Habana Y El Yuma
Night of the
Ive had this fantasy to record in Cuba for
awhile now. It began during my first trip to Havana in April of
2000. Manolito Simonet invited me to hang out with him at Egrem
Studios while he was producing a project there.
is the old Egrem, in Centro, not the newer one in Miramar. Walking
into that place, I had a feeling Id only experienced once
before in my life. It was as if you could feel the spirit of each
and every musician that had ever laid tracks there, as though the
place was full of ghosts. Im not exactly sure when this studio
was built, but its definitely been around since the early
sixties, if not before. Every important Cuban record of the last
fifty years or so was recorded there. Beny Moré, Peruchín,
Celia Cruz, Orchesta Aragon, even Nat Cole had recorded in this
room. If youve seen the Buena Vista Social Club movie, then
youve seen the studio. They recorded there, too. You can get
a good look at it when the camera goes circling around Ibrahim Ferrer
and Omara Portuondo as they sing Dos Gardenias. Try not to
And the other time I experienced this same feeling
of a room still inhabited by the echoes of the music made there?
It was when I went to Capital Records on Vine in Hollywood to get
some mastering done. The engineer gave me a tour of the studio,
and if you squinted, you could almost see Sinatra and Nelson Riddle
or Count Basie working away.
But back to Egrem in 2000. Manolito was in there
producing a record for them called Las Nuevas Estrellas De Aerito.
I spent several afternoons hanging out there with Manolito and his
musicians, watching them lay down tracks. Once, during a break,
I sat down at the old nine foot Steinway and played. As I was playing,
I realized who else had played this same piano: Lilí Martinez,
Bebo Valdés and his son Chucho, Rubén Gonzalez, Peruchín,
Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Emiliano Salvador, probably even Nat Cole. It
made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.
Ever since then, Ive wanted to record in
Cuba, preferably at that studio. Yes, there are far better studios
in Havana, but the vibe there has to be experienced to be believed.
I started thinking about it while I was there. The console is a
decent MCI, and the 24 track is a Studer. The microphone collection
is wonderfultalk about vintage mics, theyve got them.
You can get a great sound in that room. I wouldnt want to
mix there, but for tracking, theres no doubt that you can
put down a clean signal on tape and get good sounds.
But Egrems rate was a bit out of my budget.
Its a fair rate, less than what you would pay for a comparable
studio in the states, but doing these records independently means
having to be very frugal with the recording budget.
So the idea was put into the someday
folder. On my second trip to Havana, I was invited to one of Klimaxs
rehearsals by my friend Marcos Crego, their piano player. They rehearse
in this old theater that is on the second floor of a community building
in Marianao, a suburb of Havana. The theater has a huge stage, and
Klimax had their full sound crew there. Later that night, Marcos
and I went over to Pilotos house, where they were mixing some
demos of some new Klimax tunes. I asked Marcos where they recorded
them, and he said, at the theater! They had recorded
there with two ADATs, and the sound quality was good! A light bulb
went off in my mind. This was how I could record in Cuba on the
cheap. If I bought myself some portable digital recording equipment
with the money I had put aside for studio rentals for the next album,
I could record anywhere I wanted to. I bounced the idea off of Marcos,
and he said, como no? Why not, indeed.
There must be at least five or six different
types of taxis in Havana. It can be pretty confusing at first, but read
on, and you'll save some bucks when you're there.
The cream of the crop are the air-conditioned,
metered tourist taxis. These range from brand new Mercedes to itty bitty
Japanese subcompacts, and the rates on the meter generally increase with
size and comfort of the car.
Still, they are relatively cheap compared
to taxis in most large cities, and there are times when they will be cheaper
than the unmetered taxis. You can go a long way for about three bucks.
Then there are the peso taxis. The black
and yellow Russian bulit Ladas don't have meters, and generally will ask
a foreigner for a fare in dollars. Feel free to negotiate, or refuse if
you think it's too high. Late at night, coming out of the clubs, these
guys ask exhorbitant rates from extranjeros, so just head straight
for a metered taxi, or you're going to pay double. But, if you're traveling
with Cuban friends, you might just be able to pay ten pesos, like the
Taxi Colectivos are the huge lumbering
behemoths that travel along fixed routes. The fare is fixed at ten pesos,
but the deal is they travel from point to point like a bus, they won't
take you door to door. They aren't supposed to take foreigners, and often
will ask one for a dollar for the ride. This can still be a bargain, depending
on the destination.