Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Working With Quantic

I have had the pleasure of knowing William "Quantic" Holland for a few years now and it has been an honor to work on two of his albums as graphic designer. He is so talented and prolific, you would think he would be a manic, frantic person, but in reality, the dude is mellow and patient, and great a juggling a million people and projects at once, internationally - a great guy to work with and someone who is always questing, always experimenting. I wanted to share some pictures with you of Quantic's latest tour, as well as some images from the last two albums in their developmental stages. If you have not heard "Tradition In Transition" and its predecessor "Tropidelico" - both on the Tru Thoughts label out of the UK - well, I highly recommend you get a hold of them right now! Sheer pleasure and genius rolled into one effortless mix of styles and genres - a safari for your soul (not to mention your booty). I have to say, the music is incredible, and you might want to get the vinyl LP version because (a) you get the CD tucked into the sleeve, and (b) you get to see the wonderful collage illustrations in a big satisfying format - they are works of art really - by Symon Warwick - and the intense photographs of B+ as well (Will also takes beautifully tattered snap shots as well). My role for the "Tropidelico" project was to come up with the overall album design as well as the lettering. On "Trad In Trans", my part was smaller (I didn't have much time and working long distance had its drawbacks) - though I put a lot of work into it initially on the overall design - but in the end, I felt my role was very satisfying and successful; I ended up coming up with the band's new "logo" (see the T-shirt and other places it has cropped up) and the title lettering for the cover. We went through a lot of brain-storming sessions, back and forth, up and down, emails and such like. It was decided that I would concentrate on the lettering, much to everybody's relief, I think. Down in Cali, Colombia, they came up with the overall layout design, which ended up being similar to my original graphic concept (i.e. black with white knockout sans serif font), so it all came full circle in the end which was nice - with the photos, music, and liner notes, as you see, it hangs together quite well, in what I think is Will's best project yet. So, when I heard from a friend that Quantic was actually going to be performing near me with his original South American studio band from the album, I jumped up and down, called my DJ partner in crime Andujar (b. rule), and we planned an impromptu trip down to NYC to help celebrate the Turntables On The Hudson Anniversary party!! It was a last minute affair, and I have to say, against the odds, we pulled it off with flying colors. Going to Governor's Island in New York to hear the band live, to dance the night away, and meet the fabulous players, singers and DJs, was an unforgettable experience. Once we were let back stage, we mingled with the crew and got a taste of what was to come later that night. Talking shop with the funkiest drummer alive, Mr. Malcolm Catto, was a real thrill (he was of course freshly back from record hunting on that other island, Manhattan), as was getting to meet my idol, the Peruvian pianist extra-ordinaire, Alfredito Linares. The other members of Quantic's Combo Bárbaro were equally open and willing to hang out - I especially enjoyed chilling with talented, warm, and kind bassist Fernando Silva, the spiritually deep and fun-loving percussionist Freddie Colorado, and the beautiful and sparkly singer Nidia Góngora, plus, Mr. B+ was in the house, which was great to link up with him after collaborating 3rd hand. Also talked about Latin album covers with Beto and Nappy G, which was fun. Once the DJs started cranking, there was no turning back, and then the band got busy, and it was a magical musical mystical tour through Panama City, San Juan, Lagos, Cali, Havana, and Detroit! The audience was feelin' it, I was transported, DJ Andujar had a huge Cheshire Cat grin on his mug, and we all got sweaty and were deep into the music as one for the night. This one drunken glady was really twirling and twirling, I was afraid she was going to fall over. There were a lot of Colombianos in the crowd, so you know they were getting off. When it was all over we were exhausted and happy. On the way back from Governor's Island, on the ferry at midnight, we had an impromptu cumbia jam session, singing funny raggedy-ass songs about drinking till dawn, and the regular passengers really got into the infectious mood. As usual, DJ Nickodemus, whose event this was, held everything together in his gracious, warm way - many talented DJs (Frankie Francis, Beto from the Soundway compilations, Paolo, Busqueto) spun great records, Nappy G of TTOTH and Groove Collective was on percussion, there was a tropical downpour, and Ellis Island (as seen through the neon palm tree of the artificial "beach" in front of the stage)appeared like this exotic island mirage in the after shower sunset, beckoning in the Tropidelico haze. A night of pure magic to remember! Below are some photos we took with Fernando Silva's camera, and a few he sent from later points on their tour.
A very big & warm "Muchas Gracias" to Will, Nicko, Fernando, Freddy, Alfredito, Malcolm, B+, DJ "Frankie Francis" Merritt, the True Thoughts crew, Nappy G, Mariano, the City of New York and Parks & Recreation, all the fans and Hell, just everybody at the event. You all made it special, not to be forgotten.

