Meme and My Father’s Turntable / Yoani Sanchez #Cuba

“Another Dawn” concert, in tribute to Meme Solis

It looked like a small suitcase, with rounded corners and a detachable horn on the lid. That turntable was an object of worship for my father and an alternative to the boring programming on radio and TV in the eighties. The needle followed the small grooves in the vinyl and the melody filled the little room in an almost magical act. We also had a fairly small collection of albums: some bought at the store and others given by friends or relatives. We replayed the same music so much that my sister and I learned by heart certain boleros and ballads that had nothing to do with our generation. I remember, too, that we had four records we could only play at a very low volume and with the windows closed. One was a long-playing record by Julio Iglesias, another of songs interpreted by Nelson Ned, a third was the Cuban comedians Pototo y Filomeno, and the one by the quartet known as Los Memes.

Both the Spanish and Brazilian singer had been censored in the national media, it was said, for making statements critical of the Cuban government. The two native comedians, meanwhile, had gone into exile and this put them squarely on the “black list.” But what happened with those four young men who sounded divine on that other “banned record.” As those were the times of not asking too many questions, I only came to know five years later. Then I learned that José Manuel Solís (Meme) had been vetoed for the simple fact of having asked to leave Cuba in 1969. For eighteen years he waited for them to allow him to emigrate, a time when the cultural Torquemadas tried to erase his compositions from our musical history. More than forty years after that forced silence about him, a concert in tribute to him was staged at the America Theater in Havana, under the title “Another Dawn.” So Saturday and Sunday, January 5 and 6, Meme’s songs were heard once again in the country where they never should have been censored.

The show was a succession of excellent singers, from the best-known voices to others, young and promising talents. Despite the minimal — or absent — press coverage, the hall was packed both days. The most emotional moments occurred when on the main screen the faces of some of our artists in exile appeared. Maggie Carlés, Albita Rodríguez, Annia Linares, Xiomara Laugart and Mirtha Medina sparked huge ovations from the audience when they appeared for only seconds in the videos. But the brightest star of all was undoubtedly that boy from Mayajigua who had become a preeminent Cuban singer, pianist and composer. Although he did not travel to Cuba for the tribute — saying that he wouldn’t think of returning to Cuba as long as the current government remained — his presence was a constant during the almost two hours the concert lasted.

At full volume, without closing the windows, without playing the records at a whisper, without turning off the music when the neighbors knocked on the door. For the first time I heard the music of Meme Solís without hiding. The only thing missing was him singing it.

America Theater on Sunday night after the tribute concert to Meme Solís.

Yoani Sanchez

7 January 2013