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The Making of "El puente"

cuban music, musica cubana
An Interview with Hugo Cancio of Ciocan Music and
Waldy Domínguez of Wave Sound

October - 2002 - Miami - questions by Kevin Moore


In addition to its studio releases, such as Vocal Sampling's triple Grammy-nominated "Cambio de Tiempo", Ciocan Music has launched two historically important projects which have created quite a buzz among Timbaphiles around the world. The first is a future plan to reissue out-of-print classic recordings from the 90's (we'll have more on this in coming months) and the second is the "Live in the USA" series, which so far has produced two different 2-CD sets, both recorded live at Miami's Rancho Gaspar before a huge crowd of energetic Timba fans. In October of 2002 we caught up with the president of Ciocan Music, Hugo Cancio, and the chief recorder engineer on both projects, Waldy Domínguez, of Wave Sound Studios.

PART I: LIVE RECORDINGS How did you first get the idea for the El Puente project?

cuban music, musica cubanaHugo Cancio (pictured to the left with Johnny Pacheco): Well, Manolín and I had spoken about making a live album during his second tour of the US, which I produced. At that time he, as well as the entire band, had decided not to return to Cuba. However, their decision to stay in the US was something I did not approve of. This was the second time I had brought Manolín and his band to the US and on both occasions he had announced his defection! It was becoming too political and complicated for my liking. To all of the above, add a personal problem we had and the so-called friendship and my management responsibilities were gone soon after we finished the tour. After trying for several months to find a record deal while playing a steady gig in Miami (8 weeks at the Starfish night club), Manolín returned to Havana. I was not surprised, however, that entire band with the exception of his corista, Enrique "El Gordo" Pérez (and bongcero José Velázquez), stayed behind. Over a year went by and I never heard from Manolín again -- only rumors that he was having difficulty getting work in Havana -- not because of lack of popularity but rather because of lack of support from the cultural authorities, which at the time had had enough of Manolín's outspoken personality and controversial attitude.

Then I got a call from a Miami reporter months later. He wanted to get a statement from me regarding a news report published by Cuban newspaper about Manolín singing a very controversial coro at La Tropical in Havana. He emailed me a link to a Cuban newspaper and when I read what a so-called journalist had written criticizing a simple coro called " El puente", ("Voy a hacer un puente, un puente de mangas largas, para que la gente de Miami venga, para que la gente de Miami vaya"), I felt I had no choice but to express my opinion. It seems like the so-called journalist had gone mad and thought that Manolín was going to built a real bridge(not a bad Idea, a lot easier to travel for me) between Havana and Miami and provoke a massive exodus of refugees going both ways! There are, believe it or not, lots of people who would love to return to the island if given the opportunity and there were plans to built such a bridge prior to 1959, but I couldn't believe this crazy journalist thought that Manolín had the funds to finance such an ambitious project. Manolín is a doctor turned musician, not an engineer, and not a multi-billionaire, so I couldn't understand what was it in that coro that made some people in Havana feel threatened and to go so far as to reprimand me for supporting Manolín's building plans. In fact, I had not supported Manolín as an individual, although I certainly supported his ideological idea of building a bridge of reconciliation among Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits. If there is one thing unforgivable and unforgettable for all Cubans who have emigrated to the US, it's the separation from our family, from our homeland, not being able to "really" return.So I said to the Miami reporter, let's not build one bridge, lets build tens of thousands of bridges of reconciliation -- that's what I have been trying to do for the past years, building bridges through music. Affter all, it's probably the only thing we Cubans living abroad and on the island have still in common -- our music and our culture.

Months later, after his dramatic exit out of Cuba -- and by the way, despite several rumors, I had nothing to do with that, either directly or indirectly -- Manolín contacted me to thank me for my support of his coro, by that time I was busy in the studio working on the live Charanga album production. I met Manolín a few months later at Cafe Nostalgia where he had a regular gig every Thursday and gave him a copy of the Charanga Live in the USA CD. He loved it and that was it -- it was clear that we had to make another one, with him and his incredible band.

It was right there and then that El puente, the album, was born.