Nickodemus, DJ?, Andujar, Fernando, Quantic, and Bongohead

Bongohead, Andujar, Fernando

The Combo, friends, crew backstage

The Extended members of Quantic and his Combo Bárbaro, Paris, France

My sketches for Quantic and his Combo Bárbaro logo

The booklet "spread' with Cali, Colombia (©B+), and Will's notes

One of B+'s great photos used in the layout

Symon Warwick's excellent cover art, without the lettering that I added later

One of the great Colombian t-shirts using my logo

An illustration I found with someone using my logo - looks nice!

The Tropidelico cover in all its glory!

My logo for the Tropidelico album, based on some lettering from the Peruvian label MAG

I really loved making this panel for the CD - I call it the musicians' panel - but it got shrunk down really small for the CD booklet

These are some inspirations for my lettering designs from T in T and Tropidelico

An early version of the Tropidelico cover

A color photo from the Tropidelico sessions - Alfredito Linares

This is back of the Tropidelico LP - so great to work on a larger canvas!

An idea for the CD tray inner insert with funky drummer Malcolm Catto

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Everybody's Mambo - An Interview with Cecilia Noël

Cecilia Noël: Everybody’s Mambo 

I don’t know if you have been following Peruvian diva Cecilia Noël’s career, but to those of you who have, she has done it again with this highly anticipated big budget release, the appropriately named A Gozar! – a fabulous album from start to finish. Cecilia might make you think of first class divas like Celia Cruz, La Lupe, La India, Albita, or Graciela; and she also brings to mind Tina Turner, Aretha, or even Kid Creole and the Coconuts – but she is a unique treasure to be judged on her own merits, which are many. 

With this new release, she has topped herself, building on the achievements of each of her previous three releases (all worth seeking out), but going one step further, honing and deepening her sound, focusing her arrangements, refining the infectious mix of Latin, jazz, and soul, with very consistent results. She still has the same beautiful, sexy, supple, husky voice full of life and rhythm, still the same high quality material, the incredible musicianship of her loyal band, The Wild Clams – but here’s the catch: this time around, the focus is hard-core salsa, and it’s even better than before!! In addition to the smoking new salsa dura romp “Candela”, the sparkling Ms. Noël gives us several covers of classic salsa, mambo, and cha-cha-chá, miraculously breathing new life into them all over again (from Beny Moré to the two Ismaels, Rivera and Miranda). She deftly mixes a funky cha and 6/8 afro rhythm into her Spanglish version of Moré’s “La Culebra” – and just as you are getting the hang of it, she then playfully weds it to Ray Barretto’s slinky “Cocinando Suave” (a favorite of mine, which I named my book for). 

In addition, she revisits some of her own signature sounds, only making them harder, bigger, and more real. A great example of this amplification is “Pronto Salsa”, a song she first cut in the mid-90s with her spiritual/musical godfather, the venerable Afro-Cuban conguero Francisco Aguabella. The song is here in all its 8 minute majesty, but it’s like you’re hearing it for the first time, with all the members of her orchestra getting a chance to chime in. Though there is mostly just glorious full-bore salsa dura on this CD, there is also an autobiographical merengue in Spanglish, a classic sounding bolero, and to top it off there are plucky accents of timba, cumbia, and of course, bugalú – in another person’s hands this project might have been too much, but Cecilia keeps the mix just right, seasoning the pot with sass and brashness one minute, tenderness and intimacy the next. Unlike most female salsa singers who sound too soft or pop to me, Ms. Noël’s formula is what most women in tropical Latin music are lacking: a commitment to variety and modernity on the one hand, and an uncompromising vision for hard-core traditional sounds on the other. Recently I got a chance to catch up with the always busy Cecilia and ask her a few questions. 

