Thursday, December 5, 2013

Black Paris Profiles™ II: Nardy Castellini - Part 1

I learned about Leonardo ("Nardy") Castellini several weeks ago when I received an e-mail message from "Berry," a woman who supports jazz musicians by promoting their work. Her passion for Nardy's music inspired me to delve into his story, which I found to be fascinating! I am pleased to share it with you on the blog. Here's Part 1.


Nardy Castellini
© Ariel Arias

ETBP: You were born in Matanzas, Cuba and were influenced by jazz from an early age. You left engineering school to devote yourself to studying the saxophone. Did music other than jazz interest you at that time?

NC: Of course I grew up with all kind of music influences. In Cuba, music is everywhere. Since the age of five, I sang at home with my father. He was an engineer but was passionate about music and played the guitar.

My father was playing what we call the “feeling” style, which is a Cuban way to interpret songs like boleros with very nice lyrics. This style is very close to jazz and certainly influenced me. However, I have been also influenced by soul music, rhythm and blues, and funk.

ETBP: Were you interested in the origins (history and precursor music) of jazz or simply the
sounds of the music itself?

NC: At the beginning, I was mainly touched by the music itself. Later I started to explore the history of jazz, the biographies of the legends like Bird or Miles. It is important to place the origins of jazz in their socioeconomic and cultural context.

ETBP: You state that after touring the world with various groups, you felt the call to go beyond your Cuban roots into a personal quest of your identity and your origins. Please elaborate on this – do you mean your musical roots, your family tree …?

NC: My musical roots cannot be separate from my family tree. My music is about me and my life is driven by my music, so you cannot separate the two.

When I started to work on my first album, I felt I was ready to share my own compositions with musicians for whom I had great admiration and invited them to record with me. Identity is based on Afro-Cuban and Yoruba rhythms, which reflect my personal identity. Identity is also constructed around the language of jazz, or improvisation, which is my musical identity.

That is the reason I invited Sherman Irby, saxophonist from New York and one of the alto sax references in be-bop and hard-bop music to join the band on the recording. I also invited Tata Guínes. His unique way of playing tumbadoras (congas), his sound and the rhythm is so special—for me, he was the master of Afro-cuban percussions. Finally I invited Omar Sosa, who in my view is one of the most innovative Cuban musicians. He has a very unique way of improvising and interpreting Cuban and Afro-cuban music. All these elements reveal the essence of the new and contemporary sound in the album.

ETBP: In what year did you begin this search? How long did it take for the answers that you sought to appear in your music?

NC: I think it just happened organically. I did not decide one day but it has been like a maturation process. When I was on tour with bands in the past I was certainly playing, but you also have a lot of travel and waiting time and I used it to work on my own approach to music. As a result when I started the process of working independently things came together in harmonious way rather quickly.

Origenes album cover

ETBP: What happened between 2002 (Identity) and 2010 (Origenes) to change your music?

NC: For many years I was touring with the Identity album, then I started a project with a Sudanese singer called RASHA, and we toured in Sudán and Egypt. After that, I started a project mixing my music with Nubians musicians, bringing this project to the Jazz Factory Festival in El Cairo, Egypt. My work with Nubians was totally fascinating and I wish one day I could go back to this project and bring them to play with me in Paris.

Traveling to new territories and experiencing new cultures was a major inspiration for Origenes. You find many more Oriental sounds in this recording. This project was going beyond my personal Cuban quest for identity to broader reflections on the origins of African rhythms—indeed, the origins of music considering that the Nubians are one of the most ancestral ethnic communities in the world.

ETBP: When did you move to Paris?

NC: I moved to Paris in late 2011.

ETBP: What influence has living here had on your music?

NC: I am working on the new album and the influences are diverse. Paris has such an esthetic perfection that you can find beauty anywhere. You can find art, creativity, innovation, tradition, poverty, and luxury—many contradictions that reflect today’s world. I play with new musicians, I met new friends, and I get a lot of stimulation in Paris which might lead to an unexpected new album.

ETBP: You say that you play with Cuban musicians, but “not only.” Where do the “other” musicians come from?

NC: For instance, in my last album, Origenes, you can find Spanish, Sudanese, and Moroccan musicians. This year I also collaborated with French, Venezuelan, Greek, British, and Swiss musicians. Jazz is universal and I am really interested in the jazz culture in countries such as India, for instance.

ETBP: Do you select them solely because of their talent or are you looking for them to bring elements of other styles of music to your group?

NC: Often talent brings new concepts, new ideas, different feelings, and different ways of expressing the music that contribute to the richness of the music. I am also looking for good energy and conceptual connection with my music. Finally, I am looking for people who can play well together as a band. Collaboration, respect, friendship are also human values that are very important for me.

ETBP: What is your favorite place in the world to play?

NC: Well first I should say, my favorite place to play is place where I can play. I need to play as often as possible. It is my “raison d’être” and wherever it is I am always feeling alive when I play.

I also would like to explore new places to play. Jazz should not be limited to jazz clubs—we can bring jazz to museums, to universities, and to enterprises. We should be more creative in the way we give access to jazz to more people.

That being said, my favorite festival has been Montreal, my favorite theater has been Radio City Hall in New York, and for my favorite jazz club I would say Ronnie’s Scott in London. What makes a place special is its history, the way the staff cares about musicians, and the warm response of the audience.

ETBP: What is your favorite place in Paris to play?

NC: Paris has a very important and very diverse jazz scene. It is a complex, small world and I am still learning how to navigate this space. I go to play in many jam sessions to learn more about the Parisian jazz community. I am supported by great professionals like Michèle Feriaud at Batida and Co, who has been in that space for many years and helps me find my way around.

Le Petit Journal Montparnasse
© Discover Paris!

More specifically, I have to say that I have a lot of respect for the new team running the Petit Journal Montparnasse. This place is historical and is now going through a “rebirth,” which is exciting. Melanie, the person in charge of programming for the Club, is very nice and welcoming. I am really looking forward to playing there for the first time on the 17th of December.

Nardy will perform on December 17, 2013 at 9:30 PM at:
Le Petit Journal Montparnasse
13 rue du Commandant Mouchotte
75014 PARIS
Telephone: 01 43 21 56 70

Dinner and concert: 60 euros
Concert plus one drink: 20 euros

To read Part 2 of this interview, click here.


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