Almost the entire world knows who Mayito Rivera is- he must be one of the best known Cuban singers of all time. He spent 20 years as front man with Juan Formell’s Los Van Van, inspired many with his superb vocals, won numerous awards in that time, including a Grammy with Los Van Van and has been christened ‘El Poeta de La Rumba’. Following his departure from the band in 2011, he’s been discovering his own path, exploring his vast repertoire of skills and has shared his legendary talent with countless musicians from all over the globe..
We caught up with him backstage in the Glasto Latino area at the Glastonbury Festival 2014 and asked him all about his new solo album “Inventate Una Historia”, his philosophy, his inspiration and the challenges of touring.
Firstly, can you tell us a little about your new album
The new album is called ‘Inventate Una Historia’ (‘Create Your Own Story’ in English) For the past three years I’ve been recording on a German record label called Termidor Music. I have a contract with them to record three albums. Before the current album, I released ‘Alma de Sonero’ and there is still one to record.
‘Inventate Una Historia’ is a really important album for me for two reasons. It’s important to me because it’s the first time I have started my own band ‘The Sons of Cuba’. That alone is special because I’m writing my own songs, doing my own orchestration, and creating my own musical ‘body of work’. Secondly, it’s important because of the personal creation involved. I am able to use my very own formula of writing music and also challenge myself with the relatively small size of my band. We are just six members and we attempt to encompass all of the genres of Cuban music. The album is not Timba, nor traditional Son, nor Salsa. We are trying to create a fusion of all types of music and enter into the World music scene.
The tracks come from the musical creations inside of my head and I’m really happy with everything on the album. There are tracks for sitting back and listening to, songs for dancing and songs that convey important messages. I want to send messages out to the entire world. I want to speak of things that are important for the Latin American public. After all, they are the ones that will completely understand the meaning behind my words. Of course, my messages are for the rest of the world too and even if you don’t understand a word of Spanish you will gain enjoyment in the rhythmic fusion that is contained on the album.
The title track of my album ‘Inventate Una Historia’ speaks of the importance of choosing your own path in life and following it. All you need to do it have faith and you will find your own direction. That’s just one example of the messages I convey on the album. There’s also is a track on the album that is called ‘El Bembe’. Whilst it is a ‘bembe’ played in a more traditional way but I don’t use traditional (folkloric) lyrics and instead express the sentiment with modern lyrics. It is my attempt to rescue this rhythm a little.My intention on this recording is to show the world my many different facets- creator, composer and songwriter whilst following my own unique path. That’s the idea.
Where does your inspiration come from?
Inspiration is an easy and natural thing for a creative artist. It comes from all of the many things that I feel the need to express. I find inspiration in everything around me and in every way possible. As a graduate of the School of Music at the Instituto Superior de La Arte, Habana it’s almost a spiritual need to write music and create my own body of work. Basically what happens is that I look for a topic that I would like to talk about, whether that’s simply love or sex or even something more serious like social deprivation or material poverty.
Tell me a little about ‘The Sons of Cuba’
I am very happy to have this wonderful group. They are Cuban musicians who are mostly very young and very talented and for some of them this is the first time that they have left Cuba. I’m very lucky to have them as they understand my musical decisions very easily and there is a kind of spiritual tranquility that that arises when you know that you are completely understood.
We have a special kind of sound because many years ago, it was the sound of Willie Colon and Ruben Blades with “El Seis de Solar”. I’m trying to rescue this sound with a small orchestra that contains just two trombones in the brass section.It’s a very interesting mix when combined with my own style and creations- very unique. I am extremely happy with the result.
You have been touring throughout Europe with the ‘Sons of Cuba’ this summer…?
We’ve spent a lot of time on tour in Europe now- this is the final concert of twenty six. I have learnt so many things on the journey. Entering into the festival circuit in Europe as we have gives you the opportunity to really understand many things, such as the importance of expressing happiness and also the need to make people dance. Because of this, I am able to offer very powerful music that will make you dance and music designed to help enjoy yourself to the max. My shows go above and beyond what anyone in the audience expects.
