Horacio El Negro Hernandez and Yissy García. Photo: Larisa López / Magazine AM: PM
Horacio El Negro Hernandez and Yissy García. Photo: Larisa López / Magazine AM: PM

Horacio «el Negro» x Yissy García: «La batería es un juego de niños»

10 minutos / Magazine AM:PM

07.11.2018 / Interviews

With this work we give the starting pistol to MxM, a conversation between two musicians united by the same instrument.  MxM, (of Musician by Musician) is a section that we dreamed from the beginning of the magazine, because we are very interested in hearing firsthand those dialogues that are generated between two creators who handle the same language. For our fortune we started with an interview that the drummer Yissy García made to that percussion teacher that is Horacio "El Negro" Hernández, at the house of the Festival of New Latin American Cinema.

Why the name "El Negro", Horacio?
Yissy, that's incredible. My mom, who thanks to all the gods lasted me ninety years, never called me by my name, not once in my life. I do not remember hearing from my mother Horacio or Horacito, ever. Neither my grandmother, nor my aunts, nor my friends, always: "Negro, Negro, Negro" ...

And here is El Negro. Tell me why did you decide on the battery?

The battery has a child element, a connection with children that is spectacular. All children want to play drums; this is a game. I think that's one of the reasons why I'm a drummer. The other is that I wanted to be with the group; that is, this is not an instrument designed to be played alone, it has always been part of the band. And I not only wanted to be part of the band, but also the driver of the bus that was going to take my friends to the beach: that's the drummer. And from there, the battery and the battery. You know that in that sense our country is very special.

Did you study at the conservatory, at the ENA, or something like that?

My father took me to the first lesson about seven years old, but it was an unpleasant experience. We went to see a teacher with the ability to teach the technique, who had all the right books. But through that experience, I realized how difficult and different it has to be -and is- to teach a child. In that first lesson the teacher told me that I had to be two hours doing this [he punches the box with the drumsticks in sync], I had to move one stick down and the other up at the same time. But I was seven years old, and what I wanted was to play [play rhythm of rock on the drums] like Ringo Starr!

The same thing happened to me. When I started school, I was put into exercises like that, and I said to my dad: "But I do not want that, my thing is to play the drums!"

Sure, have fun! Then I was never again. I told my parents: "I do not want any more lessons." And I stayed alone at home, watching television, listening to the records and imitating what I heard.

And at what age did you start working as a band professional?

At thirteen I entered the school of ...

Thirteen years?!

... art instructors. I was expelled from that school, and the reason they expelled me is that I never attended any class, only the drum class. I was going to the drum class at eight o'clock in the morning, and I stayed until eight o'clock at night. Of course, at the end of the course the history and math teachers did not even know who I was ... Expelled.

So I asked my teacher, a great teacher called Santiago Reites: "Teacher, what can I do now?" And he replied: "What can you do? Go play, if you're ready to be a musician! "Then in that year I did not go to any kind of percussion, but I did four years in one. Santiago was a little obsessed with the history of coordination, independence and all that, and he taught us Jim Chapin's books of independence to a small group of feverish percussion, in which everyone had been expelled like me. All that knowledge applied to Afro-Cuban music, with the key and all the rhythm. Then he told me: "You are ready to start working", and so, at fifteen, I did my first professional job.

Horacio El Negro Hernández. Photo: Larisa López / Magazine AM: PM.

Horacio El Negro Hernández. Photo: Larisa López / Magazine AM: PM.

With what group?

With the group of Julio César Fonseca, through which Cuban musicians of great caliber like Ernán López-Nussa and Gabriel Hernández passed. All these people were Julius Caesar's pianists. And there was my first job, my first national tour. I arrived to Camagüey. When my mother saw that I was there, she saw that there was hope. (laughs)

Do you remember how you sounded at that time?

No way. And there are no recordings. My first recording, perhaps with 17 years, was for the first album by the songwriter and singer Donato Poveda. It's funny, funny, the way I entered that circuit. By then I was working with Mario Dali, guitarist of Arte Vivo. Donato played with us, and Mario had made all the arrangements for his record. One day we went to record at the EGREM studios and they asked Donato: "Well, who is going to play the drums?", to which he replied: "The little boy that is there". They called him aside and said: "No, no, no, look, Donato, for this work you need experience". Donato behaved very well and said: "No, he's going to record the drums." We went in then, we recorded the Donato´s album and, suddenly, I became the drummer of the EGREM.

