Michel Herrera, Jazz is a Life Style
By: Anelí Ruiz García Photos: Courtesy of Michel Herrera
His passion for jazz is contagious. He learned to play the saxophone to please his mother and he grew up listening to jazz music at home. Time has passed since then, yet Michel Herrera continues to live jazz music intensely.
At only 30 years of age, he already has two Jojazz awards (for young jazz musicians ), six nominations, a Cubadisco award and two phonograms. Michel has accompanied both Cuban and world reknowned stars onstage such as Bobby Carcacés, Joaquín Betancourt, Jorge Reyes, Alexis Boch, Wynton Marsallis, Roy Hargrove, Arturo O´Farril and Cyrilles Aimé.
His most recent record production is Madre Tierra (Mother Earth), which is also the name of his most recent project, conceived with the idea of demonstrating the development of Cuban jazz. In it play musicians such as Jorge Luis Valdés (Chicoy), Alexander Abreu, Zunilda Remigios, Joaquín Betancourt, William Roblejo, the Diminuto choir, the Frasis band, Yasek Manzano, and pianists Alejandro Falcón and Jorge Luis Pacheco. “We work with varied musical repertoires as this is an international production. It has been a great surprise and deep satisfaction for me to interact with teachers that have marked my life”, says Herrera.
You indicated that in Madre Tierra you make use of other international styles in order to attract different audiences. What are these styles?
We´re not talking about a radical change in the music itself. It is through the use of instruments that we try to reach a more international sound, for example, the Darbuka (Hindú) which adds a particular touch to the music.
I also work with repertoires that include my compositions as well as a variety of styles and genres from a jazz perspective, trying to keep my sound as well as that of those who have contributed to the project.
You also mentioned that in addition to interpreting and knowing jazz you are interested in contributing to the development of the genre. Can you comment?
Jazz is a genre that becomes a way of life, it is an artistic expression that has drawn not only on international and local music cultures but also on many talented contemporary artists, giving rise to many distinctive styles. I believe that needs to be shared with people.
I had the opportunity to travel to Camagüey, Holguín, Guantánamo, Ciego de Ávila, Santiago de Cuba and Villa Clara. It was an extremely valuable experience; I discovered that in every province there is a particular sound or vision of jazz. In most cases it is mixed with the genre that the region identifies itself with. My idea is to visit all the provinces and conduct interactive workshops with music students and work with them to develop their own compositions.
Is there formal training to become a Cuban Jazz artist?
No, up until this moment there is no official Center of Cuban jazz, although many teachers have approached the conservatories and universities, among them Bobby Carcacés, Orlando Sánchez (Cubajazz), Alexis Bosh, Emilio Morales, Yasek Manzano and others. By means of didactic concerts and magisterial classes, these musicians have tried to develop jazz and demonstrate its musical point of view.
Jojazz marked your professional career, it made your work known and rewarded you on two occasions. What does that mean for you?
Jojazz was where I first performed for an audience that was not my made up of my fellow students. Although we did not have a solid musical project, we were a group of friends that wanted to combine ideas and create jazz. At the present time I am actually a judge for Jojazz and both in my workshops and as judge I see a big generational exchange. The new musicians come with fresh ideas, combining them with what was done by past generations; that is why I say that what we have is Cuban jazz in evolution.
What happened with Madre Tierra after Cubadisco 2014?
After Cubadisco we did a national tour. Madre Tierra has been a big success un til now and I believe that those fans who enjoy live concerts appreciated my performance. I had the opportunity t o work on the project Verso a Verso with Maykel Herrera, where we related plastic arts to music. Other performers that participated were Buena Fe, Ivette Cepeda, Decemer Bueno, and Tony Ávila.
I am also involved in other projects: the teacher Joaquín Betancourt´s Big Band, Eliades Ochoa´s last record production, the Cuban All Star Sextet (with musicians such as Emilio Morales, Yasek Manzano, Tomás Ramos, El Panga, Juan Carlos Rojas, El Peje, and bassist Omar González) where we all appeared at the Barranquilla Festival 2014. I also collaborated on a UNESCO project, a big band made up of international musicians where in 2014 I not only represented Cuba but America as a whole as the other musicians were from Asia and Europe.
Expectations for 2015?
I want to continue working on my Madre Tierra project as it has brought great results and is a formula that I intend to keep using for future projects. I also plan to continue with my workshops, keep promoting the development of jazz music in the country and get involved in projects that involve new possibilities for the genre.
I believe that jazz is an interaction, an energy, a way of life and like contemporary art recycles and gives new vision to something that already exists. These are the expectations that I have for 2015: to create interesting projects, to help develop the sound of Cuban jazz and to be able to take it all over the world.