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Interview - David Calzado - 2000 - California

Interview with David Calzado 11/1/2000
By: Barbara Valladares & Kevin Moore

Timba.com: At what age did you begin to study music? Is it true that you started as a classical cellist?

David Calzado: I began to study music at 11 years of age. My training was actually in classical violin, but I have also played a lot of popular music.

Timba.com: Can you tell us about the Cuban music education system and what the experience was like for you?

David Calzado: Honestly, I had a wonderful experience. I studied at the Escuela Nacional de Arte ("la ENA"). The teachers were of the highest quality and I was able to study there at no cost for 9 years. I was a full-time live-in student, only able to leave the school on weekends. In Cuba there are many great teachers and a wonderful education system.

Timba.com: We found a 1983 recording of Ritmo Oriental called "Mi Amigo Nicolás" which lists you as the arranger. Can you tell us more about your association with this great group?

David Calzado: Yes it's true that I arranged that song. I was a part of the group from 1981 to 1987 and that is where I took my first steps as an arranger. "Mi Amigo Nicolás" was one of the first popular music arrangements I worked on professionally. Ritmo Oriental was a very important band in the 80's and for me was a wonderful experience. This was the band that molded me and prepared me for what I'm doing today.

Timba.com: Within the opening bars of "Mi Amigo Nicolás", we hear several harmonic progressions not frequently used in salsa. What got you interested in using harmonic innovations in salsa?

David Calzado: What happened at that time was that I was very anxious and filled with desires. I was a young musician just beginning and, well, I wanted to do many things and I wanted to mix too many things in just one tune. But then life showed me that it cannot be this way, so that was my first experience as all things are in the beginning. But all these things were simply the spirit of a young soul who wants to demonstrate to the world that he can do things. That's why there were so many changes, etc.

Timba.com: What other groups did you work with before founding Charanga Habanera?

David Calzado: I was with Orquesta Pancho "El Bravo", and I was with a band called "Los Violines de Tropicana", an orchestra of the great cabaret The Tropicana. We were the band that opened up for the shows, played during dinner, etc. I was the principal violinist of the orchestra. The was also a period where I was a producer and director of recordings and I arranged for soloists, but these were arrangements for other kinds of music, not salsa music. So I worked with many important soloists like Beatriz Márquez, Mirta Medina and Aida Linares, who is now here in the U.S., was also there at that time. I also directed the studio band for the recordings.

Timba.com: As the story goes, Charanga Habanera used to play traditional charanga and was working in Europe around the time that you started changing the style into what we now know as Timba. What was happening around that time that got you going in that new and exciting direction?

David Calzado: In the beginning the band was created for the sole purpose of playing a long-term gig at the Club Monte Carlo in Monaco which had been contracted by a French booking agent. He was seeking young musicians who could play the traditional Cuban music of the 40's, 50's and 60's. I was contracted to form the band and I did it with the intentions of playing traditional Cuban charanga for the Club Monte Carlo, and we did that for a period of five years. But in Cuba, no one knew who we were, and this music was not played or performed there. We only played that type of music in Monaco, where we also shared the stage with great stars like Stevie Wonder, Barry White, Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, Tina Turner, and Ray Charles. It was a very exciting experience. So the history of this band was each year returning to Club Monte Carlo to perform traditional Cuban music, but in Cuba the people are not interested in that type of music any more. If your music is out of style they won't go to your concerts. But being a Capricorn [laughs] I wanted to play in Cuba! We Capricorns like to succeed...especially on our home turf - I wanted to create something the Cuban people would really get hooked on. So in 1992 I decided to give the band a new, contempory sound. At that time, there were many older groups playing contemporary music "dando golpes" - as we say - playing hard. But I decided to do a contemporary act, and I included a show, with costumes, and a new concept of salsa. Within 6 months, we had a song called "Me Sube la Fiebre", o "Fiebre de Amor", that became very popular on the radio and that's where La Charanga Habanera took its first step into contemporary music. The song was written by Giraldo Piloto and the arrangement was mine. That's how it all started in Cuba, but today, thank God, our new style is now also very strong in Europe. But don't forget that in each concert we always do some traditional music which we will always remember was the reason for the existence of La Charanga Habanera.