Why did I called El Puente? Well, aside from it being the name of Manolín's coro, making that record gave me the sense that I could build anything I wanted. What can you tell us about your plans for the upcoming CD Release Concert at Café Nostalgia in Miami on October 31, 2002?

Hugo Cancio: It's a mechanism to promote the album -- a way to get all the press together in one place to present your product -- it's a common practice in this business --nothing to do with politics, although I understand politics will find its way in to it. There's just no way around it with this particular artist. However, it's the music, the energy our artistic work, that I want everyone to take notice of. The album deserves the attention -- it's just an incredible piece of work that all Timba music lovers need to have -- all we want to do is to spread the word. We're also producing the concert, after the private party it always and incredible experience to see Manolín perform live. Charanga Habanera's "Live in the USA" and Manolín's "El Puente" were recorded at the same venue, Rancho Gaspar, under similar circumstances, within a few months of each other. How would you compare the challenges of recording La Charanga to those of recording El Médico?

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Waldy Domínguez of Wave Sound

Waldy Domínguez: Maybe some people will not be able to hear any difference between them. For me, there are many details that make me feel a bit unsatisfied with Charanga's work. One of them is not having the tools I had for Manolin's and the other one is the time preassure which almost started bothering me with this last one. The time that you put into a mix is essential and for many reasons beyond the production sometimes I had to stop working on the mix for days to come back to it later and, at least for me, that's fatal. We understand that the Charanga Habanera timbalero, Yulién Oviedo, was missing a key part of his timbale set that day (the jamblock), and that Angel "Pututi II" Arce was brought in for overdubs after La CH had gone back to Cuba. How many sessions were there with Angel and how did they go down?

Hugo Cancio & Waldy Domínguez: One session, about 6 hours. Did you or Angel do anything special in the studio to aid him in the difficult task of getting inside another drummer's head and playing a single element of his kit? Did you have to do a lot of takes?

Waldy Domínguez: No, it was a pretty easy studio session, the kid is extremely talented -- once a timbero always timbero. He recorded all songs in one day, only stopping to hear an entire song that he either had not heard before of didn't remember. What type of recording device did you use to record each album and what kind of special miking did you use?

Waldy Domínguez: I followed the conventional studio miking philosphy, but tried to respect the requirements of live miking as well.. We understand it took over 7 months in the studio to complete the El Puente project and that it involved considerable amounts of overdubbing. The final result is extremely fascinating, not only to those who are interested in Timba, but to those who are interested in the recording and mixing process. El Puente combines the accuracy and control of modern studio recording techniques with the fire and excitement of live performance. We'd like to take the Manolín band apart, section by section, and ask you to describe the recording process, whether you did any overdubbing, and how that process went down. Let's start with the drums, played by the phenomenal Reinier Guerra. As the fiery and rock solid grooves on El Puente demonstrate, Reinier is more than capable of playing without a timbalero or bongocero, like, for example, Samuel Formell of Los Van Van or Roicel Riverón of Manolito y su Trabuco, but normally Manolín's band uses the approach favored by Bamboleo, Issac and Klimax -- Reinier plays drums, and Angel Arce plays timbales. As a recording engineer, what challenges would this entail, and have you ever tried to record the band with this instrumentation?

cuban music, musica cubanaWaldy Domínguez: Recording Reinier has been a great and positive experience for me. The fact that Reinier played both instruments has added great neatness to the recording that would be hard to overcome with traditional formats. The fact that the drums play when the timbales are not and vice versa makes it much easier to control the sounds. This is usually a problem if you hava a drummer and a timbalero playing in the band, especially if they're young and eager to show their capabilities. They would usually follow their impulses and not pay attention to possible clashes of the two instruments. I've only seen this controlled in bands like Issac Delgado's but it is hard to achieve and in my opinion the fact that there was only one drummer is one of the secrets to the cleaness of El Puente. Let's move on to the recording of the congas.

Waldy Domínguez: We had to use two Shure Beta 57 for the three congas for technical circumstances even though I would have liked to use three. Tomasito's good taste comes to light once again. And the güiro.

