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Interview - Giraldo Piloto - Nov. 2000
by Kevin Moore and Barbara Valladares
TIMBA.COM: Tell us about your early childhood. What were your first musical experiences? What was your formal musical training?
PILOTO: I was born June 5, 1962 here in Havana. From the beginning I was surrounded by music. My mother was a professor of piano and accordion and my father was one of the most distinguished composers of the era of the 50's and 60's. My aunts and uncles played in the leading bands in the country: Orquesta Tropicana, Orquesta Musica Moderna, etc., and in my house I would hear the best music, whether it was Cuban, jazz, Brazilian and well, I was born into that ambience. I began at the Conservatory Alejandro García Caturda at the age of 8. I graduated later from la ENA in 1980. My childhood was very much like those of children who study music you play and go out very little you know very little of the normal childhood things so all my childhood was involved in studying and studying. After la ENA, I had a chance to dedicate some time to playing sports. I graduated from la ENA with an overall classical education, but it was frustrating for me because at that time there was no Cuban percussion in the schools. The school did not allow the practicing of popular music. The pop music I learned at that time was offered to me by my mother and my uncle, Guillermo Barreto, deceased now for 8 years. The recordings we had were fourth and fifth generation. I began to learn how to play in an orchestra and how to play in different genres and then I became interested in composing and arranging, neither of which were in the curriculum of the ENA at that time I don't know if they are now. I would always watch friends who played guitar and I would watch how they would play chord changes with their left hand. I began to discover how they sounded and how they phrased. And that's how I began to get involved in the world of composition and arranging. Then, after graduation, around 1980, I began to work in the Orquesta Tropicana.
TIMBA.COM: With what groups did you play before NG, and how did you come to join that band?
PILOTO: I was in the Orquesta Tropicana from 1980-1987 and that was the group that gave me my musical foundation it gave me enough musical experience to play in any band in the world. The charts were very difficult and the group was very good. We played all genres of Cuban and international music and it pushed me to use everything I had learned from my uncle and his recordings. I think that was the mother of it all, and the experience served me very well because I started to think about things I knew about composing and arranging, but hadn't put into practice.
El Tosco, José Luis Cortés, of NG La Banda first heard me when he brought some of his songs to the orquesta. He liked the way I interpreted Cuban music and he asked me to become one of the founders of NG La Banda.
TIMBA.COM: Did any other members of the Tropicana Orchestra wind up with NG?
PILOTO: No, but there were many great musicians in the group, for example Jesús Alemañy of Cubanismo and Angá.
TIMBA.COM: What was the first song you ever wrote and how did it come about?
PILOTO: Well, that I can't recall! I was very small I must have been in the 2nd or 3rd grade. My mother was the one that would always push me and ask me "does anything occur to you, you don't have anything?" She wanted to see if one of us would continue the lineage of composition. My father had passed away when I was 5 years old and she had the strong desire to, as we say, "spread the seeds". So at that age I was already trying to compose and I was very embarrassed with the things I came up with because there were things I didn't like and I didn't want anyone to hear or sing it because it wasn't coming out the way I wanted it to.
Later on, while at Tropicana, I broke out with many compositions and charts, but I'm not performing any of them now because I don't think that they have the quality that I demand from myself. My first serious composition which really launched me in Cuba was Me Confunde Ser Esa Mujer, and if anyone asks me I always say this was my first song. I was very happy because afterwards the song became a #1 hit on Cuban radio and that served as my "excuse" to go on composing.
TIMBA.COM: You have written so many great songs that it's impossible to mention them all but we'd like to name 5 of our all-time favorites and ask you to tell us the story of their creation...the lyrics, the music, and the arrangement. First, "No Me Mires a los Ojos".
PILOTO: A female singer asked me to compose a song for her. When singers come to me I always ask them if they have any specific topic in mind...and at the moment the singer was indecisive and I told her there are various types of love songs true love, infidelity, etc. She chose infidelity and then I wrote the song. Her name is Rosana and she is still performing but she never recorded the tune. I keep all my tunes in a big book I don't even know how many I have maybe 70 or 80. Isaac heard it and liked it, so we rearranged it to fit his style.
