The history of universal music offers a list of blind composers, instrumentalists and singers whose willpower allowed them to assert their exceptional artistic talent: Joaquín Rodrigo, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Andrea Bochelli, are among the most well-known. (We don’t mention Bach because he was only blind at the end of his life.)
For those persons, the capturing of sound acquires a greater dimension in the face of the absence (or loss) of sight. In Cuba blind musicians have also stood out, like Arsenio Rodríguez, Frank Emilio Flyn, Martín Rojas, José Tejedor and Osvaldo Rodríguez.
The ranks of literature also include blind writers with monumental works, like Homer and Milton, without disallowing that Jorge Luis Borges lived blind his last 31 years and Benito Pérez Galdós during almost a decade before his death.
Not taking the comparison too far, diverse is the case of Cuban blind writer and journalist Joaquín Borges Triana, for whom the career of journalism emerged as an alternative in his wishes to study cybernetics, denied because of the bureaucracy in education. It is very probable that his intelligence would have turned him into a computer scientist of merit, but fate took him along other paths and Cuban journalism gained a valuable profit, to the point of being recognized as the 2016 José Antonio Fernández de Castro National Prize for Cultural Journalism.
We are highlighting his blindness because it barely appears in the texts that review his work, when it is actually a relevant aspect, the greatest show of an admirable willpower, capable of overcoming all types of barriers to carry out higher studies, make a doctorate and stand out professionally. It’s worthwhile citing a fragment of the peculiar “thank you” note that Borges Triana includes in the initial chapter of his book Con-cierto cubano: La vida es un divino guión. There is says:
Among the persons I am eternally grateful to are those that, when I finished ninth grade in 1978 wielded loads of obstacles (in the end resolved after a claim at the central level of the Education Ministry) to not accept a blind person in senior high; to those who in 1981 when I finished intermediate education and requested the career equivalent to the current computer science – for which I met the indispensable academic yield -, in the Higher Education Ministry they did not consider me apt for it, which is why I had to choose journalism; to those who, when I graduated from the University of Havana in 1986, did not admit me in the dependence of the Culture Ministry where I was situated, which made me tour the different press organs of the capital in search of a work post to always receive a negative reply; and to those who in the late 1990s, when I requested enrolling in a master’s degree in the specialty from which I graduated in the Faculty of Communication (a continuator of the journalism I studied) denied it because, according to what I was informed, they did not consider me apt for it.
Those obstacles were more than unfair because Joaquín Borges Triana finished his BA with a Gold Title in the Faculty of Journalism; while he had used that of Communication in the theses tribunals, before that the doors to a master’s were closed to him. We can’t say this is beyond belief because we already know the genetic stupidity of bureaucrats.
But the barriers have been an incentive in the training (in the broadest sense of the term) of Borges Triana, who derived in his postgraduate studies toward the sciences of art, with which he developed his investigative, academic tools, and gained in critical capacity to better observe and judge his object of study: the so-called alternative Cuban music, the least promoted and marketed on the island.
For his work as a chronicler for three decades from the pages of Juventud Rebelde and El Caimán Barbudo, Borges Triana has been attentive to the beat of Contemporary Cuban Song – understood as trova, rock, rap, pop -, and writing tirelessly about it.
With the experience and knowledge accumulated and with the appropriate methodological and academic tool, Borges Triana entered into bigger investigations about alternative Cuban music, as a result of which two essential books have emerged: La luz, bróder, la luz. Canción cubana contemporánea (La Memoria publishing house, Pablo de la Torriente Brau Cultural Centre, 2010), and Con-cierto cubano. La vida es un divino guión (Unión publishers, 2015).
La luz, bróder, la luz, a volume that starting with its title shows its intertexual intentions, makes a historiographical following of the Cuban trova song from the second generation of the New Song Movement, which became known in the 1980s as part of the strong artistic and literary movement that burst into the island in that decade; while the second book tells the story of Alternative Cuban Music (MCA) in all its artistic and social resonance, as the first also does.
The work and results reflected in both books exceed by far the vicissitudes of the intrahistory, narrated in details: his story offers an exhaustive sociological and textual analysis, while using a wide-ranging referential and methodological corpus in all the subjects involved: music, visual arts, literature, cinema, society, politics, list of records, marketing.
No artist from the Contemporary Cuban Song is left out of the study carried out by Borges Triana, who maintains a constant connection with the sound of the MCA wherever it takes place: Havana, Santa Clara, Holguín, Matanzas, New York, Madrid, Barcelona, Miami, or any place in the world. Of particular interest is his reflection about the diaspora.
The trips from the root to the result, undertaken in his cultural journey, leave an indispensable chart for all those who want to travel through those places, call at ports. He has placed in space a bibliography and a history that cannot be unknown by history.
Just like Jorge Luis Borges wrote: “I have dreamed the doubt and uncertainty/I have dreamed yesterday,” Joaquín Borges Triana dreams Cuban music and collects its memory because, as the Argentinian poet said to us, “We live discovering and forgetting/that sweet habit of the night.” (2017)
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