Timba.com: The original 4 Charanga Habanera CD's feature wonderful and innovative songs by a variety of writers, including three who are now famous for their work with other groups: Leonel Limonta, Giraldo Piloto, and Manolín. How did each of these collaborations come about?

David Calzado: Limonta worked with me for about 3 or 4 years. Back then, Limonta was just starting out as an aspiring composer. He would give me his songs and I saw a lot of possibilities. In the beginning the songs he would give me were good songs, but they needed fine tuning so I would touch them up, but the majority of the songs were his and I only had to put the finishing touches on them. But after working with Charanga Habanera, Limonta started to gain more experience and finally it came to a point where his songs didn't require any fine tuning. These things are expected - with more experience one gets better. Limonta then became a very important creative force for the younger generation.

In Manolín's case, he was always after me asking me to record one of his songs, and I would listen but without paying too much attention. But one day he brought me "Para el Llanto", and it was interesting to me and I jumped on and recorded it. And then after that I would have at least one of Manolín's songs on each of my records - at least one - because Manolín would look for me with new songs when he knew I was about to record again. I would record them with much love because Manolín is a great composer.

And in the case of Piloto, Piloto liked the Charanga Habanera production and he asked me to do a few tunes with him. Then we distanced ourselves, not for any personal reasons, but because at that time he created his group and producing his own songs. I consider Limonta, Manolín and Piloto to be magnificent composers of Cuban contemporary music.

Timba.com: When these writers first presented you with the songs, were they written out, or on cassette?

David Calzado: Realistically, they just sang them to me, I always carry a small tape recorder with me, so I would record the song then take it home with me and I would always tell them: "well, gentlemen, you gave me the song - this is the skeleton, but you know that when the song surfaces it may have a lot of changes. The song remains yours, but I am going to do with whatever I want with it!" [laughs]. The arrangements are totally mine including the coros of the songs. These things come up in the splendor of the rehearsal. That is where the coros are invented it's like a workshop - a collaborative effort.

Timba.com: It's a beautiful method you have. Unfortunately in this country it doesn't quite work the same way!

David Calzado: The thing is also that in Cuba we rehearse Monday through Friday or Saturday from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. I don't like the songs to come finished; I like the song to come "as is". I know the song has possibilities, but I want the song to be completed in rehearsal.

Timba.com: How do you approach arranging these songs?

David Calzado: When I have a song in mind, I work on various parts in my head and then I sing it, without a piano, into a tape recorder. I listen to it over and over and if I don't like it I erase it. Whether it's my song of another composer's, what I'm really doing is learning the song until I almost have it inside of my body. When it gets to that point, I start working on the arrangement. Sometimes I imagine the parts without writing them and then I make another recording, and sit at the piano and play along to work out the chords, the horns etc. The idea is get into the spontaneous feeling of the music while I'm doing this part of the arrangement.

Timba.com: With both the original Charanga Habanera and the new group, can you describe the creative process that a song goes through? In other words, do you begin with a written score? What parts are worked out in advance and what parts are worked out in rehearsal? Do you use a computer?

David Calzado: No....let me say I think the computer is a fantastic advancement, but I don't like it because it's too cold. I am a musician who is inspired by the soul. The computer is too exact and you can do an arrangement and it could sound very nice but I prefer the other beauty: the beauty of spontaneity. I have never done an arrangement with the computer and I think it can be fantastic but I feel it will always be "cold" compared to the kind of arrangement I do sitting at the piano. And then when I get to the rehearsal after the arrangement is ready, we start inventing coros, then comes the first mambo, and then another! I come up with those mambos in the heat of the rehearsal. The band is playing and I say "Keep playing that tumbao.keep playing that tumbao" - then the mambo comes to me and I tell the saxophonist: "play this part" and he repeats it I listen to it and eventually I say "that's it!" Then we write it out. This method, for me, has a value that a computer cannot deliver. I don't like to try out the music on the computer. I know it functions well and it saves a lot of time because its very concise, but in Cuba we have all the time in the world! [laughter]

Timba.com: I (Kevin) still vividly remember driving in my car and hearing the song "Hey You, Loca!" for the first time. I was blown away upon the first hearing and listened to it over and over in amazement. Although I'd never heard of "timba", I immediately realized that this was different from anything I'd ever heard. Now, looking back after several years of studying all the timba bands, this is still one of my favorite songs. It's strange that the writer, Victor Sagarra, never wrote any other songs. What was the story of the development of that classic song?

