Yilian Cañizares: Cuban colours on the Swiss musical landscape

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Bringing a myriad of verve, elegance and exotic rhythms to the Swiss jazz scene is Havana-born Yilian Cañizares. Classically trained violinist, singer, songwriter, dancer, teacher – there are many feathers to her cap. With a highly acclaimed 2nd album, ‘Invocación’, recently released on Naïve Records and an anticipated live performance at this year’s Cully Jazz festival, Yilian talks about the music that has shaped her and the important role that Switzerland has played in her musical evolution.

 

How did the violin become part of your life?

Yilian Cañizares: I come from a sporty, musical family and a country where music, singing and dancing are a big part of the cultural identity. As a three year old, singing came first followed by dancing. At music school aged 7, I was directed towards the piano but the minute I saw the violin I felt such a pull towards it that I knew it had to be MY instrument, even though my family thought I was crazy. I still use the piano for composing but then transfer everything to the violin. I’ve had a very strong classical training, but thankfully through the songwriting I’ve been able to develop my own style. At 16, I went to Caracas, Venezuela, to study with the ‘El Sistema’ youth orchestra where violin tuition was more developed than in Cuba. There I had a French violin teacher who told me that Europe was the epicenter for classical violin studies, so I came to Switzerland especially because of Gyula Stuller, (no.1 solo violinist with the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra). The technical and musical level was just of another standard, I benefitted from all the rich musical heritage that had formed Gyula.

How has moving to Switzerland impacted your musical career?

Yilian Cañizares: The impact has been enormous! There is more cultural diversity happening in Switzerland than people think. Geographical centrality is a key element which means that all that’s happening musically and artistically in Europe is within easy reach. Cuba is culturally rich but is locked inwards, not many international artists go there to play, you can’t always hear or get immediate access to what’s happening musically in the world, the learning curve gets cut short. My 15 years in Switzerland have exposed me to so many different styles of playing, listening, learning and teaching. Being here has made me the musician I am today, my style of playing has grown in a way that would have been impossible to imagine in Cuba. There are so many gifted artists in this small country, I feel very lucky to be part of the dynamic Swiss jazz scene. My cultural heritage is respected and welcomed as a richness that can be ploughed back into this multicultural scene. I’m also touched that major Swiss institutions such as Pro Helvetia, La Ville de Lausanne and Swiss Music Export are helping me develop my career, taking me on as a newcomer and helping me transform into a headline act. They believe I am a good ambassador for the young Swiss scene, as well for Cuban music.

How has being in a Francophone environment affected you?

Yilian Cañizares: I once heard someone say that every time you learn a new language you gain a ‘new soul’. Becoming a French speaker has developed a new sensibility in me and a different aesthetic, it’s all part of the person I’ve become. I can now sing and write in French even if it’s harder for me compared to Spanish, but very much part of my musical direction. I feel an affinity with the language and would like to touch as much of the French-speaking audience as possible, so it’s no coincidence that I’ve signed to a French label, Naïve Records in Paris.

 Why did you go to Sweden to record your latest LP?

Yilian Cañizares: Compared to my first LP, I knew I wanted to go onto the next level with regards to my sound.  I noticed that a lot of great current music I’ve been listening to has been recorded in Sweden. They have such great studios, such savoir faire, their culture of sound is really unique. So I was very clear about wanting to use Lars Nilsson at Nilento Studios.

 What are the musical genres that have shaped you and your style?

Yilian Cañizares: I come from a very classical background where Santería music was coming from next door and Cuban jazz from down the street. Then here in Europe I discovered Stéphane Grapelli and what can be done with the violin especially in the jazz context. I’d say that jazz, as opposed to ‘world music’, is what defines me best because of its power of rebirth, improvisation and freedom. I don’t want to be classified as strictly ‘Afro-Cuban’ since musical evolution and transformation is key to what I do and my aim is to be open to many different spheres.

 How would you describe your latest LP, ‘Invocacion’?

Yilian Cañizares: This is my most honest work to date, a real portrait of myself, my lived experiences and all that has shaped me. Above all it’s a homage to loved ones no longer here: my grandfather, family friends, slave ancestors, singers and poets who have taught me so much.  Clearly it’s a very personal, heart-felt work with lots of different influences ranging from a Yoruba traditional prayer to Edith Piaf’s ‘Non, je ne regrette rien’. I hope people can feel the Cuban influence in my work, but also all the other important musical journeys that have helped me evolve. I feel a certain responsibility to represent the ‘new Cuba’, a country with a fragmented population struggling to open up to the world. I am so very Cuban, but for now my place is in Europe.