As usual, she responded honestly and with an engagingly playful mix of passion and insight. 

PY: How did you get into music and writing songs? 

CN: I started my life as a writer. I wrote my first story when I was 5 and my mother thought I had talent. So she would sit me down by her singer sewing machine and there I would write children's tales for a cultural magazine. But when I was 9, after listening to Pérez Prado, Tito Puente, James Brown, and watching a few musicals, I announced my retirement from writing to become a musician. I write songs, thanks to my band, The Wild Clams. They encourage me and always welcome the new ideas I bring to the table. When I sit down on the piano with Eric Jorgensen, my trombone player and orchestrator, to show him a new composition, he is always full of enthusiasm and praise, and I always get a master class from him. So I write because I want to make them proud, show them this is a real commitment. They are so loyal to me, I am blessed by their love and talent. 

PY: What's the origin of your last name Noël - I have heard that some people think you are from France (!)? CN: Oh...Don't we all come from France...? My father Teodoro, has Belgian and French ancestors far back. I am also Portuguese and Inca (as you know) from my mom's side. I grew up believing I was the grand-daughter of Papá Noël, because my grand father looked like him and when he retired (he founded the social security in Perú), he went to help a friend make toys for poor children...my mother took my older sister Desirée and I to spy on him through a tiny window...and that confirmed our suspicion...HE WAS SANTA CLAUS! PY: What is your family background and story in brief? 

CN: Artistic, Dysfunctional, Insane. Supportive, brilliant mother, Menina Pereira; dancing, gamblin' father, Teodorito Noël y Moral...adorable and unreliable...great mixture of bloods...as I said before, I Love them both...! My mom's father, Raúl María Pereira, the Portuguese, was a renaissance man...a famous artist, sculptor, architect, designed historical buildings in Ecuador and Perú, and he was also Ambassador of Portugal and Brazil in Ecuador and Perú...my mom inherited all those abilities and she was also a musician and a costume designer...my daddy just danced around the house...and never paid the bills... 

PY: How/when (what age) did you fist come to the USA - and did you know anyone or have any family or friends when you first came here? 

CN: As a young girl, I was singing in Lima, Perú at the Kero Bar of The Sheraton Hotel. The Great Stan Getz and his son Steve were in town touring Latin America with Stan's band. They saw me perform and invited me to his concert. Later, at a dinner party, Stan told my mother, that he thought I had talent and that maybe one day they could help me come over to the States...a few months, I received a telegram from Steve and a "One Way ticket to The City of New York"...I stayed with them for a little while, then with Linda Goldstein (manager of Bobby McFerrin and Manhattan Transfer) and with the help of the beautiful Jorge Dalto, Argentinean jazz pianist, his singer wife Adela and Mauricio Smith (flautist & saxophone player), I started recording my demos and playing around town. They were my first family in New York. 

PY: A little clarification: What year did you come to NYC exactly? 

CN: It was September of 1980. 

PY: Did you come for school, or to work? 

CN: I came for both, Jorge Dalto talked me out of the idea of moving to Boston to study at an expensive college...he said to me..."Pá qué 'mija?, between all of us, we can teach U all there is to learn AND, you'll experience THE CITY, where it all happens". So I studied percussion (not to really play, but to write and understand "clave") with Jerry González, and with Frankie Malabé and José Madera, at Boys Harbor in Harlem, took classes at The Mannes School of Music, dance with Jo Jo Smith and voice with different teachers like Joe Galliano. All of these while singing around town at the clubs. My last years in NYC, I played with Mauricio Smith's Latin Band at The Rainbow Room and recorded 2 albums with Willie Colón... 

