“The Man” who called “TOSCO”
José Luis Cortés
-T. Jobim -V.de Moraes-A. Salvet-
2. La Sombra de tu Sonrisa
-P. F. Webster-J. Mandel –
5. Canción de Orfeo
– A.C. Jobin-
7. Versión de Peruchin’s Samba
-José Luis Cortés-
8. Murakami’s Wife
-José Luis Cortés-
“The Man” who called “TOSCO”
There are countless concert venues in the capital, Havana. Spend your weekends in a variety of locations: from opera and crank ballet theaters like Teatro García Lorca and Teatro Karl Marx, to discos, cabarets, nightclubs, open-air theaters, restaurant theaters, bars, lighted patios, and even on the streets. A live performance will be held.
I have visited Cuba eight times in the past. Of course, since I am acting as a tourist, my range of activities is limited. Nowadays, when we talk about Cuba, we only hear about the extremely deteriorating economic situation. It is true that the shortage of goods, especially gasoline, is beyond our imagination, but on the surface there is no evidence of the kind of poor politics seen in Russia. Also, in all the Latin American countries I have traveled to, including Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Mexico, I got the impression that the entire country was completely rotten.
When an Italian trader said, “What a poor country, I didn’t come to Havana to see the poor people,” my friend, a photographer living in Argentina, said, “ Have you ever been to Peru or Colombia? Other Latin American countries are a million times poorer than Cuba.” If you spend even a day in the slums of Bolivia or Paraguay, you’ll realize that “a million times” is not an exaggeration.
Cuba is an easy-to-understand and healthy country, but I have no intention of conducting a sociological analysis here. The person I would like to introduce is an artist. His name is Jose Luis Cortés, and he is the leader of a contemporary orchestra called NG La Banda.
An encounter in the heat
I first met Jose Luis Cortés in March 1992, on my fourth visit to Cuba. It was the night I went to see NG La Banda perform for the first time at the outdoor disco “Tropical” (officially known as Salon Rosado Benny More).
“Tropical” is a concert venue that resembles a huge pool without water, and during the day there are old-style live performances mainly for older people, and on weekend nights, there are popular bands for young people. They cram more than 5,000 people into a venue that can hold 1,000 to 1,500 people if you line up the chairs.
There are two parts, with one part starting around 9 p.m., and popular bands like NG appearing at around 1 a.m. Customers (admission fee is about 100 yen in Japanese yen, about $1 in US dollars) wait in a venue with no place to sit for five to six hours while drinking specialty tropical beer. This beer is made in tanks at the kiosk (which only sells beer) and is poured directly into various containers that customers bring their own. Most people bring empty plastic mineral water bottles, although the rule is one drink per person. Some of them bring hand pots and milk tanks for transportation.
Some people say the beer is good, but it’s crudely brewed, so even though I’m pretty confident in my drinking ability, drinking one from a paper mug makes me feel dizzy and like a wild beast. Young people are crowded together, shoulders and elbows touching, drinking beer, and waiting for popular bands to appear, so it’s only natural that fights break out. Since the area is like the bottom of a pool, there is no wind and the area is filled with hot air, which can also lead to fights.
The combination of Caribbean blood and knives can lead to disaster, and when a fight breaks out, the police are quick to intervene. The method of intervention is simple: hit both parties with a hard rubber baton, knock them unconscious, and drag them to a corner.
While I was on the terrace reserved for foreigners and VIPs and saw about 10 fights while waiting for about 3 hours.
I was surprised at first by the way that someone suddenly hit them with a hard rubber, but it wasn’t taken seriously by them. And there was no sense of cruelty or misery, and everything was in the hot, humid, heavy air then it was being sucked into it.
I met Jose Luis Cortés in these situations. He was wearing a white suit, a black shiny shirt, a red tie, and snakeskin boots. He didn’t look like a musician. I was familiar with NG La Banda’s music from listening to their CDs. Jose Luis Cortés’s playing the flute is so sensitive that I was surprised to find out that this guy is “the man” who is the leader of a band.
“He’s a writer from Japan,” said the interpreter, introducing me to him. He gave a blunt nod, put the bottle of rum down on the table, and said very arrogantly, “Well, do it.”
What a great guy he is, I thought. He looked like the second generation of some yakuza. That was our first encounter.
