Next September 14, the author of songs like Carnaval and En Casa, Goodwill Ambassador of the UNICEF, Cuba will perform at the Nu-Wave Festival at the Olympia Theater in Miami with Descemer Bueno, Lena Burque and Gema Corredera.
The news place him at the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe during the Terre de Blues Festival, on stage at the Atrium Martinique, Fort de France, singing with his son Rocco; they described the bohemian spirit, wise and elegant of his compositions to promote his presentation at the French festival of Gordes; announce his concert in the Pabellon Cuba for hundreds of Havana youth; refer the prompt appearance of the new album which mysterious saga that intrigues his fans around the world; reveal him in a promotional of the Cuban Musicarte meeting, to be held in Cayo Santamaría, in May 2014, and report that he will join other countrymen in Cuba Nu-wave, to be held on September 14 at the Olympia Theatre in Miami.
For Raul Paz all these things make a manifest destiny, like his return home after settling as a musician of international renown, after seventeen years of residence abroad, most of them in France, where he is known and revered as a native artist .
“Everyone has its own path- Paz says. The roads are very long and tangled and because an issue of respect, I would not compare or judge anyone in their decisions. Everyone has to find his. For some, as it was for Perez Prado, maybe the way was to come back. For me it was necessary, and return to my town, my childhood home occasionally. Returning is getting to know yourself also, learning to be, because the past marks the future, and a different viewpoint can be very important in the life of a human being.
“Never my going was without return. One of the things that hurt me the most about leaving at that time was that when you left, you did not return. Thanks to God and the many things that is evolving, because everyone should have the right to return. This is your country, your homeland, the site of where you come from. “
How did you get the reaction of the Cuban public after many years of absence?
“For me, the Cuban public is the greatest thing in life. When I thought of returning I was living in France, where I had painstakingly made me a recognized artist, even accepted by the French as a national artist. In full career in France appeared the possibility of returning and I did not think twice, but my big problem was this: how will I be received in Cuba?
“In the end you spend many years representing Cuba in some way, making music saying” I’m Cuban” but was that music identifiable in Cuba? That terrified me. To press the situation first I did a concert in the Acapulco movie theater here in 2007 – still living there – out of which we made a DVD. For me it was the acid test. Already the Mama song was playing, but it was a single. It was the most extraordinary thing in the world to get to that stage – the first time I played in Cuba, because I left before becoming a singer – and feel the heat, see the faces of the people waiting for me as if I never left, as I was always here and everybody knew me, and the audience there and with that smile.
“Especially the complicity, which is what you should never lose, being on stage and feel that even the smallest detail is understood. I had adapted to sing in Spanish for people who barely understand Spanish and I lost that deep complicity, I made it up with music, but when I said a certain phrase nobody reacted, because the cultural and language differences prevented understand certain things. In this concert of Acapulco I said a certain phrase, made some gesture, and saw that all the people understood and were in tune with me, knew exactly what I was talking about, what I was referring to … was the biggest thrill I’ve had as an artist.
“I did not expect in this way: get to Cuba and enjoy an acceptance by the people as fast and good. I always say that I have great luck: my music, of course, will not reach everyone, but I have the luck to have an audience ranging from children, to young people up to the elderly and that to me is a divine gift. I live with enthusiasm and with much love, happy to be here. “…
I WANTED TO BE AN ARTIST
For the Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, childhood should be a time of high creativity in human life. His passion for the arts was sparked in those years of infinite curiosity, “for the naughty boy, who did many pranks, was hyperkinetic and was always very restless”, his vocation was revealed. “They took me occasionally to see a specialist for that unleashed creative “schizophrenia “at the time. He had like a double condition: was very good in school, when I unfolded into a little boy and I became serious, all responsible, and it was a bit of a demon in the street and the house. Then, in the midst of this disaster were the arts as a means of escape from many things.
“I remember a very important day for me, when my next door neighbors gave me a guitar, who practically became my second parents. And from that day I started spending all my energy in music. I studied piano, then some violin. At that time there was a very important activity in the villages with the Houses of Culture. I owe practically everything I am to the House of Culture of the village of San Luis, where I had a very attentive art instructors, they led me not only in music, also in theater and the arts. “
Did you always know you were going to be a musician?
