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Cuba based rap duo, Zona Franka, blends traditional rhythms with the grit and swagger of hip-hop and rap vocal phrasings. Their clever shout choruses create instant tropical dance classics using their unique self-titled "changui con flow" style.

Vitaly Osmachko - 2006

cuban music, musica cubana
Vitaly Osmachko

by Artem Ivantsov

AI: Vitaly, your appearance was, especially to me, your compatriot, like a comet that flashed across our minds and made everyone keep asking "What was that!?!?!?!". Could you, please, make the silhouette of your mysterious person more clear? Who are you, what are your roots and how did you happen to get into the music named "timba"?

VO: First, my person is not that mysterious. Everything is much simpler.

I was born in Popasnaya, a small town in Eastern Ukraine in a family of musicians. My mother sang, and my father played many instruments, including piano. My granddad played balalaika and my grandmother danced. Well, a typical Ukrainian family.

I came into music when I was three. First, it was the vinyl discs, all of which (they were 60) I learnt by heart by the time I was five. Among them there were Bremen Musicians and A Woman That Sings. I couldn't imagine that in 30 years life would acquaint me with a man who recorded those discs - a conductor Konstantin Krimets. I think it was not by accident. I think that was destiny.

cuban music, musica cubana
Vitaly in action on his guitar

My first instrument was my guitar. I was 6 then. The listeners from my yard were quite fond of a kid, whose guitar was almost the size of himself. They used to "kidnap" me to play at their parties, although my mother always knew where to look for me. I have wonderful reminiscences from those times.

My musical education is a piano. At 9 I grasped a bass-guitar too, and became a leader of a childrens ensemble at the respectable age of 14. Ever since I have had a special feeling for that instrument (later it was replaced by a baby-bass).

Then there was Kiev Polytechnic Institute.
In 1989 I became a member of a legendary Kiev group "Kvartira 50" ("Apartment 50"). I'm not going to tell about all the achievements and pranks of our group. I'm sure many Kievers have good memories of us. In 1990 I happened to get to Slovenia by accident. Obviously EL SEÑOR wanted it. Since then I have been living and working in Ljubljana. So, this "comet", as you said, in fact should better be called a "musician to the very marrow of his bones". That would be the most exact definition.

How did I happen to get into timba? That's more interesting. My first encounter with Latin music occurred in a place, where no one would expect it.

Venezuela! That was what served as an impulse to further addiction to salsa. Or more exactly, it was my acquaintance with a young singer from Venezuela Diego Barrios Ross (by the way, his granddad turned out to be from Moldova). As long as I remember myself, I never stuck to any styles, languages, etc. The passion for folkloric music has always been in me. Maybe that's the reason why "chanson" and romances are among my most beloved genres.

Our collaboration with Diego brought me to the world of salsa one day. He made me listen several songs of this genre. That was NY salsa. Sure, I heard that before, but it never got really deep into me. A bit later, still in 1998, I happened to hear two discs - Sofocandote by Paulito FG and Año que viene of Issac Delgado. It was them who turned me inside out and changed my perception of Latin music completely. Later I told that to Issac in Habana. No idea, though, if he believed it or not. But it does not affect my attitude to timba, rumba, guaguanco, etc.

AI: How would you define what timba is, including from the technical point of view? What does Cuban music mean to you, and why did you decide to go in for it?

VO: Salsa Nueva arose in front of me in all its beauty. That was a swampy thing indeed. The deeper I was going into it, the more it was getting under my skin. It was interesting, it was large-scale, with no breaks, no limits. It is hard to give a brief definition to timba. You should feel it. Besides, Desnudar tu cuerpo actually is not orto-timba. The music on this album first of all is my emotion, my personal perception, put on the note paper.

A discipline within complete freedom - let it be my definition of timba.

AI: tell us, please, about the project called "Vitaly y su Timba Habanera". How was it born? Why did you choose those musicians? What are those themes? Who wrote them? Who arranged? How much of Cuban music had you listened to before creating this album?

