In the salsa scene, we are privileged to have the presence and companionship of Felix “Guayciba” Ayala.Guayciba is one of the greatest photojournalists Puerto Rico has ever produced.
He has moved from the musical notes that embrace our ears to now capturing visuals that awaken our five senses of unrepeatable moments.
I appreciate and share first hand the reference of how this idea begins, how the seed of wanting to be a photojournalist is planted, after having directed the Guayciba Group for 12 years.
“In the mid-’80s, a group of friends and I got together. We started playing and put together a Christmas repertoire. People liked it, and they told me, ‘Hey Felix, you should form a group, you sound great.'”
Encouraged by the public’s reception, they set about the task of banding together and formalizing a repertoire of Christmas music, which they later expanded to include popular music. In 1987, the group did not yet have a name, but the musicians were already rehearsing and playing in a bar in Santa Rosa (Bayamón, Puerto Rico).
In 1988 they started calling themselves Murciélago Sound Machine and got their first professional contract, for which they charged $200.00. During one of the rehearsals, Felix’s neighbor, who owned a movie and video rental store, offered to give him the name of his store: Guayciba; which he had already registered with the State Department.
The rest is history.
Felix liked the name, even though he still didn’t know what it meant. Guay-ciba means to take care of the stone. It turns out that our Taino Indians communicated by carving messages on stones, which we now know as petroglyphs.
This form of communication of our Indians, the Tainos, was engraved on the stones that are part of our heritage.
Since 1989, Guayciba claims to have lost his last name – Ayala – to replace it with the name he is known by in the media, Guayciba.
This was the name of the musical group of which Félix Guayciba was the director, composer and singer. As the main member and founder, he took on the task with commitment and in 1989 they released their first record production, entitled Nuestra música primero en LP, because CDs were not yet widespread in the market.
Felix remembers that the first singer of Grupo Guayciba was Gisela Ortiz. Some time later, Gisela got thyroid cancer and when she lost her voice, she had to be replaced by Aidita Encarnación.
Guayciba recalls that Aidita made her debut with the group during the “Coffee Festival” in Maricao and remained with the group until it disbanded in 2000.
In 1991 they produced Echemos pa’lante, which opened the door to radio stations on the island. In 1992 they produced Por ti doblaré rodillas, and in 1993 they released what Felix considers their masterpiece under the title Borinquen, nido de amores.
Félix affirms that this production became the classic album that consolidated them in Salsoul, Z-93 and Estereotempo. Later they released La revolución apoya lo nuestro. In 1999 they released their last album, Contra viento y marea.
In this last Guayciba production, Maestro Luis ‘Perico’ Ortiz made two arrangements: “Déjame Soñar” by Perín Vázquez, which Tito Puente had already recorded on the 100th album, backing the voice of Tony Vega (Antonio Vega Ayala), the cousin of Félix Guayciba Ayala. The six albums of the Grupo Guayciba were recorded in the studio of Maestro Pedro Rivera Toledo, and in Contra viento y marea Maestro Rivera Toledo recorded the saxophone.
In his last album, the song “Por nada la cambiaré” was composed by Guayciba and dedicated to his homeland, Puerto Rico.
They never recorded Christmas music because their mission was to defend our music, the seis, the bomba, the plena and the guaracha, among other indigenous rhythms. The time came for the group to disband, but as Guayciba affirms: “We left a legacy for the musical history of our nation (…) Guayciba was, is and will be one of the best musical groups in the history of typical Puerto Rican music. I have retired, but at least we have left a legacy for history, we have left a mark”.
With the arrival of the new millennium, Guayciba’s musical stage ended to give way to the visual arts, making it clear that he had not retired from the humanistic arts, but had reinvented himself and now stood out in the visual arts.
The images captured by Guayciba’s photographic lens are full of life and movement. The viewer sees as if the artist, athlete or object in the photo comes to life.
Guayciba reflects while explaining how the image speaks or remains silent, depending on the adjustment made, the movement given, the position and the light.
He hastens to clarify: “I have used my musical career to distinguish myself in photography. I photograph artists the way I want them to photograph me.
I try to make the image I take of an artist or a show speak. In photojournalism, the photo has to speak.”
Guayciba made the decision to move from music to photojournalism as a result of a deep depression that he faced and fought with professional help. Once the decision was made, he began training at the University of Puerto Rico.
