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Entrevista - Aisar Hernández - abril, 2008

by Gabriel Wilder

Aisarh HernándezAisar Hernández, bass player, composer and arranger for Elito Revé y su Charangón, is a charismatic figure: tall, with espresso skin, a wide, dazzling smile, and the ability to talk about Cuban music 24/7.

Aisar hails from Camaguey, and learnt the ropes playing with numerous influential Cuban bands, including Maravilla de Florida (a kind of graduating school for any musician from Camaguey) and Dan Den, among others.

Elito Revé y su Charangón were already undergoing something of a renaissance before Aisar’s arrival, but his compositions, such as A sancochar boniato, and his simple, elegant arrangements, have brought the band scores of new followers, including those on the jury at Cubadisco, who this year, gave Fresquecito the award for best salsa album.

Meanwhile, Aisar, who says he has a book of some 180 compositions of his own, has started working on a very personal side project.“El Expreso de la Salsa”, which he says will be released to coincide with El Charangón’s tour of Europe this month, will feature four new songs, as well as multimedia components.

The polished salsa sound Aisar has chosen for his solo project is a departure from that of El Charangón. It has a less funky feel than timba but is richer than most salsa that comes from outside of the island, and it has a decidedly Cuban sello. The first cut, El Expreso de Cuba, with its infectious coro “y te traigo la alegría”, is a guaranteed floor-filler.

When I was in Havana earlier this year, I spoke to Aisar about his ambitious new project, and also about the Cubadisco award and Orquesta Revé’s plans for the future.

Why did you decide to do your own project?
When I started to direct Orquesta Revé no one prohibited me from doing this song or another or another.  I chose the songs, I said: This yes, this no, that one , yes, this one, no. However I chose three of my songs and no more, because the disc (Fresquecito) is Revé’s and the band has other composers.

When I came to Revé I said: Well I don’t consider myself a great composer of changüí, but I will look for the songs of mine that will work well for Revé, that the people will like and identify as being changüí. With the songs I did for Revé, like La viudaA sancochar boniato, El teléfono, the people  see inside the genre of changüí. Or rather, they see that I have managed to do [my music in that way]. But this project that I call El Expreso de la Salsa, will be to make the kind of music that I can’t make in [Revé].  It’s a project in which I can do music without having to use the changüí rhythm; it will allow me to work within another sound.

I don’t want to do changüí [with this project], I don’t want to do timba either, I want to do a fusion but it’s all from son and salsa, so that the people that can’t dance, that don’t know how to dance, can understand the steps; besides liking to listen to it, they can dance to it. It’s the idea that I have with this demo and with the disc.

How do you fit this project around your work with Revé?
I do the work that I have to do with Revé, but I can give myself the luxury of doing my own stuff too, because it doesn’t affect Revé. Because when I have to do the work with the group, I try to do it as best as I can. One thing has nothing to do with the other. And [Elito] understands because I have done many discs including one with Luis Domínguez (for Envidia), and they haven’t affected the work of the group. He knows that I have done other discs, that I am preparing a disc for El Sinsonte, the singer of Revé who has his independent disc, and everything is fine. It has also the trombone player Ulises, and it’s perfect.

This disc with four songs is the precursor to an album - what are your plans for that?
When it is completed, there will be 11 or 12 songs. I will do cumbia, I will do cha-cha-cha, I will do merengue... I’m thinking of doing some bachata, something like that ... or rather, I want to do things ... As I am a musician with Revé, I want to do things that the style of Revé doesn’t allow me to do. I don’t want to do a disc that competes with Revé, because ultimately I am competing with myself. I want to do a disc where I do other things that aren’t just changüí. Perhaps later on I will be persuaded to include a changüí for the fans that like what I do [with Revé] ... but only to give it texture,  so that it has variety, not because I want to do changüí also on my disc.

And will "El Expreso de la Salsa" be name of the band as well as the disc?
Well, I haven’t said anything about a band. Since the beginning I haven’t spoken about a band. But if one day I had a band, I would like to call it El Expreso de la Salsa. [But] that isn’t for now ...

