Henry Cole & Villa Locura release a new song featuring Alex López ‘El Callejero’ – “Si Va’ Llover” – and a new form of making and sharing music.
Alex López and Henry Cole met in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico sometime around 1992 when Henry attended the Manuel A. Barretto School.
Two images of Alex have remained forged in Henry’s memory. One is of Alex hanging out with Henry’s oldest sister, Tidzia Cole, and her friends in front of his grandmother Angelina Simon’s house on Calle Estación. The other is of Alex watching him from a little store next to the Cundo Rovira Pharmacy, where they sold “icys” (snow cones) and “empanadillas” (meat pies). Henry sensed that Alex was letting him know with his eyes that he was looking after him.
In 2006, the two met again in New York City during a Bomplenazo in which Henry participated as a guest of Los Pleneros de 21. Alex was part of the group Cocolay y sus Pleneros. As soon as they discovered they’re both musicians, they knew they wanted to collaborate. Whenever they met up, they talked about doing something together.
The opportunity arose in 2019. Henry was to appear with this group, Villa Locura, in Mayagüez for the first time, and he invited Alex to join them. He also asked Alex if he had a song that he’d like to adapt for Villa Locura. Alex sent him “Si Va’Llover.” Henry listened to several versions of the song and created a new arrangement within a couple of hours. And then, the gig in Mayaguez was canceled.
Henry performed “Si Va’Llover” in Santurce last December (2019) and although Alex didn’t sing with him, it was clear that people loved the song.
In 2020, Henry decided to record the arrangement of “Si Va’Llover,” this time with the participation of Alex López and a dream band. This is the result!
About The Process
The recording of the song entailed two experiments. The first was for Henry to see how his music would turn out with Villa Locura, his band made up of local Puerto Rican musicians, with the exception of keyboardist Jason Lindner.
The second experiment was to explore the legendary AQ30 Studios in Bayamón, which during the 1990s Merengue era recorded many greatest hits. Perhaps the most famous was, Elvis Crespo’s megahit “Suavemente.”
Discussing the process, Henry says: There’s a lot of analog equipment from that era that wasn’t being used because most of the work now is done with Pro Tools. I wanted to get the gears cranking again on the machine that had been so successful.
I started listening to some of the albums that were recorded there to relate the space to the music. I called trumpeter Luis Aquino and asked him how they recorded and what kind of equipment they used. Every time I saw the founder and recording engineer, Ricardo Marty I asked him a thousand questions and slowly I gathered fascinating information about the use and the history of the space.
Through these experiments I got a sense of what it would be like to record my next album in Puerto Rico.
At one point I felt that the equipment and the space spoke to me and welcomed me. This was confirmed in the takes that we recorded. Especially when I saw how the artists shone as their parts were added, and how easy it was done. It took Alex only one and a half takes to record his vocals. ‘I put on my headphones and went on a trip. I felt everything flow at once,’ he told me.
We only had one rule in the studio: no plugin’s (signal processor, equalizer, or compressor). The sound had to come from the subject to the analog machines without “filtering.”
About The Art
The artwork was inspired by the Portfolio de Plena series, a set of prints created by the Puerto Rican painter, printmaker, calligrapher, Lorenzo Homar, and painter and the draftsman, graphic artist, muralist, and illustrator Rafael Tufino, who celebrated Afro-Puerto Rican music in the 1950s.
Also, Henry called the painter, Martin Garcia Rivera, who is very familiar with Homar and Tufino’s works, and respects the Puerto Rican culture.
“Martin’s process was an incredible learning experience for me. In the middle of the pandemic he sent me photos and meditations about his process for creating the piece, a process called Intaglio, using Punta Seca. One day Martin called me and I heard the joy in his voice, and knew that he had succeeded. That call lasted about three hours. We talked a lot about the painter, Francisco Oller, Puerto Rico, our culture, and Martin’s story.”
“The press is manual, it’s like traveling back in time to a hundred, two hundred, even five hundred years ago. The past is the present with different actors and all that today has to offer,” says Martin Garcia Rivera.
La Música Artesanal is Born
Once the “master” was finished, Henry shared it with some people in the music industry, garnering the usual results. Some said, “Wow, this amazing, it’ll stick.” And others said, “We don’t know if it belongs on a playlist, it’s too long, it’s too instrumental, it’s too jazzy, it’s regional, people consume a more urban sound.”
Henry was aware that even if there were some interest, he would have to give away his song for streaming, which generates less than a penny per play. And with a schedule of canceled concerts for the rest of the year, he realized he wouldn’t be able to continue in that direction, nor could he expect the industry to dictate what he should do with his music.
So Henry decided to take inspiration from the figure of the artisan, using this analogy: Craftspeople make their handiwork —whether it be jewelry, or furniture, or carved nativity scenes— but they would never expect to make a living by simply giving it away as if it were a free sample. This would leave the artisan with no profit to buy food or materials.
For example, there’s craft beer, craft coffee, craft jewelry. A craft beer is more expensive than a regular beer. Why? Because of the quality of the ingredients, the process by which it’s made, the attention to detail.
Henry developed the idea of launching his own platform to sell his art in conjunction with visual designer Abdiel Flores.
La Música Artesanal also seeks to bring together artists who share this same thinking and passion for their crafts. In this way, they’ll form a Mercado of craft musicians.
“And so,” says Henry, “I offer you here my Música Artesanal, created with the best musicians, artists, engineers, machines, and processes.”
