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“May there be peace in every human heart”
In February 2017, I landed on a beautiful island called Cuba. The dream to set my feet on this special soil was long overdue. As it often happens in life, we dream of something for a long time, yet the outcome might be presented in a very different color. And so it happened: at last, I did find myself with a few dear friends walking around Havana.
Since I was about 9-10 years old, I’ve been playing a song that pretty much every kid used to play in a former USSR music school and still does, I guess. The name of this song is “Cuban Dance” or “Danza Cubana” for those playing it in other parts of the world. The thing is that since I was a little child, Sergey Borisovich Sherbak, the guitar teacher who introduced me to this song, as to guitar playing in general, has instilled in me a passionate interest towards different dances, so-called flavors of the world.
Zaporozhye. Ukraine. USSR. 1987
At that time, there were many world dances as part of my repertoire: Cuban, Arabic, Gypsy, Spanish, Russian, Jewish, Argentinian, Brazilian, Italian and so on. Could he foresee a future at that time? Perhaps not. Perhaps it was more like an intuitive attempt to make an introduction to the richness of this world. In this very case – through the music.
Unfortunately, Sergey Borisovich has left this planet in early 2019 leaving behind countless students. Some of them have become musicians; the others have grown into guitar teachers. Some have taken another pathway in life. Even though I spent my main years of development as an artist on the streets of the world, I always carry within my heart and fingers the gratitude for the foundation that this great man has laid down into my being since a very early age.
Sergey Borisovich and Estas Tonne, Kyiv 2016
In fact, there were two great passions revealed in my childhood – guitar and football. If I wasn’t playing music, I was out on a field or in front of a wall of a local newspaper printing house banging my ball into it. At that time, I did know every great football player by face, by name, by country, by the team he was playing in. Who could think at that time that eventually I would be visiting all these places and sharing the sound of my heart with the world? Yet, life with all its spontaneity and challenges is incredible and it’s truly amazing to be here, on Earth, even though at times we don’t think this way.
At the age of 15, due to the fact that my family had to relocate to another country, I did put a guitar aside, as well as my passion for football.
At that moment, my dear parents were unable to keep an eye on a teenage boy as they were facing both immigration and health issues while trying to adapt to a new place that they had moved to. Psychologically, I was pretty much left alone to dive into a new life I wasn’t prepared for. And yet, if it’s not for the patience, loving care and ongoing support since I can remember and always from Elena and Felix Tonne, my grandparents and S.B.Sherbak, I would never get the guitar foundation that eventually has evolved into what is presently called Estas Tonne’ Sound.
Felix Tonne & Elena Tonne & Estas in Saint Petersburg. 2018
In my story, since a very early age, I’ve been blessed by family support and companionship of both parents and grandparents, as well as aunts, uncles and cousins. And even though today I see life as an infinite interconnected web of links, those that take care of us as infants are the ones who lay a foundation for the development of a character, with all that is included into it: all the challenges and all the greatness.
I’m aware that such a situation isn’t available for every kid on this planet, yet there are very complex mechanisms of inaction regarding the life of every human being. It looks like a sort of prepared setting for everyone and, yet, it changes constantly so that a unique development can take place. However, most of the time, we – humans – cannot see a bigger picture of the unfolding life and the role of every participant in it.
To give thanks to our blood family is an essential part of being a human, no matter how good/bad such relationships are. Gratitude to all of the experiences is like a door to a new perception.
The difference between a child that reacts to his/her environment and a grown-up that still is a child within a perception lies in an ability to see the triggers, as well as nourishing and all other aspects of the opposing forces of nature. It is almost impossible, although inevitable, yet, each and every one of us is daily called by life to open up: more, deeper, wider.
Throughout life, we do find also our “cosmic family” that enriches this earthly experience, and not every one of this family is supposed to play a “good” role. Nevertheless, as in a theatrical play, we change characters, roles and personalities for the greater purpose, which eventually will be seen and understood. Deep thanks to all these pathways, to all that are participating in this incredible Dance we call Life. Gratitude is truly majestic.
Saying thanks to the audience, Neu Isenburg, Germany 2019
Yet, the year was still 1990, and I have entered the world of the grown-ups and was totally lost there for about 11 years.