VO: in 1998 I went to Cuba, with no purpose, just to have a look at this music "live". I did not know anyone in Habana back then, but it was that my first trip to "rumba's cradle" that made me go in for a completely new, for me, musical stream. In Habana I met Eduardo Lavoy.

We spent virtually all the time in my first visit to Cuba together. He brought me to several Cuban recording studios. That was the best thing that could happened to me on my first trip to Cuba. In those days I got acquainted with great deal of the best Cuban musicians, including Tony Pérez (Tony Loco), Roberto Riveron, Tomas Panga, Adalberto Avila Candela, Yonder de Jesus Peña Llovet, Joaquín Betancourt and others.

But still I did not have any idea about doing any project. I was all ears, studying a way to combine the rhythm with the total liberation, new to me, so inherent in Cubans (and other Latinos as well). All that process of learning took about one month. During those 30 days I built my own base for understanding of salsa-timba, which later turned out to be a platform for Desnudar tu cuerpo. So, before having written my album, I had heard two salsa-albums and obtained some experience of gadding about the recording studios. Not much, but obviously it was enough to spark a volcano that was sleeping in me.

Back then it was only in my sub-consciousness. The impressions exploded in me several months after that, and moved to active consciousness. On one wonderful May day I wrote my first salsa-theme. It was Desnudar tu cuerpo, but it did not have that name yet. I was giving them interim names. The rest of the themes were written of themselves. Interesting to recall, virtually all the songs were written late at night, because during the daytime I did not have enough time "for Cuba" because of my very intense concert activity with my group "Mar Django Quartet". We were giving 5 to 6 concerts per week playing in style called gipsy-swing (like Django Reinhardt, but with vocals).

All the themes on the album were written by me, except for Adiós. The arrangements are mine too.

When I returned to Cuba in September 2000 and showed all that stuff to Lavoy, the things started developed lightning-like. Lavoy had listened the records in midi-format and was noticeably stunned with what he heard. I could see that he did not expect anything like that. Without explanations, he invited several very famous musicians to listen to my stuff.

I must say, that prior to listening to the material there had been lots of jokes about "Russian salsa" and various funny suggestions as of how to name the project from the Cuban side. Like, you know, another "salsero" from Europe, thank God that not from Japan, whom Cubans "love" so much, and who wants to make his "contribution" to the development of Cuban music! (laughter)

But all that disappeared from the very moment of beginning to listen to the material by Cuban aces. There was no "eurosalsero", nor "salsa Rusa" anymore. Just a unanimous and insistent opinion to go for VITALY y su TIMBA HABANERA project.

Then we started to write texts. The services in that field were suggested by the musicians in the course of listening to the themes. Virtually each of the guys chose a theme to write a text to.

It was very fun to discuss with the text-writers the ideas of the texts. The funniest theme fell into Lavoy's lot (Confusión), while el Gallo, having read the text, saw himself in it, and literally pulled out the rights to perform this song. Also, I invited a famous text-writer, Jose Valladares. But the majority of the texts were written by the musicians themselves. I would like to emphasize my gratitude to a young musician Eddy Hernandez Cruz. He wrote the lion's share of the album's texts. It was him who wrote the text for Mayito Rivera (Los Van Van), who performed a theme La mulata del Bembe. I remember very well how Mayito once asked me in Egrem Studio: - "Vitaly, tell me, do you have negros in your family?" The whole studio roared with laughter then.

As for selection of the musicians, the idea of how to record the album was clear after the themes were written. I still did not know many of the musicians, although I did follow those whom I liked, and was trying to form a combination which, as I thought, could bring the desired result. Thus, the following musicians appeared in my team: Tony Pérez (whom I already knew), Alexander Abreu Manresa, Miguel Ángel Valdez, Amauri Pérez Rodríguez, Frank Rubio, Coco Freeman, Román Filiu O'Reilly, José Pepito Gómez, José Marcos Greco (Klímax), Carlos Calunga Camareno, Rosendo Díaz Quellar "El Gallo", Raúl Nacianceno, Sergio Ricardo Luna Longchamp, Oliver Valdez, R. Amel Serra García, Herlan Sariol Llopis (Bamboleo), Ricardo Amaray Fernández (Manolito Simonet).

