The percussionist Miguel Cruz came to Estonia not only to perform a concert, but to run a workshop to music students and artists. He spent five days with them, playing different instruments in Latin jazz style.
After the amazing gig, where the musicians were popping up and out from the stage, making the sun shine through the beats of the conga, I could talk with the protagonist of this event.
How have your five days been here in Estonia? How was the workshop?
To be honest, I’m quite surprised that they invited me to Estonia. I have been touring in other European countries, but not in the North. That’s why I was thinking: “What will I do there?” because of the difference of culture between Latin-American and northern Europe. However, I was astonished by the high level of Latin rhythms of the musicians and the flavor that they could give to the melodies that we were creating.
Even though my English is not that good, and only a few could speak some Spanish, the music is a language itself, it doesn’t have words but feelings. Do Re Mi… are the same in China, Estonia and Mexico.
How come that you were invited to give these lessons here? How did you get the connections from so far away?
Jaak Sooäär was the person who asked me to come to Estonia with this project. He knew about my work through Luc Delannoy, a Belgium writer specialist in Latin music history. He lived in Mexico and is also connected with Estonia. We have been friends for ages and he gave my contact to him. He recommended me as a guest teacher for this special occasion.
Do you think that you could do something similar in Mexico? Invite some of the artists from this workshop to go to Chiapas?
Of course! Actually, I am interested in bringing some of the students from Estonia to the University of Chiapas, where I am the director of jazz music. Who knows, maybe we can open a bidirectional exchange.
One of my favorite moments during the concert was the song with the cajones. It was one of the most cheerful pieces with Latin rhythms. Did you make it during the workshop this week?
This is actually a composition of mine. The original one is with cajones and cajones jarocho, that’s why I called it “Son Bulerías”, because there’s a transition between the Spanish bulería and the Mexican son jarocho, like in the history. Although, this time we did a cover of it, I wanted it to be like a trip to Spain, Mexico and Cuba.
You’ve been touring all around America, but you haven’t come to Europe that much. How come that a big artist like you doesn’t come here so often?
I have come before with one of the bands that made me travel a lot, Narimbo. This is a chiapaneca band, from the state in the south of Mexico called Chiapas, where the typical instrument is the marimba. Our music is a fusion between Latin jazz and the traditional sound of this regional instrument.
It was with them that I’ve been touring in a few countries in the Old Continent. We went to a Festival in Lliria, close to Valencia, where I also ran a workshop about percussions. I have also been to Croatia, Zagreb, and now here. It is true that I haven’t come so much, but in this group there are nine musicians and it’s quite complicated and expensive to travel so far away from home with so many people.
You have played with big artists such as Celia Cruz, Paquito D’Rivera and Miguel Bosé. Celia Cruz and Paquito D’Rivera have the Latin rhythm in their tunes, but Miguel Bosé is more pop. How was playing with this Spanish singer?
It was surprising! I was invited by another musician, but I didn’t know what instrument I had to play, but he said: “No worries, you will play the conga”. That made me freak out, I know Miguel Bosé by his music, but not for the conga.
When I arrived to the practice, there was a small symphony orchestra and I had to lead the symphonic percussion.
The experience was amazing and Miguel and all the other musicians were great. The project was interesting, it wasn’t the typical pop music that he usually sings.
If you had to choose your favorite instrument, which one would it be?
Well, I don’t have a favorite instrument, but I feel more comfortable with percussion instruments, especially the palmar ones.
The palmar ones?
Yes, the ones you need to use your palm in order to play, not sticks. The ones that I like more are the conga, yembe, bongo and tambourine battan.
One of the continents that is most influenced by the percussion in music is Africa, have you ever thought of doing any Afro-Latin fusion?
Yes, I actually had one project with that aim. In Xalapa we created a group called Repercute. We used to play our own compositions with African and Latin-American influence.
We had songs with balafon, marimba and battan. It was mainly Latin music with African touch.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t continue, because it was difficult to combine with our current jobs by that time. I would love to do something similar soon, though.
You have played in a symphony orchestra, done Afro-Latin music, traditional Mexican music from Chiapas and Cuban music as well. Have you done something else that should be mentioned?
(Laughs) Yes, I have done so many different things. But there’s something else that I did, I took part in the Oasis Jazz U, the one which was dedicated to Paco de Lucía. I had the honor of playing with Alain Pérez, I’m glad that Paquito D’Rivera invited me, because it was such a nice experience.
I saw that you don’t have an official website or a Facebook page. Despite of being out of the social media and marketing, it seems that you don’t need it at all, because you still have a lot of offers. How do you manage to be in touch with the big artists and receiving new proposals?
Íjole! That’s true. I do have a Facebook account, but it’s private one and I only use it to be in touch with my closest people. I don’t know, I guess that it’s the mouth-to-mouth. Fortunately, I know a lot of artists from jazz clubs, and they are the ones that recommend me. That’s how I start to collaborate with other musicians. Just a few days ago, another colleague talked to me about a Jazz Festival in Finland. I wish I could go, it sounds very interesting and once I’ve seen how the audience form the North is, I want to keep doing music up here. In spite of the cold weather, they are warm people. New projects bring me more new projects.
I don’t have a website or a Facebook page for professional purposes, but I have email, telephone, and also pigeon post (laughs). There’s always a way to be in touch with me for those who want to.
To conclude this interview, what are your next projects?
To keep making jazz in Chiapas. Last year we won the competition in the International Conference of Percussion, so next year we will hold the event together with the University of Juarez de Tabasco. We will receive twenty five different schools from America.
Besides that, I don’t have more big projects, maybe because I don’t have Facebook (laughs). I know that Paquito is planning a new tour, so let’s see how far we’ll go.
Friday, 4th of December 2015 at NO99
Miguel Cruz – percussion
Jaak Sooäär – guitar
Allan Järve – trumpet
Ingvar Leerimaa – trombone
Martin Kuusk – saxophone
Janno Trump – bass
Aleksandra Kremenetski – percussion
Reigo Ahven – percussion
Hans Kurvits – percussion
Ott Adamson – percussion
Mihhail Nikitin – percussion