- Angel Bermudez (@angelbermudez)
- BBC News World
When I remind her that she is nominated for the Latin Grammy Awards for best new artist, Ángela Álvarez lets out a very sincere “wow”.
It’s as if he still doesn’t believe it or, perhaps rather, that he believes it and is enjoying it too much.
Is about an award that artists such as David Bisbal, Juanes, Karol G, Calle 13 and Jesse & Joy have received, among others. And to which other now consecrated musicians such as Mon Laferte, Pablo Alborán and Maluma were nominated without success.
But, unlike all of them, Ángela Álvarez reaches this nomination at 95 years of age, having managed to record her first album only in 2021.
And it is that, although this Cuban singer and songwriter confesses that the love for music was born in her since she was little, it was not until now that, thanks to one of his grandchildren -musician and composer Carlos José Álvarez- managed to make the leap to professional music. Yes, at breakneck speed.
In the last four years, Ángela Álvarez offered her first concert at the historic Ávalon Theater in Los Angeles.
The recital was presented by actor Andy García, who also played the bongo and was the producer of Miss Ángela, a documentary directed by filmmakers Paul Toogood and Lloyd Stanton about the life of this nonagenarian.
At the same time, Angela Alvarez had the opportunity to play a small role in the new version of the film The Father of the Bride -starring Andy Garcia and Gloria Estefan-, in which he appears singing the classic bolero “Love me a lot”.
And now, on top of all that, there is the Latin Grammy nomination for his first album, which includes 15 of his compositions and was recorded by top musicians who, in turn, have been Grammy winners or candidates in the past. .
But this moment of a rising star that Ángela Álvarez lives at 95 comes after a long life in which there were sweet moments, but also great pain.
Between sorrows and songs
May 1962 was a key moment in the life of Ángela Álvarez. So she had to resign herself to seeing her four youngest children leave Cuba alone for Miami, after an airport official denied her the possibility of boarding the plane.
The family wanted to flee the island in the face of the communist drift that the revolution was taking but, in principle, only the children could do so, who were welcomed in the framework of the so-called “Operation Peter Pan”, which allowed the entry into the United States of thousands of unaccompanied minors from the island.
Álvarez managed to travel to the United States about three months later, but it would take years for his children to return to live under the same roof, because for this he needed to have a job with an income that allowed him to support them all and that was not easy. .
Not knowing how to speak English, she had to take whatever jobs she could get: picking tomatoes in the fields or cleaning offices at night..
But, in the midst of adversity, he made some progress. Social services in the United States helped her find employment and housing in the town of Pueblo (Colorado), where her children were in an orphanage. Thus, although they could not yet live together, they could see each other every week.
The complete family reunification would come a few years later, when Álvarez -through a friend- managed to send a petition to the then president of Mexico, Adolfo López Mateos, who was helping Cuban families to leave the island.
“I told him that my husband was an engineer and worked in the sugar industry and that he was not going to be a cargo from Mexico. So, they took him out of Cuba with a job at a sugar mill in the state of Veracruz. They gave him a house there and then he claimed me and I went with the children to Mexico,” Álvarez tells BBC Mundo.
That reunification closed the wound created by family separation, but not the wound opened by exile and longing for Cuba.
“I have never been back. I want to keep in my heart and in my mind what I left behind. I don’t know how it will be. Truly my intimate family, they are no longer in Cuba. So I don’t want to go. I have composed many songs for Cuba, thinking of my beautiful island,” the artist told BBC Mundo.
And certainly the presence of the island is manifest in Álvarez’s album and not only in songs like “Un canto a mi Cuba”, but also in many others like “Romper el yugo” (“Oh, eternal God, hold out your hand, help Cuba to be reborn, calm anger, appease hatred, give Cubans freedom”) or “Añoranzas”.
In addition to exile with all its implications, Álvarez suffered the death of her husband from cancer in 1977 (which inspired the song “Camino sin direction”) and then that of her daughter María, for the same reason.
His children were a constant source of inspiration, for them he composed the song “In my garden” and, specifically for Maria, he wrote a song that bears her name.
Thus, the album can be heard as the musical work that it is, but also as a kind of sentimental diary of its author.
a teenage dream
“Since I was a child I always liked music. I had some aunts whom I loved very much and who played the piano. When there were family gatherings, they told me ‘come so you can sing’ and I did it. I liked that a lot, especially everything when the whole family applauded. Oh, that moved me!”, says Álvarez about his first steps in music.
In the school where he was a boarder as a teenager he learned to play the guitar and when he was about 15 years old he began to compose.
Few years later, Ángela began to dream of dedicating herself to music, but she ran into the frontal opposition of her father.
“I told my dad once that I wanted to be a singer, so he told me ‘you sing very beautifully, my daughter, and I love hearing you, but I wouldn’t want you to sing for the world.’ my father, I tried to erase thata of the mind, but there was always a little place in my heart that I could not forgetAlvarez recalls.
And, indeed, he did not forget the music.
Although it was limited to the family sphere, Álvarez continued singing and composing songs that he initially kept in his memory, but that he later began to transcribe in some notebooks.
“When I felt something that moved me, I began to compose. Especially when I left Cuba. I lived in Puerto Rico, which has the same climate as Cuba, and when I went along the roads and saw things that reminded me of Cuba, I composed there. In Mexico I also composed. Wherever I went and liked it, I felt the desire to say what I was feeling,” he recalls.
With those notebooks, some already worn by time, he surprised his grandson Carlos José when he asked him to show him the songs he had made. From there came the 15 songs that make up his first album and there are also -according to Álvarez- about 30 songs still unpublished.
But what did Ángela Álvarez feel when she found out that she had been nominated for a Latin Grammy?
“I felt many things, but the most beautiful thing I felt was to think that I could have reached such an important goal. So, I felt very honored. I do think that it is a great honor that I am going to receive,” the artist replies to BBC World.
“My dream took many years to be realized and it was realized through a grandson,” he adds later.
Thus, Andy García was not misguided when he said at the presentation of the concert at the Ávalon theater that the dream of a young teenager was being fulfilled.
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Who is Ángela Álvarez, the 95-year-old Cuban singer nominated for a Latin Grammy for best new artist – BBC News Mundo