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For X Alfonso, art is as natural as life itself. He was born in Havana on September 13, 1972 into a family founded by Carlos Alfonso and Ele Valdes, the creators and leaders of the legendary band Síntesis. Between the influences of the family environment and his own talent, X Alfonso’s life has always revolved around creative processes. His first musical foundations were laid at the Manuel Saumell Conservatory and he then went on to study at ENA, the national arts school, where he trained as a classical pianist. At the school he also had the opportunity to work with students in other specialties such as the visual arts, dance and theater thereby forming his idea that music and art should interrelate as one art form, something that would mark his future work. Right from his student days he was composing music for exhibitions, graduation ceremonies and plays.
He graduated from ENA in 1990 and his first professional job was with his parents’ band. He also was a member of the rock band Havana with Iván Latour and Osamu Menéndez, extremely popular with young people at that time. The economic difficulties of the 90s were also a deciding factor on the artist’s trajectory: from that point he worked with the belief that one should do everything possible with what was at hand instead of complaining about shortages.
He and his father Carlos Alfonso composed the score for the Sergio Giral film Maria Antonia,which in 2000 won the Coral Award for the Best Soundtrack at the New Latin American Film Festival. His success as composer for film scores continued into 2001 when along with Esteban Puebla and his father Carlos, he composed the soundtrack for Humberto Solas’ Miel para Ochún;he also received the Goya Award in 2005 for Best Original Music for the Havana Blues soundtrack.
X is a bass player, arranger, singer and musical producer. He collaborates with musicians such as Santiago Feliú, Amaury Pérez, Carlos Varela, Roberto Carcassés, Cecilia Noel, Montell Jordan, Mi Shell Nge O´Cello, Asian Dub Foundation, and others.
In November of 1999 he recorded his first solo album entitled Mundo Real with Brazilian Velas Records, writing and arranging all the numbers. This album was followed by others that have been characterized for their variety in terms of genres and musical styles. “I record whatever comes out of me. Sometimes it is symphonic, other times it is more fusion; there is rock‘n’roll and sometimes it is more techno,” he tells us. “One day, in Spain, a recording of Beny Moré’s greatest hits came with newspaper. I started to listen and I learned all the numbers and then I started “crazying them up.” What happened was what happened. But you can’t imagine everything that went on before that.” he tells us as he talks about X Moré, his tribute album for the singer Beny Moré. When we asked him about his formula for success, X answers that in his opinion it is the subject matter of his music that really attracts people. “Whatever I do has to excite me, so that it can turn on people.”
With Havana, X produced his first music video as editor and producer of audio visual material. He has produced videos for Síntesis, for his sister M Alfonso, for himself and for other musicians. Along such lines, he made Sin título, an Italian-produced documentary which was debuted at the Mella Theater in Havana with musicians, theater people, dancers and visual artists brought together by X to interact amongst each other and with the audience. The theme of the documentary was to show artists as human beings, beyond their public images. This vision of working on the same event and with the same purpose with artists from different media was the spark that saw the birth of Fábrica de Arte Cubano (Cuban Art Factory), a project that was headquartered in the PABEXPO Exhibition Center from mid-2010 and carried on its activities there for almost two years. Known also by its initials “FAC,” the “factory” is a family-run cultural business. According to X, it aims to give Cubans a meeting place where the best of the island’s avant-garde arts can be enjoyed, with all the artistic manifestations under the same roof and with prices making it accessible to the majority of Cubans.
In 2011, under the FAC label, X released the album Reverse, which was offered free of charge to anyone with a flash memory. Since that same year, X has been involved in finding a new physical location for FAC, some place that would truly belong to it and that did not have to depend on others to schedule its artistic calendar. Finally they found the perfect spot in the former El Cocinero cooking oil factory on the corner of 11th and 26th streets in El Vedado. It is there that we find X kindly waiting for us for this interview, amid cement, sand and paint and accompanied by a soundtrack of falling metal and hammers. He doesn’t speak much. I’m surprised to find him rather shy. He talks passionately about FAC and how they want to turn it into a project that involves the entire community, bringing together not only professional artists but those who have to become artists every day in order to earn their living, the self-employed, children and the elderly. Just as we are finishing, he gets a phone call. He has to leave early to pick up one of his daughters. X is also the proud father of two girls, one eight and the other fourteen. So our last glimpse of the singer is of a man running out the door while turning to answer our last question: How do you manage to do so many things all at the same time? “By doing it,” he says.
March 2015 This article formed part of the March 2015 issue of What’s On Havana The definitive monthly travel & culture guide to Havana Download our current issue of What’s On Havana, your definitive travel, culture and entertainment guide for all things happening in Havana, Cuba’s bustling and enigmatic capital city. We include features from around Cuba written by the best international travel writers covering Cuba. Our monthly online digital magazine is also available in Spanish and French.
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