HAVANA TIMES — Today we interview Mariela Flores and Miguel Angel Wong, the directors of the band Manane, people whom music and life has brought together. “Independent productions have proven to be the quickest and most effective way of making music,” they tell us.
HT: Mariela did not initally study music.
Mariela Flores: I owe my singing to my grandmother, who taught me the popular songs of her town in Asturias, Spain. I always wanted to sing, but I had many doubts about a career in singing. I also wanted to study natural sciences. Since my parents were both scientists, it seemed like a familiar road to follow. I think that, had there been a musician in the family, I would have been more inclined to study music in the first place, though I would probably have found the way to study what I graduated in, biology. So, things worked out for me.
HT: What led you to enter the music world?
MF: I took part in an amateur music festival organized by several faculties of my university with the song “Unchained Melody.” A musician from Mayohuacan was part of the jury. He told me they were looking for a singer. I showed up for the audition and began my professional singing career as a member of that band, while still in fourth year Biology at the University of Havana.
That same year, I auditioned for admittance to the Felix Varela Music Institute. There, thanks to the Singing faculty, made up of great personalities from Cuba’s lyric theater, I learned many things and was exposed to the rigors of the field. Thanks to my teacher, Martha Gutierrez, who was a teacher by calling and an exceptional singer, I graduated as a singer six years later. I had finished by bachelor’s at the university two years before.
HT: Tell us about your background, Miguel Angel.
Miguel Ángel Wong: Many members of my family have done things related to crafts and the arts. My father was a surgeon who also studied piano and saxophone in his youth. He built model airplanes with my older brother. I have a sister who is a decorator and seamstress. My brother Enrique, whom we call “Kike”, is a visual artist. I graduated from a crafts school in 1996. I like pottery work immensely and, at the time, guitar playing was not as important to me, even though I studied for hours. Even when others were out partying and having fun, I chose to practice guitar playing and I am grateful for that today as, without intending it, I was laying the groundwork for what has become my profession today.
In 1999, I took tres classes to learn how to play traditional Cuban music. This was fantastic training for me as a guitarist. Though I enjoyed other music genres, such as jazz and fusion, I couldn’t turn my back on traditions as Cuban as the changui and son. Later, I started playing the electric guitar in the band Dayron y el Boom, three years of very hard work. I learned what it was like to play in front of a huge audience while in the band. The different bands I’ve played with have contributed a lot to what I can do today.
HT: How did your paths cross?
MF: Both of us were in amateur bands in the Catholic Church. We played fairly well, we were even invited to Italy and were granted an audience with Pope John Paul II. We had a great time. At the time, Miguel and I were in the same band, called Shema.
HT: Where does the name Manane come from?
MF: Though one’s professional and personal lives are hard to manage and people say they shouldn’t be mixed, we decided to bring them together. Working together in artistic projects has given us very good results – agreeing on things isn’t something too difficult for us. From the word go, the name identified what we had in common: folders and documents, hard copies and digital. It was our email password till recently. The fear that the password is far too simple is nothing compared to the emotion the word evokes when we speak it. “Manane” evokes many years of shared experiences, and we strongly identify with it.
HT: What can you tell us about the music you developed as Manane?
MAW: It’s difficult to express what we do with words sometimes. Like all young bands, we are going through a very important phase which involves promoting our arrangements and compositions, as well as our music videos, which are very important in this sense. To speak of the genre we work with, we would have to mention the effort and critical gaze we wish to preserve, in order to avoid compromises with our own work, and the need to maintain something that works in the market. Simplicity has always been something fundamental for big producers, and that is something we are wary of. We try to convey our concerns in a manner that is not so simple and is loaded with daring arrangements. It’s a way of saying and musicalizing what we have inside, aimed at those who are looking for something new.
HT: Tell us about the Cubademo and Cuerda Viva festivals.
MF: We saw on TV the call for participation for the 2nd Cubademo Festival organized by the Hermanos Saiz Association. We submitted a demo with 9 unpublished pieces, 6 of which were composed by Miguel. We were nominated for the categories of Fusion and Design. We got an award for the second category, which was quite flattering for our graphic designer, my brother Damian. With respect to Cuerda Viva, we simply performed at a show. A few months later, they called us to tell us we were among the 5 bands nominated at the festival. It was a pleasant and unexpected surprise. We were happy enough with the nomination, and getting an award and being recognized by the jury was totally unexpected.
HT: How is Manane positioned in terms of the possibilities currently offered by Cuba’s music world?
MAW: It is no secret that Cuba’s music market is almost saturated with certain genres that produce the same things and have large audiences, but there are also people looking for something new, thank god, and that’s something in our favor. Naturally, venues where bands play look for goups that are in high demand in order to maintain their commercial status, but, fortunately for us, places that look for music free from clichés have appeared, and this is of the essence for our group. We are at an important point in our careers, full of sacrifice and hard-work, and we are motivated by the success we’ve had through the media and at concerts. We feel it’s a good time to perform and offer people our music.
HT: Independent productions are becoming more and more common among new music bands and offering an alternative beyond the island’s major record labels.
MF: Independent productions have proven the quickest and most efficient way of recording the work of some musicians that have not become established yet, an alternative to the long wait and unlikely acceptance of new projects by record labels in Cuba. We are so desirous of sharing the art we make and have such few opportunities to record an album that we have no choice but to move forward and find the way of becoming our own producers. Today, this has proven a more effective way of pushing international productions that aren’t accommodated by local labels forward. In addition, after you record an album, selling it through different Internet sites is beneficial and comforting for the band, which can directly reap the benefits of not having sold its rights to others. In this case, need is the mother of a greater good for musicians.