“The ‘mission,’ was to create an aggressive, punchy, in your face, groovy, virtuosic sound. Also, I wanted to present my vision of New Plena and send a message to the other Plena, Bomba, and Salsa Bands in Puerto Rico, that, ‘This is 2020 and Henry Cole and Villa Locura is here!’ Aside from the lyrics, I composed all the parts. I brought in the bassist Ricky Rodriguez, who gave me the aggressive, nasty bass lines I was seeking. This virtuoso type of bass playing happens in Merengue but rarely in Plena. Also, there is Trap (a sub-genre of hip-hop ) played by musicians, not computers. ” — Henry Cole
Well, my people
If It’s Going to Rain, Let it Rain
Nothing Will Stop My Plena!
HENRY COLE AND VILLA LOCURA’S DYNAMIC SOUND AND ALEX LOPEZ’S POWERFUL LYRICS TAKE PLENA INTO THE 21ST CENTURY!
Henry Cole – Music, Drums
Alex López – Lyrics, Vocals
Martin Rivera Garcia – Art
Michael Brauer – Mixing Engineer
Emanuel Santamaria – Punteador
Axel Rodriguez – Guiro
Jason Lindner – Keyboards
Piro Rodriguez – Trumpet
Jahaziel Garcia – Trumpet
Jonathan Acevedo – Tenor Sax
Victor Maldonado – Baritone Sax
Javi Perez – Guitar
Giovanni De La Rosa – Guitar
Ricky Rodriguez – Bass
Jay Laboy – Coro
Antoinette Rodriguez – Coro
Sebastian Otero – Coro
Glorimar Nogueras – Coro
Recording & Editing
Giovanni De La Rosa
Idania Valencia – Mastering
Abdie Flores – Cover
José Diaz – Video
Joealis Filippetti – Promotional Voice Over
Tomas Peña – Promo, Editor
Omar Sosa & The Aguas Trio In Concert at Birdland (NYC)
Omar Sosa knows how to make an entrance. Wearing a white kaftan, matching skull cap, and adorned with a Santeria collare (collar) and bracelets on his wrists and ankles, he cleanses the room as the Cuban violinist, singer Yilian Cañizares and the Venezuelan percussionist, Gustavo Ovalles join him onstage. After a moment of silence, the magic begins.
The Aguas Trio dedicates itself to Water and Oshún, the Goddess of Love, and the Mistress of the rivers in the Lucumi tradition. “It’s a tribute to our traditions, our ancestors, and one of the most important elements of the planet, WATER.” Interestingly, the music was created on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca, by the sea.
Sosa is a nomad, a citizen of the world. He was born in 1965 in Camagüey, Cuba. At eight, he gravitated to percussion and marimba at the music conservatory in Camagüey. In Havana as a teenager, he took up piano at the prestigious Escuela Nacional de Música and completed his formal education at the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana. In 1993, he moved to Ecuador and immersed himself in the folkloric traditions of Esmeraldas, whose heritage includes the Afro-Ecuadorian marimba tradition. Two years later, he relocated to the San Francisco Bay area, and singlehandedly invigorated the Latin Jazz scene.
Since then, he’s been traveling the globe and recruiting like-minded artists along the way. “I remember seeing Yilian play for the first time. I fell in love with her passion, her talent, her voice, the way she plays the violin, and her stage presence. I thought to myself, it’s an excellent time to put together two generations of Cubans living outside of the U.S. and express what we think, feel and live through the music.” Sosa and Ovalles have worked together on various projects since 2003.
At Birdland Jazz Club (February 18 to 22, 2020), the Trio went beyond the parameters of a standard set and took the audience on a journey. Highpoints included “Duo de Aguas,” which highlighted the extraordinary synergy between Sosa and Cañizares and their virtuosity. Also, the nostalgic crowd-pleaser, “De La Habana y Otras Nostalgias,” featuring Ovalles on several Venezuelan percussion instruments including quitiplas, culo’e puya, and maracas. Also, the tune, “Oshún,” whose traditional lyrics and original melodies embodied the deity’s “sweetness.”
I’ve been covering Sosa since 2004 when he was in New York for the making of “Mulatos.” Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of watching him perform and conquer audiences in every scenario imaginable: solo, duo, trio, quartet, and with a large ensemble.
Between sets, I made my way backstage with the idea of gaining insight into the Trio’s creative process and upcoming tour. Instead, I fell prey to Sosa’s quirky sense of humor and philosophy surrounding food. Namely, “Good food creates good music! “We rarely talk about music,” added Cañizares. “We would rather talk about food!”
In a previous interview with the website, Rhythm Passport, Sosa summed up his philosophy. “If I had to describe my sound, I always say I’m a musician (citizen) of the world. Music is my way of expressing what I feel inside and what I see in front of me. Over the years, I’ve lived in different parts of the world and in different countries. Like they say in Spanish, ‘Yo soy un músico de la tierra,’ (I am a musician of the earth). For me, it’s important to create music that translates what the spirits and ancestors tell me (Omar is a Santeria follower). Then, it’s about sharing my traditions and heritage with different musicians from the whole planet.”
Kudos to Birdland for the 5-night residency, ambiance, friendly service, and good vibes. As I write this, The Aguas Trio is wrapping up a U.S. Tour and making its way to Europe.
Recommended Listening: Transparent Water – Omar Sosa, Seckou Keita and Gustavo Ovalles (Otá Records); Erzulie – Yilian Cañizares (Planeta, 2018); Sonidos del Orinoco – Gustavo Ovalles (Rec. Ent. 2019); Aguas Live at Elbphilarmonie, Hamburg – Aguas Trio (Ota, 2019)
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