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Interviews Mario Salvador. Photo: Courtesy of the artist. Mario Salvador. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Mario Salvador and the alchemy of sounds

In the route that leads us to this young Cuban tres player and composer, some pieces are essential, such as Professor Efraín Amador and the Ensemble Interactivo de La Habana -a multidisciplinary laboratory of sound experimentation- that allowed my first encounter with him. Since then, I have heard and seen him performing as part of other formats, where collaborations with Yasel Muñoz, Marcos Morales and Rafael Aldama stand out. Genuine and strong connections that have made him move forward in a creative direction that seems to transcend in time. 

But talent, classes received, or connections are not enough; one must have a very restless creative mind to process the emergence of sounds at almost all hours, to question new music and find the perfect pieces that, like the gears of a watch, express the artist. As this search happens, a style takes shape. 

The last time I spoke with him, he was ready to release his debut album. Fantasy City (Egrem, 2020); later would come record productions such as Masintin and Le Matboth from 2022 under the label 577 Records. If before meeting him I believed that we could only find the beauty of alchemy in metals transmuted into gold; with him I discovered a new form: the alchemy of sounds. A bit of all that, he gives us back in this interview.  

Tell us about your beginnings in music.

My life began with music: my father, Salvador Mario, is a guitarist and tres player, and he has been a great advocate of the typical sonority of trios and quartets of traditional Cuban music. I remember always being in the living room of my house in the middle of rehearsals and downloads; somehow music was always something familiar to me. Then, when I was about seven years old, I met Efraín Amador, who would be my first guitar teacher; he was the one who suggested me to study the tres. instead of the guitarHe was concerned that I would give up music because of my lack of motivation in music. The tres captivated me and from then on the progress was amazing. Professor Efrain began to experiment with me the effectiveness of the Elementary Method of Tres, which began to be implemented in the music school of Quivicán, where I was on scholarship from the age of nine to 14, far from my home. That was the starting point.

We know that Cuban tres is generally associated with peasant music. But it is striking how you have inserted it into jazz. How did you realize you could do it? 

I have always been interested in experimentation and research. Life has put me close to the right person at each stage and I learned from many people, many musicians who were giving me their point of view, their favorite artists. I simply let myself be guided by intuition. Also, since I took on the tres since I was a child, I never had any preconceptions about how to play it. An important factor was listening. I spent a lot of time on trips to and from Quivicán and listened to music like crazy, everything seemed interesting to me. That, together with the process of discovering the instrument with the academic training plus the information I got from each experienced musician I met, was creating a base for me, which would be the one I would rely on later, when it came to playing or composing. So I didn't really think about inserting anything; it was a natural process. One hears something that seems attractive in principle and the musician has the need to reproduce those things. I had a lot of information about how the tres was played from the traditional, that gave me a lot, but then came a process of emptiness, of looking inward and trying to get my own sound without the limits of "the traditional". And, in reality, I have only glimpsed a path, now it's time to keep going through it. 

Mario Salvador. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Mario Salvador. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

But, in any case, what is your point of view regarding the dogma that the three has only one valid way of playing and that is "the traditional way"? 

This is an interesting topic; I didn't really separate myself from "the traditional", I know and love it but it doesn't limit me. To confuse an instrument with a form is an artistic limit. The tres, like any other instrument, is a tool and the tool is not the one that sets the barriers, they can only be set by the creator himself. Even recognizing the historical importance of the Cuban tres throughout its short life, as an instrument even leader of a part of the most important genres of our popular music, it is essential to blur those limits to do what I want to do: to break with the routine of the formal. The important thing about the forms is the content behind them, you can tell when someone is trying to do something new and there is no content to support it. I try to do my best, I try to expand the potential of expression of this instrument and, through it, to know myself without fear, to look deep inside myself.

On the other hand, there have been many tres players that I have had as references in my first years as a student: those of the old school (Arsenio Rodríguez, Chito Latamblet, Isaac and Papi Oviedo, El Niño Rivera, Rigoberto Maduro, Pancho Amat...) and also the more contemporary ones (César El LentoRenesito Avich, San Miguel, Cotó, Guillermo Pompa...). All of them have different styles, different ways of playing... So, let's ask ourselves: what is playing the tres? The genre? The way of playing? Because obviously when I play a son or a changüí I know what the codes are, but I don't submit to that.

