Ferrer, Pedro Luis


I don’t believe I could respond in a direct and blunt manner, because everything is so intertwined that it’s almost impossible to separate poetry from music. I was born under the direct influence of my father’s family, whose devotion to classical Spanish poetry and the national Creole poetry collection made the troubadour lyrical songbook our daily bread. Always with a rigorous balance of drama and festivity. Therefore, when I write, it is impossible for me to separate these two sides of life. I had the joy of weeping over a love poem and laughing at the witty remarks of my father’s ten-line stanzas. It’s true that one cannot always explain everything, nor can always find the external cause that would explain our sensibility and vocation; but, undoubtedly, in life there are everyday events that tend to reinforce or weaken our vocational development. In my case, there was a broad and diverse context that made me fully enjoy both festive and dramatic aspects. The Yaguajay of my childhood and adolescence gave me particularities with which I instinctively identified; many of which were abandoned for some time in my early adulthood in Havana, only to be later recovered through a slow process of decantation and reconciliation. It would be too long a story to tell.

To prevent this brief presentation from falling into excessive abstraction, I will attempt to narrate some of the experiences of the context in which I grew up and certain routines that I believe made a mark on me. I cannot omit, for example, the joy I felt at an early age when I listened to some popular festive songs, such as that charming one masterfully sung by Celia Cruz: ‘Burundanga le dio a Borondongo / Borondongo le dio a Bernabé’; those unforgettable guarachas by the Matamoros trio whose choruses repeated: ‘Suelta la muleta y el bastón y podrás bailar el son’, ‘Son de la loma y cantan en llano’; the doble meaning of Nico Saquito’s with his ‘Cuidadito compay gallo’; the series of common sayings that permeated the island’s chants; the tongue-in-cheek stanzas of my father Rodolfo and my uncle Raúl, which spurred my creative imagination and led me to compose a handful of guarachas in the early 80s: ‘Como me gusta “hablal” español’, ‘Mario Agüé’, ‘Inseminación artificial’, and many others that marked a substantial change in my creative output. Until that moment I had written some festive-reflexive songs such as ‘Al que le sirva el sayo’, and ‘Son de la suerte esdrújula’, the latter dedicated to the ingenious Chilean Violeta Parra, author of ‘Mazúrquica modérnica’: ‘Me han preguntádico / varias persónicas…’ A work that makes a masterful use of irony, a resource all too familiar to me for having been surrounded by ironic and teasing grandfathers and uncles, whose company I enjoyed greatly. When it comes to the use of words stressed on the antepenultimate syllable, I had already been influenced by Miguel Matamoros, an enlightened Cuban composer, with his resounding guaracha ‘El paralítico’: ‘Veinte años en mi término / me encontraba paralítico / y me dijo un hombre místico / que me extirpara el trigémino’. What I’m trying to say is that a great portion of my work is based on rehearsing and learning, attempts to use in my own way the techniques and skills that have moved me the most. Which is why I have always thought of myself as a ‘recreator’ rather than a creator.

For as long as I can remember, I believe I have perceived a good part of the artistic and poetic essences that over time have emerged in my songs, perhaps due to sharing a living space with the diverse range of characters that formed my close family. Sometimes through their personal traits (ironic, theatrical, teasing); and, others, from their daily artistic practices as poets, musicians, writers… Where lyricism was also cultivated with rigour. Citing one of my uncle Raúl’s verses would be enough to attest to this cosmology:

Como un arriero de las mariposas

podrás atravesar el monte espeso

cuando regreses limpio desde todas las cosas

y ya no te preocupe más que eso.

Because it is obvious that nobody comes from nothing. The first amusing ten-line stanza I learned word by word as a child (while having no idea of what a stanza even was) was written by my father Rodolfo, dedicated to my mother Hilda. My childhood nickname in Yaguajay was ‘Menelao’ (a family matter that requires another story). The stanza said:

Hilda, dame la toalla

mira que muero de frío

y pa’ ti va a ser un lío

que tu marido se vaya.

Lo juro por tu medalla,

que lo tanto que yo lucho

es por llenar el cartucho

donde llevas los manda’os;

mira que los Menelaos

son tres y que comen mucho.

My aunt Lilia (a Catholic-spiritist) was who taught me to recite my uncle Raúl Ferrer’s poems and stanzas: ‘Romancillo de las cosas negras’, ‘Romance de la niña mala’, ‘Salió mi patria en febrero’, and so on. It was not enough for me to read them out loud, I had to learn them by heart. She would tell me about the content, the ethical and moral teachings of each text. My aunt was not prone to humour, but rather to drama. Uncle Pfeifer, her Austrian husband, was a veterinarian and only enjoyed enlightening humour. He used to make fun of Creole nonsense. As a violin and astrology enthusiast, he critically metabolised Cubanness, always from a distance, but perhaps digging deeper into it than the average Cuban. When he noticed I had a certain tendency to repeat obscene quatrains devoid of any wit (learned with my friends in the streets), he tried to have a positive influence on me by offering less inconsistent, more intelectual and analytical obscenities. I now recall one of those stanzas Pfeifer taught me, whose author I don’t know.

Dígame señor Catulo,

usted que es medio letrado:

¿en qué consiste que el mulo,

teniendo redondo el culo,

echa el cagajón cuadrado?

My grandmother on my father’s side, Inocencia Pérez, knew many tongue-twisters and jitanjáforas, highly musical stanzas that seemed to have no logic, and which I learned at a gluttonous speed. I think my desire to play with words and reconstruct them comes from her. When I write songs like ‘Pisotea la cucaracha’, I feel my grandmother’s presence, as if I could sense her enjoying every reinvented word with me. In such way, festive creation also becomes a resource of affective and emotional balance.

La cucaracha es antígiena

ascrosa fuente de crobios;

trasmite las enferménides

si trepa por los alímenos.

My paternal grandfather, Vicente Ferrer (namesake of the Valencian preacher and saint), besides ironising and mortifying me as if he himself were a child, spent his time improvising characters that sometimes inspired pity and others mockery (an amateur actor), and insisted on challenging me with an endless string of strange riddles.

I lived with my uncle Rafelito, my father’s brother, in my early adolescence, when I deserted my classroom in Havana and hid for long ‘holiday’ months in Yaguajay. He fully enjoyed welcoming the nightfall in the shadows, subtly singing his own songs with his guitar. In my opinion, he is among the best composers of Cuban songs of the 50s. His work is unpublished. The chords of his songs, drawn rigorously on a cardboard with black dots indicating the fingers’ positions, where the foundation of my first compositional incursions. He passed on the curiosity to compose my own concerns. It was important for me to see that at home, just like buñuelos and rice puddings were made, songs and poems were also cooked for spiritual pleasure.

Pedro Luis Ferrer


Collage by Marta Pina