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SpanishEnglishEntrevista - Paulito FG 2002

cuban music, musica cubana
by Majela Serrano ©2002

May, 2002

It’s been almost a month since I had the opportunity of talking to Paulo during his tour of Italy. As a reporter, I asked mostly about the last few years of his career, although we also talked about his musical foundations, his family’s story, and so on. I asked some things as a friend, some as a musician, some as a fan, and finally, some as a "journalist".....Here's the result of what I asked as a reporter.

After an exhausting concert, and thanks to Francesco Bove, I was able to set up a telephone interview with Paulo Alfonso Fernández Gallo, the popular Cuban artist, who was touring in Italy. We talked briefly and we made a "date" for me to call him back the next morning. I almost woke him up, but he was very kind and answered all of my questions -- about his band, his new CD and the prior CD. He even told me things I hadn't previously known about, such as his contribution to NG’s "En la calle" as a coro singer.

timba.com: I’ve heard that your band has a lot of new musicians. In fact, I don't even recognize many of them -- the ones I used to see in your concerts no longer play with you. But the first thing I noticed is that you have two new women in your band. How come?

cuban music, musica cubanaPaulo FG: I do, I have Yamilé Toranzo and Ariadna, who plays güiro, but she's in Havana now. I like it, I like the sound of my voice mixed or in contrast with women's voices -- that’s why I added Yamilé. It's influenced a bit by rap and hip hop.

timba.com: So I can assume there are a couple of new things in the sound of the Elite.

Paulo FG: You can assume it. The Elite has new elements because we're in a new phase where I write my own arrangements. When I was working with maestro Ceruto I was able to learn a lot and I’m really satisfied of that phase, but now I’m happy as well because everything is my work. I learned to sequence music with a keyboard and now I can reproduce my ideas. My friend Angelito helps me with the harmony.

timba.com: So, you are arranging for your band?

Paulo FG: Yeap. I’ve been doing it for a couple of years. I tried at first with Ceruto’s help. Yosvel also helped me, and now Angelito. I always need help with the harmonies, but the melodies have been mine for a long time.

timba.com: Anything else new in your band?

Paulo FG: I have Radamés, a young singer who was previously the director of Estallido de la Salsa. He sings coro and has been working with Marcos on adding more movement to our stage choregraphy.

timba.com: Speaking of choreography...you used to talk a lot during your concerts and you used to improvise a lot. But what everyone expected most were those moments when you used to dance right down to the floor and kneel down, saying "pa’l piso" (down to the floor) or "elevador" (lift). Why did you stop doing that?

Paulo FG: Everybody always asks me that! (Laughter). It's not because time has passed and I’m older now...it's cuz my pants couldn’t stand it longer! Now I only do it once or twice a night. My pants didn’t last at all, they wore out on my knees. As for talking and improvising...you're right, I stopped doing it, but now I’m doing it again. I also stopped doing radio and TV.

timba.com: Why?

Paulo FG: I had a really hard time in my career, after "Con la conciencia tranquila" and Jerry Masucci’s death, which led to my breaking off from Fania.

timba.com: That CD, as lots of people say, was your masterpiece. As I see it, it’s a really great CD, from recording quality to design or photography. It’s a super CD, really hard to surpass..

cuban music, musica cubanaPaulo FG: I agree, that was a great CD for my career, even outside of Cuba. And Jerry was more than a producer, he was also my friend. With his support, we were producing a new CD, but then he passed away. It was the famous"boleros CD", which we never released. After 2 years of hard work on it with the maestros Joaquín Betancourt and Ceruto, nothing came of it. Jerry Masucci was Fania Records and without him, everything fell apart. Our CD was a tribute to the Puerto Rican singer Tito Rodríguez, and it never made it out of the studio.

timba.com: A crushing blow for any artist...so much work, effort and love, just like a son...and then you couldn’t release it! How did your situation with that record company end up?

Paulo FG: It was really hard, believe me. I gave it my best, and then I didn't get a chance to sell it! I put all my love into that CD...of course, I had a lot of troubles with Fania. We broke off from each other and I decided to wait for a new contract with more possibilities. But time went by, and I had a lot of new stuff. They offered me a contract in Spain, but I refused it. This record label, "Gran Vía Musical" of Madrid, didn’t give me what I was looking for. And I had to make a new CD, so "Una vez más...por amor" was born, but it was really a kind of "bridge".

timba.com: A "bridge"?

cuban music, musica cubanaPaulo FG: Yes - I was waiting for a profitable contract, to make a CD like "Con la conciencia....". Now I’ve got a new one, but it’s still in studio process.

timba.com: What’s it called?

Paulo FG: I haven’t make up my mind yet, but I guess it’ll be "Te deseo suerte" (I wish you luck), after one of the songs. In fact, "Te deseo..." is my first single since "Una vez más..." and the public seems to like it.

timba.com: It’s a good title for a song, and for an album as well. Maybe you’re calling your luck yourself. I heard something about a wonderful concert in Havana, in La Piragua, on the ocassion of Elite’s 10th anniversary. I also heard that it was much more than only wonderful.

