Iván ‘Melón’ Lewis: a Latin Grammy from Cáceres

Each one goes his own way. Choose more or less correctly what you think is best. Or do not choose, which is still another way of choosing. There are pleasant trails that invite you to stroll and others that are the opposite, that are terrifying because of the emptiness they harbor but that offer teaching once they are traveled. There are unexplored roads, barren roads and lonely roads. There are improvised ones. And there are those that seem to be written. Sealed by a whimsical wand that would have marked the steps.

Who will even know if that destiny exists, but the path of Ivan ‘Melon’ Lewis (1974, Cuba), the one in his life, seemed chosen for music. Since he was eight years old, he has been in front of a piano and now, forty years later, he has reached one of the many heights that he aspires to in his career: to raise one of the greatest awards that a musician can raise, the Latin Grammy. It has been this year, in 2021, after an uncertain year, in which has been imposed as best jazz album in the same gala in which C. Tangana raised a few other gramophones and his compatriot Yotuel starred in one of the most viral moments with his award for best song in which he precisely sang to his country, to Cuba.

Ivan Melon Lewis. TONI GUDIEL

He has thus reached the end of one of the paths that he has been traveling for decades, an end of the journey that is still another beginning and in which the starting point is Cáceres, where he has lived for twenty years. The most paradoxical thing is that for Lewis talking about travel is literal. “He lives on horseback”, as he confesses, between his home, in Coria, which connects him with a world, that of his family, and Madrid, which connects him with another, that of the stages. In fact, he attends to this newspaper before returning to the road to take the stage with Chucho Valdés and three other pianists in a live performance with ten hands and two pianos.

In March, remember, 24 years have passed since he traveled from Pinar del Río to settle in Spain, the last 17 in Extremadura. Together with his brother Ricardo Lewis, also a musician, violinist, he toured the stages with a salsa band. He remembers the 2000s because “he traveled through all the halls of Extremadura.” “From top to bottom,” he says. The band disintegrated, but he insists on emphasizing that all the members are still good friends. He met his partner in 2002 and it was when they located his residence in Coria. Four years later, with temporary comings and goings for Lewis to share tables with musicians, in 2006 they offered him to play with the Gurruchaga band and he acknowledges that “the journey began there.” He did not contemplate the possibility of leaving so he accumulated kilometers. Meanwhile, her daughter was born and what weighed the most, she adds, absences, also accumulated. In these years he has accumulated collaborations with Joan Manuel Serrat, who announced this past week that he is saying goodbye to the stage, Joaquín Sabina, José Luis Perales, Sole Giménez and Charles Aznavour. The last, with the violinist Ara Malikian.

And if he accumulates well-known names among those who have risen with him to the tables, he also accumulates awards and up to three nominations for the awards that this year as an act of justice have decided to put his name in the envelope. In 2013 he was nominated for a song he signed with Concha Buika. No luck. Two years later, in 2015 twice, for his album and as best emerging artist. Neither and although there were twice the chances, there was luck. Finally, six years later, he has been able to pick up the gramophone. “At the fourth time he wins,” he jokes while admitting that “it is a boost of encouragement that they recognize you, these types of important awards are not given to you for the specific work, but rather it is a recognition of a whole trajectory ”, he points out.

Although weeks have passed, it was in November, he remembers the moment of the gala. He admits to having been brief in his gratitude “for the nerves” and it is still difficult for him to realize that he was there, in Las Vegas, along with the international stars of music. “I look at the video and say, did this happen? It was a dream and it was so fast.” He also notes that the moment of delivery ran through a mixture of “joy, motivation, anger and nostalgia.”

Joy because you don’t receive an award like this every day, anger because getting to Las Vegas was quite a journey. «We had problems with the visa, I have been a thousand times to the US and I have never had problems and here because of the covid it was very complicated because they denied it and we did not know if I was going to arrive on time, then I went to play in Barcelona and had to return in bus and prayed that he would arrive because he had to catch a plane, then twelve hours to New York and another six to Las Vegas. Paradoxically, when he arrived at the hotel after having overcome the obstacles, the motivation arrived. Can you imagine I win? He wondered. The nostalgia came because his father, sick with Alzheimer’s, passed away and he wishes he had lived that moment.

He remembers his moment in which he thanked many because “someone’s success does not belong to a single person, there are many people behind it” and he remembers that of others like Beatriz Luengo, who wept over the threats she had received for having composed the theme ‘Homeland and life’. Precisely, around the debate on the silence that surrounds the situation that the Cuban country is going through, Lewis does not hide. He understands that many compatriots do not speak out for fear of reprisals against their relatives, but he “has an opinion” about what happens because he experiences it first hand with his mother and sister. “When you see the images and they impact you and it shocks you because when we were little they told us that Batista’s atrocities were not going to be repeated because Fidel arrived and now there is a great repression.” It does not forget the “North American blockade” but it also shakes the internal way of operating in the country itself. “I sent my mother medicines and they arrived months later and with half,” he laments.

Be that as it may, he always carries Cuba with him. He owes his nickname ‘Melon’ to his childhood. He has counted it a thousand times, with this one thousand and one. It is the story of the best of intelligences, that of resignifying things so that the meaning they have is the opposite. “I went to music classes and had a very large head and a very small body, and one day an older boy walking up the stairs told me that he looked like a melon, at three months the teachers knew him by his nickname.” Here he is critical of ‘bullying’ and appeals to end it. In his case, then as a fight, he transformed that insult into the nickname that has taken him to the top.

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Iván ‘Melón’ Lewis: a Latin Grammy from Cáceres