A Cosmos travels Mercury Sessions
Imagine an interview with Marcos Morales. It is always a challenge to catch the right flight of his words. It's all in his head. He flows and, no matter what questions he has prepared, he takes me by the hand and tells me to follow him. Along the way, I really enjoy the dialogue, the two-way communication we manage to have.
What follows is our conversation, December 28 at 8:00 p.m. —Havana timeI clarify, because we are three hours apart.—, and it is also a sample of who he is, as a person, beyond the composer, drummer, leader of the Marcos Morales Quintet project with which he recorded the album Ruins (Unicorn, 2019), and who then spent nearly two years-thanks to Pandemic-creating music with some of the brightest musicians of his generation.
How and why did Mercurio Sessions emerge as a record label?
After I came back from Belgium (where I studied a lot) I really wanted to play, but everything was closed because of the social isolation, announced during the pandemic. I came up with the idea of doing duo sessions from Europe because I connected with Interstellar Spaceby John Coltrane with drummer Rashied Ali. That album inspired me and I didn't settle for just another instrument. I called musicians from several generations. 21 in total.
I have a lot of affinity with Mercury. My zodiac sign is Gemini and that is its ruling planet. On the other hand, I liked to know who Mercury was in Greek philosophy and for the Egyptians: he was Hermes (Toth), intermediary between human beings and the gods. It is sometimes said that music is the language of the latter.
In turn, everything is related to dynamism. So before the label came the Mercurio Sessions. I liked that the sessions I recorded included the word "mercury", although I didn't find it very easy to name them. And the thing is that, although I have the conscience to record things, I'm not so concerned about how to name them; I feel them, I live them, that's all.
This process allowed me to expand my creative world and to record, for example, the Primitive music sketchestogether with Rasiel Aldama and Iran Farias. The youngerartists that I admire very much. In this project there is an exploration of landscapes, household chores, questions such as how does a sunrise sound, how does a river sound, how does a river sound? We thought about all that in rehearsals; we were not looking for something super-finished but for each one of us, with our primitive instinct, to sound, to make music. It was beautiful: it was an experience that emptied me of everything, I didn't even play drums. It took me out of my comfort zone. I took away the responsibility of being a drummer, the ego of being a drummer, and I started playing drums.
Mercurio Sessions is the platform I created for the musical expressions that occur to me in all facets of my life, without compromise, without prejudice, without thinking about an established market; so its center is my work, in principle. It is my way of seeing music in the world. That's where an album I recorded with Wiwi comes in, two albums by the group N.T., and there are albums of my own. The last two years I was in Cuba, I did not stop recording.
We musicians should learn a lot from other manifestations. Plastic artists have long been very clear that the most important thing is to create. We are taught to reproduce. Jazz is not just music or a genre. It is a way of life. I can't stand labels anymore. Palpable music has no form. The one we know, we put words to understand it. It is the most abstract artistic manifestation. Sometimes you don't understand well what you hear and that's not a bad thing.
So Mercurio Sessions goes from the abstract form of the music. Its intention is to expand it. Most of the albums are live sessions. Arriving at the studio, talking, sharing coffee, finding the precise mood that would allow us to create: that's what it was all about. When I was in Cuba I was aware that those musicians I enjoyed the most were not going to be available for long-term projects. And so it has been, almost all of them left the country.
How would you like people to perceive this record label?
A site where you can find all kinds of sound. With it I identify the projects, ideas, sound experiments and collaborations of my artistic work, exploring the different timbre, rhythmic, harmonic possibilities and all the possible ways in which music decides to manifest itself.
You recently launched Cosmos (Mercurio Sessions, 2023), how was the creation process?
After experimenting with different music, forms and sonorities, sensations began to awaken in me, I began to look for sounds. Putting the music in function of the sound, that sometimes you don't know how to identify that sound mass with colors, shades, textures... Sound experimentation, in short. It is a very experimental album. It is not usual for a drummer to carry out this kind of work alone.
I recorded it in Vicente Alejandro's studio. One day, when I arrived at his studio, he had a guitar pedalboard, I wanted to put it on the drums and he let me. It was magic. I liked it so much that I recorded a complete album with electric guitar pedals. And it came out Cosmos. There were in total 17 recorded tracks from which, for this album, I selected nine. They are different sounds from different galaxies. Spatial sensation. Expression between sounds of each button of the pedals, exploring the drums. I just wanted to hear cymbals, drums. It's my way of presenting myself. When I record I need to strip myself of prejudices, with nothing premeditated.
What areas of Marcos Morales' universe does he reflect and/or deepen? Cosmos?
Emptiness as a starting point. When you have the possibility of everything you want to emerge from nothing, it's a pact, an agreement with yourself. As this is the label's first album, I am musically naked. It's my way of showing myself to the world, without compromising others. I wanted to strip myself of other sonorities that didn't come out of my head, to be as honest as possible with myself. I feel like I've never presented myself before.
What new horizons have you explored, both in your relationship with yourself and in your relationship with music and even with others?
I'm in a process between music and myself, trying to learn from myself things I don't know. That enigma of creativity, where does it come from? That search took me inside; each record is another stage. The other albums are with other musicians because I can't record four instruments. They understood the music that was played. Each one with interesting life stories, real things to say, something that interests me a lot. That's why there were Miguel Angel Garcia (Wiwi), Rasiel and Rafael Aldama (the latter recorded both the electric bass and the double bass), Delvis Ponce, El Menor (Iran Farias) and Mario Salvador. With Mario and Rafael, thanks to the records of our group N.T., I was able to play live. I wanted to take advantage of that confluence of time and space; and no record label was interested or realized what was happening. But I felt it had to be recorded.
Some records I thought more from the documentary, valuable sound that I found (and gathered) in Cuba, where there are points in common with what I was saying, music that I liked a lot. And there was never any imposition of anything, the deeper the musician, the better.
Regarding the story of the songs, each session is different and what they tell is related to the title of the album. I don't say more, so that you can discover it little by little.
How important are innovation, experimentation and energy to you?
I see it as one thing and a permanent part of life, we are beings of energy. Music is energy and we are instruments that it finds to manifest itself. When I create, I tear off a piece of myself, I put always an energetic charge in the creation. It also transmits something different to each listener. When a concert is energetically charged, people leave in silence, exhausted, calm. On the other hand, if we take into account the different musical genres such as rumba, salsa, etc., they all transmit different moods.
What does Cuban music imply for you?
I believe that Cuba is a sacred land. Ancestrally we have a very rich culture. The first thing I think of when I answer is the folkloric music. All that world of sound that we acquired from Africa. Among others, I particularly admire Gilberto Valdés, an incredible Cuban musician. —my great-uncle also—Bola de Nieve and Ernesto Lecuona.
Let's talk about communication and music production in Cuba.
In Cuba, the mass media have been colonized by the same people for 40 years. Cuban record companies are not interested in discovering new talents and that could affect the reach that the commercialization of a certain album could have; nobody is really interested in what is being done. Musicians are given little value. The mechanisms of music management are obsolete. There are good people who are playing and trying. Young people have always brought about something new. [The record companies] should be a little more concerned about the bill of the product they're putting out.
Whoever is lucky can record. I won a JoJazz and I was able to record but there are others who have won the contest and have not been able to record, and it has never been known why.
I would like many more musicians to be aware of the real possibility of independent production. It is important that we learn to distribute our music autonomously. I think that is part of the solution to this silence.