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SpanishEnglishInterview - Lázaro Valdés
"Bamboleo is a temperamental band"... were the clear-headed words used by Lázaro Valdés backstage after the Paris concert at La Galerie (May 29, 2004). I had the opportunity to speak a little with the masterful composer/director/arranger in charge:
timba.com So... how was Paris?
L.V. Well... very nice. We feel good in Paris. People know us here, we were here last year at "La Coupole" and were well received. The French public is a loyal follower of the band, the people know what we do. We like playing here.
timba.com How is it to play in a foreign country?
L.V. Music is always hard work... elaboration. We take it seriously and want to reach our audience, whomever they may be... and one has to elaborate to a certain level in order to do that.
timba.com What do you mean by elaboration?
L.V. Well, I guess we are always searching for ways to provoke people. Provoking those who come to see us. We came to make them have fun and to do that we must reach them on various levels. ¡It's hard work!
timba.com Like when you change rhythms... gears? I've realized that you use a series of hand signals during the concert and a few beats later a noticeable change occurs in the rhythmic mood of the song... the drummer does one thing, the conga does another... it's like the music enters a new dimension... What do those signals mean?
L.V. Yeah... of course. They're punches. Effects...
timba.com And they aren't always the same... I mean... they can come when you decide...
L.V. Exactly. Yeah... we play with that... we put effects here... others somewhere else. It's to keep the audience interested. When we feel that the dancers are getting used to one thing, well then we do something else so that they react. If you play the same throughout, the audience knows what you are going to do. They know what to expect. If they are stuck on one track, we impose something else on them.
timba.com Would you say that Bamboleo is agressive?
L.V. No... that's not the word. This music is... temperamental. She has her bouts, a strong personality and reacts to everything that is going on around her.
timba.com And here in Paris, we've seen the results. The people enjoyed it a lot.
L.V. Yeah, that's what we want.
timba.com Have you ever played in other parts of Latin America?
L.V. Not much... in Perú, but I didn't even go... it was a promotional thing, some of the guys went and recorded a little... nothing special really. There isn't much communication in those countries.
timba.com Why is it so much harder in Spanish-speaking nations to get recognition... I mean... it's the same language... ¿why do you communicate better with a Frenchman than with a fellow Latin American?
L.V. Latin America has other influences... it's hard for them to understand what we do. The audience is accostumed to something else... it's rather closed-minded. People don't open up to other music styles in Spanish because of the fact they have other music in Spanish that is theirs, that they know better and that speaks to them. They also have other preferences. The Andean countries, for example, are different... also Puerto Rican salsa has become very strong and it dominates wherever you go. Everyone identified with that and to alter that identity is very difficult.
timba.com In Cuba, many of the musicians from these Timba bands have been musically trained in conservatories... that's precisely your case. What do you learn in these schools?
L.V. Classical music. Counterpoint, solfage, harmony, music theory...
timba.com Do you learn jazz?
L.V. Jazz is... how can I explain... a subject. It is part of the curriculum but it is not central to the educational system.
timba.com So what place do you think jazz has in Cuban musicians?
L.V. It is very important. Jazz allows for experimentation. There is a lot of jazz in Cuba.
timba.com And elements of African music in Bamboleo?
L.V. Yes... of course... there is a little of everything... Bamboleo is my imagination. My language.
timba.com When did you develop this language?
L.V. I have always had my style. From very young... I knew what I wanted my music to be like.
timba.com Foreign influences?
L.V. Yes... a lot of American pop: EW&F, Chicago... in jazz also Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea.
timba.com What brought you to play dance music... and not straight-up jazz, for example?
L.V. The audience for jazz is reduced, a very closed circle. If you want to make your music travel, have it be known in Cuba you have to make it dance music. That's why we do this... it is the reflection of who we are... it has a balance of many forms of musical expression. To let us be heard we have to make music that makes people enjoy themselves. But from there on, we inject all kinds of things, who we are, what we've learned, what we appreciate from music outside... we bring what is going around in the world to our dancers.
timba.com What timba bands inspire you?
L.V. Irakere... NG La Banda...
timba.com But those are somewhat old, aren't they?
L.V. Well, we're already 8 years-old... Irakere 25 and NG about 15, something like that...
timba.com What do you think of the new bands?
L.V. What I think... well, they have a lot to go through... it's too early to tell... they must grow and learn... but many of these bands are inspired by Bamboleo, that is all good.
timba.com There are many new songs in Bamboleo... which have you written?
L.V. Ya no hace falta, El Maíz... I wrote El Virus with someone else... No puedo estar sin él...
timba.com Yeah, that song "No Puedo Estar Sin El"... the words are harsh...
L.V. Yeah... they're harsh.
timba.com You write a lot from a female's point of view...
L.V. It's easier for me to write for a woman than to write for a man.
timba.com ¿Really? So I imagine that when you write your pieces you think about the fact that women are going to be singing them...
L.V. Yeah, in a way... women have not been able to impose themselves, they have a lot of difficulty doing so in Timba and they don't really have a true voice... Bamboleo is the first band that made women protagonists on stage in Timba. That female point of view is very important.
timba.com How do you choose your musicians?
L.V. Sometimes auditions... or by word of mouth..
timba.com How do you feel today with Bamboleo?
L.V. It is the best personnel that I can have. The team is very united, we all are like brothers. I couldn't ask for better. For me, Bamboleo is the best band in the world.
timba.com In what has Bamboleo changed?
L.V. Maturity... in the sense we have attained of what the public wants. We no longer have to work to show our style or to be acknowledged. Bamboleo has it's fame and the public reacts differently to fame.
timba.com To finish... I once read in an interview a quote of yours that I found quite interesting, which explains in a few words what Bamboleo and Cuban musicians in general are doing. You said "Timba is like cooking the music"... ¿what do you think you convey with this message?
L.V. Yeah, it's something I said in terms of timba. The comparison to cooking is a little like this: one has a plate and always prepares somewhat the same thing... but as things turn out, the ingredients and condiments mix, and the mix will be different and create it's own variations. We do this in our music and also with our public. The structure of Timba is always the same: Intro, Cuerpo, Mambo... but from the mambo until the end... hunderds of combinations are formed. These combinations depend on the audience, on what they want, and what they like. It's as if you like saltier, or spicier food, well you put more spice, more salt on it... well, we cook our music in accordance with that, we measure the ingredients and see how you react to them... see what flavour is the one that you prefer.
timba.com Lázaro, it's been a pleasure to speak with you... I thank you for your time... I'll come to a Bamboleo concert whenever I can.
L.V. No, thank you!