PY: What albums did you record with Willie Colon? 

CN: Tiempo Pá Matar (1983) and the next one, Criollo (1984)...el que tiene “Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblón.” 

PY: What exactly did you do on the albums? Was it backing vox? 

CN: Yes, back up vocals, and he had us sight reading [for the parts]...which was cool! 

PY: And so it's OK if I mention you are a dancer too, right? I suspected as much!! 

CN: I dance...a little...always on the 2 (like old school Mambo!). Palladium style...Tito Puente and Jo Jo Smith taught me. 

PY: How did you learn English? 

CN: Watching Dave Letterman and Saturday Night Live, the ONLY 2 shows my roommate, Bill Koch would allow me to watch. He thought television was addictive and not good for me. 

PY: When did you move to California? Is this before you married the drummer Tris Imboden of the band Chicago? 

CN: Yes, before I married Tris. I started moving here in 1989...Hilton Rosenthal, the South African Producer and Tom Regis, asked me to come here and by 1990 I was learning how to drive... 

PY: How did you come up with the title? 

CN: ¡A Gozar! means to enjoy, to feel deeply, like a beautiful orgasm...why not say it like it is? I've always been a free spirit, my mother Menina encouraged me to express myself and be passionate...fearless. 

PY: How did you come up with the choices for “cover” versions of classic songs for the album? 

CN: I am a big fan of Beny Moré. Mexican director Alfonso Arau (Like Water for Chocolate), told me, after watching my show, that I reminded him of Beny...I said...”What a complement!” And I always loved La Culebra, and the cha-cha-cha/son montuno feel, with the syncopated piano, so sexy...so one day fooling around, I wrote the Spanglish lyrics with my dear ex- husband, Tris Imboden, at a café in L.A. and added it to my repertoire. I love the 6/8 grooves [a section of the song breaks into this more complex Afro-Cuban rhythm], since I come from the coast of Peru, they are in my blood, and my arrangement in the beginning has that feel. The horns just landed naturally, and that classic sax solo is by Vince Denham, showing off his chops! [I covered] “El Cumbanchero” [because] my cousin Mateo Pereira, loves this song, he sings it all the time, he is the most beautiful person in the world, has a mental disability, but is a genius musician, and he is the main reason why I go to Peru so often. So he kept asking me to include it on the album...he is my A&R and I'll do whatever he says! [Also] my friend and former producer, Tom Regis, asked me to do “El Cumbanchero” years ago, for a project with Rhythm Safari, and later, when I started to play the song live, Tom Timko (saxophone player) helped me with the horn arrangement. I am still madly in love with Ismael Rivera, and his album Eclipse Total, follows me everywhere I go. He is perhaps my biggest influence in salsa singing for lay back, sassy, fast tongue spitting, scatting phrasing,...I chose “La Cumbita” with much love, because this song was written by him (he mostly sang other’s compositions) and it’s a bit obscure, so this is my tribute to one of the Greatest Salsa Singers of all times that is often overlooked. 

PY: How about “Asi Se Compone Un Son” and how/why did you decide to arrange them the way you did? 

CN: Another big musical love of mine is Ismael Miranda. I met him in Peru, before I moved to NYC, and this composition is one of my favorite ones he's ever written. He is a fantastic singer. The horn arrangement is mostly the original, probably done by Larry Harlow, but the middle mambo, as well as in “La Cumbita”, comes from the fabulous mad mind of Eric Jorgensen, my right hand, trombone player and orchestrator. My husband, Colin Hay (of Men at Work) sings the background vocals...ha! 

PY: This album seems to lean more towards ‘salsa dura’ or classic salsa - there is still plenty of soul, some pop, a bolero, and some Spanglish ‘salsoul’- but overall I think it's a departure from your other albums - what made you decide to go in a more hard salsa direction? 

