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Created in 2012 by Ethiel Failde (descendant of the creator of the Danzón: the national dance of Cuba) the Miguel Failde Orchestra (a.k.a. Oerqustra Failde) is a group of very talented young people who assume with passion the Cuban music at the root and in particular the defense and recontextualization of the danzon tradition. With a powerful format they are able to present in every presentation a wide range of genres that span more than 100 years of history: from danzón to timba.

They have performed in more than 20 cities in the United States, Mexico and Canada, in such important venues as the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, the Los Angeles Hall of Mexico City and the Place des Arts in Montreal. They have collaborated with great artists and groups such as Omara Portuondo, Johnny Ventura, Ballet Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba, Orquesta Aragón and Septeto Santiaguero.

Their most recent album with Omara Portuondo, Diva of the Buena Vista Social Club, pays tribute to Benny More in his centenary called “Siempre tu voz: Homage to Benny Moré in his Centennial”. 

“El Príncipe del Danzón”, Ethiel Failde, talked to SounDarts.gr about all the above, intriducing himself and his orchestra! 

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Hello Ethiel and welcome to SounDarts.gr! How could you introduce Orquesta Failde to the Greek audience? How many people are there in this orchestra?

I founded the Failde Orchesta in 2012 as a continuity of the group with which Miguel Failde unveiled the danzón in the 19th century. At that time I was the youngest conductor in the country and the members, young graduates of the Matanzas Conservatory, our city. In these seven years the format has evolved to a combination of the orchestra charanga (a very popular format during the twentieth century in Cuba) with an expanded line of metals, this allows us to play many genres of our music (danzón, danzonete, mambo, chachachá, bolero, son, timba).

You are a great flutist. Why did you choose to study this instrument? At what age did you start playing the flute?

I arrived at the music school with nine years, with no particular interest in any instrument or previous training and some teacher saw that I had the physical conditions to perform the flute. It was as if she chose me. In our musical tradition the flute has a fundamental role, in particular for danzón, as a leading instrument for melody and improvisation. So for a danzonero it was one of the best choices, only I did not know it. It is already a eternal love.

You are a qualified and gifted artist concerning your origins, your progress and your career so far. How easy it is to carry the name “Failde”? (what is your connection to Miguel Failde)?

Miguel Failde was the creator of “Las Alturas de Simpson”, a piece that is considered the first danzón, premiered in Matanzas in 1879. Due to its importance and predominance, danzón was considered the national dance and although it lost strength in the first half of the 20th century, its the base for other genres such as the chachachá. Up to today it is present in the repertoires of orchestras and inspires composers, including jazz. As a genre it is able to show the most elaborated of classical music and the taste of the popular. Danzón is present in throughout the Caribbean, but in particular in Mexico it has its own history and millions of followers.

I am the only member of the Failde family who is professionally dedicated to music in Cuba and that has meant a great responsibility, first of all with the dissemination of Miguel’s work and the updating of danzón so that he remains alive for over 140 years after its premiere. But I came to danzón dancing in school when I was 6 years old, until that moment I did not know what my last name meant.

The danzón is the basis of the repertoire of the Failde Orchestra, although we assume many other genres, as did Miguel Failde himself in his time. I have also tried to promote this musical genre from a national radio program that I host every week and as an organizer of an event that takes place every year in Matanzas: the Danzonero International Encounter (Encuentro Internacional Danzonero).

Recently you released «Siempre Tu Voz (Homenaje A Benny Moré En Su Centenario)» with the great Omara Portuondo. How was your collaboration with her?

Omara is a living treasure of Cuban culture, she sums up the way of singing of this country, it is the last great exponent of a golden age of our music, she met Benny. We had previously collaborated with her in recordings and concerts, but when our record company (EGREM) proposes this album with her, a dream came true, one of those that we never dare to imagine. This album represents an embrace of generations, the continuity of Cuban traditional music, because the teacher who is Omara (at almost 90 years old), is accompanied by an orchestra of young people whose average age does not exceed 24 years.

Why did you choose to cover the classic songs of Benny Moré? What does his music mean to you?

The Benny is the biggest thing that our popular music has given. He has also received many tributes and his music has been interpreted a lot. When we decided to produce the album we wanted to print our stamp as young people and the characteristic sound of our orchestra leaving the space for Omara to do what she does best that is to sing, interpret, say as no one else every phrase. We try to make her feel comfortable, in her comfort zone, that’s why the boleros are the balance of the album.

As special guests we had the honor of having master Johnny Ventura from the Dominican Republic, admirer of Benny and Cubans Telmary (rapper) and William Vivanco.

If you had the chance to collaborate with any other artist(s) in the world, who would it be and why?

The list would be immense but they could not miss Chucho Valdés, Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Pablo Milanés for the Cubans. From the world: Marc Anthony, Natalia Lafourcade, Lila Downs, Patti Labelle, Alejandro Sanz. In general these artists care more about good music, for the tradition and to transmit a good message than for commercial successes, although selling millions of copies also matters.

Of the new generation of artists Camila Cabello; we have a version of “Havana” that we take to the chachachá.

If you could dabble in another genre of music, what would it be and why?

For the orchestra I think we do what we like in Cuban popular music and occasionally a bit of Latin jazz. In my case as a flutist I dont play anymore classical music, like Bach, Debussy or Paul Hindemith, and I really miss thats repertuary.

You have performed in more than 20 cities in the United States, Mexico and Canada, in very important venues. Which was the most important concert for you so far and which is your dream-destination where you would love to perform one day?

The relations between Cuba and the United States are very peculiar, intense from the artistic point of view and politically difficult, maybe that is why two of the most important moments for us are our concert for Barack Obama during his visit to La Havana in 2016 (we were the orchestra selected for the state dinner offered by the Cuban government) and our presence at the Kennedy Center as part of the Festival Artes de Cuba in 2018. A third moment that we will never forget was our first concert with Mexico, in the Salón “Los Ángeles” , a place where Cuban music has a lot of followers and where the best exponents have passed for 80 years from Benny Moré and Enrique Jorrín to Celia Cruz, and for us Mexico is our second homeland, outside Cuba is where more comfortable we feel.

Things in life move very fast! How do you imagine yourself in five years from now?

We want to reach many countries with our music. Being able to record with some of the artists that I mentioned before. And feel loved and respected more and more by our people, with many young people in our concerts dancing danzón, mambo, chachachá, son and timba.

What are your next professional plans for the near future?

We have two new albums in sight, the next with more danzones, also our versions of Cuban classics and some premieres. It is an album that will cover more than one hundred years of our music’s history. Our fourth phonogram we want to make it together with a great mexican singer that I can not reveal yet, but it will be a sample of the cultural ties between Cuba and Mexico, with songs that have sailed between both shores and that are already a shared treasure.

What is your message to the Greek audience?

Open your ears and your heart to Cuban music, maked with joy, sometimes with sadness but always with truth, make it yours.

Interview: Theodore Kolliopoulos

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