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Interview - Bamboleo - 1999
by Bruce Ishikawa & María R. Rodríguez
August 29, 1999
After Bamboleo's show at Hot Tin Roof on Martha's Vineyard, María Rodríguez and I had the opportunity to interview the two women who, with two men, front the band. Vannia Borges has been with the band longer, is very articulate and lively, talkative, full of energy with an easy smile and hearty laugh. Yordamis Megret is a bit more reserved, but also exhibited a good sense of humor and, when she could squeeze in a word edgewise, she expressed her strong opinion.
English translation by María R. Rodríguez:
María: Why did you become musicians?
Vannia: Well, since I was little, my house breathed a musical ambiance, my father was a musician, my mother sang. I have aunts, uncles, cousins, that studied music, that are musicians. Since I was little I saw all that and I had that inclination that way. I studied music since I was six years old, I received a degree in voice and after I finished studying voice, I started to sing.
Bruce (to Yordamis): And you, the same?
Yordamis: Well, more or less the same, for me. My family wasn't musical, but they like music very much, and I love music, I studied guitar and graduated with a degree in guitar and then began to sing after.
Bruce: Everyone in the band is college educated?
Both: Yes, we are all graduates.
Bruce: Of what school?
Both: The school, the Conservatory of Music.
Bruce: Latin music is fairly new to us in the US. And the most famous group here is the old guys of the Buena Vista Social Club. What do you think of them, I believe that many Americans think Cuban music is like it was in the 1940s, the mambo, Beny More...
Vannia: No, no, it's really not like this. We owe a lot to those guys, like those who won the Grammy for Buena Vista Social Club, it's a good record, it's the school for us young musicians. But this is where the the music stagnated, this is where Cuban music, the formation, stayed, in the '40s.
From there on nothing new was known and that is why from there on everyone is astonished with all that is happening because they thought everything was still stagnated. In Cuba we were still doing things musically. We were evolving what they still didn't know about here. In opening up all the doors in global culture and here especially in the United States, it has been like an explosion because no one expected that Cuban music had made such progress, that there was so much talent and so many new things and especially that the Cuban music would have so much information of all that was going on in the world.
That's what's happened
Bruce: Many people have said that to play Cuban music, you need to know what went on in the past, the folkloric music, the rumba.
Vannia: Yordamis can tell you all about that (laughter).
In reality the Cuban music is a very percussive music. Based on the percussion. The base of everything is in the rhythm, but it has incorporated things from jazz, rap, from everything. The rumba and folkloric music, the base is Cuban music everything else has been incorporated.
Bruce: Who are your important influences from outside Cuba? From other countries?
Vannia: Well, you can imagine, lots of people. the Brasilians, and the rappers from here, why not? The jazzists, everyone, everyone, everything that is happening here.
María: Is this the first time you've been to the US?
Vannia: No, the third.
María: When was the first?
Vannia: It was like two years ago, we were in Lincoln Center. The second time, we went to Los Angeles, New York again, we did a television program. And now we are going to different cities.
María: Have you seen changes in the music here since the last time you came?
Vannia: Yes, sure, I think so. To say it again, even the rappers. The other day I was listening to a number on the radio, by a new gal I think, a rapper, that had tumbao, son, all that and she was rapping on top of all that. It had us all amazed because it sounded a lot like a number by NG la Banda, we thought "listen to these guys, what's up with that?
Bruce: The rappers, everything is words, do you understand the English?
Vannia: Yes, I understand many things...
Bruce: But those guys use an English that's -
Vannia: Yeah, it's street music, Cubans music is also street music (Cuban confusion, all speaking) ...the idiomatic phrases they use here, but more or less, it's very similar. The music of the town.
Bruce: the music of the people.
Bruce: This coming weekend, you're going to Miami.
Vannia: Yes, three days in Miami.
Bruce: Miami is the capital of the exile community, with many political difficulties for Cubans from the island.
Vannia: Well, it's not a big problem, because the language of culture is ample, it can break down the highest barriers. We go with the idea of playing good music that the people like, that makes them feel good and shows them what is happening with regards to music and culture. I think that is the most international language and the nicest language that exists is music.
Bruce: I think that Timba is the best music. The most cultivated rhythms, it's reached the pinnacle. Sweet melodies, harmonies...but what is the future of Cuban music? What else can you do?
Vannia: Well, we can do the possible and the impossible in the name of Cuban music to the entire world where it has been and if we can elevate it even higher, we will. And not only us, but the generations that come after us come with more desire, with more resiliency for work, more resiliency in all and constantly it will get better and better and better.
You have worked a lot, I am grateful for your words. Thank you.