David Calzado: If I tell you the truth "Hey You, Loca" is not really a song - it was just a phrase that we were saying a lot then. Victor Sagarra used to say that but Victor is not a composer, so then the singer started to do some 4's (guias), and then I added "me gustas.me cai muy bien" and mambos. So "Hey You, Loca" was a collaborative effort of La Charanga Habanera, but we decided to give the composing credit to Victor Sagarra although realistically Victor is not a composer and that's why he never appeared again - because nothing else ever occurred to him! [laughter] The horn parts were written by myself.

Kevin: "¡Me gustan los mambos!"

Barbara : [singing] "Me gusta . Me cai muy bien".

David and Barbara Singing: "Me encantas!" [laughter]

Timba.com: I've heard the new group 5 times in Cuba and each time I've been especially impressed with three musicians, Tirso Duarte, the pianist, Randolph Chacón, the bassist, and the young timbalero, Yulién Oviedo. What can you tell us about these incredible young talents?

David Calzado: They're young but these are very professional musicians. In the case of Tirso Duarte, he's a great collaborator, and a pianist in a league of his own - and also a fiery lead singer. He's also a composer of "sentimiento manana" (heart). Randolf is a tremendous bassist who comes from the jazz school and who is applying his talents and knowledge to CH. Aside from playing his instrument at the highest level, he also has a great feel and puts on a great show onstage.

As for Yulién Oviedo, "el menor", I think he is without doubt a genius of Cuban music.

Timba.com: One of the catchiest and most original songs on the new CD is "El bla bla bla", which you wrote. Can you describe the creative process you went through in writing both the music and the lyrics to this song?

David Calzado: Well the story goes, as you know, that there was a separation of the original Charanga Habanera band and they started to go on the radio saying that they were the best. We had come out with Charanguero Mayor prior to the breakup, and since I knew they were going to be on top of the other part, I wrote the song "está bueno de bla bla bla" - in other words, "stop talking and do something!". They talked too much, but played very little. So I wrote "El bla bla bla" so the story would end, and really, the story has ended.

Timba.com: Who came up with that incredible "bloque" on "Tema Introducción", the short but ultra high-energy track which begins and ends the new CD?

David Calzado: (Laughs) I wrote that break. That was from an idea of a coro that Tirso came up with and I thought of using it as the opening and closing theme of the CD, so I had to think of some dramatic music to go with it. So then I came up with that break.

Timba.com: Everyone who hears that break goes crazy! It's so syncopated in the way it falls against the clave.

David Calzado: [Laughs] Thank you very much, but it just came about very naturally.

Timba.com: Where does timba go from here?

David Calzado: I think that timba is very isolated in the Cuban circuit, in the sense that all the timba groups are in Cuba and none of the groups music have left Cuba. The timba artists are hopeful that at some point there will be money to promote this music as there has been to promote other music of the world. If and when it happens, I am sure that in the future this movement will be in all parts of the world. Until then we will keep up our efforts in the battle to get our music heard, and hopefully what happened to Compay Segundo won't happen to us - that we have to wait to be 90 years old so the world can recognize what we did 50 years ago!


Timba.com: Aside from all of the marketing, political, and cultural aspects, how do you envision the next few years of the history of timba from a purely musical point of view? We've already witnessed dramatic changes in the way the piano and bass are played. What other changes do you foresee?

David Calzado: I think we can always expect something new from music. A few years ago, no one could have imagined the things we're doing now, but what's considered modern now will be considered traditional music tomorrow. So there will always be new developments.

Timba.com: What will you be striving for with the next Charanga Habanera album?

David Calzado: The plans I have for the new recording are new songs which we will interpret now in these concerts on the West Coast. It's going to be a hot album as always and if it takes off it will take off with La Charanga Habanera.

martes, 23 diciembre 2014, 09:23 pm