PILOTO: The idea for Catarro Chino came to me when I was talking to two friends from northern Italy named Burt and Cecilia. They were using a phrase and it caught my attention. In English the phrase is "Chinese Cold". It was some humorous way of describing anxieties, rage, and desires and I started to think about how I can use it in a song. It wasn't hard because here in Havana the Cubans have in their heads 80% love, and the rest is work and other worries, but the people always have in mind who is at their side or the one that walks by, or the boy who girls like it's simple and after living in these surroundings of so much love, passion, its easy to write about it. It was one of the first tunes I did with Klimax. With this group I didn't want to repeat the same type of work I had done with Isaac and NG or anything else that was happening in Cuba. We wanted a new style something that no one else was doing.
TIMBA.COM:"Consejo a una Amiga"
PILOTO: Tony Perez, the pianist we had at that time, brought in the phrase [sings] "recógete el pelo que me das en la cara", and I said "man that is some good stuff, that really works and he said "yeah it works well just yesterday I was singing it to a girl and she said it stayed in her head all night long". In Cuba this phrase doesn't mean what it's literally saying--"hang onto your hair, it's hitting me in the face". As a Cuban saying it's more like -- "don't think I'm dumb"-- the rest is explained through the lyrics and the phrase makes sense when once hears the entire song.
Sometimes when someone gives you a catchy phrase, it gives you a starting point... it's almost as if they give you a key to open a door that later allows you to write the rest of the song, and this is how it happened. Tony later did the arrangement, he had so many ideas that I had to change it because there were too many things happening in the arrangement.
TIMBA.COM: What about the harmonies on that song?
PILOTO: A lot of the harmonies I use are from Brazil but some harmonies just jump into my mind it's hard to explain...it's something that just happened that way. The harmonies on the coros were written Tony Perez, and I wrote the rest. I think harmonies come about from whatever is in one's head while writing the tune it's not something that one plans it's whatever's in the air at that time.
TIMBA.COM: Mira Si Te Gusta
PILOTO: This song that has a variety of ideas things I've seen in movies and things I've seen happen to my friends or people in the community there's a little bit of everything there.
The song says-- "do what you want look at what you like"--because in the end, if something entertains you and if you like it, why not let it become something within your life. In Cuba it was kind of a breakthrough in lyrics--no one had ever performed a song like this, and we felt it was something we should do. When we started Klimax we began to utilize new harmonies and newer type of rhythms, but aside from that we also tried new ideas in lyrics things that had never been used in Cuban music. Every time we played this tune, in whatever venue, something magical would take place with the audience and the group. When we play live it is our "encore" tune a card we keep up our sleeve and take out for that special moment it gets a great reaction from the audience and the group.
TIMBA.COM:"Yo No Quiero Que Mi Novia Sea Religiosa" [Barbara: my personal favorite it drives me wild!]
PILOTO: The idea of the song came from my wife. I was looking for topics for this new album and she suggested this topic. The fundamental thought was hers, although I changed it a bit because women see songs in one way and men we see it them in other ways for that same reason there are songs that men sing that women can't sing and vice versa, although actually, this song could be performed by either. Here in Cuba, the Yoruba religion is almost addictive it's a very strong religion that we inherited from our African ancestors and it has a lot of "tricks". in this case, the women utilize it very much in real life
Bárbara: and men too
PILOTO: [laughs] well men as well, but I think women utilize it more than men
Bárbara: Okay, I guess so.
PILOTO: Anyway, my wife's idea caught my attention right away because I felt it could be a song that would reach the audience by dealing with the Yoruba religion in a way has never been used in a song. Actually there are many tricks that are not even mentioned in the song that are still secrets of the santeros, godfathers and babalaos who dedicate themselves to this religion. but this song calls attention to the religion in humorous ways and to how women in Cuba practice it. Actually I've also seen it practiced in Spain, France and even Scandinavia.
