TEXT: CRISTINA BISBAL IMAGES: ALBERTO CARRASCO
We have known him as the son of Miliki, as the clown Milikito, playing the family doctor Nacho Martín, and now as Bebo San Juan in his latest album, dedicated to Cuban music. He is a director, screenwriter, producer, businessman, singer, pianist, comedian, soundtrack composer and, even, orchestra conductor. Despite being so busy, he manages to find time for his humanitarian work. Emilio Aragón has spent over 20 years collaborating with Action Against Hunger.
A longtime member of this NGO, he is now vice chairman and proud of it as though it were his child. Perhaps, in part, it is; they began almost at the same time: “A friend called me because he knew I was collaborating with other organizations. And he asked me to focus my efforts with them, as they were just starting out at that time.” No sooner said than done. Since then, it is the social institution to which he is most committed “given its transparent, accessible, clean track record and, above all, one of the organizations with the greatest reaction capacity when it comes to responding to any situation.” But it is not the only one. He is also a member of ‘Dales la palabra’, focusing on children with hearing problems.
Emilio engages in these causes for a personal reason: “I believe that, in this society, we should all pull together. At the present time, with so many outstanding causes, if I can play my part, just do my bit, if my little contribution can be of some help… well, all the better. I’m not trying to be any more than another piece in the puzzle.” Indeed, he would maybe have preferred to go unnoticed. But he knows that his popularity serves as a springboard for the causes he supports. “There is so much information out there, so many headlines, that society sometimes forgets that we NGOs exist. With major events such as the one last year in Madrid’s Royal Theater, the aim is to get people to connect with us. But I’ve never done anything to put the word out.” The reality is that people find out. And that helps many other anonymous individuals learn about the work of the organizations with which he collaborates and join the fight against hunger.
This is why Fundación MAPFRE deemed him a worthy winner of the José Manuel Martínez Lifetime Achievement Award. This accolade recognizes “the humanitarian support he has constantly offered social organizations combating hunger and poverty, and promoting inclusive education.” Because, throughout his career, “he has proved capable of conveying values such as generosity, humility and a capacity for hard work.” Many of these values were passed down to him by his family, with whom he led a nomadic youth. “Until I was 14, my sisters, my parents and I lived wherever my father found work. And we all headed off with our luggage in tow.” From his native Cuba to the United States, Colombia, Argentina or Puerto Rico.
Indeed, he has dedicated his latest album – La vuelta al mundo [Around the World], in which he talks about his family, his father, his wife and music – to two of these countries. A project that began as a family venture and has now gone public. “The fact is that, between my children, my sisters, my wife and office colleagues, they were all getting at me and I ended up putting the record out,” he declares. The artist has signed this project as Bebo San Juan. The first name is the diminutive his grandchildren call him. And the surname is the capital of Puerto Rico.
You define yourself, first and foremost, as a musician…
That’s what I studied and trained to be. Then life began taking me down other roads, to other places and I just opened other doors. Although I’d like to think that I’m a storyteller. There are many ways to do this: with a song, a TV series, a movie, a book…
You would have been really happy in the Renaissance…
In fact, many of my fellow musicians or artists also master other disciplines. There are many people around me with loads of interests too, longing to do other things. What is true is that the Renaissance artists would really enjoy the present day with so much technology, so many possibilities for giving expression to a song or a work of art. What’s more, these are truly interesting times with the technology available: I’m convinced that cinema is going to evolve toward something different from what we know now. Even the way we experience the theater is going to change. I believe new times are coming and I hope we’ll have the good fortune to be able to know and enjoy them.
Does it not scare you the way everything shoots past in this culture of immediacy?
No way. What’s more, there have always been scaremongers. It’s always been the same. When movies arrived, it was thought that was the end of the theater; when TV appeared, that was it for cinema. And so on. I believe that, in the end, there’s room for all kinds of audiences. The important thing is that there exists a platform enabling you to express yourself, expressing ideas and things you wish to share with the public.
For example, humor, without which daily life would be much more complex, don’t you think?
Of course. In that sense, I’ve been lucky to have a mother who instilled in us a way of viewing things, an attitude that means you always have to be in a good mood.
Indeed, you were a humorist in the past. But, let’s talk about the future… I hear there is a movie in the making. Tell us about it.
Yes, indeed, I’ve got plans for a movie: if all goes well, we’ll start shooting next spring. But I can’t say anything yet, because the mere premise of the film reveals a lot. I’m going to be the director and screenwriter. But I don’t even know who’s going to play the parts. I’ll just say that it’s on my Christmas wish list (laughs).
How do you cope with the passing of the years?
The important thing, obviously, is your head – your drive and enthusiasm to do things. In that sense, I’m just as keen as on the first day. As eager as ever. Despite the fact that my kneecaps remind me I’m not the same age any more…
Evidently, that man born in Cuba 60 years ago still has a lot to offer in the professional arena. But even more so in the personal sphere, as he revels spending time with his two grandchildren. “Being a grandparent is wonderful. Anyone who’s a grandparent knows what I’m talking about, how magical and wonderful it is. One of the marvelous things about being a grandparent is that it’s not like with your children – you don’t have to educate them. You can spoil them and then just hand them back to their parents,” he laughingly declares. Of course, children have always been one of his weaknesses. “It’s in my DNA. My father dedicated his whole life to children. I also devoted a period of my life to working with them. Throughout my life, my work has almost always had something to do with the family and, of course, children form part of the equation. And now that I’m a grandfather, even more so.”
Hope as a way of life
Emilio Aragón offered these data in his speech of gratitude for the José Manuel Martínez Lifetime Achievement Award: acute malnutrition has fallen by eight percent over the last ten years, while chronic malnutrition or stunted growth has declined by 40 percent over the same period. These figures provide grounds for hope, “the basics that keep us alive,” according to this director and singer. The hope of ending hunger in the world thanks to organizations like Action Against Hunger, which facilitates access to treatment based on ready-touse therapeutic foods.
Because, as he tells us, “it all starts with good nutrition, especially during the first 1000 days of life.” And nutrition is the building block for fulfilling any other human right such as education, gender equality, health, etc. A malnourished child will never learn as well in school as a healthy one and, as an adult, will never produce as much as a healthy child, thus perpetuating the cycle of poverty and hunger.” To break this circle, there exist organizations like Action Against Hunger and there are people like Emilio Aragón.