Before a tropical shower:
The day after “Tropical,” I heard that they were rehearsing, so I went out. On that day, Havana was hit by heavy showers, roads turned into rivers, and old Soviet-made Lada cars were stuck here and there with their hoods open.
I like tropical showers and squalls. There is no sentiment like Japan’s showers. Before the rain comes, the sky quickly turns dark. It feels like a soft, thick shutter is coming down without a sound, and in addition to day and night, there is a gray period that is different from twilight, “before a tropical shower.” Before the rain falls, a sexy cold wind blows. The wind felt like the caress of a woman’s tongue with water in her mouth, then one or two drops of rain fell, and the rest resembled the ending of a symphony.
When I heard the rehearsal, I thought it was somewhere like a studio, but that was not the case. One of Cuba’s leading contemporary orchestras was arranging instruments in the garden of the mother of one of its members, trumpeter Crego. When I was in middle school, we had a Kinks copy band that played in a friend’s garage, and the atmosphere was the same.
A member without a car was delayed due to the shower. Main vocalist Tony Cara came to the rehearsal venue on a shared bus. Unable to perform as a group due to a lack of members, Jose Luis began playing the flute. Now that I think about it, it was probably a service to me.
The rain had completely stopped, and the clouds were starting to form cracks that looked like thick, soft shutters. Multiple layers of light poured through the slit, and the clouds were moving at an unusual speed. There was a gentle breeze, different from the one that blows just before a shower, and the palms, mangroves, and mango trees in the garden were slowly swaying, and I was listening to the wondrous sound of the flute. heard.
I had never heard of such a flute. The length of the breath, the clear tone with no turbidity, the incredible speed of the trills as the notes rise and fall, and the sound seemed to emanate something radiant.
The pleasure that releases the senses
My first experience with Cuban music was when Los van van’s song was used as the theme for the movie Topaz, and I visited Cuba for the first time in June 1991. It’s not like I was influenced by Cuban music from the beginning. Cuban music is not something that everyone can easily understand. A certain code is also required from the listener. The code itself is simple.
“To release your senses and just accept the music.”
Since I started listening to Cuban music, I realized that we also receive “information” that comes with the music. The proper name Mozart is information, and so are Herbert von Karajan, Luciano Pavarotti, and the Vienna Philharmonic. Similarly, there is information about hardcore, funk from Chicago, house from Miami, techno from London, noise from Berlin, etc., as well as things like what’s happening in the New York club scene now, or what a London DJ chose, or “Wagner left it at the end”. Added information such as “I left it at the end”, or “It was a Jim Jarmusch movie.” When this happens, our receptors absorb information, not music.
I have experienced the moments I will never forget.
It happened on the balcony of the Riviera Hotel on my third trip to Cuba. I brought my compact playback device to the balcony and listened to old and new Cuban music at full volume while looking almost 180 degrees out to sea. Havana’s sea and sky are probably the most beautiful in the world due to the absence of heavy chemical industry. It’s so beautiful that it makes you think that one of the answers to environmental problems lies in Cuba. It erases all sorts of superfluous social information in the same way that drugs affect neural metabolites and transmitters.
Only music entered my receptors. It was a religious yet physiological experience, and although I will never understand it, I imagined it to be like the discovery of the G-spot and orgasm.
I found that only music, that is, various combinations of sounds, was attached to my receptors. It was as self-explanatory as a certain cut of Fellini, the acceleration of a Formula 1 car, the color of the northern lights in the polar regions, or a painting by Botticelli.
That’s how I was able to awaken to “music” through Cuban music. Once the receptors have learned how to reach orgasm; regardless of the genre, I have come to make extremely simple decisions quite naturally.
Music that continues endlessly;
In 1992 and 1993 I produced concerts for NG La Banda. I also started a label company and wanted to help Jose Luis create new and more advanced Cuban music, mainly new recordings. It was the first time I had felt that way towards a musician.
After a concert in Japan in 1992, I made a CD of flute solos by José Luis Cortés. On average, Jose Luis played the flute for more than 12 hours a day in a recording studio located in the woods of Lake Yamanaka. It was, exaggeratedly, a religious experience for me. I felt like I had just touched upon the secret of Cuba’s power.
First, I gave Jose Luis a flute as a present. It is Yamaha’s highest-grade model. It was the first time I had ever done something like that as a patron. Even though it was the highest quality, it was not made of handmade silver, but Jose Luis was as happy as a child, saying, “After something so good happens, I always suspect something bad will happen. So I need to perform an exorcism,” he said and we performed an Afro-Caribbean religious ritual called Santeria in the corner of the wind instrument department at Shibuya Yamaha. I wanted José Luis to play a flute that could produce good sounds, and the thought of this genius continuing to play on the instrument I gave him made me feel like I had hope for survival.
