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SpanishEnglishEntrevista - David Calzado - 2004

Interview with David Calzado
February 2004 - Sweeden
by Michelle White

This is the first time I have conducted an interview, and I have to apologize to the readers because the tape ran out just as David was answering the last question. I would also like to thank David Calzado for being so gracious and for his patience with my poor Spanish.

And to set the scene, the interview took place at the jazz club Nefertiti in Gothenburg, Sweden. When we entered the room Helder was playing piano and Carmelo was warming up with the mouthpiece to his trumpet. So the interview is accompanied by a soundtrack of Helder's piano and Carmelo's mouthpiece. And at one point, you'll see where,  David had to tell Junio to stop playing his trumpet. 

The Interview 

Timba.com: First I want to congratulate you on behalf of Timba.com for your successes in the Timba.com Awards in December. In addition to winning first place in 6 categories, Charanga Habanera and her members were in the top five in 13 more categories, and in some cases held 2 positions in the same category. And in December La Habanera celebrated its 15-year anniversary at Casa de la Música Habana. So December 2003 was a big month for you.

Do you have anything you would like to say to the fans who voted for La Charanga Habanera on Timba.com?

David Calzado: Well, to begin I also want to congratulate Timba.com for the work they are doing with this...with the entire proyección (spreading, diffusion) of Cuban music and timba. And to thank those who are working to promote us. And of course it is very interesting that la Charanga Habanera was in the top five in so many categories, as you said, in 12 categories. And much more interesting that in 6 of these they took first place. I think that this is an award to the efforts of all of the people that have been in la Charanga Habanera since 1988. I don't think it's an award only for the Charangueros of today, but it is an award for all the people, musicians, producers, representatives, soundmen, for all of the people that have helped in some way that la Charanga Habanera has been around for fifteen years.

And of course last December la Charanga Habanera turned fifteen years old. It's very easy to say fifteen years, but to live them means many experiences: some of them beautiful, other less so. Many things happen in fifteen years, and nothing is left for me except of course to thank, once again, all the people and all my musicians for the effort that they gave at every moment..

And to all of the fans to say it is thanks to you that La Charanga Habanera has lasted such a long time. Without the fans, without these people who love La Charanga Habanera, who love our work, we could not exist. I would like to thank everyone and congratulate them for being so intelligent [laughing] and liking la Charanga Habanera.

Timba.com: There was a special question called “Which Charanga Habanera do you prefer?”. Considering that there was no such category for any of the other bands, what did you think of that?

David Calzado: Well, according to me, la Charanga Habanera has lived three stages.. And so saying which one I prefer is very difficult because it's like having three children. You have your first child, then you have another and then another. The first child is very exciting, it is the first stage because it's when la Charanga reached popularity. The second child was also a very beautiful experience. And the third child is the final stage, it's like the child of your old age, the last child you think of having. Which one do you love more? I think you can never know.

I think that at each moment I have loved each stage a lot. At each moment I have loved each stage a lot. And now the child that I have is perfect and I think that it's the one that I love the most, the one I prefer. But I think there are the problems of the particular moment you're in. But I think that the three moments have been very beautiful. And I don't prefer any stage in particular, I prefer the three stages. I like them all. 

Now with reference to other Cuban orchestras...I like many of them and have respect for many groups. Of course for Los Van Van I have great respect because they have always kept things fresh and have stayed strong for thirty-five years. But I also like many orchestras...I like Issac Delgado, I like Paulo FG, I like Adalberto Álvarez, NG La Banda. But the favorite orchestra of all for me, well, it's Issac Delgado. I like the "onda suave". Although la Charanga Habanera has nothing to do with this, la Charanga Habanera is very aggressive.[laughng] But nevertheless I like the "onda suave" of Issac Delgado.

Timba.com: Aned won first place as Best Dancer among singers and Noel came in third place after Michel Maza who was also a Charanga Habanera member at one time. Among instrumentalists Yulién won first place as Best Dancer with Orlando Leyva, also formerly of Charanga Habanera, in second place. There’s no question that La Charanga Habanera has always had great dancers.

How important is dance to La Habanera?

