HAVANA TIMES — Anima Mundi is one of the few Cuban rock bands that have achieved international recognition and have taken the stage at important European venues. Their music makes them a one-of-a-kind experience at home. Today, we converse with the band’s guitarist and founder, Roberto Diaz.
HT: How did Anima Mundi come about?
Roberto Díaz: We started out as a band in 1996. The first members were students from the Enrique Jose Varona Teaching Institute. My idea was to put together a progressive rock band, which wasn’t something very common in Cuba. Many people joined the band initially, but, as time went by, they lost interest. The band has had several internal changes since.
HT: How long have you been playing for?
RD: We’ve been playing professionally for 15 years. We started a little bit before that, compiling materials, looking for instruments, putting together demos, etc.
HT: Was this how you broke into the music world?
RD: No, I was doing music before that. I put together several local rock bands, played with other bands as a guest guitarist, I moved around a lot, playing in many different bands, before creating my own.
HT: Tell us about the band’s album history.
RD: At the beginning, we put together three demos. Then came our first album. We started recording in 2000 and it came out in 2001. The album combined Celtic traditions with New Age Cuban music. We had bag-pipes and Celtic flutes. We performed these pieces at many concerts around Cuba.
After completing this album which combined progressive rock and Celtic music, we set out to produce a second album that would take us back to our symphonic rock roots. It was a very challenging album for us, it took us 7 years to complete, because of changes in the band. We had to use our own resources to make the project a reality.
Those were the hardest times for Anima Mundi, I think. The album was something like the lord of the universe in the Sanskrit language, universal consciousness. A French record label, Musea, produced it. It made its way to the top of progressive rock lists. We had no choice but to approach this record label, because Cuban ones, with the exception of a few small ones, weren’t interested in the genre. Then we launched The Way, which is what landed us the big international tours.
HT: What’s your most recent album?
RD: Lamp Lighter. It’s our fourth studio album. We recorded it with a Dutch label, Amus. We launched it during our third international tour.
HT: How would you define progressive rock?
RD: It emerged as a result of the artistic preoccupations of musicians, and it went beyond a strictly rock and roll context. Its lyrics often have to do with everyday situations, sexual issues or romantic love. It describes an artistic search, which is why the first name it was given was “Art Rock.” It became linked to the visual arts, literature, the search for a distinctive style and with symphonic, experimental, electronic and space music most of all. It ended up going beyond the borders of rock and roll.
Some rock magazines have accused the genre of treason, because it has come into contact with other art-forms. The genre has had to protect itself, to go its own way. Different publications and festivals have different views about it. It’s even been defended by an entire press movement.
There are 21 different styles within progressive rock. The most well-known include progressive symphonic rock, which is our style, the electronic rock of the German avant-garde…In short, it tends to remain within elitist circles and enjoys very little publicity.
HT: What about Cuba?
RD: I want to stress that there were many good bands in Cuba, particularly in the early 90s, very interesting projects such as Ojo por hoja (“An Eye for a Leaf”), Carton tabla (“Paperboard”), Perfume de mujer (“Women’s Perfume”), Sebastian del Toro and others. The financial difficulties people have are so immense, however, that to do a genre like this one is complicated. Money is the main reason these bands no longer exist.
Small audiences, scarce resources…you need a lot of orchestral keyboards, devices for guitars, it’s very difficult to get – you don’t have an audience, you don’t have money to buy the instruments, you’re misunderstood all the time. Like the French magazine Harmony Magazine said, Anima Mundi is a kind of priesthood. I think that’s apt, it describes what doing this kind of music means.
HT: Tell us about the band today.
RD: I think we have a top group of people – all of the musicians in the band are well established and devoted professionals you don’t often find these days. We’ve had some excellent drummers who were unable to play the genre, because of the complexity of its language.