It is normal that there are detractors of the new, but I try to expand the language of the instrument and I am in full search of my own. Music and forms are cyclical, they advance in a spiral through the different currents and times in art; to speak of a certain music is like speaking of a frozen photograph, since in reality music is constantly moving, transforming itself, sometimes maintaining the routine or sometimes breaking it. There are a thousand examples in history and, in fact, as a student I was surprised that, in a documentary about the tres, the great musicologist Radamés Giro sensed that some of the young tres players would probably be interested in jazz, pointing out that he believed it was an instrument capable of anything.

The Cuban tres is in the process of growing from many directions and I like that. It means that our culture is expanding. I understand that some of these creative processes could hurt the sensibilities of people who are extremely traditionalist, but the world needs these movements and art is the most accurate way by which we can know ourselves better. Sometimes it is also important to look inward without taking too much into account the "truths" that we have inherited from others (society, country, language, school, family...).

We should let art guide us, learn to enjoy diversity, stop comparing and judging other people's creative processes, let everyone see Cuban art and defend it in their own way and not impose "this or that is playing tres". Of course, many people will continue to believe that, but at least for me, it doesn't stop me.

At what points in your life did the Ensemble Interactivo de La Habana and Nuevo Trio arrive? What does each of these groups represent for your personal and professional development?

They were the perfect platforms to do what every artist needs, which is to keep growing all the time. At EIH, for example, I experienced the improvisations and the performances craziest of my life. When there is diversity and space, you can express yourself freely and that makes you enter into a sort of healing process of knowledge; you must forget that you know how to play or - better said - you must play what you are afraid of, what we don't know. This project is like a university of spontaneity, improvisation and contemporary collective composition. I met Pepe Gavilondo (director of EIH) through Yasel Muñoz, with whom I played in his quartet, and soon I began to be present in several concerts of the Ensemble until I became a more formal member. It was interesting, because when there is so much freedom, chaos lurks; so while very natural and spontaneous, it was a very demanding process, with weekly rehearsals in which ideas and concepts were shared about how to improve a piece of music. performance totally improvised. The main topics in those meetings with the EIH were composition, theatricality in music, poetry, technology applied to music, orchestration, etc. It's not as boring as it sounds; they really are a group of friends and excellent musician-artists creating for the love of art. If I had to sum it up, I would say it's like living a residency on contemporary music, in Havana.  

On the other hand, Nuevo Trio is a recent project, which I share with Marcos Morales on drums and Rafael Aldama on bass. It is thought, in the first instance, to record; we wanted to try music in this format. I remember that Marcos told me about the idea before the pandemic and we were only able to develop it when there started to be a little more openness, after those moments of isolation. The project is based on exploring the composition of each one of us collectively, what each one of us, from the knowledge of our instruments and music in general, contributes to the compositions. Sometimes the themes arrived as sketches and were developed in rehearsals; it was also the case of composing and arranging collectively. In this first stage of Nuevo Trio we managed to record two albums, one of our music and another improvised one that was a revelation for the three of us, because of the technological issue we had to experiment with. I think the first album will be available in the new year. It includes an arrangement of mine of  The maniserowhich is already on YouTube in the form of a live and that summarizes a little bit the way I see Cuban music now, the search for transformation from the traditional. I am very happy with that result. 

Tell me about your most recent recording projects that came out in 2022: Masintin and Le Mat.

Masintin is an album recorded in 2020, released in June of this year on a New York label called 577 Records, which is dedicated to compiling and producing some of what they consider to be the most relevant in the world of improvisation, contemporary jazz and avant-garde. The phonogram is a collective project with Yasel Muñoz on flute and Marcos Morales on drums and, I hope it does not sound pretentious, I think it has no precedent in Cuba. It was important to capture what we were at that time as improvisers, collectively and individually. For me it is an album that opens the door of the free jazz in my expression as a musician and highlights the importance that the universal and contemporary is having in a group of young Cuban musicians. It is a journey through the most hidden corners of our sonorous subconscious, with an amazing timbre richness in spite of being only three instruments. It is not the kind of albums that everyone would listen to, you have to be interested in art and music without prejudices, I see it more as a work of art than as music. 

