Octogenarian Cuban American songwriter Raida Pita never had the time to fulfill her lifelong dream of seeing her musical compositions recorded. But at a time when most people are thinking of what they did or didn't do in their lives, her creations are in a Latin Grammy-nominated album.
The album "De Lejos", (From Afar) which includes 10 of her compositions, is one of the albums that has earned Argentinean musician Sebastian Krys a nomination as Producer of the Year in the 2015 Latin Grammys, which will be announced Thursday night.
"I feel so proud of my album, what they did with it is a masterpiece", says Pita.
Throughout her life, Raita has written close to 40 songs, but nothing had ever come of it. In the 1970s, she migrated with her family from Cuba to Tampa and became a widow two years after her arrival. She was always busy raising 3 kids on her sole income as a portrait artist.
But everything changed for the 86 year old when her son-in-law Gary Jones, president of Full Sail University, heard of her burning desire at the family dinner table and helped make things happen. "I told them, before I die I want to have my album recorded", said Pita during an interview for NBC News.
Produced by Krys and Pita, the album includes collaborations from musicians like trumpet player Randy Barlow and pianist Dough Emery, in charge of the musical arrangements, Cuban violin player Pedro Alfonso and New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent piano player Milton Sesenton. The Miami Symphony Orchestra was also part of the recording, especially in the song "Hoy", a symphonic salsa.
Newcomer Lilian Garcia interpreted the songs. "Everybody agreed with me that her voice was the best. We were blown away by the way she sang with such feeling in the voice like I myself would have sang them", said Raida.
While growing up in Cuba, Raida didn't like piano lessons but would sit on the piano to play by heart: "From that moment I have always had a passion for music, and even though I earned my living as a painter my hobby was the music, it was what would fill my dreams with fantasies,. she said.
"In that time we didn't have recording instruments so I memorized the music of many of the songs I wrote", Pita added.
As a painter she was also a self-taught artist, she only attended art school for a year. "I had to take the streetcar at night in Havana and my parents didn't like the idea of me traveling alone in the city." She said she was fine with the decision since she has always liked her freedom.
"I don't like the idea of things that have to do with discipline and work", said Pita.
Pita told NBC that Cuban "high society" liked to have their portraits painted and she made good money painting portraits of gentlemen, ladies and their kids. She also painted some Cuban landscapes with bohíos (country houses) and flamboyanes (known as flamboyant or flame tree common in Cuba and Puerto Rico).
When the Castro revolution came, many of her clients left the country and 10 years later she and her husband Mario were able to also flee. Before that they suffered many hardships and were separated for two years when her husband, an electrical engineer was force to work in the sugar cane fields, she said.
After the passing of her husband, her old clients from Cuba and new ones from Puerto Rico called on her talents to paint portraits and she was able to continue her career in the States.
Pita's songs are often romantic and nostalgic and recount episodes of her life with rhythms of boleros, bossa novas and ballads. When asked which one is her favorite in the album she answered without hesitation "Perdóname, (Forgive Me) a song she dedicated to her mother and her husband.
"I am a little introverted and sometimes when I felt the urge to hug someone I didn't, and now I tell everybody to do it". She laughed and moments later her voice caught as she remembered the times she did not demonstrate more affection to her mother or her late husband. "I should have given them more caresses, I was a little distant and my husband and mother were very loving".
Regrets aside, Raida Pita thinks of herself as a dreamer. She confesses she has many lyrics that have no music and many melodies that have no lyrics.
"I feel inspired to compose again after the impulse given by the production of the album". For now she is delighted with the idea of Sebastian Krys taking home another Latin Grammy and reiterates how proud she is of the production of "De Lejos".