Face to face with Juan Formell and Ivette Cepeda of Los Van Van

Two important awards have been announced this year: the UK Womex, and now the Latin Grammy to Excellency.

Juan Formell: I think, these results are an acknowledgement, not only to me, but also to all Cuban musicians. We proved all those who thought that Cuban son music did not exist any more, they were wrong. Son is still here, and a good example of what I am saying is that many musicians are coming to work again in Cuba. A Grammy and a Womex award tell us that we are right.

Gaínza Moreno: Who influenced on your musical taste?

Juan Formell: I loved rock music when I was a teenager; later on, I discovered Cuban musician, Chapotín, and I followed music of Arsenio Rodriguez and Orquesta Aragón and, especially the great Cuban musician Beny Moré. This man was an idol for me. I liked the way he expressed things in his songs, and his daring way at making changes in his Jazz Band; and he did it with excellence. He was very unique, a true genius. I benefited from that rich stage of our musical history. Thus, I began to mix different sounds and create my own music. I took some from the Beatles and the Brazilian music, which I love. It has been a long process over time.

Gaínza Moreno: The Grammys are very controversial. Your orchestra has an American award and you have been nominated to the Latin Grammys five times.

Juan Formell: Yes, Grammys are controversial, after the time when we won the Anglo-Saxon award, in 1999. We ignored the work done there, though we are aware of the way votes and other processes are carried out. For Cuban music, it is difficult to receive a Grammy, not for the musical quality, but for the master recordings. At times, that is where we lose competition.

Gaínza Moreno: Singer Ivette Cepeda joined us in this dialogue. She also wants to congratulate the maestro.

Ivette Cepeda: For me, it is a pleasure, and a huge honor to be here to congratulate the great symbol of Cuban music: Los Van Van band and maestro Juan Formell. We, Cubans, owe so much to them, because all of us have enjoyed this orchestra a lot. Congratulations, maestro, and thank you so much for the nice things you have said about my work in public.

Gaínza Moreno: "Y tal vez" is one of your songs, Formell, that Ivette has included in her repertoire.

Juan Formell: This song has a Brazilian air. For me, the best version of it "Y tal vez" is that of Ivette Cepeda. I think she was able of seeing the depth implicit in the theme; Ivette has the energy of an excellent artist."

Gaínza Moreno: Then, Ivette why did you choose "Y Tal vez" song?

Ivette Cepeda: When I began to sing with the Jazz Band of Cohiba hotel, in 2002, I was asked to choose a Cuban theme to make a version out of it, and I selected "Y Tal Vez". This song has a deep musical magic. It is a challenge for me to sing the same song with different tones.

Gaínza Moreno:I have a brief questionnaire I would like both of you answer it, in order to know you better.

How important is silence for Ivette Cepeda and Juan Formell?

Ivette Cepeda: As much as sound.

Juan Formell: I look for silence.

Gaínza Moreno: What is your favorite singer?

Ivette Cepeda: Caetano Veloso.

Juan Formell: Camarón de la Isla.

Gaínza Moreno: What do you miss the most when you are abroad?

Ivette Cepeda: (Laughs). Silence, I have to talk a lot wherever I go.

Juan Formell: I miss my country, my house and my neighborhood.

Gaínza Moreno: How should an artist be?

Juan Formell: It all depends on where the artist lives. For example, there are some countries where an artist can hardly walk the way we do it here. I can tell you a short anecdote. This morning, I went to a nearby market to buy some roots and fruits, and a man, riding a bike, screamed at me: Juanito, get out of there! Then, I told him: move out, fat man! And for my surprise, that man was Silvio Rodríguez. (LAUGHS). This kind of thing can only happen here, in Cuba. In other countries, people are quite different. I think that the Cuban artist should be a simple person. We cannot isolate ourselves. In Cuba, we stand in line to get bread, go to market or ride bicycle freely in the street.

Ivette Cepeda: I feel happy when I interact with people and they tell me they love my songs; that is just wonderful. Staying close to the real world enriches us and answers many of our questions.

Gaínza Moreno: Are you in favor of fusion music? Why?

Ivette Cepeda: It is a current phenomenon. Nothing escapes from it as long as it provides the best essence, whether a textual concept, lyrical or music. Anyway, we must defend that essence.

Gaínza Moreno: Could you tell us about the new CD, which according to you, will be entitled País (Country).

Ivette Cepeda: Yes, we are focused on this CD, which will be recorded in Panama next week. I am enthusiastic about this work, which will feature many of today´s musical trends. I want my country to be reflected through music, and in the way the Cubans living abroad see it. I just heard the theme entitled Regreso (Return) by Juan Formell, and I want it to include it here. It will be a CD to join people and hearts. In short, it will be a disc addressed to Cubans.

Gaínza Moreno: Juan Formell and Ivette Cepeda, what are your concerns regarding the Cuban musical scene?

Juan Formell: That is a delicate question. We do not want to mention some things and names because of ethics and get into people´s business. What I can tell you for sure is that there is not such a crisis. Each one has its own likes, and we should respect that. There will always be new singers and trends. Ivette Cepeda is a great example. She is an outstanding and wonderful singer. Here, there are many excellent musicians such as Alexander Abreu and Havana de Primera band, Kelvis Ochoa, just to mention some. We must follow what moves people.

Ivette Cepeda: I agree with the maestro, any music has its own space. And people have their own preferences for bands and singers. Artists should never forget our social responsibility in the country.

link to original article on Cubarte Portal