Paulo FG: It was a really nice concert, on april, 19th. I played almost three hours, almost all my music. The concert also featured a couple of musician that used to play with me, such as Cucurucho, Joel Domínguez, Amaury (ex trombonist of Pachito) and Alexander Abreu played the whole time. And I even got the medal for the National Culture from Abel Prieto, Minister of Culture.

timba.com: Wow! Congratulations! What news! That’s really something! That means that your public loved...sorry, LOVE you. What does it mean to you beeing so popular?

Paulo FG: For me, the public has always been a kind of thermometer for what I do, and the fact that they like me is extremely important for me. Van Van, for example, has always been a symbol for me. I mean, they've had a permanent place in the hearts of the people for more than 30 years! I always do and give my best on stage for my public, and they feel it. I think that's why my career has been so steady and succesful - because I give all my "sentimiento" (feeling) and they get it.

timba.com: Talking about feelings, I also heard that this tour has been very emotional for you, and that you even speak a little Italian.

Paulo FG: (laughs). It’s been pretty nice. My mother came with me. Her father was Italian, as you can tell from my second last name, Gallo. Some friends of mine located my italian family. My mother and I met her brothers and nephews. It’s hard to describe the emotion we felt, especially my mother.

timba.com: Now that we're talking about roots, I want to ask you about your musical youth. Who were your first musical influences? How come did you decide to make music for a living?

Paulo FG: Well, I was always a restless boy, with a lot of troubles, a kind of "rebelde sin causa" (rebel without a cause); I was not consistent enough in school, and I couldn’t find my calling. I listened to lots of musicians, and copied what I heard....OK, I kept TRYING to copy them.(He starts to laugh -- I’m sure he was "living" this phase one more time).

timba.com: Ok, I got the picture.Can you tell me exactly what you were trying to copy?

Paulo FG: I especially tried to compose. But I copied singers like Phil Bailey from Earth, Wind and Fire; Michael Jackson and the Bárbaro, Benny Moré. When I was about 20, a close friend of mine told me : "you have to trust your instincts". At that moment I knew I wanted to make music for a living.

timba.com: In music, you’ve done a lot, and you've always been in the vanguard, especially in these 10 years with the Elite. I always tried to interview you for my thesis, about women in popular music. And you were one of the first who added a woman to a men’s band. Am I right?

Paulo FG: I was the first one who did it, but the first women I had in the band were dancers, not singers.

timba.com: But your sister Ana was one of the first who sang coro in a men’s band!

Paulo FG: Yes, but that was later. The first ladies in the Elite didn’t sang at all. Ana came later, to sing coro. For a couple of years she sang lead on a song, but she doesn’t really want to do it anymore.

timba.com: What about Marcos? He's a singer, how come he doesn’t sing anymore? I've only heard him sing lead on two songs, one with you and one as a soloist.

Paulo FG: We sing together "Entre dos amigos", and for a while I wrote "Una hora y media" for myself, but I gave it to him. I keep telling the coristas that they have to learn a couple of songs to sing, but they just don’t listen to me!

timba.com: Paulo is a kind of "príncipe azúl" (the perfect guy) for many Cuban girls. Is that a problem for you...or you enjoy it?

Paulo FG: As an artist and human being, I like to take care of my image, and in spite of time, I still look pretty good.

timba.com: (Laghter).Yeap, time has passed. The first time I saw you, I was 14, and I’m already 22! How old are you? (Laughter). You're not that young anymore!

Paulo FG: (Laughter). If someone heard you say that they'd think you were talking to Compay Segundo! (Laughter). Well, I’m 40, although nobody wants to believe it. I don’t look like it, I still look the same.

cuban music, musica cubana

timba.com: The same? If you ask me....BETTER! Do you remember that photo on your first CD?

Paulo FG: (Laughter). You're right. That picture on "Tú no me calculas" -- well, it’s not my best...I’ve really worked on my appearance since then -- working out, etc. It’s true, I look better now!

timba.com: Is your public still very young?

Paulo FG: How old did you say you were when you attended to your first Elite concert?

timba.com: Me? I was 14 years old.

Paulo FG: There you have it. A lot of young people start attending my concerts as they are teenagers and they keep going and going as my public.I love that, because they grow up with my music.

timba.com: You were also the first Cuban artist having a fan club. And there’s even an International fan club for you!

Paulo FG: There are about three fan clubs. I like to see that my work is something special and that I even have fans! You are witness of my concerts -- I give it all on stage for them. And that’s my reward.

timba.com: Thanks a lot for it! And for your time, and your kindness. There’s only a question remainnig, a personal curiosity. Why you didn’t record your version of "Laura", written by Nek?

Paulo FG: Because of the international payments of author’s rights. The record label didn’t want to pay them, so I couldn’t record it.

timba.com: It’s pity! It’s a great version. Ok, I can only say, borrowing a phrase from your new single, "TE DESEO SUERTE!" (I wish you luck!). And thanks again for your time.

Paulo FG: It was really nice, thanks to you. I wish you luck too in your private life and your work. See you!


That’s it! The interview of timba.com. As Majela, the person I am, I was very happy to talk to Paulito again, and appreciated his kindness (as usual, he gave me a lot of personal advice, which I appreciated).

As a musician, I’m glad that he still has a succesful career, both inside and outside of Cuba. It was a pleasure. Thank you, Paulo! I hope you visit Germany next time you come to Europe.





cuban music, musica cubana


Tuesday, 22 March 2011, 07:31 PM