Now to the technical side of the project. Some of the musicians that I planned to invite to my team, were absent by the moment of recording. Tours, etc. That's why someone was invited by recommendations of those already invited. We easily found substitutes, but I have to confess that there was some kind of selection. It was related first of all, to the complexity of the themes to record. And since we had no time for rehearsals, old and tested warriors started to work right away. Virtually the whole album was recorded from the first take, so called "prima vista", although I need to mention that this is not the best option for an album like this. Those who implement similar projects, understand what I mean. But eventually what really matters is the final result, which is Señora Música.

I would like to tell you a funny story of how I got acquainted with several participants of the project. Several my friends from "Mar Django Project" decided to join me in recording in Cuba. In airport of Milan we noticed several Cubans that were going home after touring in Europe. We approached and started communicating. After we mentioned that we were going to Cuba to record an album, one of them asked, whom we were going to cooperate with. I answered that in Habana we were expected by Eduardo Lavoy. Then he asked: "Wait! Who's going to record trombones?". I said, that Amauri Pérez Rodríguez was. And then HIM (El SEÑOR) showed up for the second time, and destiny was completed. The friends of this man looked at him and smiled. "Amauri is me", - he said. We stared at him amazed. His next question was, who was going to record bass. We answered that Frank Rubio. They all turned to another man who stood aside and did not participate in the talk. "Frank!, - they called, - come here!". Everyone's mouths stretched and we heard a cheerful giggling. And when finally a big Cuban turned to me and asked about trumpets, and I said that Alexander Abreu Manresa, he only pointed at the tab on his jacket and rolled the eyes somewhere to the sky. The tab read with golden letters "A. Abreu". Now
everyone exploded with laughter, and I had nothing else to do, but to go to my suitcase for my liquor. One liter of vodka was drunk very fast. (laughter). Like in movies! An that was just one of many interesting moments in the project called Vitaly y su Timba Habanera.

AI: what difficulties did you encounter when getting your album onto international markets? What are the perspectives of timba, in your opinion, on the international markets? How is it possible to help it?

VO: First of all, some information for audiophiles. The album was recorded in studio Nuevo EGREM (Miramar - La Havana), and mixed by me and Paul Wickliffe at studio Skyline in New Jersey.

Besides, I would like to correct the information placed on the Internet. The recording was planned for January 2001 and was finished in time - before February the 3rd. That means, that Desnudar tu cuerpo saw the light in 2001, not in 2004 as it's mentioned on some Internet sites.

But to me personally this says that Desnudar tu cuerpo has no time limitations. It is proved by many album reviews beginning from December 2005, when the information appeared in Internet with some mp3-tracks. I did not know about this till February 2006.

It turns out that many people were looking for the album in Internet but were unable to buy it, because the distributor (Nika company) did not do anything to get it onto the international markets. That was my biggest mistake, and even the fact that I was recording it without keeping in mind the earnings issue, does not justify me. Later, after having heard the reaction of those lucky who bought it, I understood how good it was to convey this album to the people. I think that the music is never destined for itself, it belongs to the listeners. The best thing to do would be to look for a big recording company and to issue the album again, this time for big markets. I don't see any alternative. Thanks God, now I have some time to dedicate to it.

As for timba's perspectives on the world markets, I have to admit that there are certain difficulties.

Timba has better followers in Latin world itself. In Europe it faces certain problems concerning its technical side and certain complexity. Finally, even within the style itself there are different attitudes in perception. As we say, there are no friends for the taste or colour. On the other hand, I understand completely why my album was accepted better in Latin world - there was no due promotion. I think, it can be corrected.

