Profile: Eduardo Mendoza
by Jane Ledwell
Eduardo Mendoza has the recipe to warm up an Island winter: Cuban rhythms stirred up with his new band, The Count and the Cuban Cocktail. “In Cuban music, there are many different kinds of music, but the rhythm is the same,” he says.
Eduardo knows Latin rhythm: before marrying a Canadian and moving to Canada, he performed for sixteen years in Cuba as a professional singer with numerous bands, playing dances, concerts, and shows weekly.
In Cuba, musicianship is truly a profession. Eduardo’s wife, Sandy Crawford, confides that professional musicians in Cuba earn more than doctors.
Sandy remembers soon after they were married, Eduardo and she went on a road trip among communities in Cuba, and everywhere they went, people called out to Eduardo, “Hey, musician!” “I didn’t know he was famous at the time, and we were already married,” she laughs.
Provincial and municipal authorities hire bands and pay musicians. “You can live just doing that,” says Eduardo. After twenty years, a professional musician can retire with a pension. “I would have had a pension in four years,” Eduardo says, but insists, “I won,” even though he left Cuba to come to Canada. “My voice is still good, I feel good. I think I could sing twenty more years.”
Becoming a professional musician in Cuba is arduous. “I passed a long time studying in Cuba,” Eduardo says, learning to sing first from singers in the streets and influenced by two musical brothers in his home.
Not only do professionals face regular auditions for provincial bands, but every four years they undergo a rigorous national evaluation. “You need to sing very well, or you lost your job,” he says. When you lose your designation as a professional musician in Cuba, you cannot perform in public or even sing on the street any longer. Before he left Cuba, a percussionist friend of Eduardo’s failed his evaluation and lost his professional status. “I cried for him,” Eduardo says with great sincerity, “He’s my friend a long time. Life for him now is a very difficult life. He has no job, and he has a family.”
Eduardo’s own last evaluation was more successful. “Fortunately, I passed,” he recalls. More than that, he was designated a professional musician for life—no more examinations. “One day, I can go to Cuba again, and I can sing,” he says. “My dream is to go to Cuba with my Canadian band.”
Eduardo began to assemble players for The Count and the Cuban Cocktail after a solo performance at the Jubilee Theatre. This winter, while he studies English full-time, the band is warming up his winter.
Eduardo remarks, “In my band, I have very talented musicians. It’s fun. It’s fine. Because the people in the band don’t know it, but I learn from them, too.”
“I know now there are good musicians in Canada,” Eduardo says, but he is surprised that this talent goes unrecognized or unsupported. “You need more professional musicians in Canada,” he says, with conviction, meaning more artists able to live off their art.
“The musicians of this Island don’t have a place for presentation of the music. We need to have a big festival here, and in winter too. Here in the winter, people stay at home, and they need to get out. There are finest musicians here, too.” He advocates for local audiences to support local musicians, not just those from elsewhere, and he looks forward to cooperation with other local musicians, to draw in the public and to support musicians.
“I have many dreams about the music,” Eduardo Mendoza says of his band. “I think it’s possible one day we will be important musicians—not famous, but important,” he is quick to distinguish. “I’d like to play outside the Island, but the Bible says, ‘You will be a prophet in your own land.’” This means, it seems, that The Count of the Cuban cocktail thinks of PEI as his own land now, and he’s ready to prophesy.