Waldy Domínguez: Tomasito was responsible for the impeccable overdub of the güiro. bass and guitar

Waldy Domínguez: "Excellent" is the word that comes to mind to describe the performance of "El Gola" and Ahmed Barroso. To my taste I would have added more guitars to this album. piano and synth -- we understand there that Chaka Nápoles did some overdubbing. Which songs and what can you tell us about that?

Waldy Domínguez: El Chaca did some great teamwork with me in the studio cleaning and correcting not only keys and pianos but other tracks as well. Vocals

Waldy Domínguez: Backup and lead vocals were very easy to rectify. Did you use any plug-ins such as Antares Auto-Tune?

Waldy Domínguez: I used Antares for both the backup vocals and Manolín. horns

Waldy Domínguez: The brass is the section that I'm the least satisfied with. Not because of the guys, of course, but because I would have loved to have more brass tracks to achieve the ideal brass mix for me. Mixing any Latin group is a supreme challenge because there's so much going on. One of the big decisions is whether to try to make it sound like each instrument is coming from a specific point on an imaginary stage, and the other is to simply go for a pleasing soundscape without concerning yourself with how the players would have to be positioned in real life to produce that stereo image. Based on the ultra-wide panning of the 3 conga drums, you were following, at least to some extent, this second approach. How did you plot out the orientation of the various sounds at your disposal from left to right?

Waldy Domínguez: I respected the exact position of each of the musicians on stage except for the congas which I liked better in the middle (hitting Manolin's head!). Many of's readers are musicians who are interested in being able to pick out and transcribe individual sounds from recordings. El Puente is a wonderful mix in this regard because each sound seems to have its own sonic space in the mix. What types of techniques and philosophies did you use to achieve this?

Waldy Domínguez: I think I answered ahead on this one but, basically, this was recorded in Wave Sound Mobil Recording Studios to 32 tracks of ADAT and later transfered to Digital Performer 3.0 using the MOTU 2408MKII interface. It was mixed using a MAC G4/1 Ghz. dual processor with all the plusses that MOTU offers regarding Plug-ins, Wave 3.0 EQ's after the ovedubs for a total of 48 tracks including 4 tracks for ambience. Perhaps the hardest decision in mixing a live concert is what to do with the crowd noise. It adds greatly to the ambience, and in the case of Timba, the band often leaves space in the arrangement for the crowd to sing along, so the audience actually becomes part of the band. Those of us who spend many hours listening to pirated tapes from Cuban mixing boards are used to the unusual experience of hearing nothing in such spaces! On the other hand, constant crowd noise can interfere greatly with the clarity of the rest of the mix. El Puente seems to switch freely between approaches here, sometimes inserting fairly heavy crowd noise and sometimes excluding it almost entirely. What are you thoughts on this?

Hugo Cancio: I insisted in capturing the energy in the crowds -- it's essental to a live album. There's no fake crowd on any of these releases -- just the real thing, the real ambiance -- los murmullos, los comentarios, el chisme y el ay dios mío that you get from the excited crowd at Rancho Gaspar. I hear other live albums and the ambiance sounds fake, made in the studio, this is not what we want in our live albums. Have you ever considered using in-ear monitoring systems to get better separation by removing the wedge monitors from the equation? What are you thoughts on in-ear monitoring. It's of course very expensive now, but is it the future of live sound? Or if not, what are its problems and limitations other than cost?

Waldy Domínguez: I think it would be a great idea although very expensive. However, while not imposible, it would be very difficult to do it at a place like Rancho Gaspar where a soundcheck is not possible for other circumstances.

cuban music, musica How did the Charanga project differ from the Manolín project in terms of recording and mixing?

Hugo Cancio: Well, in terms of recording, we used the same equipment and components on both the Manolín and Charanga albums, but in the case of Charanga Habanera, we didn't have much time to work in the studio and we were a little afraid to touch the allbum without having el maestro David Calzado present. However, since that was not possible, we decided to work on it on our own. Fortunately, we had an incredible partner on this one: Marcos " Marquitos" Morales, Charanga Habanera's soundman who stayed in the US after Charanga's last US tour. Marcos' participation was essential to the mixing of the album.