TIMBA.COM: We're very curious about the subject of tempo. The Klimax CD's, the last two Paulito F.G. CD's and some of Issac's CD's were recorded with a click track, which is to say, the tempo never varies from beginning to end. Most other timba recordings and live performances have a natural tendency to end up faster than they start out. In the case of Charanga Habanera, there are actually sections where the band will play a break and then intentionally resume at a slower tempo. In the case of Ritmo Oriental, the tempo will drastically change during a break and then resume in normal tempo afterwards. In the case of music played WITHOUT a click, would you say that the tempo speeds up gradually, or that it speeds up slightly at the beginning of each new section of the song? Why do you prefer to record with a click with Klimax, and in concert, do you strive to maintain a constant tempo, or do you increase the tempo gradually, or in increments at certain points in the arrangement?
TIMBA.COM: This is usually determined by director's style. There are cases when people do not know all the tricks of [modern] recording and other times when a recording is done without a click by design. But for me I always record with a click unless it's a live recording. On a record done calmly in the studio I would always use the click, because it creates a tranquility so things will come out organized. In Klimax we have a lot of things going on at once--the synth does one thing and the piano does something contrary and the bass does something contrary to both. The congas determine things but we have a busy percussion section--timbal, guiro, maracas, cencerros, the clave, the drums, and then there's the horn section and the coros. When you have all those things going on, it's a lot of information for people to receive and if you don't put a click on this it can become disorganized and sometimes will not transmit the idea the way you like or want. This is why I prefer to use the click while recording in the studio. However, I do not forget to recognize that music recorded without a click comes out with more "bomba" with more feeling of what's going on at the time. I don't argue with anyone about this, but I still prefer recording in the studio with a click.
TIMBA.COM: Yusef Díaz, the tecladista of Klimax, frequently contributes to the writing and arranging process of Klimax. Can you tell us more about Yusef?
PILOTO: Yusef is in this moment my right hand man in the group and I think that actually, he's one of the best musicians in Cuba. I give him all the credit. He's a great person and a great musician who has added a lot to the Klimax genre. You can't talk about Klimax with talking about Yusef, and his compositions and arrangements from the first record to this recent one. I feel relaxed working with him if I have a tune now and I know I don't have time to work on it or if I think it won't come out the way I want it to, I have total confidence that I can give the responsibility to Yusef.
TIMBA.COM: How did you start working together?
PILOTO: He came in at the very beginning of Klimax during auditions. I remember giving him the first charts of the group and he became almost paralyzed [laughter] because he didn't understand what he was auditioning for but something inside of me said to forget about all of that and I told him, "look let's do something I am going to tell Tony to play a tumbao on the piano with a harmony and you improvise whatever you feel". That's how we did it and I saw that he understood what harmonies and what it is to improvise and what this was all about musically. Tony took the responsibility of telling me that this guy was steady and had the talent we needed and not to worry because the only thing he needed was to learn how I wanted to phrase things. With Tony's help he had no problem fitting in. Later I told all the members of the group that if any were aspiring composers, that they should by all means bring their tunes to the rehearsal to try them out. The first tune Yusef brought was Juana Changa. [timba.com: Juana Changa is track 8 of Mira Si Te Gusta. Yusef Diáz has subsequently written or co-written several other Klimax songs as well as arranging a number of Piloto's compositions.]
TIMBA.COM: Do you and he work together on arrangements or separately?
PILOTO: Most of arrangements are worked on separately but there are also tunes we worked on together. Sometimes when if I have to do an arrangement very quickly from one day to the next, I ask his help. When I arrange the guitar is my only aid but since he knows how to program keyboards etc. , it makes is much easier because even before bringing it to the rehearsal, I can already hear what it's going to sound like. He will record it for me and we work on the idea together him with his synthesizer and me with my little guitar.