David Calzado: Well what happens is that la Charanga Habanera is not an orchestra only for listening to, it's a "show" band, an "espectáculo". And this requires that the members have good body movement to be able to entertain. There are audiences that don't dance, audiences that like to listen to the music while seeing something. We didn't invent this, you guys invented it [referring to the fact that I'm from La Yuma], the great North American shows taught me that it's much better to be able to listen and watch and also dance. To be able to cover all possibilities. And la Charanga Habanera tries to do this. And this is why the members need to be able to dance well and that is what we are looking for. I always look for candidates with the right characteristics, not necessarily professional but they must dance Cuban nicely, naturally.

Timba.com: Is it something that you think about when you choose new singers and musicians?

David Calzado: Yes, generally  when I choose new musicians I have dance in mind, although sometimes musicians arrive who say that they don't dance. But I train them here and I demand it of them and I say that they have to dance. And they do it, and they do it well. And if they don't do it well they do it with a sense of humour, they do it likeably, so that people laugh...because they are not professionals, but thus we achieve what is most important, the spectacle is obtained, the show is obtained and that's the thing that reaches the audience.

Timba.com: La Tropical was voted the Best Place to Hear Timba Live. Do you have a favorite place to perform in Cuba?

David Calzado: Yes,  for me Cuba is one of the countries that has the best places in the world to play. I have traveled a lot in the world; I've been in the US,  in Europe, but Cuba has the most beautiful venues that I have seen. The best stages, with good acoustic conditions. They are venues that were built before, many years ago and that I really like. But la Tropical is a special place where the public is the most popular, the most "de pueblo" and thus you give a concert where the the people's reaction really shines. But there are many beautiful places in Cuba to play and that have very good conditions. Above all, the aesthetics for putting on a show... for everything. I really like to play in Cuba.

Allow me, allow me...Carmelo! Can you be quiet mi hermano? Carmelo! I'm doing an interview hermano! [the mouthepiece is heard no more]

Timba.com: Did you present a new CD of ballads in January at Bar Las Cañitas?

David Calzado: Yes, we're making a new CD entitled Charanga Suave. It's an experimental CD It's not a typical Charanga Habanera CD, because it's different music: ballads, pop, something we're not used to doing. But we're doing it because now in Cuba we've done a couple of songs, two softer tunes, and they've been very popular for la Charanga Habanera. So we decided  that "Soy Cubano, Soy Popular" which has been a very powerful CD...I think it has been the biggest CD that la Charanga Habanera has ever made, at least for the Cuban listeners. It has been the most successful CD in the history of La Charanga. So now we decided not to make another CD that is the same, that is to say, with the same Charanga style, but we decided to make a CD with other elements in order to ease the previous CD's pull. And in the months of September and October we'll make a new Charanga Habanera CD with other characteristics, but we decided to make an experimental CD to see what  happens. We are very excited about the album. It sounds very good and the songs are very pretty. We hope it is a great success. And we don't know if it is going to be a CD for timberos. Maybe it will be a CD for an audience more...a different audience. But who knows if timberos will like it. You have to hope. We've already finished the music, the vocal track is missing and we're going to do them now when we get back to Cuba. In March we're going to add the vocals, do the mixing, y bueno... Timba.com will be informed immediately and have the music quickly.

Timba.com: The gossip is that you are also recording a new salsa CD.

David Calzado: No. What's happening is that on the CD we're making --"Charanga Suave"-- there are softer moments but there are also danceable tracks as well, but not exactly in the style of La Charanga. We're looking for another...another...another historia.

I can't explain it to you. You have to hear it. But already in Cuba we're doing two songs live in the concerts and it seems that it is going to be a success. We hope so. You know that in music you can never predict anything. You never know which song is going to be popular. You never know. The audience decides...

Timba.com: Soy Cubano Soy Popular won Best-recorded timba album, but it was Tremendo Delirio that placed second as Best Timba Album of all time, and Nube Pasajera, El Charanguero Mayor and El Temba also in the top five for various categories. Are you worried that too much timba suave will turn off your core fans?