“I wanted to be an artist. That was clear. And I even dabbled in dance, which was over very quickly. “
Why was it over too fast?
“I love to dance, but I’m a little stiff. I lack flexibility and mobility, and I always like that. When I was studying dance, the first thing to do is a bit of stretching and too much of crab. The same happened to the arts. I loved the idea of painting, but I am kind of color blind, confuse all colors. And nothing, then I was out. Then I had few options left: theater and music. For a long time the two were important I did not know what to do, until I slowly went deeper in music studies, which you start early. And I think I made the right decision. “
And how was the atmosphere at home regarding the arts?
“It was very special because no one was an artist, nor imagined, or wanted to be. At home they didn’t even listen to radio it was like living among deaf. Nobody liked the music. They put the TV and, if there was a music program, they changed to a movie. The only thing my father watch was Palmas y Canas. “
Palmas y Canas? The TV show dedicated to country music?
“Yes. That was my only contact with music at home. Luckily, there were the friends around, at school, and then the House of Culture that made me discover the Cuban trova. And then in San Luis we had a lot of music, especially disputes on the streets of the town. And that fascinated me, because it was people singing and acting at the same time, improvising, there were poets and music, or it was a combination very close to the musical comedy, which fascinated me. “
At one point you seemed to be forever away from the art world; how was it?
“My parents found funny I pretended to be a musician, but for them that had no future. And to make things worse, I was pretty good in school, applied, so what was “normal” was for me to pursuit a normal career, as they said.
“So without forcing me – because my parents never really forced me – I was driven to the idea that better get a normal career, going to what were the Vocational schools before, and I was convinced that it was possible to make a career, and even started thinking about the idea of being an architect. It’s all the “far” from art I thought I would ever be. But, well, that did not last long. “
And in high school somehow you got involved somehow to music?
“They did not know at that school there was a trap, because the amateur movement was highly developed, and since you entered they did some tests to you to see if you had it to be an artist or athlete. I was to be an artist and then went to the circles of interest, with teachers of harmony, music theory, music. Fate was written and slowly I began to grab the lead in the musical, we started the school group, and became “the musicians” of the Vocational. “
When did you raise the issue to your family seriously, you were going to dedicate yourself professionally to art?
“I came through eleventh grade, and for me it was clear that at least will give it a shot to a career more related to music and art. So I went to an aunt who was in Havana, and said: “Auntie, what if I get kicked out of my house, would you pick me up?” So we made a deal that yes, I could come to her house. So I went to talk to my parents and told them I was leaving, that I would not study the senior year in Pinar del Rio because I wanted to enroll in the Art Institute, and for that I had to be in Havana.
“And it was like that, I had some problems at home, but eventually they understood. My aunt received me here. It was a year where I changed the perspective of many things. I was lucky to find a great teacher, Armando Suárez del Villar who helped me prepare and place me, giving me tickets to go to the theater, opera, ballet, and for me to see some things I had never seen; unfortunately, the culture still today, is very concentrated in the capital.
“It was a very fruitful year. Then I did the exams to enroll in the ISA on the faculty of theater and singing in the music one. Then I made it to both, and I was asked to take both at the same time, which was crazy. I started to, but that lasted two or three months because I had twice as many subjects. So Suarez del Villar sat me down and said, “Well, what do you feel more like, musician or actor?” And me without much thought, I said, “Actually what I feel like is a musician.” I decided to study classical singing, though always Suarez insisted in participating in theater courses as very important for singers. And I always stayed tied to Performance Studies.
From that duality was born the experience of starring in the film Hello, Hemingway where playing guitar and acting where necessary ingredients to take on the character; what did the work with director Fernando Perez give you?
“In my experience as an artist over the years, the most important thing has always been realizing, not what I want to do, but what I do not want to do. Hello, Hemingway served me to realize once and for all and be sure that I didn’t want to be an actor. And that, in a way, I owe to Fernando, a great director of actors. Before starting the shooting of the film he took us to his house, me and Laura de la Uz – the other star – we practically lived with him, and explained from the beginning, which is to be an actor, what are the risks, all the dynamics, the effort, the sacrifice of a serious career. It’s not what you think at first, when you are 18, that being an actor is to be famous and make a face.