Band line up:

David Brito (double bass)

Daniel Stawinski (piano)

Cyril Regamey (drums)

Inor Sotolongo (Brasilian percussion)

Forthcoming gigs:

11/04/15 – Cully Jazz (CH)

06/05/15 – Schaffhauser Jazzfestival (CH)

24/06/15 – Basel Off Beat (CH)

25/06/15 – Sunside Sunset (FR)

24/07/15 – Marseille Jazz des Cinq Continents (FR)

15/08/15 – Jazz en Baie (FR)

 

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Olivia Pedroli : ” J’ai conçu mes arrangements comme un acrobate évolue sur un fil”

© Yann Mingard Olivia Pedroli, Press portrait 2010Apologie de la dualité, goût pour le minimalisme contemporain et influences islandaises : de passage à Paris pour la sortie française d”A Thin Line”, la chanteuse et compositrice de Neuchâtel Olivia Pedroli dévoile quelques clés d’entrée dans son univers magnétique… 

Si “The Den“  était ce vase clos, dans lequel vous disiez vous être enfermée pour développer votre imaginaire, “A Thin Line“, “la fine ligne“, que sépare-t-elle ?

Olivia Pedroli J’aime développer une thématique pour mon travail. Sur “The Den“, elle s’est imposée en cours de route. Pour “A Thin Line“, je voulais réfléchir à une problématique au préalable, avant même d’écrire une note de musique : il me fallait un concept global qui englobe aussi bien la conception des arrangements que l’écriture des paroles ou la façon de présenter le projet sur scène. Je suis partie sur l’idée des opposés et de l’équilibre. Sans s’intéresser aux extrêmes, mais plutôt sur l’endroit où ces dualités se rencontrent.

Cela se retrouve par exemple dans la composition, où je fais dialoguer les morceaux entre eux – un quintolet de “Mute“ se retrouvera, de manière inversée, sur “Silence“. Certains titres seront axés sur les cordes, d’autre sur les cuivres : j’ai conçu mes arrangements comme un acrobate évolue sur un fil… Même pour le dispositif on retrouve cette dualité, puisque j’ai séparé mes musiciens en deux groupes. D’un côté une formule acoustique à jouer dans les églises, avec un trio de cordes et des percussions légères, dans un travail de dentelle, de fragilité assumée. De l’autre, il y a mon trio amplifié, avec, cuivre, piano et programmations de textures sonores, pour présenter le projet dans les clubs – comme au New Morning, notamment. Nous jouons les mêmes morceaux, mais avec des arrangements très différents.

Travailler à nouveau avec le même producteur, Valgeir Sigurosson, c’était important pour vous ?

Olivia Pedroli Sur “The Den“, je découvrais une nouvelle manière de collaborer avec Valgeir Sigurosson. Je touchais à quelque chose que j’avais envie de vraiment développer. Pour “A Thin Line“, je considérais qu’il important d’approfondir cette collaboration, reprendre un peu là où nous nous étions arrêtés. Mais ce n’était pas difficile, puisque entre-temps nous sommes devenus amis; nous avons beaucoup échangé ces 5 dernières années. Du coup, en studio, nous allions directement à l’essentiel, ce qui permettait d’affiner mieux notre travail. Quant à son influence… J’ai du mal à dire concrètement comment il opère : je l’appelle “l’Alchimiste“, car il a façon de faire croire qu’il ne fait rien, mais il a une influence énorme, qui passe par des trucs subtil, des sous-couches… Il se fond dans les projets pour nous faire aller plus loin.

Sur “A Thin Line”, sur le plan de la composition, on ressent une influence profonde des compositeurs minimalistes du 20e siècle, Terry Riley, Philip Glass

Olivia Pedroli Oui, sur l’album il y a même un humble hommage à Philip Glass, le morceau “Glassbirds“ étant une variation sur une de ses structures. Plus globalement, j’ai beaucoup la répétition – parfois, un motif m’habite et j’ai envie de le faire évoluer. Quant au minimalisme, il y a effectivement une tendance à l’épure sur “A Thin Line“ : je n’avais pas envie de rajouter de la crème, du sucre, de la meringue… Mais si Terry Riley, Philip Glass ou Gavin Bryars ont eu une forte influence, il ne faut pas oublier mes copains compositeurs islandais du label Bedroom Community : Ben Frost, Daniel Bjarnason… leurs projets m’ont beaucoup touchée. Ce n’était pas certainement un travail solitaire.

A propos de minimalisme… vous partez pour six mois en résidence d’artiste à Londres, où il se dit que vous allez travailler avec Gavin Bryars..