And finally, I witness that timba's popularity grows both in Europe and other parts of our sometimes so small planet.

The only thing that I would like to advise to the new followers of this style, start your acquaintance with timba gradually. Better if there are some people beside, who can explain you all the beauty of this style, without running ahead of your father into the hell (another Ukrainian saying). Otherwise, those who are new to it, might be scared away, finding it too complicated and not interesting. I can assure you, that even those accustomed to timba not always are able to stand certain timba's impulses. The assistance of that kind is quite wide-spread in Italy, for example, where there are many Latin immigrants. This is a great thing for timba's popularity. The growing number of salsa schools will eventually contribute to its popularity too.

Tranquilo, asere... No te apures...

AI: How important is it to you that your timba be danceable? By the way, do you dance yourself?

VO: As I mentioned in the beginning, I was simply flowing along the stream of emotions, without any peculiar goal. The danceable automatism in this music is its integral part and comes by itself, without any special
invitation. Do I dance? Yes I dance (and sing) as long as my playing my instrument on stage permits me this. (laugher)

AI: What are your musical interest outside of Cuban music? What other projects have you implemented?

VO: In music I'm interested in a lot of things - from bards (trovadores) to symphonic music. I try to be aware of everything new that happens in the world. Many now try to discover something new. Stop trying to discover the hot water! It has been discovered long ago (laughter). Melody and rhythm - these have been the main things in music for long time.

I have various project on my account. From romances and chanson to gipsy swing and symphonic music. One of my last project is called "Svetloba v zhitu". This album was recorded jointly with Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Konstantin Krimets - the same man who arranged those vinyl discs of my childhood. The album contains ballads, tangos, chanson and bard songs. It was recorded in Ljubljana, Moscow and New York.

AI: What projects are you doing now? Can we count on your new timba albums?

VO: Before answering this "provocative" (laughter) question, I would like to mention a couple of projects, not related to timba - one solo album, and another - with Mar Django Quartet.

I must say that since recently I've been thinking more and more about continuation of "Vitaly y su Timba Habanera" project. The reason is in growing number of good reviews of my timba album. Besides, many Cubans and
"los otros latinos" constantly reproach me that during last 5 years I have not done anything new in salsa. Maybe because I don't like to do anything by forcing myself. But now looks like I've become ripe enough for new feats. Besides, there are some new materials. I have not forgotten timba, neither the words of Tony Pérez and Frank Rubio about my encroachment upon Cuban music (laughter), So, yes, you can count on my new timba albums. I think I have not said my last word yet in Latin music. I'm sure the follow-up will be interesting.

AI: What are you preferences in world music and in Cuban in particular?

VO: As I already mentioned, I try to avoid preferences in music. I like good music and this is my philosophy. It has all my preferences. If I don't understand the language, nevertheless I feel this music. Music is a powerful thing itself, which doesn't need any philosophising. That's my point of view. As for the Cuban music, I prefer salsa erotica and salsa nueva with jazz elements.

AI: Does Vitaly y su Timba Habanera already have a touring history? What plans and ideas do you have in this respect?

VO: Plans seldom correspond to reality. Last year I had such an idea, but it did not come to a point of realization. If taken everything into account, the touring idea does not seem reasonable for now. You would need strong promotion and powerful team which is eager to implement it. So far I have not had time for such attacks. I think, first, it could be great to introduce the album to the masses. Two, three concerts is not a problem. But it's not what interests me most in this project. But this idea is quite possible to be realized too.

AI: Vitaly, the collective of still trying to be born magazine MUSIC IN LATIN wishes to you much luck and much fame that you undeservedly lack today. Viva Cuba y viva Ucrania!

VO: In my turn I would like to wish to all the readers of MUSIC IN LATIN and happiness, good health and great upcoming 2007 year (despite that we are in September still, I hope to be the first one to do this on your popular site, laughter). Be happy, friends!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011, 07:32 PM