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Raúl Paz has to be the Peter Pan of Cuban music. Still after so many years he retains that air of a fresh- faced, curly-headed, singer with a slightly hippy air about him. He still seems to have boundless energy and enthusiasm, which makes his presence at a concert electric and in person, leaves you waiting to catch your breath. He is also, which came as more of a surprise to me, (given my conditioning with British/American boy bands), thoughtful and insightful with a keen sense of his place within Cuba at present.
He describes with passion how he had been dreaming of going back to Cuba for many years during his self-imposed French exile. How he wanted the approval of audiences that would pick up on all the little Cuban nuances of his lyrics. “I needed it like a son needs his father to tell him he’s proud of him.” His live album En Vivo (2007) documents two shows, at Havana’s Acapulco cinema and in a small club in his hometown in Pinar del Rio. “It was important for me to play for my natural audience, my people, to weigh all those years and all that distance with my music, my lyrics, my fantasies…It was extraordinary.”
Today Raúl’s major project is ‘Havanization’, which seeks to create a ‘the window to the world of a new generation of Cubans who aim to unite, create, build bridges, open doors and advance ideas.” Over the past two years he has brought together other Cuban singer-songwriters including Kelvis Ochoa, David Torrens, Descemer Bueno and Diana Fuentes amongst others to help develop this vision.
Remembering when I first met him, I groaned at my girlfriend’s interest that we chat with this pop-star. I may be many things but a groupie I am not. And yet having reluctantly started a conversation with this celebrity I was there held engaged by him for the rest of the evening, by his ideas, thoughts, concepts, words. This is someone who has matured from the young man who snuck into a French school in Paris barely speaking a word of French. He still has a retinue of gorgeous young girls fighting to get close to the stage when he sings and he does not diss them, they are his fans after all, but this celebrity stardom now is a duty rather than an indulgence. His eyes light up when his son (8 years old) comes into the room and watching the younger version perform on stage at the Karl Marx theatre last year was he says the proudest moment of his life. I was there – I saw it in his eyes and at that moment even I wished to be a singer (albeit briefly before I remembered my last karaoke performance).
About Raúl Paz
by Bernard Benant Raúl was born in 1969 in the province of Pinar del Rio, in the West of Cuba, where the big Carabbean island nuzzles Florida to the North and Mexico to the West. 1969 was “année érotique” in France, and the tenth anniversary of the Castro revolution in Cuba. Don’t expect Raúl Paz to run down his island or his people. That was where he learned to sing, before he can remember, listening to guajira – country music made in Cuba. It is where he spent ten years studying music at the highest level at the renowned arts academy in Havana: violin, musical theory, wind instruments, singing, counterpoint, and even conducting, in other words, a very classical training.
But young Raúl found ways to spice it all up. So what if rock was banned on government radio stations. ” We found ways of tuning into American radio stations”, he remembers. “That was how I discovered Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Bob Marley”.
But Raúl was determined to explore new horizons. He left Cuba in 1996, and after knocking about in South America he wound up in Paris, officially to study at the Schola Cantorum. Since then, his life has gathered pace. ” The genius of Cuban music”, enthuses Raúl, “is that it assimilates elements from all over the place”. The time was right: in the mid-90’s Paris was a melting pot for music from all over the world. Raúl hung out on the Latino scene, playing at New Morning, Hot Brass and Bataclan. He became one of the pioneers of the new Cuban wave.
Then a lucky break: he was spotted by Ralph Mercado, founder of the RMM label, “inventor” of salsa in the US. He was to cut his first record, Cuba Libre, in Gloria Estefan’s studios in Miami. Renamed Imaginate for the American market, the record was a hit, selling some 100,000 copies and earning him the accolade “best new male artist” in the US music press. Raúl Paz began to play live in the US and his career was well and truly underway. However, following the death of Celia Cruz and Tito Puente, Ralph Mercado went bust. The American adventure was put on hold.
Raúl returned to Paris and settled down. He took an apartment close to the Place Du Colonel Fabien, “I didn’t want to be too disorientated”, he explained, and signed with Patrick Zelnik’s label Naïve. The first fruit of this relationship was Mulata in 2003. France was bowled over by the revelatory album.
Raúl Paz reinterpreted Cuban music, weaving in hip-hop beats, dub, rock riffs and a groove all of his own. Mulata sold 60,000 copies. Revolución takes up where Mulata left off. Raúl Paz recorded the new record in Havana, last November, at the Egrem studios, where most gemstones of Cuban music are cut, notably those of the Buena Vista Social Club. “I love these studios”, says Raúl, indicating the decaying piano that has pride of place. “They’ve got reverb that you can’t find anywhere else; a 50’s sound that hasn’t been bettered since”. Don’t be fooled: although he is proud of his roots and all the musical styles that Cuba boasts – mambo, bolero, montuno, guajira, cha-cha-cha etc. – the “French Cuban” caters for neither nostalgia nor folklore. He makes 21st century Cuban music.