Waldy Domínguez: The conditions under which La Charanga was recorded were pretty hard. We had no time to prearrange anything. Everything was done at the last minute and this is terrible for a live recording. I also now have tools and equipment in the studio that, unfortunately, I didn't have then. What if anything, do you plan to do differently in upcoming additions to the LIve in the USA series?

Hugo Cancio: Maybe take a bit more time to prepare ourselves in terms of production -- pre-select the titles, and video tape the concert in order to release an enhanced CD. Is there any chance that you would film one of these concerts and release it on DVD?

Hugo Cancio: Yes, I would love to, -- it's something that we are now ready and capable of doing. Are you at liberty to discuss which other groups may be slated for Live in the USA concert releases? In our humble opinion, the groups that would currently be most valuable for Timba collectors are: Manolito y su Trabuco (an absolute powerhouse in concert), Klimax, Bamboleo, Issac Delgado (famous for being much more energetic live that on record), Azúcar Negra, Dany Lozada y su Timba Cubana, and of course, El Tren, Los Van Van. Any comments??

Hugo Cancio: Well, we are planning hopefully, if acts of God and acts of goverment don't get in the way, to produce several more Live in the USA CD's with top of the line Timba artists.

cuban music, musica cubana
Vocal Sampling: Cambio de Tiempo Vocal Sampling's "Cambio de Tiempo" was the first CD ever to be nominated for 3 (is that right?) Latin Grammies. How did you learn about the nominations and what are your thoughts on this accomplishment?

Hugo Cancio: Wow, I was walking around at a street fair in Havana Vieja when I got the call on my cellular phone. I was exited --I thought those three nominations were very well deserved and I was very happy for Vocal Sampling. They're excellent musicians, great guys and good friends. Taking on the job of releasing an a capella album was no easy decision, but I love challenges -- jumping obstacles, opening closed doors. Yes, it was a cappela, however, there was a big difference, it was a Cuban music a capella album. Cuban music is my passion, my national product, my inspiration, and there is no limit to what one can accomplish when you really enjoy your work and are passionate about it. In the case of Vocal Sampling, I'm not only their record label, but also a fan so we just went to work. We decided to bring Sampling to Miami in May-June of this year to do ten days of heavy promotion, Sampling did over 60 interviews and performed live on almost every show at Telemundo network national shows. It was the first time this had happened with a Cuban group from the island,. It is the only way to promote artists who reside on the island.

Getting nominated for three Latin Grammy's was a great acomplishment not only for Sampling but for my staff, our publicist Adolfo Fernández, and Juan Carlos, Ana, my distributor, etc. It was especially sweet for our young record label -- quite an accomplishment for our second release, and we're very proud. Ciocan Music has received rave reviews for its artwork and packaging. Tell us about your approach to design and the story behind the elaborate packaging of El Puente.

cuban music, musica cubanaHugo Cancio: Well I feel that the artwork and packaging of an album is as important as the music itself, after all it is all art. A great picture has no music in it, however you appreciate the artistic job behind it, its meaning, the message behind it, because there is always one. I want you to hold my product and feel its importance and the seriousness of our work, the energy behind it, I want you feel part of a special project, a good production all around. I also don't want to give you any excuse to download my music in the Internet or burn our CD's, if you do so, you'll be missing something as special as the music itself.

cuban music, musica cubanaAll packaging is designed by me and the graphic arts are by my good friend Marcelo Lecours from Mars 13 Media ( I give him the idea and describe the energy that I want the artwork to capture. I provide him with pictures of the concerts or the artist and he goes to work. We have done quite a lot together in this field. We make a good team. Marcelo knows what I want and how I feel about my projects and he always hits the bull's-eye with his graphic designs. It's good to mention that he also designed my web site,, and all of the artwork for this site, What new studio releases are on tap for the coming year?

Hugo Cancio: We will also release a wonderful CD by Cuban trovador Roberto Poveda, a hip hop album, a Cuban Latin Jazz album and two regional Mexican CD's. As you can see, we have found a balance in our projects -- a balance sheet and an emotional balance.

miércoles, 23 marzo 2011, 03:31 am