TIMBA.COM: Another interesting member of Klimax is the bassist Roberto Riverón. Can you tell us more about him?
PILOTO: Roberto Riverón was another founding member of Klimax but at this time he's not with our group‹he's playing with Jesus Alemañy and Cubanismo. He also went through the same type of process as Yusef Diaz, although he came to the auditions more sure of himself. Issac's bass player at the time, Charlie [Ángel Charles], referred him to me. I asked what bands does he play with and the groups he mentioned were not very well known and I guess he noticed my laugh, so he said "don't get scared he plays very well listen to him try him I am sure you are going to like him because the only thing he doesn't have is luck." Well, I located him but at the first rehearsals he had a lot of trouble. I write in 4/4 and in traditional bands here in Cuba things are written in 2/2. and he would rush until he got used to it. In spite of these errors, my instinct still told me that this was the person we needed and the person that went well with the group and ultimately he became the bassist that he is today which in my opinion playing the baby bass he is one of the best bassists that we have here in Cuba. He would also write arrangements and compositions for us.
TIMBA.COM: Klimax has had three incredible pianists: first Tony Pérez, then an incredible musician we know only as "Huicho" because the musicians weren't listed on the second CD, and now, Marcos Greco, the son of the legendary NG La Banda trompetista, El Greco. Tell us about these three and your thoughts on the role of the pianist in timba as opposed to traditional salsa.
I already knew Tony Pérez because we worked together in Issac's group. What can I say? I think he's also one the greatest pianists in Cuban music. When he came to work in Isaac's group he was a pure and strong jazz pianist. I don't think he had ever played timba or Cuban music. I started to bring him into that world by recommending things to him which he then absorbed almost immediately because he is a person of quality musicianship. He would accept advice or anything suggested to him and in a short period of time he adapted to what we were doing in Issac's group. When he came to Klimax, he was already formed and in Klimax, as we say, he could be "set loose" and he could improvise. Because when working with Issac, you have to play in Issac's style, but in Klimax we have more liberty and this made it possible for him to develop more as an arranger and pianist.
Then came Huicho. His full name is Luis Andrés Rodríguez-Carillo. Huicho was similar he went for a long time without playing Cuban music he was the director of a jazz quartet. When he first joined Klimax he was a little out of it in this music, but it was easier for him to get on track because in our charts the tumbaos are written out and some of the tunes were already recorded. Now Huicho is not the same pianist who started with Klimax it happens to all of us when I began the group I too didn't have the knowledge and tricks which I now have about arranging and composition. The same thing happened to Huicho and thanks to his musicianship and cubanism he was able to incorporate himself in the group, which at the time was not easy because he had to replace Tony Pérez. Huicho also started to do latin jazz and wrote a magnificent tune called "Remonición", one we have to start playing again. This group is very democratic, meaning that the group can give opinions even the utileros [roadies] can give opinions and if they say there is one song or a coro they don't like we listen to them because they are like the public, so we take into account all their advice or suggestions. It's important to have this interaction in the group.
Marcus came into the group and there were many people who weren't familiar with him. He was the keyboardist for [his father] El Greco and then another group, and a friend who worked with him, Orlando Sánchez, a saxophonist whom I admire very much, recommended him to me and he said "have you heard Marquito?", I said "no, I haven't heard him as a pianist", and he said "well, I've heard him play jazz and Cuban music and he has the swing and cubanism that you're looking for". I tried him out and the same thing happened that happened with Huicho. He had only lacked the opportunity to develop himself, and in this case, we gave it to him. He has turned out to be a great pianist he has proven to have a big concept of musicality and we are happy with his work.
TIMBA.COM: How would you compare the role of the pianist in timba as opposed to traditional salsa?
PILOTO: I think in salsa the piano is more stable and guided in timba, the piano has more freedom as in jazz. For example in our arrangements I write almost all the tumbaos but Marcus sometimes changes it because he feels it differently and to date, I have never had to ask him to return to the original tumbao I wrote. I think the timba pianist, if he has it running through his blood, will automatically do things that fit in.