At Lake Yamanaka, Jose Luis played the piccolo, bass flute, and flute not only in the studio but also in the cottage where he stayed. He played the flute all the time, except when he slept, ate, showered, and went to the bathroom. According to one person’s testimony, when he shook him and said, “Wake up, it’s already noon, the dining room will be closed if you don’t eat,” he woke up, searched for his flute, and started playing in bed.
When I woke up, had a late breakfast, and walked through the woods to the studio, I could always hear the sound of a flute coming from the cottage where Jose Luis was staying. I thought to myself, “He’s doing it again!” as I walked along, but it was because he was playing it for improvisation in a recording that afternoon. So I couldn’t help but stop in my tracks as there were new phrases that I was not used to hearing. Yes, that’s quite nice after all. Then I was listening to it, and something suddenly occurred to me. What disappears is self-consciousness, and the true nature of what appears is unclear. There’s just something ominous about it, something that makes my heart pound.
In the foggy forest, the sound of the flute blends in with the wind, the rustling of tree branches, the chirping of birds, and the sound of the flute echoes in the distance, I noticed I lost self-consciousness and my sense of time.
It was a mysterious experience. For example, it is a little different from “listening to the Quran on the top of a hill in Tangier at sunset.” Although it was a mystical experience, I listened to the flute with a clear understanding that the mysticism was due to its physical quality and mathematical arrangement. “Since when have I been listening to this flute solo? How much time has passed since I started listening?” I no longer know these things, and the sound of the flute is the only thing I can see, and I can’t even touch it with my hands. Things seem to be going by at an overwhelming speed, and I lose my sense of everyday time.
The imagination and compositional power of improvisation, in other words, Jose Luis’ performance ability, erases the sense of everyday time, and this is deeply connected to the essence of music in Cuba.
It is a type of Santeria. This characteristic remains in traditional Cuban dances such as the rumba. In this case, music played essentially endlessly.
Reconciliation with God:
That was when Jose Luis was in the studio recording the solo for “Morning of the Carnival (Black Orpheus)”. It was after midnight when we started recording that part, and we were all very tired. Jose Luis, who has the upper body of a gorilla, the lower body of a lion, and the lung capacity of a water polo player, was so tired that he said, “As expected, my lips are getting a little numb.” The recording had already been going on for twelve hours. José Luis was drinking beer, rum, whiskey, and cognac all the time as stimulants, so he didn’t get drunk, but he was dizzy.
In this condition, I was worried that Jose Luis would eventually collapse and I might collapse as well. He played a long eight-minute solo 10 or 20 times without a break, and each time, he yelled to the engineer, “No, turn it all off!”
As the 30th and 40th takes continued, I could feel the entire studio becoming engulfed in strange tension. Jose Luis was getting more and more tired, and as evidence of this, his breath became increasingly irregular and shortened. If I hadn’t known Cuba, I would have thought and told Jose Luis, “It’s better to do it tomorrow. You can’t do anything good if you’re tired.”
However, the position of music in Cuba is the complete opposite of the idea of spending an afternoon on a holiday in an elegant and fulfilling way.
A black slave returns to his hut, exhausted from harvesting sugar cane, or a white immigrant returns to an urban slum, worn out after working in the docks. (It’s a long time ago, there were no slums after the revolution.) Their music starts from there.
The rumbas, songs, and congas (Fiesta procession music) begin, and as they sing and dance, they are freed, legitimately exhausted, and invigorated to survive. What is needed in such a place is storytelling as a movement represented by classical music, and the “Yes, we’re all friends” represented by folk songs, folklore, and Japanese rock (Oh, I feel sick, I feel like throwing up. ) It is not a sense of community, but a strong, beautiful, aggressive, and elegant “repetition.”
I think that the idea of “I’m tired and I’ll see you tomorrow” is the mindset of people who have been allowed by the community to live forever in the land they were born into.
“I won’t stop playing the flute, I’ll play it until I die, and now I’m struggling with God.”.Jose Luis continued to play the flute while saying such things.
“No! delete it, one more time.”