One day, when such a life became unbearable I made a “jump” to the country, where I always wished to live. Not even the country, but the city – New York.
New York City.
By that time I wasn’t really playing at all, I landed in New York City without a guitar, with only a small bag of a few clothes, in a straight costume without a tie, just one week after 9/11. By the way, it was the last time I did wear a costume like that.
Both for those who were present in September 2001 in New York City and for those from all over the world this date marked a new era for humanity.
In spite of such a tragedy and human life loss, this situation as a crack in the asphalt has opened a new chapter for all of us on Earth. Life since that moment has never been the same. It’s like a heart that is broken. It can heal over time, yet its scar will serve as a reminder that life includes all in itself: pain and tragedy, celebration and joy. And somewhere between all these extremes each and every one of us has to remember how to surf, how to be, how to breathe through it all.
After six months of wandering around New York, I received a present from a dear friend, who did notice my desire to play guitar again. In an old apartment, which we were renting at that time, there was a vintage classical guitar that I tried to play each night, yet without any particular knowledge. What I did try to remember was how to play a short piece from my childhood. A “Cuban Dance”…
Due to my very lonely days among millions of people and separation from my family, at that time I was enchanted by the sound of Blues and Django Reinhardt. And so, my friend did think that I would be “going for these styles” and one day, on a day which had the title “Birthday”, I was granted a gift in a form of a jazz guitar.
Union Square Park. New York City. 2002
Immediately, I started to wonder and hang out with the street musicians and blues guitarists around Central Park, Washington Square Park, Union Square, train stops, bus stops and all over until one day life brought a great meeting that has changed the course of my life. Michael Shulman, already quite an established violinist, was playing on the streets for some time, earning his bread each day by playing music only. While he was playing, I did approach him in the underground station with a question, if he would like to try to play together. He was very skeptical about this idea, as surviving on the streets sometimes is way easier alone than as a duo. However, he did promise to call my beeper, but he never did. (At that time the cellphones were still not so affordable to pay for, as it is nowadays, so, basically, we didn’t have an easy way to connect again).
Yet, life gave us another opportunity. In about 2 weeks, I did see him on the train going from Manhattan to Brooklyn. And I did approach him again. And again, he was very skeptical, yet this time agreed to try it out, literally suggesting to take my guitar out of the case. I was stunned, as I have envisioned a very different potential for such a jam. While he was tuning his violin, I did take my guitar out, tuned it as well, while witnessing my insecurity, as we were observed by a wagon full of people. “Play something”, – he suggested. There was practically the only one choice for me: all that I could play at that time was the song from my childhood “Cuban Dance”.
Michael Shulman and Estas Tonne Union Square Park. New York City. 2002
The level of ecstasy we both experienced at that moment is indescribable, as both of us have truly received an initiation by life, by all these people and by the trust itself. After that, we have played pretty much every single day all over New York City for about 6 months, facing challenges, struggles, competition, survival, yet, at the same time, the joy of being alive amongst busy people.
What was driving me those days is a childlike attitude towards life and wonder. It still does. Each time when we were lost or not knowing what to play next, Michael and I used to look at each other with the question: “So, what are we playing next?” “Cuban dance”, – the reply was. And it was an unmistakable decision every single time. Since then, Michael and I used to meet on many round-about-s of life and, perhaps, one day we will realize our timeless connection through music again. What is meant to be always belongs to the Mystery. We just have to trust it and do make our steps.
After New York, I made another “jump”, towards the West Coast, to Los Angeles, and soon after pretty much all over the world. However, it’s better to keep these stories for another time and, maybe, in a different format.
Estas Leaving New York City. 2002
The “Cuban dance” was changing as I was changing; the variations of it brought me over the years to the deepest seas of Being. The song has been gradually losing its identity and the structure, while being reborn again and again as a new pathway of expression. It brought me to the “Song of the Golden Dragon”, when I was traveling for 6 months through Mexico with just a few objects at my disposal: a car, a suitcase with an amplifier and a guitar. No bank cards, no telephones, no computers, no GPS. Of course, by that time I already had more pieces in my repertoire, as, while traveling, they were forming along the path into short stories. Eventually, it brought me to the “Internal Flight”, which completely changed my perception of what music is and what life is about.
