What I Want is a Party

Q & A with salsa great Maraca, playing at MOLAA on September 7, 2008

By Dena Burrroughs - VidaSalsera.com
Published on LatinoLA: September 6, 2008

What I Want is a Party

Musician Orlando "Maraca" Valle will perform this Sunday, September 7th, at the Museum of Latin American Art, in Long Beach. In anticipation of this concert, Maraca took a few minutes to let Dena Burroughs of VidaSalsera.com know about his life, and his current and future projects.

Dena: Thank you Maraca for agreeing to talk to us. Let's start with the basics. Where in Cuba were you born?

Maraca: In Habana, at the Reparto Parraga.

Dena: Did you attend music school since childhood? Which school did you go to?

Maraca: When I was 10 I started at the Conservatorio Manuel Saumell, in El Vedado, Habana. I then studied four years and graduated from middle school from the Conservatorio Amadeo Roldan, in Central Habana. Then I studied another four years at the Instituto Superior de Artes, in Playa, Habana. I did not finish my studies there because I was traveling a lot and I was proposed to leave my regular studies and take up the program for workers instead. I never went back though, because I figured that traveling and playing with all the great ones all over the world was better. And I learned a lot playing at that international first class level. That's really what I needed.

Dena: Did you come from a family of musicians? Who in your family influenced you?

Maraca: My father's uncle, Rafael Jacinto Valle, who was the director of the concert band in Holguin, Cuba. He was the mentor to my older brothers, Pedro y Osvaldo, who in turn encouraged me into music. I then did the same with my younger brother, Luisito. And my brother Moises, who never studied music, started last but today is a great Salsa singer in Cuba. My parents are not musicians, but always supported me and pushed so that I would stay in school and be good at it and at music. I really can't complain about them.

Dena: How old were you when you started composing music? Do you remember your first song? What was it about?

Maraca: On July 12th, 1979 (still a kid) I composed my first song. It was a Danzon for two flutes called "La Primavera" (The Spring). I still have the intact sheet music. Weeks later I composed a samba and then a salsa, and then began writing instrumental music of all genres as well as music meant for singing.

Dena: I think it would have made sense for you to be known as Orlando "Flauta" Valle, but instead you're known as "Maraca." I read that someone gave you that nickname. Can you tell us about it?

Maraca: No one has ever called me Orlando "Flauta" Maraca. Sounds good but I was nicknamed "Maraca" in school because I had tons of hair and I was very skinny. But since there were several Orlandos in school it was to my convenience to have a way to stand out. The creatpr of my artistic name is Juan Carlos Lopez "Wichi," who is a Cuban now living in Panama, and a great trumpet player.

Dena: You're not living in Cuba these days, are you? Which country do you now consider "home"?

Maraca: I have never stopped living in Cuba. I still live in Habana, and also in Paris, France. My home are the planes that take me all over the world and allow me to take my music and my message of friendship all over. I feel part of a great family of friends that love one another, and I receive testament to that every day, even if it is through the Internet.

Dena: This visit to Los Angeles is part of a tour, correct? Tell us about the purpose of this tour please.

Maraca: We are presenting our new CD "Lo que quiero es Fiesta" (What I want is a party). I am happy because it's going very well. We were already at Yoshi's in Oakland, CA, in Vegas, in Junau, Alaska and in Boulder, Colorado. A special mention goes to the Jazz Festival in Monterey, CA, where I will be with a group especially formed for the occasion, which will include La Orquesta de Cuerdas de Monterey, Horacio Hernandez on drums, Giovanny Hidalgo on congas, David Sanchez on Tenor Sax, Miguel Zenon on Alto Sax, Ed Simon on piano, John Benitez on bass and Murria Low on keyboards. We will play my compositions and also Cuban classics of Ernesto Lecuona, Ignacio Cervantes and other very interesting arrangements. This will be my new group called "Maraca and the Cuban Lullabies."

Dena: After your performance in Long Beach on Sunday, where will you go next?

Maraca: We will play in New York, Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison, Seattle, Cleveland, Olympia, Portland, Washington DC and Monterey. The idea is to take our "Fiesta" all over the United States. There is already positive written press and I have been in nationally heard radio shows.

Dena: And when will we see you again in the L.A. area?

Maraca: September 28th, at 7.30 pm, at the club Anthology, in San Diego.

Dena: Your new CD "Lo que quiero es fiesta," how would you describe it?