CN: I wanted to make an album that would be more homogeneous, not as eclectic as the others. I used to mix it all...Salsa, Jazz, Funk, Rock, Pop...and confuse the hell out of people...who is she? What is she? Nobody knew how to define me... Labels had a tough time marketing me. So I went for what is closest to my heart, at the moment, which is Salsa Dura, Hard Core, but Wild Clam style, none of that soft stuff for me...although I sing boleros and I am a romantic, I am also a punk, a rebellious animal. Indefinable, indomitable! Don't expect the same thing from me, I get bored... 

PY: What's the story (briefly) behind “Carlitos Rey”? 

CN: I got and read the script of the original movie Carlitos Way, from my publisher, and wrote it with Tom Regis. The words are an inspiration from that script, about a man that went the wrong way, but is trying to redeem himself and has a tough time doing it, because of his environment and the past that still chases him. But the song didn't make it to the soundtrack for political reasons. I joke about it and say it still one of my hit songs. 

PY: Now please tell me, “Tu Condena” – that’s a very emotional, fiery song - is it about a specific person in your life or is it more about an imaginary character (like your story writing you told me of)? 

CN: This song I wrote (with Tom Regis) based on an experience that Sheila E. told me about, and originally it was intended to be for a salsa album that she wanted to record, but I kept it when she didn't finish her project. It's one of my favorite songs, all around, lyrically and musically. 

PY: Mine too! It makes people go crazy on the dance floor – I have even had them clap after I play it. As with a lot of your songs off this record, people – especially women – come up to me on stage after I play a cut and say, with bewildered smiles\, “Who IS this woman you are playing!” They may have never heard of you, but that doesn’t stop them from dancing like crazy and responding emotionally to the intensity of your music and voice. Speaking of intense, I am sure aspects of your life must be intense – so would you say the wild energy of “Living On The Run” comes from that spark in you? It is a merengue, right? Or at least it has elements of merengue in it? 

CN: It is definitely a merengue...Wild Clam style...about my life...! PY: Does Colin Hay speak Spanish? I see he's helping out on coros!!! How did you guys meet? 

CN: He speaks a little and I can have a simple conversation with him. But his ear is awesome and he pronounces Spanish really well. We met in NYC the first time in the mid 80's, very briefly in a recording studio. Eight years later, we were both part of a benefit concert in Topanga Canyon, and he stayed to watch my show. After that, he would come to see my shows quite often, I would see him in the crowd and he would bring his friends and girlfriends to see me perform. The rest is historia, pues! 

PY: Do you have any other Peruvians in the band? Cubans? 

CN: I have at this moment besides the amazing Lenny Castro, who plays [percussion] and records live with me, the Peruvians Handark Lozano, also on percussion, Braulio Barrera on backing vocals and percussion and many great Cuban musicians, like Carlitos del Puerto, who is my dear friend, on bass, Jimmy Branly on timbales [pailas], and Conrado “Coquí” García on congas, bongos, and bell, they play on a few tracks on the album. I also had Oney Cumba and Sergio Cardoso of the Cuban band Síntesis record on [the session for the cut] “Carlitos Rey”. I love them. 

PY: Have you worked with the great Joe Rotondi in the past? 

CN: Talk about me [being] lucky! Joe Rotondi is the first piano player I ever worked with when I first came to L.A. We were introduced by Tom Regis, and since then, we have played together on and off, recorded different projects, and remained friends for all these years. So I invited him back to record on “La Cumbita” and “Candela”. HE IS A GENIUS... 

PY: If James Brown was an early influence, who among the Latin artists influenced you to add soul to salsa - Joe Bataan, any of the old-school 60s boogaloo artists? 

CN: Well, I caught Pérez Prado’s [later] boogaloo sounds; also my old friend Coco Lagos y sus Orates (from Peru) whom I worked with when I was a young girl in La Orquesta de Carlo Berscia (a fantastic Italian musician, who taught me how to conduct and lead a band), the late Mario Allison y Su Combo, Willie Colón and Héctor Lavoe [they appeared on Peruvian television in the 60s] who also had some boogaloo early on. As a child I had my ears open to every sound you can imagine. I like all that silly stuff. I am also a sucker for Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass...mmmmmm SEXY SILLY! 