Olivia Pedroli Il s’agit en effet d’une résidence de composition, une vraie bulle créative pour se concentrer sur mon travail. Mais ce n’est pas à proprement parler “une rencontre avec Gavin Bryars“, je vais simplement en profiter pour le rencontrer plusieurs fois. C’est un vrai puits de science, qui a travaillé avec Tom Waits, Brian Eno, Robert Wilson : son expérience m’est précieuse…

Olivia Pedroli en concert le 11 mars au New Morning, à Paris
 “A Thin Line“ Bandcamp (CD paru fin 2014 sur le label d’Olivia Pedroli, Betacorn Records)

Welcome to the world of Heidi Happy

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Singer-songwriter Prisk Zemp, otherwise known as Heidi Happy, is a delightful exponent of today’s Swiss indie music scene, delivering a fresh, cheeky, homemade lo-fi folk/pop with an electronic edge. Her ethereal voice is seductively irresistable and has been entrancing audiences in and around Switzerland for the past 10 years. Her latest LP, Golden Heart (Silent Mode/ Irascible), is a creative project of 14 compact songs that float by like a breeze, each full of deep, beautiful melodies as well as a hint of melancholy and “sonic heartbreak”. The album’s received very warm reviews, has sold out and is currently being re-pressed.

Is the name ‘Heidi Happy’ some kind of strategic Swiss marketing trick?

Heidi Happy Funnily enough no, though I did love the Heidi stories as a kid. It was more a question of visual design because my first ever solo live performance was at a party of some graphic designer friends who wanted my stage name to look good on their flyers. There were many to choose from but they decided that Heidi Happy had a nice symmetry to it.

You’re from a small village outside Lucerne, what kind of music did you grow up listening to?

Heidi Happy Everyone is musical in my family: my father is a choir singer, my mother is a classically trained soprano, all my siblings play instruments, music was always happening in the house. As a teenager I loved everything soulful like Aretha Franklin and the funky jazz sound of Jamiroquai and Incognito. My first group was a funk band, I sang, wrote the lyrics and arranged the horn section. During my exchange year in America at 17, I discovered Jimi Hendrix and got into a dirtier, rockier sound which I still appreciate now. In recent years I’ve been very inspired by singers like Feist and Wallis Bird, at home I usually listen to old vinyl records with big voices and orchestra, like Lee Hazlewood or Nina Simone.

How did your career take off?

Heidi Happy I recorded my first CD with the funk band in 1998. Then in 2003 a producer asked me to do an album with him based on my own material. I learnt a lot about what I can/can’t do, what I really want to do and what I’m best suited to. I did so many things on that record that I’m still deeply ashamed of that I decided to not let others convince me to do things (like rapping!) if I’m not sure about it myself. It helped me to listen to my heart and trust my intuition and hence, I have produced all my subsequent LPs. I’ve been lucky to receive some funding from the city and canton of Lucerne which has allowed me to do my own thing. After having released my records on labels like Little Jig and Two Gentlemen, I set up my own label Silent Mode in 2012 on which I have released my records abroad (often in collaboration with other labels and promotors) and in Switzerland.

You’ve been described as “one of the most influential Swiss voices of the moment”. How would you describe your sound/your voice?

Heidi Happy I had a distinctive folk/pop sound at the start that was rather safe and constructed, but now that I’ve branched out into electronic music things feel freer, more open to surprises. My voice is very precious to me after surgery to remove a polyp on my vocal chords in 2001. The operation has given it a slightly more crackly tone, but I’ve learnt to like it and appreciate it more. I always take care of it nowadays and warm up before going on stage.

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You are quite a multi-instrumentalist powerhouse on stage.

Heidi Happy Each tour is different. I’ve had duo shows where I sang, played guitars, drums, melodica, piano, glockenspiel and used a loop station, or shows with an entire symphonic orchestra where I just sang and played the guitar. It all depends on the songs, location, audience and financial possibilities. Right now I usually perform with my four-piece band or solo with my loop station, guitars, glockenspiel and a synthesizer.

 How is Heidi Happy received abroad?

Heidi Happy I’ve played the most abroad shows in Germany, Holland, Canada, England and in Russia. People abroad seem to really appreciate our music – we get very enthusiastic feedback. Radio stations in France, Germany, Austria and USA have put my songs on their playlist. Thanks to my collaboration with Yello, some people know me without me ever having played there.  We’ve just been on an Austria tour with Clara Lucia, an Austrian singer very similar in style to me. We’ve been friends for a few years and it was a wonderful, perfectly matched tour.

What are you working on at the moment?

Heidi Happy I’m currently writing some film music which has always been a big love of mine. I’m also rearranging my repertoire for a big show in spring next year where I’ll be playing in my hometown Dagmersellen with the local brass band. I’m constantly gigging, writing and looking for new distribution deals abroad to get my music heard.

 

Forthcoming gigs:

12.12.2014 Zauberwald Lenzerheide (solo)

24.01.2015 Filmtage Solothurn (band)

29.01.2015 Gaskessel Bern (band)

30.01.2015 Moods Zürich (band)

31.01.2015 Kreuz Nidau (band)

27.02.2015 Kulturkarrousel Stäfa (band)

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