PARIS, 18 February 2001 - While recording
only in France and performing only in Western Europe, Carlos Maza is
ambitious enough to hope that eventually his work will ''enlarge the
definition of Cuban music.'' Meanwhile, he lives with his wife and two
children in Cuba, even though Cubans tell him his music is ''not Cuban
enough.'' With his Chilean passport he can live pretty much wherever
he likes. He likes the vibe and the ''quality of life'' in Cuba.
''the problem is musical, not political,'' he says, still, his
recordings are not distributed in Cuba and he gives no concerts there.
Nor has he ever performed in the United States, though that too is not
a political problem. ''It's just that nobody ever asked me,'' is how
he explains it. He has, however, performed in Chile, but only once,
and you can't find his records there either.
took him to Cuba as a baby when they asked for political asylum.
Post-Pinochet, his mother returned to Chile, and his father, a
mathematician, moved to France. He visits his father often. There are
four French albums released under his name, and Universal/France will
release the fifth, ''Tierra Fertil,'' in October. Given their
intelligence and originality, five albums, two on the prestigious Owl
label, by the age of 26 is worthy of note.
He admits that his
music is not Cuban. It is ''not 'Latin' at all,'' he says.
have other roots. I come from another culture. I have never made music
like other Cubans. I believe mine is more open than Cuban music in
general.'' His roots are in the Andes. He calls Andean music ''another
manner of suffering.''
You must suffer to make revolutionary
music, he believes, and that's what he makes. Once more, he reminds us
that it is revolutionary music, not politics. It includes classical
and romantic ingredients, Brazilian or African colors might be
followed by free jazz (Pharoah Sanders had an impact) or musique
contemporaine. Folk-tinged extracts influenced by the likes of the
Andean singer Violetta Parra alternate between modality, dissonance,
banjo-picking and Scandinavian chill. It's not easy-listening, and
there's nothing resembling salsa.
It is also with pride that
he calls himself a multi-instrumentalist. He plays the piano and
several varieties of guitars, flutes, saxophones and percussion, which
he learned specifically to play his own compositions. That's all he
plays. Only recently has he begun to address traditional structures
and improvisation. He neither practices chord changes nor memorizes
classic jazz solos. He never learned the standard repertoire. ''Why
should I learn standards?'' he asks rhetorically. ''I already have
this enormous stock of my own music which has never been played.'' It
seems that he composes faster than he records.
progressive Cuban pop music is called timba: ''There are thousands of
timba bands down there. I don't like timba. It fatigues me.'' Being an
artist defying classification would be fatiguing anywhere. Even in
France, where his career is semi-viable, being revolutionary involves
forever crashing on somebody's floor. For eight years now he has had
problems finding places to stay. Which does not particularly bother
him. He figures that ''you have to make compromises if you want to
play uncompromising music.''
He started to compose at the
age of 11. Eventually, his music interested a French producer who paid
for studio time. The first album was released when he was 17. A French
booking agent became a fan and got him work. Although his music may be
uncompromising, it has at least reached the marketplace in one
country. He chalks this not inconsiderable success up to ''not being
Musical courage, he says, is not encouraged in
Cuba. The music schools are so severe that students are forbidden to
play sports to avoid hurting their fingers, wrists or embouchures.
Such a way of thinking discourages musicians from developing what he
considers an essential risk-taking mentality. At least it discouraged
him enough to drop out of Havana's prestigious Ecole Nationale des
All of this is not to imply that he has anything
against Cuba. On the contrary: ''The country is not perfect, there are
problems, but it's no good criticizing without offering solutions.
Remember, the system is only 40 years old, that's a baby of a system.
Yet it's been producing so many monster musicians. Why? It's not a
miracle. The only 'miracle' is the political will of the government to
build enough schools to educate the poor. True, there's a strong
musical tradition in the Cuban culture but such tradition also exists
in other places without the same results. In Africa poor people cannot
afford to go to music schools. So they do not have the opportunity to
develop their talent. If I had stayed in Chile, I wonder, would I have
become a musician?''
This particular visit to Paris was to
promote his new album. As soon as he gets home, rehearsals will pick
up from where he and his three young sidemen left off. (That's pretty
much all he does in Cuba: rehearse.) In October, he will be returning
to tour Europe. It's very difficult to find young Cuban musicians who
are willing and able to make the physical, temporal and intellectual
investment necessary to play his music.
First they must be
musicians who are ''not too timba.'' Hearing himself say this, he
laughs out loud. It's not that simple. It's not simple at all. Many
conclaves and discussions are necessary to convince them that they
will be able to play his music, that it is worth taking the trouble to
learn and that it will be fun to play. Only then does it get played.
As he says: ''It can get lonely out there.''
Maza Trio: Tierra Fertil
has been jazz and rock critic for the International Herald Tribune for
the last twenty years. He was also the European correspondent for The
Village Voice. Mike Zwerin is the author of several books on jazz and
the jazz editor of Culturekiosque.com.