PY: Ouch, you are getting me hot there Cecilia (laugh). In your CD graphics, you are shown luxuriating in a bath of red fruit (looks like cherries??) – that’s kind of a funny take-off on the whipped cream kitchy sex-kitten cover art for that famous for Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass record! On a more serious note, the phrase “Urpillay Sonquollay” – what does that mean - que significa - is that an indigenous saying (Inca, Quechua)? I see it in your liner notes. 

CN: It means: lovely little dove of my heart. This is how in Quechua, our native language, we say “thank you”…Isn’t it wonderful? 

PY: How did you hook up with Compass Records - have you heard Salsa Celtica and Conjunto Cespedes, some of their excellent earlier Latin releases? 

CN: My husband, Colin Hay, is also signed with them, and when I started thinking about shopping for a deal, I wanted to show them the album first. I like Alison and Garry West. Luckily, they loved it and I felt wanted, so I didn’t have to show it to anyone else. Salsa Celtica’s leader and trumpet player, Toby “El Leon” Shippey, is a great musician and we met at the Edinburgh Festival in 2004. I hope to collaborate with him some day. Conjunto Céspedes is great too, I haven’t met them, but I like their sound. 

PY: I believe Conjunto Céspedes are no longer together but they were fabulous in their day! Any plans to work Peruvian music into your salsa in the future? 

CN: Definitely…I am at the moment writing a new project with Juan Luis Pereira, my first cousin and the band leader of El Polen, a groundbreaking Peruvian fusion band from the 70s. He and his brother Raul Pereira were fundamental in me becoming a musician and I started playing and recording with them when I was 13. 

PY: Cecilia, amiga mia, you really nailed it this time. My words to all old-school male salseros out there: forget your machismo and surrender to La Cecilia; buy A Gozar! now and go out and dance to this woman’s album – it will do you good. And for the salseras on the floor: this is it, rejoice, your new diva has arrived! ...I know you have to get on with your day, so best of luck to you with this great new album – hope to see you on the East Coast some time soon. Gracias, Urpillay Sonqollay! 

CN: Gracias a ti, chulo, ¡que lindas tus preguntas! XXX CECILIA

Monday, September 21, 2009

Rumba Psycodelica Continues

HEYA kitties & cats out there in La La Land. We had so much FUN last month at The Elevens in Northampton, MA, we decided to keep this thing going!! Thanks to DJ George William Meyers aka "Snack Attack" the flame still burns bright. Check it out in the flier above and please feel free to drag it to your desktop and email it to friends. I know it's a late night for some of you (heh-heh), but you can drop by towards the beginning. For all you fans in far away places, we know you will be there in spirit. To all you dancers, vatos locos and go-go gals we saw last time, thank you, and please come with more friends this time. It's going to be wild - light show courtesy of Bell & Howl, plus we will have WMUA's own DJ Andujar, plus me, Bongohead from Latin Night, and some random live percussion. We will be slinging rare vinyl from around the world, with an emphasis on funky and psychedelic Latin and African music of the 60s & 70s, the odd vintage Cuban classic, plus Nuyorican salsa dura, obscure South American cumbia jams, and some old style merengue and Haitian music, plus great contemporary acts out right now that have a sound that fits in with our aesthetic of real music for real people: acts like Quantic, Antibalas, Kokolo, Up, Bustle & Out, Los Chapillacs, Brownout, Grupo Fantasma, Ocote Soul Sounds, Nomo, Spam Allstars, Kaleta, Bio Ritmo, all artists that issue vinyl today; plus various dope reissues of old school cuts from labels like Vampisoul, Soundway, Stones Throw, etc. Hey, record labels, send us your vinyl! If you like the WMUA FM 91.1 radio program "Clandestino" (Mondays, streamed live, www.wmua.org) or were a fan of my Feel Flows radio show when it aired a few years ago, you will surely DIG RUMBA PSYCODELICA! See you there.