En este momento estás viendo Improvising verses, an act that comes close to the divine
Alex Díaz, in a performance. Photo: Arturovich, Ernesto

Improvising verses, an act that comes close to the divine

Cubadisco, which will take place from 12 to 19 May, will be dedicated to peasant music.

Alex Díaz has been listening to décimas since he was in his mother’s womb. His parents met in the world of repentismo, at one of the events of Casa Naborí. His condition as a poetic improviser is the result of a great talent, and also of an exercise that is in his blood.

The young man directs the Oralitura Habana project, which is presided over by his father, Alexis Díaz Pimienta, a writer, improviser and researcher into the phenomenon of the décima. In the Cuban cultural world, Alex – along with other young improvisers – is becoming increasingly omnipresent. And it is truly gratifying to note the passion with which he defends the improvised décima, both in making it and in talking about it.

With Anamarys Gil, we saw him perform recently at the Fayad Jamís bookshop in the capital, in a tribute to the journalist Fernando Rodríguez Sosa. Before the actual act of improvisation, Alex explained what was going to happen there to an audience not entirely familiar with the subject. He spoke of metre, syntax and consonant rhyme, of the process of rapid elaboration which had to be guaranteed by the improviser to whom the audience itself had offered a sequence of words which would have to «fit» coherently into what they would say. At the end, the applause was resounding, as if aware, finally, that improvising is an act of creation which comes very close to the divine.

-Do you easily accept that such a marvel as improvising décimas is such a phenomenon that is so much underrated in many parts of our country, even though it is considered the national stanza?

-I’m aware of the general lack of knowledge of the décima, whether improvised or written. And not me, my father, who has spent a lifetime defending and showing the reality of the phenomenon, is still very surprised by the great ignorance that exists. For many, it’s an old man’s art, out of fashion, for the peasants, not for the city. Some even believe that it is not improvised, but learned by heart.

«This gigantic lack of knowledge is understandable in other parts of the world, but not in Cuba, which for more than 60 years has been watching Palmas y cañas at prime time, on Sundays, when everyone is at home.

-Whose responsibility could it be?

-There is no single «guilty party». I think it’s a consequence of the bad treatment given to the phenomenon of improvisation. Palmas y cañas has helped a lot to promote the movement and to make people aware of what improvisation is. Everyone here knows what an improviser is, from a child to a senior citizen, and that’s thanks to the programme. But I think it needs to be updated. We need to improve it, we need to put it in the current context, we need to give it a contemporary feel. There is a long list of people responsible, from the institutions themselves to the carriers themselves.

«There are other factors, from the media, which, for the most part, reflect the old-time repentista, with a hat, who is a minstrel that people applaud, because he says nice things; to the lack of knowledge of many institutional directors, who believe that the show is not commercial. And it can be popular, as was demonstrated in the famous Controversia del siglo, starring Angelito Valiente and Indio Naborí, which attracted more than 10,000 people.

«When the media helps to show what he really is; when he is not mocked in humorous programmes in which he is mocked; as long as sensitivity is not achieved, we will not gain the true esteem he deserves».

-The improviser captures the audience powerfully…

-In improvisation, each improviser is a separate phenomenon, with individual techniques, aesthetics and his own way of creating. In Havana there are very few traditional repentismo guateque, in the countryside almost every weekend they sing. When I go, I make the most of it, but I don’t just take advantage of the improvisers, who are the main attraction. What impresses me most and what I spend most time doing is observing the audience and their reactions.

«That’s one of the great debts of research into the phenomenon of repentismo, the phenomenon of the audience during a guateque, everything that the people aren’t seeing, because the people are the audience itself.

«There are different audiences: those who go and are passionate admirers of an improviser, and the day that improviser is bad, they get up and leave, and leave the controversy halfway through; even those who go and place bets as if it were a sport. There are those who know, from verse six, what the poets are going to say next, and stand up to applaud, because they already know it’s going to be a shocking ending. They also know how to identify when a décima is not well crafted and is not going to end well. The audience is a gigantic gauge.

-In the capital, are there also such audiences?

-These are not only

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