Ruly Herrera: Cuba’s Top Young Jazz Drummer

By Helson Hernandez

Ruly Herrera.  Foto:
Ruly Herrera. Foto:

HAVANA TIMES — His first album exposes us to his work as an instrumentalist and composer. It earned him the 2015 Cubadisco Jazz and Making-Of awards. Titled Mal Tiempo (“Bad Weather”), Ruly Herrera’s album – and career – are the focus of our interview.

HT: Give us the background to Mal Tiempo, as a title and album.

Ruly Herrera: It was originally a song. I wrote it during a very severe storm here in Havana. I was in my car, stranded in the middle of the road and, during this rather extreme meteorological situation, I became inspired and I started writing the song in my cell phone, humming the melody and sketching out all of the ideas. When I got home, I sat in front of the piano and, with the help of my brother, who plays the instrument, we finished the song.

Mal Tiempo is also a kind of play on words, the tempo and the way in which the drums play during the song, sometimes it is on tempo and sometimes it isn’t. It also refers to the bad times we jazz musicians go through sometimes, when we don’t find enough venues to play our music at: the bad times artists are going through because of pirating and the fact we don’t sell many records. In short, it plays with all of these things.

HT: Who is the author of the songs in the album?

RH: Most are mine. I composed five of the nine pieces on the album.

HT: What are the artistic influences behind Mal Tiempo?

RH: I evince all of my influences here, what I’ve drawn from musically throughout my career and the first jazz albums I started listening to as a kid. The style of Chick Corea’s pieces in his Electric Band project was also an influence. The album is a tour through all of the music in my head, and through all of those influences that are unconsciously reflected in one’s work, a kind of debt to the music of my childhood.

HT: How did you carry out this production?

RH: Well, most of the bass work was played by Rey Guerra Jr., Julio Cesar did a bit of everything on a different piece. Emilio Martini played the electric guitar, Jorge Aragon and Jorge Luis Lagarza (“Yoyi”) played the piano, Julito Padron played the trumpet, Adel Gonzalez did the drums and saxophonist Cesar Lopez was featured on one of the pieces. Track 5 is a homage to the group Yellow Jacket.

HT: Why did you pay tribute to Yellow Jacket on your first album?

Ruly Herrera (r).  Foto:
Ruly Herrera (r). Foto:

RH: It’s a band I’ve followed since I was a kid. I’ve tried to get all of their albums. They are exceptional musicians, they enthralled me the very first time I heard them, and I identify a lot with their work. I also think their compositions are fabulous. The piece I pay tribute to them was written after thinking about the band for nearly two and a half years. When I’d finished the sketch for the song, I felt it sounded like Yellow Jacket, and I was able to finish the piece with the help of Jorgito Aragon. I also wrote it in a very transparent and sincere way. We’re all praying that Yellow Jacket gets to hear the song one day.

HT: What’s going to happen now that you’re going your own way?

RH: I am not planning on distancing myself from the artists I work with, but I was interested in developing my own work, taking full control of a project. A group of friends – Rey Guerra Jr., Jorge Luis Lagarza and I – decided to team up to make our own band, Real Project. We are all very eager for some success and for our music to go beyond Cuban borders.

HT: Did you complete any music studies? What experiences made a decisive contribution to your training as a professional?

RH: I didn’t go to the Higher Institute for the Arts (ISA). I finished a post-secondary school program at the Amadeo Roldan conservatory in 2005. In 2002, I had the fortune of joining the band of the renowned Cuban singer-songwriter Polito Ibañez, before completing my studies, when I was only 15. He found the right attitude in me and supported me from the start. The first album I ever recorded on was Axilas (“Arm Pits”), with Polito.

Since then, I’ve recorded on over 55 albums with different musicians, not only in Cuba but also abroad. Other Cuban artists that were important to my professional development are Kelvis Ochoa, Decemer Bueno, Ivette Cepeda and Cesar Lopez (with whom I’m still working), as well as Interactivo). I had the privilege of being part of the last band that accompanied folk musician Santiago Feliu, before he passed away.

HT: Where can we see you play live in Havana?

RH: Different opportunities pop up, but my band Real Project has a scheduled performance twice a month at the Jazz Café in Havana. It’s a venue well known by jazz lovers in the capital.

HT: How are your projects doing?

YH: I’ve already sketched out the 10 songs for my next album. I don’t stop; I do many things all the time. I am constantly working. When I’m not home composing, I’m on stage, and my head is always filled with music.