By Helson Hernandez
HAVANA TIMES, Oct. 1 — Cuban singer-composer Alexander Diaz was raised in one of those Cuban households where playing music was as common as sitting down to eat. His professional career began in the cabaret at Havana’s Riviera Hotel.
HT: Professionally, you begin in the cabaret world.
Alexander Diaz: Yes, that’s true, in the cabaret at the Riviera Hotel. It was precisely there where I started playing with professional groups. In my individual case, I had the luck of working with groups such as that of Carlos Alfonso. I was also able to share the stage with Omara Portuondo, with whom I had also the immense pleasure to have her accompany me on a CD.
HT: But music had already come into your life much earlier?
AD: From when I was very young, music was always in the house, it was a kind of family tradition. In jam sessions and birthday parties we always found reasons to pull out a guitar. Sometime around then I took my first steps in music, with regard to composition, in addition to my inclination toward this art. I can say that my involvement with music came especially from the blood, from my family. Later I enrolled in the National School of Art and began studying the guitar.
HT: For a good while you were a backup vocalist for the popular salsa singer Isaac Delgado. In fact, many people still identify you from that work.
AD: Yes, though I also worked with other topnotch band leaders as a singer, and it’s always good to mention that because for me it turned out to be a school, given the discipline that it acquired. For example I can mention Giraldo Piloto, because I was a founder member of his group Klimax. I also worked for a while with Lazaro Valdes as a part of Bamboleo, before they cut their first CD. I was also able to work with Paulo F. G. Those were all experiences that enriched my later projection as a performer. But unquestionably the phase of working with Isaac Delgado represented a huge door that opened for me.
HT: Despite your background in dance music, as a soloist have you now decided to shift into other styles?
AD: It wasn’t exactly dance music that I was doing at that stage of my work, but in some songs I did include rhythms that weren’t boleros or ballads, like the other ones. They were rhythms that were distinctly Caribbean. That’s what inevitably appears from our roots. It’s a part of our culture.
HT: Your first CD as a soloist had the title: “Tres dias de Feeling” (Three days of Feeling).
AD: For some time I had the idea of being able to do work as a soloist, and I was lucky enough to have an excellent producer here, Roxana. When she heard one of my songs at home, she suggested that I take it and others to a record producer. “Tres dias de feeling” — alluding to my last name, Diaz — was a jewel for me since a number of important artists participated on it.
On that CD I recorded with Omara Portuondo, Pablo Milanes, Beatriz Marquez and Chucho Valdes, who were my guests. But there were many other people who were also involved “from behind the stage,” as we say. That’s why I have to mention Samuel Formell, Dagoberto Gonzalez Junior and German Velasco. Plus, many of the songs were recorded at Pablo’s studios.
This disk was signed with Sony Music of Mexico and it was nominated here at the Cubadisco awards ceremony. I would like to see this work licensed for sale here in Cuba, the public on the island would then have a way to access it.
HT: The song that seems to have caught on most at this musical stage, and which is the one that you chose for a music video clip, is “Conversando con la luna” (Talking with the moon). In it, one can perceive a more studious approach to the guitar since the soul of a trova musician appears.
AD: I agree with that. I always let myself direct, but now my music is being produced by one of the most important arrangers and musicians that I know in my country, someone who has even received Grammy awards and nominations for production, mixing and master productions. When he suggested how the song would be approached, I loved it when I heard the final product. So we decided as a group that this song would be the one identified on the first single. For several weeks the song was on the list of top hits here in Cuba. The music video was directed by one of the most well-known producers from the island, Santana.
HT: And since we already spoke about your family tradition in music, you have a last name that is recognized in Cuban culture.
AD: Well, I’m the nephew of Isaac Delgado, who’s the brother of my father, Nelson Diaz, on the side of my maternal grandmother, Lina Ramírez. On the other hand, like you said, the last name “Diaz” has contributed a lot to Cuban music. My great-grandfather Tirso Diaz, my grandfather Angel Diaz, and my father were all founders of the so-call Cuban “feeling” movement. In my concerts and jam sessions, I always give some space for that inheritance of “feeling,” which I confess is an inseparable part of me.
HT: In the peculiar case of Lina Ramirez, we know that she has had a major impact on your life.
AD: Imagine, for me she’s the greatest thing in the world, because my grandmother Lina Ramirez was in fact the founder of the “Mulatas de Fuego.” They used to call my grandmother’s house the local cultural center because every time they finished a performance, they would all end up together in kind of reunion of friends at her house. Through there passed many of the personalities of this country’s culture, and not only in music. Imagine what kind of influence my grandmother has been on me.
There was always a reason to celebrate in my family, and even during the last few days of her life there were endless jam sessions. There’s a song that I composed that’s called “Canción para mi abuela” (Song for my grandmother), which I would like to record when I get the first chance that I can so that I can give it to friends. When I try to sing it I have to put a lot into it because of all those memories that I still have of her.
HT: It seems that the tradition is continuing. Your daughter has also shown a talent for music.
AD: Yes, I invite her to participate in my little jam sessions from time to time. She sings with me and she has already demonstrated her gift, though she’s still in the process of development. I really like the way she sings, and she also plays the piano well.