Working through the decades in relative isolation -- a metaphorical island within the island of Cuba - Pedro Luis Ferrer has been distanced from the "star-making machinery" of popular music. But that never stopped him from simply carrying on, refining his art.
A child of the Cuban revolution, Ferrer fell out of favor with the resulting bureaucracy over the years as a result of his criticism of the government. In a country where the government controlled the media, his ability to reach listeners was stunted. Nevertheless, he has continued to write and occasionally perform and release albums.
Asked if the title of his latest, Final, (on the Escondida label) meant that this was actually his final album, he said, "only God can know whether this is to be my last disc or not. I hope it is not." Describing the title song, he said, it "is precisely like a crack to look through, a light to see beyond the limits we find. It is an incitation not to be overwhelmed by the narrow and finite appearance of things."
Like his last few albums, his latest was almost exclusively created by just Ferrer and his daughter Lena. "She has been singing with me since I used to carry her on my shoulders to nursery school," he said of his daughter. "She has become a professional going through this process I would define as a fellowship....We are a team."
"Working in family is not always easy," he said. "She is very disciplined and respectful of our working rules and she puts in her creativity as well. Well, sometimes she cannot help being my daughter and gets obstinate, which is rather exceptional, but she comes back really quickly to our course. The most important point is that we both have a fellowship consciousness and know that discipline is essential. We not only make music, we also do research and learn. To sum up, it is very pleasant for me to work with my daughter."
Maybe not so surprisingly, this father-daughter album has a sweet intimacy. Ferrer's music moves with the clave rhythm familiar to listeners of salsa or mambo, but his is a quieter manifestation, which he has called changuisa, a feminized version of Cuba's changui. Ferrer is a master of delivering lovely, lilting melodies that have a gentle, but irresistible swing. Not a big or dramatic singer, Ferrer has a deep, soulful voice tinged with yearning, whether it is from romantic desire or the yearning to wring out through words that which can't be adequately expressed by words.
Ferrer applies his love of language to the subject of love on many of the songs of Final. "Anything around me can call my attention and inspire a poem or a song. I think that defending our personal sensitivity, singing to the beloved person, provides depth to the concept of what a human being is."
Ferrer was born in the town of Yanguaji. Though formal schooling did not hold his attention enough, he eventually became a self-taught musician, getting swept up to national attention with the rise of the nueva trova movement of political songwriters in the 1960s. After playing with a band, he went off on his own, but he ran afoul of the government because of his undisguised dissatisfaction with it. He has cobbled a career together despite the quasi-quarantine.
Ferrer said his bumptious relationship with the Cuban government has smoothed a bit. "Nothing that has happened to me is special or unique: we have all lived with many limitations and hindrances. Each of these positive changes -- derogation of obsolete laws and regulations -- that are taking place in Cuba prove that. Having denounced many of these restrictions has not been useless. We all have done a bit and put our good will for the betterment of everyday life in the Island. There are still some hindrances and still others will emerge. But it is true that there is much less prejudice concerning social criticism expressed through arts."
At 62, he sounds like a man who has come to know himself and reconciled himself with his situation and with his homeland in all its strengths and flaws.
"As time has gone by," he said, "my relationship with music and art has broadened its scope and its meaning to me. The decisive point has been understanding the importance of art for the society and for individuals. This way I have got to see my work as a tool for human betterment and spiritual liberation. It is healthy to remember than art can also be a tool for slavery and domination."