He never forgot what one of the specialists who was part of the medical team that helped him recover told him: “I have faith in you. If you are going to be a photojournalist, I want you to be the best photojournalist”.
Felix attended classes every Wednesday for three hours. He remembers his first photographic experiments. One that comes to mind is Ricardo Arjona, who performed for an entire season at the Centro de Bellas Artes. Felix would leave his weekly class to go to the CBA, where he would stay until late.
The next day he would go to a megastore to develop the photos from the night before and bring them to the professor to evaluate the shots. The professor would give him advice on what to do to improve the photos he had in hand.
Another moment he remembers with emotion was in 2002, when Fania played a concert at the Juan Ramón Loubriel stadium in Bayamón.
Guayciba already had a digital camera, and during that concert, he says he used 25 rolls of film with 36 exposures each.
He says this was his first international assignment. The first time he photographed an international artist was when he was still a photography student, practicing with Ricardo Arjona in the Fine Arts Department.
As a result of that coverage, he got in touch with the Guatemalan artist, who was thrilled with the photos Felix took, saying at the time that they were the best photos he had ever taken, adding that the Puerto Rican had captured his best side.
Felix has continued to evolve and has had the opportunity to cover concerts by Elton John, the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney, among others. He says: “The only thing I don’t do is pornography, weddings or quinceañeras”. His specialty is artistic shows and sporting events.
Guayciba is the longest serving photographer to cover the Coliseo de Puerto Rico since its inauguration in 2004, when Sonora Ponceña, Richie Ray & Bobby Cruz and Roberto Roena’s Apollo Sound performed in that memorable concert produced by Pepe Dueño.
One of the highlights of his career was a trip to Cuba in 2009, where Guayciba was the official photographer for the Puerto Rican delegation that went to the Cuba Disco Festival, which was dedicated to Puerto Rico in that edition.
He has taken more than 24,000 pictures of Cuba. The most memorable experience of his trips to Cuba was visiting the resting place of Che Guevara.
He continues to learn from all the images he has taken and published. “At one point, during the performance of the 2013 musical Pedro Navaja, the Caballero de la Salsa, Gilberto Santa Rosa told me, “You have to let yourself be criticized and you have to accept criticism as long as it is constructive criticism.”
Felix added and still maintains: “It depends on who is criticizing you, because there are people who criticize you just to make fun of you; yes, you know, out of envy”. In fact, Felix understood that he had the best photos of Gilberto.
When he went to see him to show him, Santa Rosa told him: “They’re good, but these photos where I’m alone don’t say anything because it could be at the Fine Arts Center or it could be in some theater. This concert is symphonic, where is the symphony orchestra?” Santa Rosa was right. “From that ear flattery I learned that you have to take the picture of the artist and the complements like stage, orchestra, etc.. It’s like writing a story. You have to include the day, the historical setting, the characters, and make sure that the viewer can get a picture of what happened there in the moment. It’s more of a frozen in time effect.
Guayciba considers Conrado Pastrano her teacher and mentor. She expresses gratitude for all that she has learned in photography and acknowledges that there is still more to learn.
Conrado is an exceptional colleague who takes the time to explain ways to correct unwanted effects in images. Guayciba has developed her own unique style by studying the works of other colleagues and drawing inspiration from each of the photojournalists whom she admires.
Guayciba is highly regarded as one of the top photojournalists in Puerto Rico, although he is humble and has never claimed the title for himself. He recognizes that there are others who may be more talented than him. His motto is: “I may not be the best, but I am proficient in my craft and the photos I take convey a narrative.”
When he is at the ball park, he adeptly adjusts his lighting, shutter speed, and lens to capture the intricate details on a ball despite its velocity exceeding 100 miles per hour. When artists perform on stage, Guayciba faces the task of restoring their natural appearance despite the color filters and stage lighting often making them look unnatural or cartoonish. Overcoming these challenges and bringing the images to life, imbues these artists with renewed enthusiasm for their craft, a pursuit they have devoted over two decades to.
At 68 years of age, he prays daily for longevity. He abstains from drugs and alcohol, including wine, champagne, and cider. His sole indulgence is tobacco and photography.
To view Félix Guayciba’s artistic works and keep in touch with this vital advocate of Puerto Rican culture, please visit the publication at www.guayciba.com. To email him, please use [email protected], or follow his IG account at https://www.instagram.com/guay54/.
To reach him by phone, please dial 787-637-8617. He is always available and eager to assist with his usual helpful demeanor.
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