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Los Van Van’s Juan Formell Still Has the Last Word.. [ Part 2]

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Los Van Van’s Juan Formell Still Has the Last Word.. [ Part 2]

Post by Del Piero on Fri Apr 17, 2009 2:01 am

A woman in Van Van?

—Did you include a female singer to follow a trend or in search of a new sound?

— Neither of the two. I started to review the practical results of the orchestra. We do two international tours a year: one in the winter and another in the summer, with more than 20 dates each. We have to travel more than 10 or 12 hours a day by bus, and sometimes held over in an airport up to six hours because the flight is delayed.

Playing a concert every day for more than two-and-a-half hours is really tough, especially for the singer who has to sing both the solos and the choruses. The chorus wears you down more than the solo because they can last up to ten minutes. However, women have a different range; what is more comfortable for a woman can be too high-pitched for a man.

The choruses of Van Van are distributed among the different voices: the highest-pitched voice is Mayito’s —the most important singer. He was getting really hurt with the choruses, but Yeni is very comfortable with them. That was the first reason.

The second was Team Cuba. When Jose Luis Cortes discovered Yeni and put her in his line-up, I said to myself, ‘That young girl can really sing.’ I knew what she could sing. When she first joined the orchestra, her presence was questioned by many people, and I would say, ‘Take it easy, let people have a good listen to her first.’

There have not been many female son singers in the history of Cuban music. Generally, they perform boleros and ballads, with some exceptions, such as Omara Portuondo, Elena Burke and others.

But there have not been as many female soneras with the same inspiration and ability as male soneros, because of the words used. It is easy for men to say, ‘Mulatona, you’re so sexy.’ For a woman, it’s more difficult to say that, she has to find another way to improvise. And I think Yeni does it well.

The other thing was replacing Pedrito Calvo, who, during his last period with the orchestra, more than a voice, was an icon and replacing that was not going to be easy. If I would have put in Lele alone, he would have been immediately compared to Pedrito and people would have completely thrashed him. Yeni was the one who took the beating instead.

I did it on purpose. I knew they would just focus on the woman and leave him alone. That was the strategy I used and it worked. Little by little, Yeni convinced the people and nobody ever criticized Lele. Although he does not have the same vocal abilities as Pedrito, he has grace and charisma.

Son is in danger

—How would you evaluate the current state of Cuban popular music?

—We aren’t really seeing a changing of the guard when it comes to Cuban popular music, something that would guarantee its future. It’s not discernible in any area. Some immigrate; others spend most of their time performing outside Cuba and lose their contact with the [Cuban] public.

There are many problems. One of them is that the musicians don’t receive salaries. In other words, the orchestra may be without work for X reasons and we’re not earning anything.

The law of supply and demand also comes into play. I ask for a certain amount of money and if you are willing to pay me, perfect. But if not, either I don’t work or I have to accept your conditions. I’ve heard of musicians who only get paid lunch. We’re in a very critical situation.

So what some people are doing is going to Cancún, Veracruz or Merida to perform for a while. This is bad for Cuban music because people are looking for long contracts abroad, not just for a few weeks. There have been people who have been abroad for almost two years. They come, renew their passports, and leave. One sees groups that have a good start and then disappear from the music scene. It’s not because they left the country, it’s because they work abroad to survive.

If they’re here, sometimes they can spend up to three months without performing. We have worked towards defending orchestras with talent to include them in the larger concerts with the first tier orchestras, which are indeed the ones that guarantee turnout.

Record producers, musicians, and singers are gathering together to form a commission of the Union of Cuban Artists and Writers (UNEAC) to draft a document with all these concerns.

We’ve explained that the musicians from second tier orchestras should have a salary, to guarantee they remain in the bands and generate new creations. If we keep up as we’re going, we’ll have a crisis similar to the one in the 1960s. People will only want to listen to foreign music and not ours.

—What has happened to the places where the popular Cuban bands frequently played?

—They’re practically all gone, although people demand them. The concert belongs to both the people who go to dance and the orchestra. This close contact is essential.

Now, there are the Capri and Macumba, which are always crowded. La Tropical is now used just for rock music. For me [La Tropical] is the Benny Moré Hall of popular music, so let’s use it for that. There are other places more suitable for people to listen to rock and rap. They have warped the true meaning of La Tropical.

There are also EGREM’s Casa de la Música. But the problem is that it’s pretty hard for people to come up with the 25 CUC to get in. You know what that amount of money represents to a Cuban. There are other places where small groups can play but they’re being used to present comedians and recorded music because it is cheaper.

It’s a dangerous situation, because before they know it, we will have lost many places. Young people do not have a place to go to dance. They go to the theater one day, but they also want other options. Many will go to the Malecón to drink rum, and that’s not healthy. They should have affordable places for the public.

Family, life and dreams

—Have you made incursions into other artistic expressions?

—No, though I like painting and writing. Once I was talking to Miguel Barnet, and he was telling me, ‘I can write a book, but I can’t write three-minute stories. You do that in a song.’ It’s true, but I would have liked to have written a book. Maybe I still have time now that I’m not playing with the orchestra every day.

—Are you married?

—Yes, with the mother of my youngest daughter, who’s a lot younger than me. We’ve been married for nearly 20 years, the longest marriage I’ve been in.

I see myself as a stable person. I’m not saying I’m a role model or anything like that, I’ve done horrible things, but you can’t hold regrets. Life takes you down different paths. If you manage to correct your wrongs on time, you will make it.

—How has work affected Formell as a husband and a father?

—I’m a complex father. A musician sometimes has to leave their family unattended and make them their second priority. That’s not good. I’ve had many problems, especially with my kids, with behaviour problems and misunderstandings.

One day, we worked it all out, although the final balance is negative because when the child needed me to be there, I wasn’t. Or I was, but doing something else. It takes its toll when you get older and realizes the mistakes you’ve made.

Luckily, in the end, all my children adore me and have forgiven my mistakes. The oldest, Juan Carlos, is 43. He plays the guitar and lives in New York. He’s been nominated twice for a Grammy. Samuel is 40 years old. The third one is Elizabeth, she’s 39 and works with me.

Then there’s Vanesa, who’s 30 and also sings. The youngest one is Paloma, who studies piano and is 18. I have three grandchildren. In short, I don’t think I’ve been a bad father, generally speaking, but it hasn’t been easy; I think this happens to almost all artists.

This article also availabe in facebook:
Del Piero
Del Piero

Posts : 4
Join date : 2009-04-15
Age : 39
Location : Dubai

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