After eight years in London his name resounds in the music scene. Ahmed was born in 1978 surrounded by bewitching Cuban rhythms and with the gift of being able to interpret and pass on melodies by composers born under the Caribbean sun.
By the age of four he was already taking percussion and drumming classes and he was a member of the music group “Meñique”. Aged eight he decided to learn to play the violin but he was told that “I had something wrong with my hands and would not be able to play it”, explains Ahmed Dickinson Cárdenas.
Even now he still does not know what the problem was, but perhaps it is an example of how the instrument chooses the musician, as at nine years old he tried his luck with the guitar and this time it really worked.
In 1987 guided by Fernando López and Roberto Kessel, Ahmed began taking guitar and piano lessons. “I preferred the guitar because you can feel its vibrations so the connection is more intimate”, he explains. He adds, “You can always take its sound with you and the subtle differences in its tone and colour makes it special”.
Ñico, his teacher
In the year 2000, now aged 21, Ahmed met José Antonio “Ñico” Rojas, who along with José Antonio Méndez and César Portillo de la Luz had been a forerunner of the musical movement which began in 1940,”Filin”.
“It was a privilege to be able to work with him”, says the artist. “I was able to gain an in depth knowledge of his work and of part of his life”. Furthermore, it was thanks to this connection that “I veered away from the rules of musical theory that I had learnt at the school”.
According to Ahmed, Ñico the Cuban guitarist had had no formal music tuition (he was in fact a civil engineer by trade) and as such “his work was much more elaborate than anything that he could write” and he goes on to say that “he never had any real tools with which to translate his aesthetic thoughts”.
It was in looking to save old compositions and write the last ones that Ahmed transcribed, learned and executed most of the masterpieces of the late guitarist. “I noticed straight away that what was on the page was not the same as what he played”, he comments. “It was like a basic model, the skeleton of the melody”.
This work has allowed him to broadcast the cultural legacy of the Cuban composer and has helped Dickinson himself to write music which comes from his feelings, not merely from good technique.
London as opportunity
In 2004 Ahmed travelled to London to visit his girlfriend who had sent him prospectuses of music schools in the city. That was how he came to enrol at the Royal College of Music in 2005. Then in 2006 he won the Kramer-Chappell scholarship to study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
Furthermore, he has had the opportunity to perform on stages such as Wigmore Hall, the Sage Gateshead, the ICA, the church of St James, Piccadilly and the Royal Festival Hall among others.
On Ahmed’s discography some which stand out are “Latin Perspective” (2008) with Santiago Quartet, “Ben Wragg & Ahmed Dickinson” (2009), “Canciones del Alma” (2010), along with the soprano Laura Mitchell, “Suite Habana” (2011), a recording of music by Cuban composer Eduardo Martín with Hammadi Rencurrell and Emma Blanco as Mestizo Ensemble. Not forgetting “Ahmed Dickinson plays Ñico Rojas”.
Yes, you’re right. In fact, thanks to the letters that I have received asking for the musical scores of Ñico’s work, we are going to publish a book with his last twenty compositions. His work will reach more people, and we want to distribute it free of charge to schools in Havana because it’s what Ñico would have liked to have done himself.
How difficult has it been to get settled in London?
It is difficult but not impossible. I came to London with the aim and the desire of eating up the city as I had never rejected any invitation to perform, something which I think is important to get known.
Because of this, I have been able to play in all the places that I had ever dreamed of playing in.
What is your relationship like with the British public?
I have been very well accepted. I don’t know if it is because of the way that I behave on the music scene, or because for many of them I am the first Cuban musician that they have seen play a classical repertoire. It is well known that Cuban music is very good, but there is not a community of popular classical Cuban musicians.
No. When I retire I want to return to Cuba. At the moment, as a musician I am in the best place and I am very happy here.
London is one of the hubs where you can learn different ways to compose and understand music. In Cuba I wouldn’t have that opportunity as it is a small island away from such intellectual outside influences.
(Translated by Frances Singer)