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CHUY TALKS TIMBA
TIMBA music has been one of my most favorite forms of contemporary Cuban music. Many Timba bands such as Issac Delgado, Bamboleo and most recently Manolin have appeared to sell out crowds. But since I wanted to know more about Timba, I decided to talk with Chuy Varela, host of the popular Sunday afternoon Salsa and Latin Jazz radio show on KCSM. Chuy is a wealth of knowledge about the history, evolution and new developments on the Latin music seen. Here are excerpts from our interview.
Several people have said the word TIMBA was coined by Juan FORMELLL ( leader
of Los Van Van). WHAT DOES THE WORD s "TIMBA" MEANT?
Timba describes a certain feeling, vibe and is used as an umbrella term to define some new dynamics in Cuban music.
SO TIMBA JUST MEANS VIBE OR GROOVE. I HAVE ALSO HEARD PEOPLE SAY THAT TIMBA IS A WAY OF SAYING "LETS GET TOGETHER AND JAM."
Timba is a vibration that parallels what happened in the United States to Soul music and Funk. Soul was about a form of interpretation and how the music was delivered. With people like Aretha Franklin gave it a new found expression and freedom. In the 70's Funk brought in grooves to excite and refresh its danceability. The same thing is happening in Cuban music. Because of what when down after the revolution, Cuban culture changed dramatically and a new sound evolved based on the work of Juan Formell and the innovation of songo. The songo began to incorporate elements of Funk and pop. Now Timba follows in that line of external influences taking it to another generational level by drawing heavily from contemporary hip-hop and funk horns like Earth, Wind and Fire. Timba is building on its songo roots and evolving the groove. The instrumentation of Timba groups is very important to giving it more of a contemporary footing. They adapted the trap drum set and innovated the Latin rhythm section so that it was no longer the standard set-up of the timbales, bongo, conga and that’s it. Now their rhythm sections include trap drums, congas, timbales and percusion meno ( hand percussionists), who play guiro or bell and sometimes bongos, a lot of bands have stopped using bongo players.
NOW GETTING BACK TO SONGO, IF I WANT TO HEAR SONGO, WHAT SORT OF RECORDINGS WOULD I BE LOOKING AT?
SONGO is Los Van Van. They basically invented it. If you go back and listen to the early recordings of Orchestra Reve when Juan Formell was the bass player with them, you begin to hear those hip bass lines he was adding to the traditional Son Changui beats. Reve basically brought the last vestige of the rural son montuno, which was the son chagui and urbanized it. When Juan Formell started Los Van Van, he was going for a pop sound sohe took that elements of the son-changui and urbanized it along with Changuito, Jose Luis Quintana, and another drummer named Blas Egues, brother of Richard Egues, and came up with songo. If you listen to the early Egrem recordings of Los Van Van you will hear the raw funkiness and Reve texture of trombones and violins.
THE FIRST I NOTICED ABOUT TIMBA WAS THE HORN SECTION. WHAT GIVES IT THAT SPECIAL KIND OF 70’S FUNK FLAVOR?
The band that was particularly important in establishing those horn riffs was Irakere. The Irakere horn section was an incredible section—Arturo Sandoval, Paquito D’Rivera, Jorge Varona, Carlos Averhoff, Jose Luis Cortes, Orlando Maraca Valle--these people were doing the most amazing playing. They were drawing from jazz as well as their virtuoso classical training which gave them the technical proficiency to play anything but always conscious of the clave.
The biggest difference between American music and Cuban music is how the clave is readapted. Back when Chano Pozo hooked up with Dizzy Gillespie, he did not understand that. Chano really did not swing with the American Jazz. It was people like Ray Barretto, Sabu Martinez, Candido Camero, Armando Peraza and Mongo Santamaria got the clave to swing. Irakere did the same thing but they took it to another level with a contemporary spin and fusing it with real Afro based rumba and santeria. They used those riffs. There’s a great tune called "Concierto Para Metales" that part of the album Misa Negra on Messidor that is a great example of that horn virtuosity with a funky feel.
That generation of players who were with Irakere became the teachers in the music conservatories. Stellar players like Jesus "Chucho" Valdes and others of his generation emerged in the 80’s and early 90’s and began teaching the Timba generation. These are the new musicians fueling this whole TIMBA tscene. They are now growing up with a new perspective on contemporary music that includes a better understanding of jazz.
In my interviews with Dizzy Gillespie, he said it that Jazz Music is articulated more like the "Spoken word" and the Cuban tradition is more like the classical. The way a musician approaches a note in Jazz—it has like a WAAAH to it, like the Spoken word. The way that you approach it in classical music it is like "DAT". It is sharp and precise. Irakere loosened up those horn lines and made them freer and funkier. They made them swing!
about the lyrics in Timba music?I think of it as urban music.