Maraca: When I made it I was in true party mood, playing, dancing, and always happy. So it was recorded with great force, and in concert, the public is receiving it with lots of positive energy. It is a cocktail of energy and fused rhythms that get in the soul of the dancer.

Dena: I know the CD is dedicated to Tata Guiness. What type of relationship did you have with him?

Maraca: He opened the doors for me in 1994 when I started my career as soloist. I was the musical director of his CD called "Pasaporte" with which we won the Grand Prize for the best record that year in Cuba. We then collaborated in innumerable projects of records and concerts. We were united by a great and sincere friendship. He changed how I saw music to a more professional way and I learned that the most important thing for a musician is that people will love him first as a human being and second as an artist. That is a true artist. Tata spent his last birthday in my home, at a party that my wife Celine and I prepared for him.

Dena: This Sunday at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, which musicians will share the stage with you?

Maraca: Craic Handy on tenor sax, Tito Carrillo and Sean Billings on trumpets, El Nengue on congas, El Sawa on bass, Osmany Paredes on piano, Cocky Garcia on drums and Alberto Alberto and Adonis Puentes on vocals.

Dena: Adonis Puentes has been getting increasingly popular in Los Angeles. How long have you known each other?

Maraca: Most of the musicians of this band met a long time ago. A few others we met more recently but we have a great positive energy between us. In Adonis' case, I met him when we played together at a Jazz Festival in Vancouver, Canada. But him, Alberto, El Nengue and Sawa have all worked with me for the past three years. They are founders of this group "Maraca and the New Collective."

Dena: Do you consider yourself a "timbero," a "salsero," or a jazz musician? How would you describe yourself in relation to the music you create?

Maraca: An international musician. I studied classical music, but the first I played was Brazilian, Jazz, and of course, I breathed the Cuban music from everywhere.

Dena: There's those who find dancing to timba a hard task. How would you explain timba to them so that they can transfer that knowledge to the dance floor? Is there a way to explain it with words?

Maraca: There is no way to say it with words, but rather with facts. I would say, go to Cuba and then you'll understand that timba is music that comes from the streets. Is a Cuban contemporary creation. My music has elements of timba that I combine with many more musical influences from other places, not only Cuban. I have been to over fifty countries, to which I return often, and I know how people move their feet and hair in many different places of this planet.

Dena: Out of your new CD, is there a song that is special and personal to you? If so, why is it special?

Maraca: I don't keep on listening to my records as to not stop my creative process. I try to think of new themes and future records. But if I have to choose one song, I'd say Guajira para Mimi. That song was dedicated to my wife Celine, who is co-star to all my successes, and is a nice theme full of emotion. But if what I want to do is dance, I would pick Lo que quiero es fiesta or Lo digo yo, to mention two examples.

Dena: We heard you on the radio yesterday on Jose Rizo's show. Are there more interviews coming up from here to Sunday where we could listen to you again?

Maraca: I did an interview for La Jornada earlier today, and this is my second one. Tomorrow Saturday there are two, in Alma del Barrio (KXLU 88.9 PM with Guido Herrera) at 3 pm, and then at 9 pm on Canto Tropical (90.7 FM with Hector Resendez). A few days ago I did a good one with Betto Arcos on KPFK.

Dena: How much longer will you be on tour?

Maraca: It will be over on October 4th, 2008, when I'll return to Paris and Habana.

Dena: And do you already know what is next once the tour is over?

Maraca: We will rehearse a new instrumental repertoire, as well as the "Lo que quiero es fiesta" CD with my new group Maraca y Otra Vision. I am invited to Guatemala in November for a concert and to Peru at the end of the same month. In December we are going to the isle Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean. It is possible that we will record in December in the Isla de la Reunion where we were quite successful in 2007.

In Europe and North Africa we just finished a tour, very successful. Besides playing in Marroco in front of about forty thousand people, we also participated in the worldwide famous Festival of Pori, in Finland, Jazz in Marciac, France and in great stages in Germany (along with Oscar De Leon), as well as in Lithuania, Holland, and Austria.

Dena: Thank you Maraca. We are looking forward to seeing you this Sunday in Long Beach. We are expecting nothing less than a wonderful show. Again, thank you so much for the time you dedicated to the VidaSalsera.com readers.

Maraca: A hug to everyone and let's enjoy together this Sunday and turn it unforgettable. And thanks for this nice and very interesting interview.

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