Cover art of “Internal Flight” album. 1 track 64 min. 2013
By going to Cuba I somehow felt that the cycle of life brought closure and, at the same time, a new opening. As it often happens, Giedrius, Indre and I go to places with no scheduled plans, but with a wonder in our hearts to explore and to receive what Life has to offer to us on the way, while sharing our gifts.
Thus, before going to Cuba, we had only one contact for house rent in Havana and nothing else. While in Costa Rica, just before our flight, I met an American poet who gave me a contact of some Polish artists that had some contacts in Havana with a quite known percussion player, Rolando “El Nino” Salgado that used to play with “Afro-Cuban All-Stars”.
For us, the kids of the USSR, going to Cuba was a significant move, as we somehow were teleported in time to the childhood we still had a memory of, even though in a completely different color, yet, so familiar, so dear, so challenging, so colorful and, however, painful. By the way, this is the only place on Earth, where the old cars from the United States and the Soviet Union are living, driving, co-existing side by side as a symbolic expression of what is possible on Earth: to be and share and have a place for all the colors.
Havana Malecón boulevard. 2017
The contrast of life that we have experienced for the first week was almost unbearable. I literally wanted to leave after some days in Havana. But Giedrius, as a wise man, was bringing patience into my heart, saying that it’s, indeed, a very special moment, which we will be eventually grateful for. And so it happened: Rolando made some introductions, we gathered in a house, on a balcony and had a jam, just like that. Just a simple jam for a few hours.
Balcony jam in Havana. 2017
Of course, out of all the material that we did capture, a version of the Cuban Dance was the most essential eventually to share. At that moment of jam, we did see that there would be a long trail before we can finalize this “song”, as right after we went to travel around Cuba and continued to capture images for what could be potentially a story to tell.
Everything that was captured, the way it all happened was brought to us by Life itself, by Heart in every moment. That’s why, when you see the short film, which we named “Cuban Heart”, it is specified that it was Directed by Life. Literally. Every meeting, every recording, every shot wasn’t planned.
Recording day. Havana. 2017
Of course, we had to agree with the musicians for recording date and capture what we can before even knowing what shape these recordings will take.
Mariamne Martinez Ramos and Estas listening to a "Cuban Dance". Trinidad. 2017
Some of them we met on the road. For example, Mariamne Martinez Ramos and Lizet Fuentes Zayas we did meet in Trinidad by chance and they were open enough to jump on the train that was completely unknown to us all at that time.
Lizet Fuentes Zayas getting ready to dance. Trinidad. 2017
The main singer for this piece, who even isn’t a professional singer, but a young man with a great charisma, Jose Antonio Santos Isers we did meet just a few days before leaving Cuba. Within one day of working together on the text, we did a recording right away, as we had no time for “thinking about it”.
Jose Antonio Santos Isers & Estas working on lyrics. Havana. 2017
The drum circle also was a spontaneous move, as we just had a feeling that it would be great to capture the Afro-Cuban energy within this experience, and so it happened.
Drum circle @ Un Centro Cultura Comunitaria. Havana. 2017
When I brought all the audio recordings to our partner in sound, Leon Galperin from “SoundPro Studios”, he was very upset about the quality and the more so because he wasn’t present with us in Cuba to capture all of it himself.
But we had to do it simply because there was no other way at this moment in time. We just had to complete this! Period.
Leon in “SoundPro Studios”. Israel. 2015
It took us almost 3 years to finalize this project. If one could hear the original files we had and the way it all was recorded and then compare with what it became, it could serve a stunning example of what patience, persistence, dedication, mastery and quality are about. And what glues all these particles together is love in its all-including essence.
Countless words I can share about this story and countless people to thank that were involved into it, as knowingly or unknowingly they still are involved, as every creation includes so many forces, which sometimes we are unaware of.
After recording. Havana. 2017
Maybe, one day we will explore a new chapter in Cuba, maybe, share more about it all, but, meanwhile, this new chapter of life brought a sharing.
A sharing from heart to heart, beyond what separates us, yet of what unites us all in love, trust and mystery.
And thanks to it all, heartfelt thanks to and for Being…
E.T. November 2019