hope it all turns out.”
Maykel Elizarde is a Cuban proud of his music, avid for sharing his love of the Tres guitar. Let’s hope he finds his regular spot so we can all hear him. It is a unique experience to be before this stunning quartet composed of great interpretive quality, and who are respectful of the public-now matter how small. I am sure that, with some promotion, the Malecon will be empty next time and the concert hall won’t have enough space. Their performing only has to be announced; the talent has already been shown.
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