The band is formed of just 6 musicians. This allows us to have the flexibility to create any type of music you desire and for any kind of audience. Whether you are seated in a theatre and just want to listen or at a concert and really want to dance, there is something for you. We can offer music from Bolero to Son Montuno, Guaracha, Rumba, Timba and Latin Jazz- EVERYTHING. Everything about our show will make you want to dance.
What is the hardest thing about being ‘on the road’?
Without doubt, one of the most difficult things about being on tour is maintaining your focus on your work and always being ready to put on a great concert and ensure that each one is the best. You need to succeed each and every day. You need to relax. You have to think. You have to rest your body and your mind and also you must travel great distances. Luckily the band helps me with all of this.
It’s also extremely hard to be the only singer- it’s an important responsibility. I spent twenty years touring with Los Van Van and there were four of us so we could share the load a little and rest within songs.But you learn a lot along the way. A tour is a tour and it always is a challenge. But it certainly isn’t a surprise- as a musician with a life dedicated to music, you expect that you will tour. It’s a blessing. It means even more to me now that I am travelling for myself and I don’t work for anyone else.
I’m thankful that I am financially able to have possibility of creating my music. It’s not about how much money we make- it is about working to spread our music through the world. This is very important for us Cuban musicians. I’m also thankful to be able to continue my ‘camino’ (after Los Van Van) with my own band, my own creations, my own music and also this world tour. It’s the greatest thing that I could have- I feel very happy.
You are next working with the ‘Soneros de Verdad’…
I have two projects on at the moment. The first is my own work with my own band ‘The Sons of Cuba’. I also have a project with the ‘Soneros de Verdad’ that starts on the 5th July. I’ll be starting two months of work in Germany and the rest of Europe.
This project is Cuban music and more traditional, but very intense. It can be very difficult to sing traditional music in my opinion. In some ways it is more difficult than Timba. Timba has many coros and other times that you can rest a little. However son is from the beginning until the end- the singer is of vital importance. But it’s a very important project for me.
Do you compose at the same time as you are on the road?
I compose all of the time, full time (said in English). When inspiration strikes you have to capture your idea as quickly as it has come or else it may disappear in as little as 5 seconds. I do this on the phone that I have. Later you can continue to play with the idea a little and finely tune your ideas and as a result you mind is always occupied, always always. This is how the mind of a musical artist works.
My contract with Termidor Music means that I always have to be ready to write new songs, always. It’s not a difficult thing, but it’s not an entirely easy thing either. It’s an exercise in creation, but it’s also a good exercise as it ensures that you are always ‘chispa’ (sparky) and in top form, looking for ideas.
Is there a message that you’d like to share with the world?
I try to share many messages on my album ‘Inventate Una Historia’- that is what it is all about. I want people to have confidence in themselves and in their thoughts. I want people to have faith in their own abilities. There are so many things that you could do and that you in fact CAN do. That is the best message that I could possibly share. You have to potential to do anything that you set your mind to. Everything you think is amazing. Everyone’s thoughts are of equal importance- we mustn’t forget this. We are responsible for the future- life makes it that way. That is my philosophy for life.
Do you apply this philosophy to your own life too?
Yes I certainly do. I apply it in the way that I live my own life and also I carry it into my music too. It’s just the way I am and the way that I think. I have spent many years in the professional music scene- 30 years in fact. For 20 of them I was with Los Van Van at Juan Formell’s side and I learned many things. I learned many secrets, many things about life and also the musical profession. Little by little I keep learning- I never stop.
What can we expect from Mayito Rivera in the future?
In the future I will continue to write many songs, albums, records, continue to sing and go on tour. I intend to spend my life creating and writing. My plan for the future is to create my own career and form my own body of work. That is my life’s objective.
Thank you Mayito and best of luck for the future.
I’D LIKE TO GIVE A HUGE THANKS TO KATH BATEMAN OF CALEDONIA LANGUAGES FOR WORKING WITH ME TO MAKE THIS INTERVIEW HAPPEN.
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