Festival de la Salsa 2019, Parque Metropolitano de La Habana. Foto: NATHADREAD PICTURES

Cuban dance music: to hear you better

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I would dare to say, as a simple user or dancer, that what we call popular dance music is making strange use of sound systems or has not been able to adapt completely to them. Or it may be that their personalization for our groupings is not within the reach of each one. I simply rely on a comparative analysis between different eras and orchestras, in what I have been hearing for some years.

Whether technical, economic or artistic factors, it is not difficult to notice today that the excessive boosting of the low frequencies, very useful and timely in other current rhythms and genres, it often decomposes the balance of other sound registers and the necessary overlapping of the different instrumental timbres, so important in the son and the timba. This hyper saturation (sometimes distortion) adopts a competitive tone in which it gives the impression that some kind of award is set to the one that sounds louder, which emulates or simply does not want to fall behind the sound intensity effectively achieved by The electronically created music.

It is no secret that the increase in average levels (volume) is due to success in digital compression methods that prevent distortion of the peaks (the highest points of the signal) and at the same time allow the reduction of which is usually called dynamic range (the difference in energy, in dB, between the highest and lowest sound). And perhaps there is one of the main deviations in relation to previous stages. The differentiation of timbres, frequencies and even sound intensity (certain "off" in the male of the bongó of the ensembles of yesteryear were executed to break eardrums) has been consubstantial to this type of music in all its future. That differentiating fan materialized in the son with an important legacy of the African matrix (and European, of course), in which the timbre of each leather, wood or iron, fulfilled a ritual function according to Argeliers León. And it is true that technology has always helped to modify the combinations of instruments, to extend their reach and even to promote new rhythms, genres and sonorities, but, if we only took the last thirty years we would realize that the instrumental formats have changed very little, while the way we listen to this music has varied.

Whether it is a technological imposition or an inappropriate use of it, the fact is that if we make an inventory of the live presentations of several large-format dance groups, it will not be difficult to notice that sometimes the choirs are not understood, that some singers privilege the screaming recitatives to the detriment of singing, that certain performers make improper mistakes of their talent for reference problems, that the bass drum (hype) as the spearhead of many orchestras, he wants to compete unsuccessfully with his pariguals synthesized in the current way, and that there is a certain lack of mooring at the base, among other consequences.

All these difficulties have become recurrent, largely caused by these imbalances in sound systems. This phenomenon, unfortunately, touches some first level groupings, and it must be said that not all have managed to overcome it in the same way. Some have successfully sailed, others have not. It is even the case of some that their performance with respect to these problems is intermittent depending on the places and circumstances in which they occur (you can not always load with the appropriate audio, nor in all places there is a sound system with the minimum requirements).

A dance orchestra in Cuba is a really complex system to manage in all its dimensions. Like any organization, it requires several roles. This is when a very interesting aspect comes in: the relationship between musicians and soundman. Some audio technicians have confessed to me their experiences saying that the result cannot be good because of the pressure of musicians who constantly ask to increase volumes; They claim that not enough is heard, and is the starting point of the climb. It is when the thing goes from only one side. Although these conflicts of professional interests are as human as probable, the necessary mediation in them goes through the vision of group directors, but also through other roles such as the artistic direction of the place or the show. There is cloth where to cut.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to listen to a live presentation of a salsa orchestra from the city of Cali that visited us here in Havana. Like any group, it had its strengths and weaknesses. However, the neatness of those balances referred to above caught my attention, and even more so the volume level so low with which they achieved it, especially because they made use of the same sound system, the same premises and the same scenario in the one that weekly other groupings of the patio appear and that have not known how to completely decipher these ins and outs. It is true that many variants of the so-called sauce are more candid for this purpose, but there can certainly be a sobering source.

At this point, we can say that fortune has placed us on the way to an extra class musician who has been responsible for straightening things up a bit: Alain Pérez. Although he is not the only one, his example is very eloquent. His recent work has shown that timba dura is not synonymous with noise. Whoever arrives at one of his presentations will notice that all musical language is understandable without the slightest need for supersaturation, or records or timbre planes. All the phrases of bass and piano, choirs and even nuances of voice of Alain himself (practically null in the timberos), are served to the most demanding ears and with the necessary force required by the genre. Everything is understood. Note to note. But Alain sacrifices sound intensity levels to some extent; Decibels care less. Will it really be a sacrifice? Will it be a limitation of the type of music? Is Cuban dance music incapable of competing with the average increase in profit levels in recent years? Could it be that to travel to the seed today you also have to travel other worlds first? Or is it that technology together with certain empiricism and material deprivation has made us lose the compass? Yes, it would be appropriate for this teacher to give some clues (and his sound engineer) and talk about these issues someday, which in his case constitute a deserved achievement as well as the quality of his arrangements and interpretations.

Timba's performative aggressiveness demands other demands; but, in any case, for the rhythm to reach the feet, it must first pass through the ears. In that, a good sound engineer is as responsible, or more, than a good musician. Maybe you just have to let them do their job well.

Ayuda a que Magazine AM:PM siga siendo un proyecto autogestionado y con indenpendencia editorial.

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