I met Pepo some time ago when I was just a thirteen-year-old teenager at the Professional Music School in Matanzas, Cuba. At that time, he was the most popular clarinet teacher in that town, as well as a bassist with a duo of singer-songwriters, and a tenor in that city’s professional choir.
After a historic week for our country, this past Sunday, we had a conversation that sounded very similar to those incessant talks we used to have when I was his student. This time he was seating in his car parked somewhere near Miami Beach; I was seating in my room, and we had Zoom between us. It was around 2:30 pm and he had just finished his Sunday gig at Saint Joseph Church of Miami.
While the sun was streaming through the roof of his car, Pepo agreed to answer some of my questions about his experience as a musician and creator during COVID. As for most musicians, his gigs disappeared throughout the confinement period, and with it, the communication with the public through music, representing the essence of his lifestyle. This crisis affected my life like it affected the lives of many, he said. There was an economic impact according to the activity that I practice.
Despite this reality that all musicians lived, in Pepo’s case, he felt supported by the two organizations for which he works regularly: the church and a nonprofit called Mind and Melody, which is dedicated to providing music therapy sessions for groups of elderly with neurological impairments, and kids with disabilities. Besides these two activities that he was able to keep virtually, he also recorded an album for children called “Donde está el bebé”, with a Miami-based artist: Rita Rosa. Pepo felt really happy to directly bring beauty through music to those families who were left with no options to educate and distract their children.
Thirty minutes had passed. We continued exchanging other questions surrounding the importance of his work and art in society; between the internet that was failing a bit, and the satisfaction it gave me to actively listen to him. He also discussed his point of view on the online performances that increased during the crisis. In his opinion, these platforms will be a permanent means for the dissemination of live music, much more than before. But there is something that one loses in this practice, and it is precisely the physical contact with the public, he mentioned. We went on, and I asked how he thinks art helps our society, and he replied with an old story he had heard from one of his professors that unfolded in this idea: art doesn’t have a function, art is a function.