There I made more than three hundred albums. They came to put me a cot in a room, and every time I finished an album I would sleep two hours. And another album. We used to say we made records by pound - "Tell me how many pounds of records do you want?" -. It was a beautiful time, especially a lot of learning. It is beautiful, first of all, to have to read music, to interpret what the different arrangers write, that is an immense school.

Tell me a bit about your arrival in the big city, in New York.

I would say that my entrance to New York was through a huge door. The same day I arrived, I called Paquito D 'Rivera, who told me: "And what are you doing here, how did you get there?" I told him not to worry, that he was already there. Then he said: "Hey, I'm making a record, and tomorrow I'm going to Miami to record, do you want to come with me? Come on, I invite you to the album. " I said yes, of course, and we went to Miami, where we recorded 40 years of Cuban jam sessions, who won a Grammy that same year. From then on I began to move around New York. You have been there several times, and you have surely seen the musical atmosphere that is breathed in that city, the atmosphere of musical camaraderie as well, that all the musicians are there to exchange, to see each other and to learn from the new ones that arrive. And so he was turning his voice and turning his voice ...

You entered with the right foot.

Yes, or with the left, some say it is with the left. (laughs)

Many drummers are super dead with the way you do the key and improvise. Do you study independence exercises with the key?

Everything, everything ... [shows how he exercises the independence with the key in the battery, and both laugh].

Negro, come here. When composing, tell me a little. Do you have preferred rhythms to compose? How do you get your muse?

Yissy, the truth is that I love studying. It's like a labyrinth in which I enter and things start appearing that I can not touch. Trying to decipher how I can play that I can not, I get a lot of new ideas and rhythms. Now it's very easy to do all that because if you have an idea you can record it at once. But everything comes from studying.

I have a friend, a very good hip-hop drummer, named Jo Jo Meyer. Jo Jo says that if you sound good when you're studying, it's because you're not studying, that you're simply playing what you know how to play. And to truly study is to try to throw yourself into something that you do not know. And that is so vast, so immense! All that world of coordination is so beautiful! Reading music is very easy, Yissy, that is, read rhythms ...

Hey, it's not so easy...

Too easy. Music is a language that has 100 words, do you understand what I say? The black, the eighth note, the white, this, the eighth note, the fuse, the silence, this, the other, and the language of music is over. You have to practice, because if you do one day and do not do it again for two months, of course you will be much slower when you return. But if you do it every day, if you read, read and read, it's very easy.

[smartslider3 slider=9]

What is the greatest joy you have had as a musician?

My greatest achievement, if you can say that, is that my drummer sleeps every night next to Louis Amstrong's trumpet, Duke Ellington's piano, the synthesizer with which you walk out of Herbie Hancock, at the Smithsonian Museum, in Washington. Five or six years ago, they called me to tell me that they wanted to have a battery of mine in that museum that cares for so many historical instruments. I always forget to mention it, but truly that is much more valuable than all the Grammys and all the decorations, which are also important and beautiful, right? But knowing that your instrument is going to be for life sleeping to those others is like "wow", something incredible.

Like you don´t stop, you are working on different projects all the time, all spinning ...

Yes, but I'm trying for God of ...

To stop a little ...

Yes, to stay home. What I really like, as I´ve said, is to study. Playing in concerts and all that is very nice, very nice, but to me what satisfies me immensely is to be alone with my instrument, to go there to fly. And I do not know, maybe keep on doing DVDs and instructional videos and books and stuff, but at least from a quieter base. That they have been forty years of nonstop! I have a hill made of passports, with all the pages full. It's a beautiful life, you know, full of opportunities and places that you know, wonderful people, audiences ... An intense, super intense and super pretty life. That is, if I had to do it again, I would not change anything.

Is there an artist that you have dreamed about playing and you haven´t...?

Uuh, imagine you ... so many ...


There are many, yes ... with you!

Magazine AM:PM

Magazine AM:PM

Cuban music magazine, without distinctions of genres or geographies.

    More posts

    Leave a comment


    gene. argel


    I saw El Negro live in New Orleans. I think it was Bill Summers who introduced him as the greatest drummer in the world…..could be

    Read more Interviews

    Help support our magazine

    • Donate •

    Become a Patreon

    Magazine AM: PM is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

    Logos Patrocinadores