You bring up the whole point of what Timba is. When I went to Cuba in 1997, there was this great movement of artists that were fueling the music. Bamboleo was fresh out the gate. Haila Momprie was a little ball of fire. You had NG la Banda their musical dynasty. Then there was Issac Delgado. Manolin at his peak doing his hits like "La Bola". The vibe was incredible but it was the sonero spirit they showcased that talked about their urban reality with witty metaphors and prose. re was this vibrancy. In some cases you had to read between the lines to understand what they were saying –criticizing their way of life.
Now a lot of people are trying to find a formula for the Timba sound in attempts to commercialize it. When you hear performers like Carlos Manuel, you see where Timba is going. It is a very commercial , assimilated sound that to a certain degree waters down the groove capability.
The best band that I ever saw was Charanga Habanera with all the original players. It was like this volcano erupting. People instantly are locked into what they were doing. What I have heard them do later with the re-formed Charanga Habanera—it doesn’t have the same feel, the same swing. It is going more towards the Hip-hop –Rap thing that's the sound younger bands are trying to emulate.
I WONDER OF SOME OF THAT OLD STYLE TIMBA IS STILL IN CUBA BUT NOT GETTING THE KIND OF INTERNATIONAL PRESS OF CARLOS MANUEL. IS THERE A CORE OF THAT WHICH IS STILL AROUND?
There are lots of bands that we have never seen here that are amazing. One of the great songwriters and drummers in Cuba is Geraldo Piloto. Gerald Piloto has been very important in really laying down a continuance to the roots set out by Changuito and Van Van in the songo. Gerald Piloto is one that people really need to experience. Also Manolin Y Su Trabuco. They also have some elements of that Pinar Del Rio Son. The other guy that has been very important but has not gotten the exposure is Pachito Alonzo. Pachito is a little bit older but he maintains a potent band and performs a lot in Europe. But the band I wish I could have seen and one tha I feel gave Timba its framework is Opus 13. Paulito Fernandez Galle was part of Opus 13. But they did not last that long but they evolved into Paulito's backup band.
I HAVE ALSO HEARD THAT AFRO CUBA WAS ANOTHER BAND THAT WAS INSTRUMENTAL IN THE EVOLUTION OF TIMBA.
AfroCuba was an electronic fusion band that surfaced at the same time as Irakere. They were really electronically driven by a star keyboardist Hernan Lopez-Nussa who drew from what Chick Corea was doing. They began to put more songo beats into their tunes. Their first EGREM recordings made a big impact on the Puerto Rican band Batcumbele. Batacumbele was one of the few bands that could go deep into this new style of music. It was very complex with intense the counterpoint. The band consisted of Giovanni Hidalgo, David Sanchez, Papo Vasquez and Jerry Medina who sang and played trumpet. Their first albums had dance material but later they got deeply into jazz fusion and became more of a jazz band than a dance band.
IF SOMEBODY THEY WANTED TO REALLY CAPTURE THE ESSENCE OF TIMBA, WHAT CDs WOULD YOU SUGGEST THEY GET?
(to purchase these albums now, click here!)
A CD that came out on RMM under the Forbidden Cuba series with Paulito and Opus 13 called "Dance and Romance". (search for Paulito in Store)
Another important one is to get the Urban essence of Timba is "En la Calle" by NG La Banda recorded on Qba disk. That one is the real standard for what people call Timba. Check out "La Bruja" by NG la Banda even though everything they do is smoking.
Another important one is by El Medico on Ah-Nama called "Para Mi Gente". (Search for Medico in Store)
Issac Delgado is really important and some of the early recordings really show his vibrancy. He came out of NG La Banda. A real classic for him is "El Ăno Que Viene", reissued by RMM. (Search for Delgado Isaac, or Delgado, in Store).
The one that is my favorite is the album he did for RMM called "Otra Idea"(Another Idea)
I really dig the were the first Bamboleo records that came out on Ahi Nama "Te Gusto O Te Caigo Bien and "Yo No Me Parezco A Nadia"( I don’t look like anybody else).
For Charanga Habanera, just to get a sense of the reference "Me Sube La Fiebre" (Love Fever) on EGREM. (Search for Habanera Charanga in Store)
A good place to start is with older stuff and build up to new artists like Carlos Manuel, Haila Momprie, Artimis Gallindo, Tumbao Havana and the latest by NG La Banda, Charanga Habanera and others.
(to purchase these albums now, click here!)
All these albums are at the SalsaCrazy Store!