Le Mat Marcos Morales and I recorded it; it is a kind of gift I give to the Tarot de Marseille. This album could be considered a suite room which symbolically presents a journey from the card of The Madman to The World; I could say that "The Madman goes to the World" would be a good subtitle for the album, quoting Jodorowsky (a master of the Tarot of Marseilles) in his book The dance of reality. The music of this album recreates some of the major arcana, common archetypes in our lives such as the star, the hermit, the moon, justice, which are some of the "characters" that appear in the titles of the album. It is a very special music for me, with many timbre colors and an amazing mixture of the materials that Marcos Morales contributed from the beginning of the album. drums to my first proposal from the production and the three. With its sound it reached another dimension. Here I also use pedals, electronic effects and several extended techniques in the tres such as percussion with drumsticks, playing with violin bow, or microtonal tuning, looking for a wider range of expression.

Why did you consider this electronic manipulation of the tres? How much does this way of playing enrich the resulting sound?

The technology exists and it would be very naive not to try it and experiment knowing how much amplitude it can give to your sound or proposal as a musician. Although I really like the natural sound of the tres, I have experimented a lot with pedals, multi effects... depending on what you want and without abusing it, you can achieve very different things. I see it as different textures and colors available to express yourself on your instrument, not as an end. The technology has no content, the content is given by you; and although sometimes people are surprised at the three, it is possible to apply technology to virtually all musical instruments that exist; you just have to know what you want.

How have you internalized/incorporated this learning into your language?

There are many references, you just have to open the Internet and know which names to look for, but I insist that the kid of the thing is to look for and find yourself. As for experimentation, I could mention Hermeto Pascoal, who has always been very daring in his music. I greatly admire the work of Leo Brower, who is unmistakable and opened many doors in the language of the guitar. In my opinion, Leo is a genius and it is a source of pride for us that he is Cuban. I have seen him as a reference in the sense of what he did with his instrument, in addition to the music he composed. In the 20th century, in general, most composers covered everything possible in their time, what changed were the contexts, the forms, but in the end the music is the same. That's why it's important what makes you individual, there you can always be different because your life will never be like the other. In the end, I think the best way to experiment openly is to have no referents, although it is always good to listen, of course.

Mario Salvador. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Mario Salvador. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Efraín Amador is a central figure in your formation in the tres. In your debut album Fantasy City He is also responsible for the liner notes of the album. What is the most important thing you have learned from him? 

As you say, he is a central figure in my life, the one who taught me to love this instrument. Efrain always told me that I had to aim for the universal and I think that kind of thinking influenced the way I see the tres today. He is the person who knows the most about my beginnings, who put the tres in my hand. I can say that my life begins there and I have no words to thank him for that, in addition to all the years of study with him, which were very enriching technically and culturally because Efrain knows every story behind the works and makes you love them as if you were the composer yourself. In addition, his method prepares you, from the technique and style, to play whatever you propose, which is something to be grateful for any graduate of three.

Finally, what does the Escuela del Tres Cubano represent for you and the spaces that this instrument has in Cuba?

Most of the tres players who are anywhere in the world playing at a high level, come from the Cuban School of Tres. Since 1986, when it was founded by Efrain Amador, it has opened the doors to all lovers of this instrument so that they can study at three levels (elementary, middle and higher). Another interesting thing is that many women are graduating from there and defending this instrument in an amazing way. That adds a lot to the process, the more people who are interested in the three, the better... so there has been a leap in quality. And, although Efrain's method covers a wide stylistic, technical and popular range, young composers - including myself - are enriching it, contributing new works to the program. In my time as a teacher, I wrote about 20 works in order to offer something to this important teaching. In the future, I would like to write my own method and include works and studies that I am working on. In my opinion, the academy and the street are two schools that should be complementary, not opposed, which would further enrich the process.

Mirian Delgado Mirian Delgado Diaz Music lover who dreams of vinyl records that she sometimes finds and sometimes not. More posts

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