Along with being two of Havana’s finest Celtic musicians, Luis Gutierrez and Angelica Gongora might be the cutest couple in Cuba.
“Ours is a beautiful love story. Sometimes I cannot believe it.”
Cuban fiddler Angelica Gongora remembers the day she met her partner in life and music, Luis Gutierrez. “It was September 2009,” she smiles, mischievously. “I dropped into the Spanish Society Centre in Havana where Luis was studying the Galician bagpipes. I’m pretty sure I ruined his lesson.”
Gutierrez nods with a grin. “Yes, she did. People who know me know how hard I concentrate when I study. But that day I hit a wall. I couldn’t do anything except look at her.”
Along with Galician roots, the young couple share a passion for Celtic culture and have been making beautiful music together since August 2011 as the duo Sean Am – Gaelic for “The Old Times.”
“At that time I was a bagpiper without an instrument,” remembers Gutierrez. “Angelica took me by the arm and reassured me that everything would be okay and that nothing could take away the music I loved.”
He adapted by picking up the bodhran. Soon, the pair were playing on the radio, taking part in workshops promoting Celtic music, teaching at the University of Arts of Cuba, producing their own concerts, performing as guests in other musicians’ shows and headlining the Music and Celtic Traditions Festival in Havana.
“Celtic music reminds us of what life is about,” explains Gutierrez. “With a simple, singular sound and ornamentation, it is capable of being both very happy and deeply sad. It is also a style of music that is full of surprises; its dynamics can be a revelation to anyone who is listening or playing it.”
Gongora agrees, taking it a step further, “Playing Celtic music gives us more freedom as musicians, since we are not bound by sheet music and the composer’s vision for the tune. It allows us to put our soul into every note we play.”
Gutierrez notes that to understand the Celtic music scene in Havana, one must understand what has happened in Cuba since Castro’s revolution of the late 1950s.
“In just a few short years, we saw radical changes in our cultural identity. While we gained a stronger sense of what it means to be Cuban, we lost the memory of our Galician and Asturian Celtic roots.”
He believes that, with international collaboration, the creation of a Havana-based Celtic organization would aid artists with legal support, information, rehearsal spaces, public performance opportunities, enable exchanges with artists from other countries, develop mechanisms to promote Celtic culture in the community and better integrate Celtic culture into the country’s arts institutions.
Meanwhile, the two do what they can to promote and preserve their shared heritage, finding strength in their relationship.
“Luis makes life beautiful,” shares Gongora. “There is no simple or a small thing that he does not turn into something profoundly wonderful. No matter what problems we have he always transforms them with a faith that knows no limits.”
“I love so many things about Angelica,” confides Gutierrez. “Her ability to look at things as if they were always new, and when she laughs out loud like a little girl about stuff that no one else understands. She completes me and makes me be a better person. As she said, ours is a beautiful love story.”