I am what you see

Photo: Gabriel Dávalos

“Because a song can be a kiss, it can be a caress, also the sharp edge of a dagger. So that after the attempt there is no shortage of good faith.”*

We always called ourselves Buena Fe (Good Faith) because I was a lawyer. I believe that names don’t make the group but the group makes the name…

…Thus recalls Israel Rojas, director, composer and singer of Buena Fe, the origins of the duo that grew until they became the six musicians making up the group today. After a decade of intense work, Buena Fe has results to show for it. Six albums, most of them with record sales in Cuba,( without counting those that are copied “democratically” from computer to computer, as Israel himself once said); massive concerts with more than 300,000 in attendance; millions of fans – mostly young – throughout the Island, and a burgeoning international career that has turned them into a Cuban music phenomenon.

“But I am a guantanamero, a country man from Guantanamo …”* Describe the road from Guantánamo to success.

Where this road traverses, I don’t know. One day I discovered that people liked my songs, and I gave it passion, I gave it desire, accompanied by Yoel, who was the one who went to music school. I don’t know the difference between C, D and Fnor for the life of me have I been able to play a melody on the guitar. We were lucky that just when the project had matured, EGREM  decided to take a gambleon us and we recorded an album in 2001. I remember it as one of the happiest days of my life. Imagine that until that time in the entire history of Guantanamo only four groups had recorded albums.

 “I am much of what you attempted but something of my own times” Buena Fe has turned into a chronicler and voice of an entire generation. Do you accept that?

As a matter of fact, I don’t accept it. I want to continue speaking in my own name and not be a spokesman for the masses. At first I took it on with a lot of enthusiasm, then I learned that it can be very dangerous because people make their own inferences, not yours. On that road you can arrive at many falseideas. First you believe yourself to be the greatest, that you are the man, and that is the worst thing that can happen to anartist. I prefer to continue working without that bullshit about transcending, instead, I go at it day by day, and when I am an old man let the people recognize my work.

“And thus we grew up little by little in this spark of land in the sea” Inyour songs you have always expressed a critical commitment to Cuban society. How do you view the present and how do you envision the future of our “spark of land”?

I see it with lots of hope and I envision it brilliantly, with economic development and social peace. I see Cuba as independent and truly democratic, participatory. I see it as diverse, tolerant, open, unblocked, connected through new information technologiesavailable to all and not just to a small group with privileges or money. I dream of it with eternal “Buena fe”.

 “Free, free, like thoughts, unpredictable. Being objective, if not that free, as little manipulated as possible.” Have you achieved this in your songs?

At least in my songs I am totally free. When I tried to learn music all my songs came out with the chords that I had learned, but when I ignore that, my art is free, undisciplined, untidy, but also richer, more creative. When I create I don’t want to be bound by anyone, least of all by a thought. There is no devotion except to art.

 “Although they keep on carving out the path for people with technology, we’ll keep on crying like the Neanderthal” Maybe this explains the success of your albums, despite not having the resources and promotion of a powerful record company.

It could be. One of the most important achievements of our project has been to grow without those complex structures. But the music has spread by word of mouth, piracy and the internet –  marvelous sources of alternative distribution.

 “I propose to make our path and invent our happiness, without family remittances without leaving the country”  Is that your idea of love?

Not necessarily. I know many people who could not make their path within Cuba and that does not make them unhappy. Love is the only feeling upon which you can build something. It compels you to total commitment, whether it isto your job orto your partner. I think that when you have it you have to take advantage of it. Since we already know it can get screwed up …

Eternal love is so real until it ends?

Yes, love is a trap that tells you “this is forever”, even though we know that it is not, but you have to enjoy it thinking that it’s not going to end.  I don’t believe in eternal love, I believe in true love.

 “I always heard them talk about the other shore, shrouded in a cloud of mystery” …Says the Frank Delgado song which Buena Fe has made its own. What did you find when you were in Miami? Was the other shore just like you imagined it?

In fact, it was. It is exactly as I imagined it.  Full of spectacular people ready to give you unforgettable moments. And, of course, there are also those whose hate from other eras is still eating at their souls. But the majority are beautiful, people who have realized their dreams thanks to the huge economic possibilities of the US, which makes them happy people willing to respect, accept, coexist and defend their culture.

 “I must be happy because playing street ball feels like Sunday.I must be happy because the smell of coffee warms my blood” What else is “cubanía” to you?

The way we walk, make love, greet each other, eat, feel solidarity for our own and others.  I am an atheist, but Cuba is my temple and Martímy religion.

“Roads are built by shedding blood and hope, and not so much by coloringthewaste leftover from the praise” Where would you like the road to take you? How do you dream Buena Fe ten years from now?

I would like for one of our songs to become one of those songs that Cubans are born with.  And in ten years we will have more concerts under our belts, more records produced and hopefully more songs forming part of the soundtrack of people’s lives.

“I am what you see, between the balancing act of falling and continuing” Despite the blows and the laurels, are you still what we see?

I try to be.  In my case, more than being what you see, I think I am what you listen to. Pieces of my soul are in every song.

*The quoted phrases are fragments of the songs, La Ventana, Guantanamero, Despedida, Pi 3,14, Libre, Como el Neanderthal, Propuesta, Contragolpes, La otra orilla, Debo ser feliz, Catalejo and Soy lo que ves.

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