Cardenas strikes a chord with a president

Ahmed Dickinson Cardenas talks to Rhiannon Edwards about music, London and playing for Fidel Castro.

Ahmed Dickinson Cardenas is giving me music tips: “I listen to anything from flamenco guitar to classical and soprano,” he says, “but I would definitely recommend this Cuban band called Los Van Van, they are brilliant.”

Considering his musical career, Cardenas’ tips are worth listening to. In his home town of Havana, Cuba, he began playing drums aged four, progressing to classical guitar by the time he was nine. “In Havana, playing music is seen as a way of expressing yourself – and the practicality of the guitar meant that I could play all the time,” he says.

By 23, Cardenas, who now lives in Dartmouth Park, had played for Cuban leader Fidel Castro numerous times and Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez on one occasion.

“I think I was successful because I was playing something different and something which hadn’t been played for quite a long time,” says Cardenas. “I was not at all scared by playing for Castro. He is a very prominent person but not necessarily a prominent guitarist.”

Cardenas came to London in 2006 after his guitar skills earned him a place at The Royal College of Music and, later, at Guildhall school of Music and Drama. When he got to London, it was far from what he expected. “The most surprising thing for me was that I could move from place to place and it was like I was stepping into a different country, it is quite amazing. The idea I had of England was people drinking tea at 5pm and everyone was white. It isn’t like that at all, there are so many cultures.”

After completing his MA at Guildhall and a series of successful performances, the 31-year-old is releasing his second album. Canciones del Alma is a collection of guitar compositions from well-established classical composers with a twist. “It’s very contemporary, it has lots of classical references with Cuban rhythms and a little bit of jazz,” he says.

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For the album, Cardenas has collaborated with Laura Mitchell, of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment – “a great soprano with a very special sensitivity”.

Mitchell will join him in concert at the Union Chapel on November 28, part of a UK tour which Cardenas is looking forward to. “Live performing is what I enjoy the most. You are sharing your music with the public and the reaction from the public pushes you to be more expressive.”