“I have been called many times after that to make movies. But I always said no because being an actor is very serious and I have much respect for the actors and cinema. And that respect I acquired filming Hello, Hemingway with Fernando, who is implacable, that when you’re recording is able to make you mourn, to make you laugh, that is, life is what is happening there and so that involves you is yours too. And it was a very rich experience for me. Over time, I make myself my video clips, where everything I know or the notions of this world I grabbed them there. For me it was great to be in the first year of the ISA and have access to a so respected director, and admired film with such an important role, where I learned a lot. “
The path of the musician became increasingly stronger in your life and you were perfecting the musical illustration. In what way?
“When I decided I was going to stay in the music I also noticed I was lagging behind my classmates. They passed through schools of art since childhood. After that they became great composers, performers, conductors … as Elio Villafranca, Carlos Puig, Ivan del Prado…
“I immersed myself in the music, to study and get back all the time I had in some way wasted. I worked well in classical music that fascinated me, though it was not whereI came from. That led me to apply for a scholarship at the Schola Cantorum in Paris, which is a branch of the Paris Conservatoire, where I specialized in classical singing and contemporary music of the late nineteenth century – the so-called impressionist. “
Having studied classical music and having vocal conditions you moved to other kind of music: Why did you make that choice?
“From my big existential discussions with the teacher Suarez del Villar, that was an issue. He made us work in the operas produced at the Grand Theatre. I was fortunate to participate in La Traviata, in a contemporary opera in the first Festival of Lyric Art in Havana.
“from that last one, named Hemingway, I have a very good story. It took a child character in the opera. In a moment they came to a scene from The Old Man and the Sea, Santiago the fisherman with a child. A Russian had written the play and put a sentence that alleged child told Santiago. Hugo Marcos, the great Cuban baritone, was playing Hemingway and was also my teacher at the time. So they chose me to make that character coming mid opera, amidst a lot of people dancing. It was crazy, a contemporary opera with weird music.
“It was the first time I sang at the Grand Theatre, with Elena Herrera, who conducted the orchestra. The world premiere day, something very funny happened: I should get in to sing my bit and since in the rehearsal nobody knew what to do; it was in 28 for 39, a thing that no one could understand Elena always gave the tickets and I got it always wrong. At one point, she tells me: “Look, you’re behind her, she comes, says the text, then you, you say yours and you go faster because the ballet comes behind you.
“That day everyone came from Pinar del Rio because the child was going to sing in an opera. I stood nervously in the leg of the stage – I will never forget the image of my parents there along my uncles. And I was looking at the girl behind which I had to enter. And suddenly, I start to feel a noise behind me and a group progressed, and the ballet was coming out. The girl forgot to enter, and therefore I never sang. But best of all is that, when the opera ends, my parents applauded excited. “
And after the story, let’s get back to the question. Why stay away from classical music if you had entered that world with lots of knowledge?
“I was passionate about classical music, but I did not see myself singing and as was done in Cuba and the world at that time. I couldn’t picture myself standing next to a piano, a tuxedo, singing. And those were my great discussions with the cast of teachers in the ISA. Then I used to tell them: “I’m going to study because I like it and think it’s a way to educate my voice, but I know I won’t be able to do it.”
“The teacher, who was always very encouraging, replied me:” Do not worry, one day perhaps operas can be done in a more modern way. “This is the case today for many managers, especially German and Nordic that set very contemporary operas, where you have to act and where you really need opera singers to be actors.
“So I took it as a career that was going to study, it was going to serve me as a basis for what I wanted to be. From Pinar del Rio I had brought my little guitar and my songs, writing from a very young age. Arriving in Paris to study at the Schola Cantorum, I found a very precise reality: I had earned the scholarship, the French state was paying me a part of the studies, but I had to work to pay the house rent, life, a reality I had never confronted in Cuba.
“I do not know if it’s for better or worse, I experienced it very well, the fact of studying and working, there is an age at which you become aware that you have to build and not wait for graduation to start from scratch. As I wanted to work in music, I went looking through the bars of Paris a place that would accept me well, singing my songs, because nobody would accept me with classical music, until I finally found a Mexican restaurant and bar in the Bastille, which were ran luckily for me by an Arab who had no idea of Latin music. I explained that I had a group and could enliven the nights there, and eventually convinced him to hire me.