The flute solo played for eight minutes. “No! delete it, one more time.” Repeating that, even I started to drift off as if I was in a nightmare of strangely bright and beautiful colors. It’s starting to feel like there is. Just as the night was coming to an end, Jose Luis did the OK take and played an unbelievable solo. Everyone in the monitor room was stunned, and one woman burst into tears. Even Miguel Ángel who is a Cuban pianist murmured ten times in disbelief.
“I was reconciled to God, and God was on my side.”. Jose Luis returned to the monitoring room while saying this. And there was no sign of fatigue at all, he looked as if he had just finished a sauna. I rarely experience such things, but I felt the presence of something great and incomprehensible, and I couldn’t help but get goosebumps.
“Nature” is nothing more than a relationship
I have a reason that I have been writing about Cuban music, a musician named Jose Luis Cortés for a long time in a “nature”-themed magazine. Of course, there is “nature” in Cuba as well. The Sierra Maestra in the east, where Guevara and Castro were based, is still a deep jungle, and the resort town of Varadero has the most beautiful sea in the world as far as I know. But I don’t think I’m going to go diving in Cuba or climb the Sierra Maestra in a jeep.
However, I don’t mean to write that I like humans more than “nature.” All I can say is that in Cuba, the thing that grabbed me the most was the music.
Up until now, I have experienced many impressive “nature” experiences. The aurora borealis in Lapland, the tiger-filled jungles of Malaysia, the deep sea of Micronesia with many shipwrecks, the never-setting sun of northern Alaska in summer, the hot winds, sandstorms, and sunsets of the Sahara, and the isolated island in the Gulf of Burma where the Negroids live. However, when I use the word “nature,” I think of Cuban music.
That’s because for me, Cuban music is a symbol of the sacred. It is the song of a man who has lost his home, and from the beginning it is intended to merge with the Other, to assume the outside, to scientifically assimilate with the cosmic. For me, “nature” that is unrelated to such intentions has no meaning. For example, is there anything more “natural” in this world than Mozart’s piano concerto?
I believe that “nature” is not a state, but merely a kind of relationship. When we become tired of setting up the outside world and searching for others, we may end up seeking “nature” as an illusion of ourselves. The view of “nature,” including the ecology boom, may seem like hope, but it is extremely unscientific and weak.
Most ecologists blindly equate the self with the environment and simply rely on it. In other words, what is being talked about is not “nature” but “self.”
Neither Mozart nor Cuban musicians are copying “nature.” Nor does it create “nature.” It’s not like you’re in “nature” either.
The music just proves that “nature” is nothing more than a relationship.
It goes without saying that what we call “Mother Nature” on this earth is nothing compared to the cosmic system.
That’s why I don’t want to talk about “nature” as a projection of the self.
For example, I have no interest in protecting the earth’s environment. Humanity is not that great, and the earth is a consumable substance.
What is important to me is not to search for and talk about “nature” as a refuge for self-projection among the substances we consume.
All I have to do is show a certain relationship by rearranging and submitting the information I have. Cuban music has everything that I think of as “natural,” and I became convinced of this when I met José Luis Cortés.
Reprinted from “Shinra” published by Shinchosha, March 1994
José Luis Cortés: Flute / Percussion / Chorus
Miguel Angel de Armas: Keyboard / Percussion / Chorus
Feliciano Arango: Bass / Percussion / Chorus
Calixto Oviedo : Drums / Percussion / Chorus
Produced by: Ryu Murakami
Sound Produced by : José Luis Cortés
Recorded & Mixed : Ramón Alom Suarez
Sinpachirou Kawada (Music Inn)
Mastering Engineer: Kazumi Sugiura (Sony Records)
Art Direction & Design: Tomoaki Sakai (Blancchic)
Illustration: Hisashi Nishikata
Photographer: Atushi Kondou
Translator: Yukiko Yoshino
Production Service: Ayuko Yamada (Sony Records)
Promotion: Naoko Kodama (Sony Records)
Mamiko Kuroda (Sony Records)
Supervisor: Ikuo Nabeta
Tamio Suzuki (Sony Records)
Special Thanks to Genichi Yamamoto (Shueisha)
Takuro Kawanabe (Music Inn)
Hiroshi Nobue (TFM)
Motomitsu Tada (TFM)
Sadayuki Kurawaka (SMASH)
Miyazawa Flutes MFG Co., Ltd.
Recorded at Music Inn Yamanakako Studio, 1993. 8