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LA TIMBA LA TRAIGO YO - Nuevo Disco + Gira Europa de Robert Armas y los Conquistadores de la Salsa
Música tropical de Cuba y Francia - Rubén Paz y Chéverefusión

Release party - Feb. 24, 2005

Calle Real
No te hagas la sueca porque aquí el único sueco soy yo

7:00 PM February 24, 2005: It's -5°C in Stockholm and the sidewalks are treacherous to navigate, covered in a thick layer of ice. Outside Grandpa, a trendy clothing store in Southern Stockholm, a group of smokers huddles getting their fix. Inside the champagne is flowing, music is playing and on one wall the video to Princesa (Timba) is running in a loop. The occasion is the release party of Calle Real's debut CD Con Fuerza.

The party was actually held about a week before the official release date. I spent most of my time trying to make sure that they would not be left with too many unopened bottles of champagne.

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Los chamacos de la calle

Calle Real is something as unusual as a timba group that doesn't feature any native Cuban musicians. Yes, there are timba groups in Europe and the US, but to my knowledge they always include at least one Cuban musician who has relocated (I'm sure that now someone will soon be writing me with the names of other non-Cuban timba bands). Calle Real is a 10-man band of Swedish musicians, many of whom have studied music in Cuba at some point in their career or have visited a number of times.

When you talk to people about the future of timba they are often pessemistic saying things like "There is no market for the music outside Cuba, so the artists have to play other genres to survive". Well Calle Real chooses to create the music they love, rather than cater to the established markets. And what has the result been? After their performance at the Midem festival in 2004 some French and Italian DJs began playing their demo, and they have reached the top of the DJs' playlists. One French discussion group even has a topic devoted solely to Calle Real. No, they are not millionaires, but despite being a band with no established reputation, they have made ripples in the salsa world in Europe. As Patricio Sobrado, band leader for Calle Real says, "Our drive is purely egotistic, to put out our own music. We love and enjoy listening to it. The rest of the consequences are only bonus."

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Bandleader and tresero Patricio Sobrado

One interesting development with Calle Real is the fact that in Sweden their audience is not limited to salseros; they have also developed a following among the hiphop population. This sort of proves my contention that the potential audience for Timba is greater than that of "regular salsa" as timba is more experimental and includes many more modern influences that have an appeal to the younger generation raised on rap and R&B.

Another thing I like about the group is that they only perform original material. They do not do covers of other groups, like so many other timba groups outside Cuba. I would even go so far as to say that, while I think of them as timba, they don't quite sound like Cuba. They have their own sello, which I think of as a really heavy groove that runs though all their songs. Patricio says "Of course we are influenced by Charanga Habanera, Michel Maza, Pupy, Los Van Van, Paulito, Manolito, Manolín and the likes since we like to listen to them, but being raised over here we have other influences as well. We are glad people think we play timba 'cause that's one of our influences we respect, but should you expect hardcore timba when listening to us, you'll be disappointed...Our sound comes from having a need to express ourselves musically, and we use the Cuban music style to do it. We will probably never sound like a Cuban band and vice-versa, a Cuban band will never sound like us".

La Trayectória de la Calle

The band has changed quite a bit since it was formed at the end of 1999 by Patricio Sobrado, Magnus Ehrenborg and Rickard Valdés. The first time I saw them they were playing Buena Vista Social Club covers. They sounded fine, but you know that didn't excite me much, so I never really paid much attention to what they were doing.

Then next time I saw them was as the opening band for Los Van Van at a summer festival in Stockholm. I was amazed at the transformation. They were doing original songs and the band had been expanded to a timba format. They were joined on stage by Swedish rapper Doggy Doggelito from the Latin Kings, and the audience was loving it. Since then I've seen the band a couple of times per year and each time they have been tighter and more exciting than the time before. Over the past 3 years some of the band members have had to leave for various reasons. When singer Magnus Erhenborg left, conguero Thomas Eby took over as full-time singer and timbalero Rickard Valdés moved to congas leaving Harry to play drums and timbal. Thomas has a clear tenor that is immediately recognizable and also makes good contact with the audience.

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La voz de la calle - Thomas Eby
Si no te cuadras me voy con otra porque soy el sueño de muchas otras

Most recently they have added a new trombonist and a new trumpet. This frees trombonist Karl to sing coro full-time and to play güiro and gives Calle Real a strong horn section.

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Karl plays güiro, trombone and sings coro

La Base del la Calle

One of the elements that I find essential for music that I consider to be timba is the use of gear changes. You know those moments in the song that cause the dancer to respond by changing what they are doing, often slipping into despelote and tembleque and then back to casino when the percussion returns to playing a marcha. All timba groups do it, and each group has their own unique way of handling gears. Just like with any Cuban group, Calle Real starts laying down the gear changes once the cuerpo has ended. And as with any Cuban group, this is more intense in concert. It is fun to watch Harry and Rickard challenging each other during the course of a concert.

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Harry on drums and timbal

The difference between live and studio versions is not as great as with, for example, Issac Delgado, but especially the rhythm section is much more charged in concert. Rickard says "Calle Real is really more a live band than a studio band".

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Rickard used to be the timbalero but is now on congas

The rest of the rhythm section is made up of bass and piano/synth. Andreas plays both baby bass and electric bass, which gives the sound of Calle real a nice range. Some of the songs also begin with a really heavy bass that seems to be something different from the usual use of bass in timba.

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Andreas Unge plays both baby and electric bass

Gunnar Thullberg plays both piano and synth. Not all pianists are able to develop that sense of Cuban swing that is essential to timba. Gunnar is one who has. The other day at work I was playingMomento and a coworker who is married to a Colombian came by and asked me how a Swede was able to get that sound from his piano.

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Gunnar plays synth and piano with a real Cuban feel

Los Metales de La Calle

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One of the newest members Cezary on trombone

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Jacek on trumpet is the other new member

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Veteran callejero Petter rounds off los metales de la calle

Wednesday, 23 March 2011, 03:31 AM