Who is playing on the disc with you?
First, I want to say that what’s interesting about this disc and any future discs I might make, is there are various musicians of Revé playing on it, but it doesn’t sound anything like the group, even though the band has a similar make-up. It has trombones like Revé; [but] it doesn’t have tres; it has keyboards. It has three trombones like Revé, but they don’t sound like the trombones of Revé, nor is the music like Revé. The DJs [that already have the songs] have comented that “it’s incredible that you have done two great projects, or rather two great sounds that aren’t the same, with  the same format.”

There are many bands where someone leaves - we speak of Pupy leaving Van Van, and making his own project, and having trombones and trumpets. [What he does is] a little similar in the sound [to Van Van] even though one has trombones and the other has trumpets, but it doesn’t sound the same, because they have different elements. But the most difficult thing is that the same person writes for two different sounds. Or rather that the final works be distinct. It seems to me that this is a little more difficult.

But you feel have managed to do this?
I feel pleased because when you put the music on, and you tell people it’s Aisar, they think at first, “changüí, changüí, changüí”, but [when they hear it] they say, “Wait, this is Aisar who made this music, right? But this doesn’t sound like Revé.” But really, it isn’t Revé. And that is what I am looking for, that the people see another side of my work, that they can enjoy it, that they can say “That’s great!”, but well, that it not be Revé.

And so, who has played on the songs?
In the percussion there is Andy Fornet, timbalero of Revé, Arián Chacón, conguero of Revé, and Ariel Hernndez, also bongocero from Revé. The güirero is nicknamed El Coqui, I don’t know his real name. He was the güirero with Charanga Forever, and he plays now with Charanga Latina. He’s very charismatic. The pianist is Pachi, Wilfredo Pachi, the pianist with Revé.

In the beginning the initial idea was not to record with the musicians of Revé, because I didn’t want the sound to be the same. But they asked to record with me, they asked that I trust them. They said to me, “If you’re going to make the disc, trust in us. You don’t want the disc to sound like the band, perfecto. You write how you want it to sound and we’re going to respect what you write.” And so, it sounded different again, because the musicians influence the sound. I want to say that there are musicians ... for example many of the people that asked to make the disc with me asked “Why didn’t you do something with Sinsonte?” The singer with Revé. But I’m sure that if I had it was always going to sound something like Revé because he has a timbre that is a hallmark of the group, you know? So I said, well I’m not going to use him. I have nothing against him, but I wanted a diferent sound.

The trombones are Yamer [Pérez Garcia], who is the second trombone for Revé, because he has a very light sound. And because I worked with him in Yumurí y sus Hermanos. We had worked together and I knew he had the possibility to make a different kind of sound with his trombone. Yosmel was the trombone player with Paulito and Dan Den - we worked together and I knew how he worked. Also Robertico who I had worked with in Yumurí y sus Hermanos.

And who is going to sing?
The singers are Eric Broche, El Chino, who sang with El Charangón, who is now singing with Gardi, because his sound is sweet and even when he was in Revé people said, “yes it’s Revé, but he has a [different] sound ...” He is one of the singers on the Fresquecito disc – Ya no te doy más na’  – he sang that. So as he is no longer in the group, I said, well he is a possibility. Also a singer with Charanga Latina, Wilmer, a singer with a lot of talent whose voice I liked very much. He sang three songs on the last disc he made with Charanga Latina and when I heard him I said, I would like to make a disc with this guy. And a female singer called Iaritza; she sang in the national chorus before and has always done choral music, but I liked her voice. She said to me, "I have never done salsa", and I said, "don’t worry, I’m going to tell you what I want you to do".

I wanted a female singer but I didn’t want someone who sounded like Haila, nor Vania nor Tania nor Yeni. I didn’t want it to be like the famous voices of Cuban music. I wanted another sound. I said to her, “Sing, so I can guide you to the sound I want.” And so regardless of whether it’s good or bad, it’s because I told her to do it that way. If people listen to the disc and they like it or they don’t like it, it’s my responsibility. I wanted it done like that.

