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My brother Noel Nicola
Just a few days ago, Isabel Parra told me that Noel Nicola, Sergio Vitier, Argelia Domínguez and I had been with her in one of her dreams. Our Chilean friend told me that she found herself alone with Noel Nicola in that dream, that he was alive and smiling, while she thought that what she was seeing was something impossible.

Chabela also said that in her dream, I tried to explain that all that had happened was normal, that our friend visited us quite often. But suddenly, Noel said he had to go. Then, upon his announcement, my mother gently asked him not to disappear without letting us learning about what he knew. Isabel, very amazed about it, asked my mother to explain about what she was saying. And then Noel, with his teeth shaped in a Dracula-looking style, only took a spray and generously bathed us with its liquid.

I dont know why I imagined that the story of the dream took place at the little room on San Nicolas street, where Noel lived important years in his life. This thought reminded me that I should write the government in Havana, in the name of all who love the troubadours work, so that they place a headstone recalling that in that corner of the city many songs were written, which will extend to times.

My brother Noel was born October 1946, a year before I was born, and he was the only child of a family of outstanding musicians. His father was Isaac Nicola, an example among Cuban guitar maestros. His loving mother was the outstanding violinist Eva Reyes, and his aunt Cuqui Nicola, a renowned professor of guitar.

Although it might appear incredible, I new that Noel existed some years before I met him. His own father introduced him to me. This happened like that because in 1963, when I was very willing to study music, I came to the Amadeo Roldan conservatoire, whose director was Maestro Nicola, who received me and gently explained to me why you can not begin to study piano at sixteen.

I must have showed a discouraged look, because he put his hand on my shoulder and with a friendly smile said: "Look, I have a son of your age; he is now at an air defense unit."

Some months later, I looked like the son he mentioned, when I joined the military service and dressed in olive green. But not until 1967, already discharged of the army, I and my hypothetical brother met in a legendary radio station studio; it was one morning while the Senen Suarez band was recording a ballad titled "El Tiempo y Yo," (Time and Me)

I could say that the first person that realized about the friendship links that united Noel and me was my little sister Anabel, who was four years old by that time. One day as she was looking at us from the floor said, "Noel's make up is similar to that of my brother."


However, some time would pass by before my friend told me who his father was; so it took me some time to understand that "that young man at the air defense unit" was my everyday colleague of the New Song. When I learned of it, I could not believe that my elliptical brother had not taken a single guitar lesson from his father, who was a renowned guitar professor. Some time later, Noel explained to me that Old Nicola would use a small ruler to beat your hands if badly placed on the guitar. He told me that after observing the action he once said, "I am not going to take that lesson, not me."

In spite of all that, Noel always made one of the cleanest sounds, among all those of my generation of troubadours. He would use his nails and finger tips at the same time; he would use different sounds providing color and contrasts to his songs. Later, we were lucky enough to be close to Leo Brouwer, a composer that has made the major contribution to the guitar tone possibilities. Leo would make gestures of acceptance while listening to Noel as he played his guitar. As to his voice, Nicola could sing with such a strong and sustained voice that we always asked him to sing the high notes in the chorus, like in the popular song "Cuba Va". He always was one of the best tuned interpreters of our group.

Early in 1968, Pablo Milanes told me that Haydee Santamaria had invited us to make a concert in the context of the Protest Song, at the Casa de Las Americas center. We both realized that we did not have enough political songs to complete a program.

Those were the times when Noel and I just began to meet in order to show each other our songs. I had listened to some good songs he had composed, which would be needed for that program, so I recommended him for the concert. That way, almost by accident, the three of us made up the core of that concert that gave birth to what would be later known as the New Song Movement; it was born February 18, 1968 during the concert at the Che Guevara hall, in Casa de Las Americas.

During the next years, Noel and I made many things together. We performed in rallies, at work centers and schools, at the places of our friends; we also made up the Grupo de Experimentación Sonora del ICAIC music collective, we founded the New Song Movement. We traveled to Chile, Spain; we visited Mexico several times where we made many concerts.


In 1974, we visited the Dominican Republic to take part at the "Seven Days with the People" festival. In order to get to that country, which is next to Cuba, we had to travel to Port of Spain first, where we spent several days waiting for an American visa to make a stop over at San Juan's airport, in Puerto Rico, to later keep on our trip to the Dominican Republic. In Port of Spain we went to the movies every day to see Bruce Lee films, which were not run in Havana at that time. We arrived in Santo Domingo late one day, though we spent unforgettable days there.

The morning after the closing of the "Seven Days with the People" festival, a secret police colonel gently invited us to disappear from the country in less than 24 hours. We rapidly went to Venezuela, a country that had no relations with Cuba and we spent a month there. One evening we went to the movies in the capital city to see "El Ultimo Tango en Paris."

I remember that Noel liked the film that much that he stayed to see it again, while I took a tour of the place looking for the statue of Bolivar, of which Jose Marti spoke about. Another evening, we appeared without an invitation at the house of Maestro Isaac Nicola. Some days later, in the outskirts of San Fernando de Apure, we had another privilege: we had lunch at the little farm of Indio Figueredo, a living legend that received us with his harp, accompanied by the cuatro guitar of his son and the maracas of his grandson.

