Cuba’s William Roblejo: A Different Kind of Violinist

William Roblejo with his trio.

HAVANA TIMES — More than a violinist, William Roblejo is a one-man-show. Having given his violin a unique personality, he performs with a distinctive seal that has earned him a place among the top in Cuba’s music scene. “I’ve tried to do something different with my violin,” he said in his interview with HT.

HT: Tell us about your album Dreaming.

William Roblejo: I recorded it a year and a half ago. It’s my first album. I worked with musicians Omara Portuondo, David Torrens, Harold and Ruy Adrian Lopez Nussa. It was produced by maestro Joaquin Betancourt and released by Cuba’s Colibri label. I wanted to put together a number of pieces, without any particular aim, and to perform a number of well-known pieces that I like very much.

HT: This was your first professional album and a good start, which even earned you some award nominations.

WR: Yes, it was nominated at this year’s Cubadisco Awards, for the categories of Instrumental Music, Opera Prima and Best Production.

HT: You’ve managed to do rather unconventional things with the instrument.

WR: I’ve taken the violin a bit out of the concert music context, that is to say, its classical context. In this last stage in my development, and the album attests to this, I’ve tried to do something different with the violin. In Cuba, the instrument is commonly used as part of a symphonic orchestra and brass bands. My intention is to break with the routine.

William Roblejo (l) and his trio.

HT: Even when you play in a symphonic orchestra, you also tend to do something different in your performance.

WR: True. I would call it improvising a bit.

HT: In addition to this more “informal” work, you are also part of a classical orchestra.

WR: I’ve been playing with a string quartet called Amadeo Roldan since 2005. There, I play classical composers and we perform popular pieces I’ve composed with these instruments.

HT: What generation would you say you belong to as a violinist?

WR: I completed mid-level training in 2002 and recently graduated from Cuba’s Higher Institute for the Arts (ISA). I would say I am part of the new generation of instrumental musicians.

HT: Tell us about your work with David Torrens.

WR: For me, he is one of Cuba’s great musicians. I was in his band for four and a half years, he gave me the opportunity to learn how to accompany a lead guitarist and vocalist. Everyone tends to come on stage and play over the lyrics. With him, I learned to leave spaces for the lyrics to be heard and other important musical concepts. One of the pieces in my album features him, performing Pedro Flores’ well-known Allí (“There”).

William Roblejo

HT: Having decided to go the route you’ve taken, let’s call it more “contemporary” music, to what extent does it cut yourself off from the academy?

WR: It’s hard to say. When you play classical or “academic” music, as some call it, you’re not supposed to also play popular or contemporary music. It’s a bit complicated. I’ve tried to do both things, but my fingers tell me a different story. In short, they are two types of music that have very little in common and you have to play them differently.

HT: Have your interests as a composer taken precedence over your interests as a performer?

WR: I compose music when I get ideas, but I think I am more of a performer than a composer.

HT: Tell us about your relationship with the violin?

WR: For me, the instrument is at once small and big. It is very demanding, actually. It creates some of the most beautiful sounds I’ve heard. I wouldn’t be able to live without it, I don’t know how do to anything else. The best I can aspire to do in my life right now is to play the violin.