What can you tell us about your plans to include multimedia and video?
There will be multimedia that explains who the singer is, and my criteria about the singer; like a documentary, where I explain why each musician is there and what I want to express with each song. That seems to me as interesting as the music.
I have the idea in the multimedia to put some sections, for the percussion section, that someone can click on on the percussion, and the timbalero will say "I have played with..."  For example, this timbalero played with Salsa Mayor, with Yumurí y sus Hermanos and Revé. Then people know more of the musician, of how he arrived there, how he is, you know? That they click on the singer and the singers says “I was a singer from this place. I am singing this song, I like this I don’t like that” I think that would be interesting. and also, with a photo of each one. Photos where you click, on the singers and photos appear of the singers in the studio.

If I can, I want to include a videoclip because I think you have to look for other ways for people to know this world [salsa] that others already know.

Revé y su CharangónAre you already working on the next project for Revé?
We haven’t yet started to choose the songs for the new disc. I know only that it’s going to have songs by a few different composers. Perhaps I won’t be doing all the arrangements. Maybe I will. I don’t know yet. We are discussing it with the maestro. He was saying to me that there are a few musicians that, as a result of [the success] of Fresquecito, they have said to him, “I would like to do an arrangement for you [on the next disc]. I would like to do a song for you.” I don’t know how it’s going to work out. I think that I will do the majority of the arrangements but we haven’t decided yet because Fresquecito still has some life in it yet and we want to make it go a bit further.  And then later prepare a good disc for next year. Next year, no. For the year after that.

For 2009?
As far as I know, el maestro was saying that what we are going to do is start to do it in 2009 so that it is released at the end of of the year, [in preparation] for the beginning of the next one.

And so, as I like to do so much music and I know that for now we are not going to do anything new, perhaps the odd song, one or two songs, I prepare my own disc calmly, because I have time and I don’t want to lose the habit of writing.

So you don’t yet have any songs for the next Revé disc?
No, we don’t have any songs yet. There is a song that perhaps we will do on its own, but we haven’t done the arrangement yet.

I heard that maybe you were going to remaster some old songs?
Yes, it’s possible we will do various old songs, that we will rerecord them, with the same arrangements so that they have a modern sound. The same arrangement, but played with these musicians and recorded at the level of the music of [Fresquecito]. Because if you take one song of those years and include it in a disc that we do now, there is going to be an imbalance in the mastering. So before remastering it, what we’re going to do is record them again so that they are mastered equally. There is an idea to do various songs of those and to make just a few new songs. We don’t know [exactly] what Elito wants to do. As far as I know, we’re going to do six old songs and various new songs. That’s what I heard.

How did you feel about winning the award for best salsa album at Cubadisco this year?
I want to say that really I don’t work for awards. The award that satisfies me most is that I do a song or that I do an arrangement to a song and the people sing me the arrangement, sing the trombones or sing the piano or sing the coros. If the people sing, that in itself is an award for me. Because in the end, the music is for the people, it isn’t for awards.

But with Cubadisco, I am grateful that the jury has voted for it; that they have understood, that they have respected the music. I’m also happy because I didn’t expect that in France award they would give an award to the music either.  [Fresquecito was voted best disc of 2007 by punters at French timba site in January of this year.]

It surprised me because I didn’t expect it, that the people would be hooked by the music so quickly in Europe. In Cuba I said, well if they listen to the disc I think they will award it ... it seems that deep down I expected that they would give it an award. When I started to listen to all the discs that were nominated – because I listen a lot to music to see the difference between what I do and how things are – I said, well it seems that they have to award it – even though I say so myself.

I not a big fan of Charanga Habanera these days, but they are so popular, I thought they would win.
Yes, what happens in Cuba is that there is a moment when these bands, all of these groups like Revé, Van Van, big bands, compete, and the people are used to thinking “this award is Charanga’s”, “this is for I don’t know who”, but it doesn’t matter.

You know that David Calzado had said how good the disc of Revé was; he said:  “I didn’t expect that Revé would be like this.” Often the directors of the Cuban bands don’t go to see the other bands, but he came to some of our concerts. After we won, he personally told me, “very good work, you are a great arranger”. Manolito Simonet congratulated me. Because Manolito knows me from Camaguey, when I was very young and almost was a musician in Trabuco.  And he told me very good work. I was very happy because he’s from Camaguey and has made so much good music. Adalberto [Álvarez] also spoke very well of my work. I am happy that the big directors have respected my music my work.

Thursday, 28 June 2018, 05:38 PM