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Ahmed Dickinson Cárdenas: Fingerpicking good

PIONEER: Dickinson Cárdenas hopes to bring Cuban music to the mainstream

WITH DANCEHALL and reggae dominating the Caribbean music scene it can be easy to forget that there are other, more refined musical genres from the islands, eager to be heard.

Ahmed Dickinson Cárdenas is one of Cuba’s finest young guitarists, having received critical acclaim for his talents in a relatively short musical career.

Praised for his technical brilliance, Dickinson Cárdenas, 35, uses his guitar to portray the rhythmic celebrations of the Cuban spirit, with cool jazz harmonies and classical melodies.

Based in London, Dickinson Cárdenas hopes to bring the essence of Cuba to the UK. “There are many clichés about the music in Cuba but the music I do is fresh,” he tells Life & Style.

“Most people haven’t been exposed to this way of making music. I believe it’s my job to promote this legacy that I have taken from Cuba.”

Born in Havana, Dickinson Cárdenas first discovered his love for music at the tender age of four when his mother signed him up to his local choir – where he continued to sing for ten years.

An only child, born to a nuclear physicist father and language teaching mother, Dickinson Cárdenas was encouraged to follow his dreams.

“I would say my childhood was golden. My parents allowed me to do whatever I wanted to do.

“They are both very cultured. They’re interested in music and the arts and were encouraging when I started playing the piano and guitar at nine years old.”

His undeniable musical ability was cemented after he won his first competition at 12 years old, but because of Cuban laws, his dreams had to be put on hold.


MAGIC FINGERS: The guitarist has been praised for his technical skills

“It was when I was about to go to the army, which is compulsory in Cuba – that I decided that I wanted to be a professional guitarist.”

Having grown up in a close-knit community, the army was a “learning curve” for the then, 17-year-old.
“Until then, I had been somehow isolated,” he says.

“Then when you go to the army you find yourself with men from different walks of life - some with very good education, some with not so good education, and some with different outlooks on life.”

He continues: “You have to adapt when you live around a testosterone fuelled environment like that. And I did very well. I merged to it.”

“I learnt how to establish a rapport and friendship with people that came from different walks of life,” he adds.

Although men are required to serve three years in the Cuban army, Dickinson Cárdenas left after just one.

“If you are lucky to have a university place, then you only have to go for one year,” he says.

The music lover graduated a year early from the Superior Institute of Art (ISA) in guitar where he was awarded a first-class honours degree.

Eager to fine-tune his skills, the budding musician flew to London with his girlfriend to study at the Royal College of Music in 2005.

“I wanted to further my studies. If you’re lucky enough to get into one of the best institutions in the world, then you should definitely take the opportunity.”

Finding a new home in north London, the guitarist had to face the challenge of learning a whole new language as well as adjusting to a new life in the one of the world’s busiest cities.


GRATEFUL: Dickinson Cárdenas is grateful for the education he received in his native Cuba

Not letting the language barrier get in his way, he has gone on to win numerous awards including the Ashley Stewart Arts Sponsorship, Concordia Foundation and Ivor Mairants.

Having lived in London for 14 years now, the musician says he would not consider going back to live in Cuba. He says: “London is home now. I have become a man here.”

He continues: “There are many negative things about Cuba that need to be changed. But one of the things I am grateful for is my education. My school in Cuba prepared me to be able to come to any school here in England.”

After other record labels turned him down, and in a bid to reinvigorate the classical music scene, Dickinson Cárdenas, set up his own record label, Cubafilin Records.

For almost a decade Dickinson Cárdenas had the privilege to work closely with the late Cuban guitar composer, Jose Antonio (Ñico) Rojas.

He single-handedly transcribed and learned Rojas’ unpublished work, and then recorded an album in homage of the late musician.

The album, which mixed classical styles with Cuban rhythm and jazz sounds was rejected by big record labels, because “they did not know how to market it.”

“I knew the music was great, so I released it on my own, and it’s been a success”, says the musician.

“Of course its not the same as being signed to a big record label where you can sell millions but I have control of what’s going on in my career, and I can help others do the same.”

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