David Calzado:  I'm not worried. I'm not worried because I already told you that we are trying out this work live, in concert, and we are realizing that it will be a great success. Because it's soft, but it's not that the whole CD is like this. The CD has "soft"... but it also has dance. What's happening is that it's not done in the natural style of la Charanga. Because it's like an experimental CD, something that la Charanga can do that is not what la Charanga always does. Neither does it mean that it's going to be the CD of the year. It's going to be a CD between "Soy cubano, soy popular"  and the next CD that will appear in September. That does not mean that the people who like the timba of la Charanga are not going to have timba this year; they are going to have it in addition to this Charanga Suave. They can choose later.

And now Kevin has some technical questions for you.
Timba.com: How do you go about working out the guías? Is it true that you make most of them up yourself?

David Calzado: The singers' guías? Well, we work mainly as a team. First come the arrangements and all of that... but later we all work out the vocal parts sitting around a piano. All of the singers around the piano do the harmony, we sing the coro and we start to begin the work on the guías. Generally many of them occur to me, but also they occur to others and always if they are not well finished I give them the final form. But the work on the guías is done as a group. His idea, the other guy's idea, my idea...we bring all the ideas together, and together we reach a happy ending.

Timba.com: And the guía from Klimax in Mujeres?

David Calzado: OK. What happened was that the song from Klímax that is used in Mujeres is a song that was sung by a singer who is here now. Eblis sang this song in Klímax and popularized it in Cuba. When Eblis came to la Charanga we didn't have any song for him, and we decided to do a song and identify him with the Cuban audience with a part of a song that he had already popularized in Klímax as a way in which the people could recognize that the singer that is now in la Charanga was the singer from Klímax. We did it to bring the attention of the audience to someone who was now in la Charanga.

Timba.com: Now that Juan Carlos Gonzales and Tirso Duarte are gone, who is inventing the new piano and bass tumbaos?

David Calzado: Well, now we do the tumbaos as always. There has been a myth. The problem is that paper can withstand whatever one wants to write on it. But in la Charanga Habanera the tumbaos and all aspects of the band have always been up to me; the pianist plays and I supervise everything. Now Helder Rojas, who is the new pianist, is doing some demonstrations [referring to Helder's piano playing in the background]. The tumbaos...I say to him "I want the tumbao like this". I don't play piano, he starts to reproduce the idea that I gave him until we form the tumbao in its final form.

In the case of Tirso and Juan Carlos who have more experience, when they did the tumbao, they almost always guessed right. But many times I told them: ¡not like that! In the case of Helder who is only twenty years old and who just arrived from Art School ...[a trumpet starts playing]  Hey, hey, hey!
...who just arrived from Art School and doesn't have a lot of experience, we are working more together. 

But generally the tumbao has always been something that has to coincide with my criterion. All of the tumbaos of la Charanga Habanera have had to be supervised by me. No tumbao is up to the discretion of the pianist. It is a criterion of David Calzado. Everything that happens in la Charanga Habanera has to be supervised and approved by me. 

And of course a percussion question:
Timba.com: Why is it that all the timbaleros of la Charanga Habanera use a kick drum pattern that's the same as each other, but different from all the other bands?  

0x0x 0xxx xxx0 0xxx Charanga kick  
xx0x 0xxx 0xx0 xxx0 clave

0xx0 xxxx x0xx 0x0x "normal" samuel-type timba kick  
xx0x 0xxx 0xx0 xxx0 clave  

David Calzado: We use a rhythmic system for the pailas and the kick drum that generally has fewer resources than other Cuban orchestras. But we do this because we especially want to create a different style.  We work in a different manner because we don't want to sound like other groups. However, five months ago in Japan we were given electric drums. Now we have drums, but even though we have drums, we use them in a different way. We don't use them the way other orchestras do. We use them in a manner that is much more careful - Junio, please! - more careful, you know what I mean? We want to be different. It's simple.

Timba.com: What are your tour plans for 2004? Is there a tour schedule?

David Calzado: Well, in 2004 we started a tour of Europe, a tour that includes 10 countries which are Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Holland, France, Austria, Spain, Italy, Switzerland...

And now I have to apologize because here the tape ran out. But I can add that David said that La Charanga Habanera is planning a tour of the United States in May. Of course they are aware of the difficulties Cuban musicians are facing with getting visas these days, so we can only hope that thing will work out for the Charangueros and their fans in La Yuma.

Finally, during the sound check, I presented them with the awards they had won.

 

Wednesday, 23 March 2011, 03:31 AM