Chico & Rita
A few nights ago, we finally watched the beautiful animated feature, Chico & Rita. Directed by Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal, and Tono Errando, and written by Trueba and Ignacio Martinez de Pison, it won a slew of awards (and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2012). It is a heart-wrenching love story that starts off in 1940s Cuba and wends it way to modern-day Las Vegas, telling a story of heartbreak, politics, racism, exploitation, and most importantly, love and Latin jazz. The music and part of Chico’s story was modeled on the music and life of Bebo Valdes.
You should really watch it (if you haven’t already) and then read more about the production process at the film’s website.
Although Hector was familiar with Mariscal’s and Valdes’s work, I was not, and finding out about both their careers has been inspiring.
Chico y Rita was Mariscal‘s first animated feature, but his career as a designer has spanned 30 years. He has designed furniture, installations, objets d’arts, fonts, corporate and national identities, a wide range of communications. Perhaps most famously, he designed the city branding for Barcelona and created one of the most popular Olympics mascots in history (and arguably one of the cutest), Cobi. We love that Mariscal’s ‘voice’ is always apparent in his work, whether he is working for clients, for himself, or collaborating with other artists. His illustration style, the dynamic black outlines, the whimsical, but grounded quality shines through in all he does. In Chico y Rita, his style ranges from detailed realistic backgrounds to more abstract scenes that help convey the rhythms and flavour of the Cuban jazz.
Bebo Valdes’s story was inspiring in a different way. His life is an amazing example of the wave-like nature of an artist’s path. In Valdes’ case, his career as a pianist, composer and arranger in Cuba stalled after the revolution and in the ’60s, he settled into obscurity in Sweden, playing in restaurants and nightclubs. All the while, he kept composing and stored the compositions in a drawer. In the ’90s, he was re-discovered and recorded an album, “Bebo Rides Again”. This album contains some of the compositions he had worked during those 30 years of Swedish anonymity! Fernando Trueba introduced him to a new fan base through his film on Latin jazz greats, Calle 54. This film, along with the accompanying soundtrack and book, was followed by more albums, collaborations with El Cigala and others and ended up in Valdes’ accruing four Grammy awards since the 90s, and a revitalized and newly appreciated career. Then in 2011-2012 he was the inspiration and musical director for Chico y Rita.
What I love most about Valdes’ personal history is that he didn’t stop composing. He didn’t stop writing. He didn’t give up in frustration, and he didn’t calcify with bitterness. He just kept creating and the world caught up with him again, luckily while he was still alive. Some people’s works are discovered posthumously, but Valdes was still creative and sharp and able to compose, play, record, perform, and travel.
The advice you get from creative mentors and teachers is always that you cannot lead a creative life for fame or fortune, you create because you must and everything else follows. If neither fame nor fortune follow, you have lived a life creating. How uniquely human and incredible? But how beautiful, too, to live to old age and see the fruits of your life-long labours appreciated, and to still be “in shape”, ready to collaborate as new projects and opportunities present themselves? That, more than even Valdes’s actual music, is the inspiration for me.