Some of our most interesting trips included one we took in 1976 to the Peoples Republic of Angola, which was fighting neo-colonial aggression by that time. In Angolan trenches, Noel would sing with his AKA-47 hanging from his shoulder. The thin figure of that troubadour with his gun could appear amazing for those who never met him. But, despite his fragile physical appearance, Noel had a strong character.

When our small group of young troubadours, initially questioned, gave birth to a current of national propositions, Noel's convictions, his sense of responsibility led him to sacrifice his singing activity in order to spend years leading the new organization, The New Song Movement. And while many of his colleagues dedicated our time to composition, rehearsal and singing, Noel spent whole evenings writing the rules and coordinating festivals and meetings. You can find his articles and smart analysis from those times in the press.

We all have our own personal habits; I would never forget that Noel had no patience to deal with some people who were always asking for cigarettes. While at the Grupo de Experimentacion Sonora del ICAIC, quarrels between Noel and Sara Gonzalez became commonplace; it was a show that was first mounted by Sara and which ended like an expected Pas de Deux.

Words were no longer necessary sometimes; it all took the fat woman to stand by Dracula and show him her fingers making a V of victory in his face. The gesture that asked for a cigarette would make the guy explode. Sara asked again and Nicola would raise his eyebrows and turn his eyes and the third time, he would remind her that she could get cigarettes in the grocery store at the corner. The fourth time he would turn a deaf ear and at the fifth his thin body would swollen to explode while speaking in non-understandable languages, which we supposed he learned while studying at the Ethnology and Folklore Institute.

Perhaps one day I will tell you about the exquisite meticulousness of this perpetual friend, or about the times he suffered from renal colic while my mother had to give him an injection in the evening; or about what he told a TV director who tried to manipulate him; or about the reaction he caused in a Caracas young ladies school, after he sang: "There comes a battalion of women/with a bra as their flag". But is now time for the presentation of the CD we promised, the anthology for which this author picked the first 20 songs, just few days before he departed.

In fact, when we learned that Noel was sick and possibly without hope to survive, we began to look for pretexts in order to help him. Our friend had a strict sense of decorum and he did not like to accept gifts. However, we knew he did not have a good economic situation and understood that, given his health condition, he should have a nutritious diet. Then, we thought of a formula that he would not reject.

As Don Corleone would say, we would make him an offer that he could not reject. We proposed that his colleagues would record his own songs and invite SGAE to support us, which would guarantee some income in terms of copyright.

Noel not only accepted, but also made the list of the first 20 songs with great enthusiasm. I remember that as he dictated the list on the phone to me, with his huge modesty, he said "Arent there too many songs? If you want put out some of them."

Friendly Teddy Bautista approved the Project. The old friends put our heart in it and the young ones, heirs of his legacy, demanded their own space as well. Musicians of different countries and of different trends wished to be part of the homage, inspired by a work of great human values and artistic merits. Ana Lourdes Martinez could tell you better than me about these details, given her coordination of so much enthusiastic events.

But one day we had to say "this is all the CD will take". We understood that those 37 songs would be sort of an initial encouragement to keep studying the work of the artist. Brother, narrator and musician German Piniella wrote the note on the disc announcing that "without any exaggeration, I can assert that this album, the legacy of a man of his time, who made all he could and even much more than that with the tools he had in his hands, his talent and his guitar, will be considered one of the most beautiful works of Cuban Song."

On my part, I consider that these versions are a worthy approach to an artistic work genuinely diverse and personal. And I hope that it will encourage the interest and wish to listen to the magnificent and poorly spread songs made by Noel.

Undoubtedly, this album offers songs that will follow your dreams; songs that will be there when you wake up and that will accompany you on the way to everyday activity. Here you will meet a man who loves with his heart, and a man fighting death, chauvinism, bureaucracy, opportunism, indolence.

Here is a piece of an artist who discovered Cesar Vallejo and took him to his song as nobody else ever did. Here you will meet a practitioner of all Cuban music styles and an explorer of many universal winds. Here you will learn about elegies, questions, wishes; about compromises, which were direct commitments sometimes, and other subtle things, and about his ethical sense of solid revolutionary foundation.

Dulce Maria Loynaz once wrote that "I have learned that I can not have somebody love me, but just become someone whom can be loved. The rest depends on the others." With that level of discontent, but with more hope, you will find in these songs a man asking to be loved as he is and not as he is expected to be. Finally, here you will meet a child tenderly fearing the dimensions of the love he assumed.

My brother Noel Nicola Reyes, described himself during an instant of Chaplin-like inspiration "an unlucky troubadour". Fortunately, in the same song he made his ironic intention very clear. Before the greatness of his work, anyone would have discovered that by giving such a statement, he was happily wrong.

Source: By Silvio Rodriguez Domínguez, Cubanow

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