Revolución was mixed in Paris with Danya Vodovoz, a Russian concert pianist converted to electronic who already featured on Mulata, before being mastered at Sterling Sound in New York. “My songs always communicate on a number of levels”, confesses Raúl, a master of “real maravilloso”, the “literal magic” that characterises Latin-American literature. But you don’t need to understand Spanish to appreciate his words. This is borne out by his concerts, where his growing numbers of fans take up his lyrics as an anthem, for the most part phonetically. “I feel at home on stage, says Raúl Paz, who exudes rare energy, rage and passion in concert. Alfredo Arias has good reason to have given him a leading part in Mambo Mystico, his last musical at Chaillot. Raúl should be seen live. That’s when Raúl “Peace” goes to war. And the whole world surrenders. Discography Havanization
A creative mix of Cuban musical traditions and various international styles that have impacted Paz and other Cuban musicians who have spent extensive time off the island but can’t forget their roots. This is part of the project of the same name which seeks to create a ‘the window to the world of a new generation of Cubans who aim to unite, create, build bridges, open doors and advance ideas.” Over the past two years he has brought together other Cuban singer-songwriters including Kelvis Ochoa, David Torrens, Descemer Bueno and Diana Fuentes amongst others to help develop this vision. 1. Mejor
6. Carnaval (feat. Camille)
7. Flores en la ciudad
8. Tal como fue
10. Un lugar
11. Pasan En Vivo
This was Raúl’s first album recorded in Cuba and was recorded live at two locations: Acupulco in Havana and a concert in Pinar del Rio. At Acapulco Raoul plays a lot of titles from “Révolucion” and “Mulata” The opening of the concert sets the tone with “El beso” within the groove revisited. In Pinar del Rio he starts with the song “En Casa”, which is his record as borrowing from the acoustic Cuban musical tradition, and songs from his childhood. “El Nino”, the largest Cuban percussionist soon brings his passion and sensuality of sonero.
Gradually the sounds of traditional tres mix of sonorities rhodes and the alchemy of his place of Raúl and is in an intimate concert and charged with emotion. En Casa
More than ever, his new album En Casa opens up horizons where the rhythms of traditional sounds are married with the freshness and creativity for which Paz is so well known. His return to Cuba is at the root of En Casa, which displays a subtle mix of childhood memories with the rediscovery of a country. For the first time in a long while, Raúl spent many weeks in Havana, where he dove headfirst into the music of his childhood and drank in its soul and meaning, the heart of his inspiration. He also shared his musical world and experience with newer talents on the Cuban music scene in Havana, a place in a constant state of excitement where both modern living and tradition are inextricably linked, essential parts of everyday life. 1. En casa
2. 25 Años
3. Le Temps Passe
4. No Me Incomodes
5. Te Fuisté
6. Tu y Yo
7. La Ventana
12. Distancia Revolución
Revolución was mixed in Paris with Danya Vodovoz – a Russian classical pianist converted to the ways of electronica and a man who was already behind the scenes on Mulata – and then mastered at Sterling Sound in New York. More pop-oriented than his previous offerings, this third album from Paz contains a few tracks that will quickly bring the house down. Revolución, Buena Suerte, Soledad and Mujeres are the types of song that enter your head and you’ll happily let them stay there forever. The rhythmic richness does the rest. As for the lyrics, they’re a joy to read – or rather, hear – with layer upon layer of meaning. 1. Revolución
4. Buena suerte
10. Solo Para mi
12. Sexy Mulata
This second album proposes a vast variety of climates: Pop, Dub, Caribean or a Hip-Hop bit. But the important thing is not there. This cuban musician based in France plunges the listener in a bath of emotion. Tender, melancholic person, taquin or accomplice, Raúl Paz carries out the dance with a humanity which quickly makes forget the barrier of the language. How not to feel yourself close to such a music? Mixed by the wizards of the Mouse clan, MULATA, well-named, gives again with the cuban music a new savour, without trangress the tradition, Raúl PAZ, the innovator, found the means of creating its way. A capsizing path for which with the chance to borrow it. 1. El beso
3. Mua mua mua
5. Mari y Juana
7. Mi barrio
8. Chica mala
12. Amor con amor Blanco y Negro
At Cheo Feliciano’s birthday in 1999, Raúl and Ralph Mercado speak about forthcoming disc. Ralph puts forward the idea to make a disc of salsa to the portoricaine realized in Puerto Rico. The idea allures Raúl who has only one condition, to do it with “Cuco Pena”. Ralph prevents it that it will be difficult, it comes from gained Grammy for the realization of Marc Anthony’s album and is very asked. In April 2000, Raúl goes back to Puerto Rico to start to record his disc. Angel “Cuco” Pena agrees to be the realizer for it. They are surrounded by a superb team of “Borricuas”musicians. Unfortunately the closing of RMM in 2001 fact that this disc is currently not available to the sale. Contigo
(Kontor Records, 2000)
His curiosity and his taste for fusions lead him towards the electronic musics, Contigo written and recorded with DJs Arian B.H.T and Ingmar Hänsch becomes a piece worship in Ibiza then in all the European clubs. Cuba Libre
(Rue Bleu, 1999)
The recording is done in the studios Crescent Moon and New River and will be mixed by John Fausty and ted Stein.
He carries out his first strange and innovating album. An atypical, modern and dared disc 1. Caro
2. Color café
3. Cuba libre
4. Dame tu música
7. La madrugada
10. Se te quita to
12. El balcón April 2013