“Gradually it was gaining the temperature, until one day a producer, as happens in the movies, saw me, we started talking, I decided to make a record, and I became convinced to make my own music, always telling me someday I would return to the opera, I didn’t know if as a classical singer or director, I do not know if the bad nights will allow me. Because one of the things that discouraged me was that 18 years be an opera singer is like being a priest, you are doomed to a rigor: not smoke, not drink, not go out at night. And I …”
Never had monastic vocation…
No, not that vocation.
Paz, you found your own path in music. But from your view, what kind of music do you do? Or maybe, what kind of music you would not do?
“That second question I can answer you the best. In any case, the only thing I’ve discovered in many years, which is not much, is you have to make music according to what one feels and what one is. You have to be very honest with the music and not compromise – at least not so often – because the most important thing is to respect yourself as a human being.
“Then the music I make is like me, is a mixture of many things that I experienced, a lot of music that I had to interpret. In the restaurant where I worked to finance part of my studies in France, I became a specialist in traditional Cuban music. I studied a few cassettes sent at that time, with the Trio Matamoros, and the old trova of Santiago to learn them by heart. I learnt the deep Cuban music and diverse ranging from Bola to Guillermo Portavales, one of those with greater influence upon me who is not well-known in Cuba, but definitely left an imprint in country music.
“So what I do in my music is to relate everything I was or have been. I try to make it a very good experience for me and I can reach people. Hence the need to find a mechanism – always very honest and respectful, to communicate the things I want. “
How many years were you out of Cuba?
Seventeen in total.
I remember listening to Raul Paz performing Portavales “El Carreretero” at the Olympia Theater in Paris where only a select few of international music sing. A fervent audience was singing and shouting happy with their musician. And through that presentation, in times where you had already achieved a reputation as a composer and performer internationally and I think you weren’t even thinking of coming back you said amid the excitement and in the most spontaneous way: “Long live Cuba! Something very deep and heartfelt brought you back. What is it?
“It was never in me the idea to go in a definitive way, I do not believe in the ultimate in all cases in these areas. One is where it is, where it came from and where it wants to be. Cuba was still my country, despite living out that even at a given time relations with Cuba were not the best. But I was still Cuban. The story is that anyway, wherever I stand in the world to sing, I am a Cuban, I’m not just because I was born here, but because I feel it as my country and defend its culture.
“What you appreciated of this moment of the concert was something as you say, very spontaneous, but I usually spend a lot on this interest to show people what we are and what we aspire to more and more: a united country that belongs to all Cubans who truly feel it.
“And in my music there is much Cuban identity. Much more than people imagine, because when I compose – usually guitar and sometimes piano – many of the themes that come out at the beginning are just guarachas or sons, which is closely related to Cuba, my traditions – should Palmas y Canas from my father, or such disputes in San Luis, mixed with classical music and much more. I have a way of phrasing that comes from Cuban rumba, very rhythmic phrasing, unkempt, not established.
“Most of my songs you can play the claves behind, even at rock rhythm or soul. Cuba in my music has always been very present. So it was clear for me to come back. I wrote a song called En Casa, which talks about this issue, while still in France. And two years later I returned to Cuba, and here I am mostly happy because I learn new things and because I keep in touch with a new Cuban world that fascinates me.
You see yourself as a San Luis man, but Havana remains stubbornly in your compositions. How do you explain that?
I’m a big Pinar del Rio man, a big supporter of my hometown San Luis, and I love them, but truly Havana marked an important moment in my music. Getting to Havana with 17 years and meet the fascinating world that is this wonderful city – I have been fortunate to be in many cities of the world and confirm that – was decisive. It remains a city that envelops you and fills you with feelings, sometimes good, sometimes bad. But once you’ve been through Havana you never fail to keep it in mind. Yes, in many of my songs Havana is my Cuban symbol, as a symbol of this country. “
You recognize that you are a kind of chronicler of life in Cuba and especially Havana?
“Ah, the chronicle as the axis of my songs. I was always fascinated by those references to medieval minstrels, troubadours of the time that went from village to village telling stories. I thought that our fundamental role, that of contemporary singers and songwriters (we are in some way the troubadours of our time), is to attest to those moments, experiences that may bring us closer to recreating painter’s craft very precise moments. I like the minstrel role of raconteur, true or false, but that in some way depict a historical period and a close reality. “