Raúl Paz, Music is my freedom
Pedro Quiroga Photos:José (tito) Meriño
Raúl's peace (Paz) is not only in his last name; but the self-assurance and serenity evident in his dialogues show him to be a self-confident and determined person.
Who is this singer who writes for himself and still has time to dedicate his work to singers like Spanish Rosario Flores, Argentinean Diego Torres and Puerto Rican Marc Anthony?
Raul Paz is from Cuba. More precisely from Vueltabajo, the land of tobacco in westernmost Pinar del Río Province. By a fluke he won a scholarship to study for a Masters in musicology at the Paris Conservatory and knew how to take advantage of it. While in Paris he took a chance playing in different restaurants, guitar in hand. He formed his first band, Cachimbo, and played at the Club Pigalle where he made the acquaintance of late music producer Ralph Mercado, who introduced him to the select New York music world.
It's curious; you began by studying classical music and ended up doing commercial music. Wasn't that weird?
Not at all; classical music is also commercial. It's a misunderstanding because all musicians want their work sold and for people to identify with it. As time passed classical music has had a more limited audience, but it wasn't always like that. Mozart, for example, learned a lot in bars.
Did you have a hard time with composition or was it something born from the need to make your own music?
When I was a kid I used to write a lot. I started in the Higher Institute of Art in Havana and studied classical music and at that time distanced myself from composition.
Then I wrote a song for a singer I liked a lot. It was the first time I was aware of writing a song for someone in particular. I wrote it while thinking about the singer's voice and tone and then recorded it in my first album. The name of the song is Pedro. It's the story of a friend of mine and it's in the style of Pedro Navaja by Rúben Blades. It was a hit.
The composition came to me very naturally and today writing is what I like the most, more for others than for me. It means getting beneath someone else's skin.
Do you mean becoming a composer for famous singers?
I don't think so, because I like stepping onstage, but there is no doubt that I write more each day. It's something that started as a game. I was asked to write some songs for the album Living la vida loca by Ricky Martin, and even though none was chosen, I was in the process.
When I got to France, singer Viktor Lazlo asked me for a song and it became a big hit. Rosario Flores called me at home to dedicate a song for her and she told colleagues and friends. Now I'm called by Julio Reyes, Marc Anthony's new producer, who I already knew, asking me to write songs for Anthony's new album. You have said you feel a strong vocation for rock although you don't play it.
I don't do anything having a label or title. When I started playing music in Paris, the Buena Vista Social Club was hip and being a Cuban implied wearing that sign and so I decided to detach myself.
As I don't want a sign, I don't make rock, or soul, or rap, or salsa or trova…I sing.
I detest words like "fusion" or "world music" because that last term includes everything people don't know where to locate, it's like apartheid.
How would you define what you do?
That's it; I just don't want to define it. Why should I define it? Definitions pigeonhole and then there's always theory about stuff that doesn't admit theorizing.
To me music is not theoretical, it is intuitive. I highly respect the intuitive side although I don't reject the theoretical part. My great struggle has always been that at least fifty percent of music is intuitive. When it's like that, it is very difficult to define.
What is music for you?
It's my freedom. It's being, maybe, what I don't dare to be. Being someone else or being simply myself. It's the greatest moment of freedom I have found in my existence.