Dazzling Descemer

by José Luis Estrada Betancourt

The ancient tobacco and wood warehouse, the sea as backdrop, Cuban cigars as accomplices and Descemer Bueno’s unmistakable melody will be playing the leading role during the Welcome Gala of the 17th Habano Festival. The three-time Latin Grammy winner –along with Enrique Iglesias and Gente de Zona– and one of the most internationally successful Cuban songwriters over the past years, shares with Excelencias some of his deepest inspirations

Descemer Bueno can take a break. He has achieved what just a few people have: getting critics, juries and crowds excited. Shortly ago, Pistacubana, the Cuban hits website, named him once again the 2014 Songwriter of the Year (he was also handpicked in 2013), taking into account his work in that span of time and his talent in getting close to the people by means of his gorgeous songs.

Descemer is totally committed to his music. His Ella, Ser de sol and Tus luces sobre mí made him a chart topper on the Island nation and across Latin America in 2013, due to the beautiful lyrics that “desperately” look for something, yet show the always efficient side of humbleness.

But nothing compares to what has happened with Bailando (Dancing), the song that, unlike other Latin productions, broke all records in terms of sales, airplay and success with public. And, of course, Descemer “dances” happily. He certainly still enjoys his most recent victory at the 15th Annual Latin Grammy Awards Ceremony, where he stood out as the top winner.

Bailando, that brought together this illustrious Havana-born artist, Enrique Iglesias and Gente de Zona, found no rivals in three categories awarded by the Latin Recording Academy: Best Urban Performance, Best Urban Song and Song of the Year.

Culled in the Spanish crooner’s most recent album, entitled Sex and Love (Universal Music/Republic Records), Bailando was not the only song performed by Descemer in the prestigious event. Loco was another blockbuster he coauthored with Iglesias.

It seems we are looking at a winning duet, as Cuando me enamoro, performed by Enrique and Juan Luis Guerra, was also the undisputed pick for the 2011 Song of the Year Award and was praised by the ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers), a non-profitable U.S. organization that has given accolades to another smash hit penned by the Cuban songwriter and performed by Julio Iglesias’ son and Isabel Preysler, Lloro por ti.

Undoubtedly, the coveted arranger that graduated with a degree in classic guitar at the Amadeo Roldan Conservatoire in Havana, is a gifted songwriter with a flair to enthrall both singers and audiences. And his “formula” is quite “simple”: he constantly drinks from the immortal legacy of such incredible authors as Benny More, Cesar Portillo de la Luz, Giraldo Piloto, Isolina Carrillo, Jose Antonio Mendez, Juan Formell, Angel Diaz, Manuel Corona, Maria Teresa Vera, Marta Valdes, Meme Solis, Miguel Matamoros, Ñico Saquito, Pepe Sanchez, Sindo Garay, Silvio Rodriguez, Noel Nicola, Pablo Milanes... and the end result carries a 21st-century scent shaped in the form of lyrics and music, in a very personal way, painting the daily stories of people around him with sensitivity and Cuban identity.

The author of such wonderful songs as Ciego amor, No me digas que no, Arenas de soledad, Ten paciencia and Yo no sé vivir (the last two popularized by Thalia), gets kicks out of writing lyrics with somebody’s collaboration or just by following his own inspiration. But there is one key element: spirituality has to be “way up”, otherwise he puts the song aside. “I can’t feel myself empty when it comes to writing songs, my feelings must be in order”, he says.

“The creative moment is fascinating, even when you share it with other artists, although there are people who rather compose on their own... Of course, they miss it. At least, I’ve enjoyed it when I’ve written a song accompanied by Enrique Iglesias, Israel Rojas (Buena Fe), Waldo Mendoza, Leoni Torres, Baby Lores or Romeo Santos.

“Likewise, I’ve been fortunate because famous figures are interested in singing what I write. Such is the case of Juan Luis Guerra, Marco Antonio Solis, Wisin and Yandel, Kumbia Kings, Luz Casal, Ana Torroja, Samo (Camila), Nohelia, Luis Enrique, Ana Barbara... There are different kinds of experiences and I believe they are all important and vital”, those were the words of the man that also won the Goya Award for the Habana Blues movie soundtrack, an experience he recently had a reprise with in Siete días en La Habana.

He discovered how to write songs for the big screen when Mexican filmmaker Alberto Cortes asked him to write Violeta for one of the two movies in which he has collaborated with this producer (Violeta and Corazon del tiempo). Thanks to Violeta, he got in touch with another giant of Cuban music: the late Fernando Alvarez.

The fabulous hit Sé feliz was the fruit of their friendship, an album that was released in 2008, after the passing of the extraordinary bolero author, although its 11 songs, which pay tribute to the finest poetry, were conceived back in the 1990s in an effort to definitely bring the tradition of this genre up to date by means of sound and the philosophy of its lyrics.

However, in 2008 Descemer Bueno had already traveled half around the world as he joined Estado de Animo (with Elmer Ferrer, X Alfonso and Roberto Carcasses) and Columna B in the United States, where he also worked with popular Yerba Buena. That collaboration spawned President Alien, a lauded album nominated to the Grammy Awards in 2005 in which most of the songs were written by Bueno.

Descemer has always believed that Yerba Buena, which he cofounded with producer Andres Levin, Xiomara Laugart and Cucu Diamante, changed Latin music in North America. In fact, such songs as airplay heavyweight Guajira, opened many doors (Pepsi, for instance, used it on its ad for a whole year).

Bueno later returned to his beloved Cuba without leaving one of his passions behind: being an album producer for international and local stars: Haydee Milanes, William Vivanco, Yusa, Luna Manzanares, Waldo Mendoza and others.

As he stands within the group of creators that never take a break, he also decided to try his talented hand at the realm of music productions, joining in 2013 his friend Kelvis Ochoa and Cuba’s National Ballet choreographer Eduardo Blanco to piece together a bright and colorful show inspired in the larger-than-life figure of El Caballero de Paris.

 Nevertheless, this father of two -Lucia and Desi- strongly believes that “family goes first”. Anyway, he doesn’t pay much heed to matters related to his popularity: “Success is a term that moves dilettantes, not me. I don’t think of fame because everything has happened too fast”. He certainly fares well, but I’m sure this musician still has plenty of history left to write and a long way to go.