TIMBA.COM: Klimax has the most incredible and intricate arrangements. Once you have written a song, tell us the story of how the final arrangement is created. Do you use a computer? Do you work out the percussion breaks, bass lines, and piano montunos in advance and write them down? Or do the individual musicians work these out in rehearsal?
PILOTO: The arrangement is written prior. I don't use a computer. I take the arrangement to rehearsal and record it then peacefully at home I realize if it's something I want or if I'm going to change it, but the majority of the time the tumbaos are already stabilized. In the percussion there can be changes as well the conguero may suggest to do a different rhythm, or I may realize I may want to change the pattern from what I originally wrote, or the percussionist may want to switch to batá instead of holding time. This can happen, but normally its already analyzed in the head of the arranger. The horn lines are already written at the time of the original arrangement.
TIMBA.COM: As we study the great timba bands, we find many approaches to the configuration of the percussion section. Everyone has a conguero, but in Los Van Van and Manolito, one person plays both timbales and traps and another plays guiro. Likewise in Paulito's group, but the guiro is replaced by a bongocero. On the other hand, Issac, Bamboleo, Azúcar Negra, Manolín and Klimax divide the drums and timbales between two players. The Charangueros use a traditional rhythm section with the addition of the bombo. What are your thoughts on this, and, as a drummer, why do you choose to use a timbalero?
PILOTO: This was an idea that came from Issac's group. I think we were the second group to do it after Irakere, where for the first time in Cuban music the drummer and timbale player were both utilized. I'm not sure if you recall, when Irakere used [Enrique] Plas and Oscar Valdés. We use it in this case for the variety of things that we can do. In Cuban music its important to hear the clave, and if I have a conguero and a bongocero and I am playing drums and I am playing contracampana against the timbal, the clave will not appear at the moment and the clave is very important to hear in timba and in Cuban music. If I am holding down a certain rhythm on the drums, I am making it easier for the timbale player to play breaks or fills to bring in the horn lines. We have also added a bongo on the side [of the timbale kit] and he works with timbales and bongo, while playing the clave. He plays what the bongocero would usually play that way we don't have to use a bongocero. He also plays a guiro on stand and when we need to hear the guiro he too plays it, he's an integral percussionist who plays timbal, bongo, guiro and batá, so he becomes a very important person.
Bárbara: How incredible! I would love to say that one day.
PILOTO: Hopefully one day soon!
TIMBA.COM: Do you, or others in your band have "absolute pitch"?
PILOTO: I don't have "oído absoluto" but my uncle Barreto did have it.
TIMBA.COM: Who are your favorite composers in Classical, Jazz, and Rock music?
PILOTO: In classical music, Beethoven, Chopin, Ravel if you can call the works of Gershwin classical I would include him in that group.
In rock, Sting, Paul McCartney I like to listen more to soul, like Earth Wind and Fire and Chicago, but we haven't heard any more music from them.
In jazz, almost the whole world! I may never finish naming them: Chick Corea, The Brecker Brothers, Herbie Hancock on and on the many great jazz saxophonists.
TIMBA.COM: What are Klimax's performing plans for December and January?
PILOTO: We have various offers but here in Cuba I don' t pay too much attention to the offers until the contracts are signed.
The latest offer we have is to go to Europe (Spain) at the end of December  and we are organizing a tour to Japan in Jan/Feb, but these are things that are not confirmed and we haven't received the final "ok." We will be performing at the jazz festival in Havana Dec 17-21.
TIMBA.COM: Is there anything else you'd like to add for the benefit of the many musicians and other Klimax fans on the internet?
If in the future you have any comments or suggestions, they are welcomed. You can always contact us we are open to accept comments. also if there are suggestions we can give you we can do that too. When you see us around make sure you offer us your comments. You can contact me through my email email@example.com.