Just like the African and universal culture he has helped us discover, Rogelio Martínez Furé is multifaceted and singular. His versatility reflects his ability to transform himself, to be a poet or a reciter of entire books, of myths and legends, making good use of his wondrous memory – which, he says, is a result of his connection to oral culture since he was a child, when he listened to living libraries, who sweetened his ears with songs and tales from all ages.
The list of his accomplishments and intellectual works is long, headed by his role as founder of the Conjunto Folclórico Nacional dance company, which has contributed to the preservation and dissemination of musical and dance traditions of African origin, and his academic work in 40 countries around the world, reflecting a life dedicated to literature, enriched by his dominion of French, English and Portuguese – languages of the invaders of our mother continent.
Numerous texts, such as Poesía anónima africana, Diálogos imaginarios, Diwán, Poetas de lenguas africanas, and his most recent, el Pequeño Tarikh, a dictionary of African poets for the first time brought together as a group, are but a few of the works by this eminent essayist, ethnologist, singer, translator, and professor, who has been awarded the 2015 National Prize for Literature, just days after the announcement that he is one of the authors to whom the upcoming International Book Fair will be dedicated.
Furé, who prefers being called a “cimarrón de palabras” (runaway slave with words) or “cloner of identities,” made some timely statement to this reporter, referring to his penchant for the spoken word, “to express and convey the most profound feelings that I have about both individual and collective identity,” given that he is “the product of all identities inherited from my ancestors over centuries, which have shaped me and make me feel complete, because I know I am a descendant of all the world’s cultures and peoples.”
“Being at the side of elders and listening to their stories has allowed me to learn hundreds of chants inherited from these living libraries, no one has many of these texts any longer, and I have memorized them – tunes, ancient rumbas, hawking chants, the French tumba. Being in contact with this oral culture is what has allowed me to memorize entire books.”
With respect to Tarikh, which has just been published after decades of research, and will be launched at the Havana International Book Fair in February, along with others such as El libro de las descargas, he explains that among the poets included in the dictionary are some who “refuse to write their work, because they say that writing imprisons their talent, freezes it. They have a number of admirers and followers who go to recitals where they sing their oral poetry, while the audience learns the texts by heart. Orality is not oblivion, it is always a discourse of resistance.”
Rogelio Martínez Furé – the creator of a grammatical person reflecting his universal identity, yonu, from the Spanish yo (I) and nu, we in Creole; an aporín (a man who tells stories), who every month invites all who have something to tell, for the good of humanity, to the roundtable discussion he directs and has called La Maca; the singer hungering for other worlds, who is moved by everything that elevates the human condition – is the most recent winner of our National Prize for Literature, an honor he accepts asking the mad world in which we live for a bit of tenderness, dreaming of the “obbatálica” times in which he believes, an era of peace.