Who is Yalil Guerra?
Yalil Guerra Soto is a classical guitarist, composer, arranger, producer, and sound engineer born in Cuba on April 27, 1973. He is the son of the famous Cuban vocal duo Rosell y Cary. The talented musician’s early musical studies began at the National School of Arts (ENA) in his hometown. In 1991, he graduated as a classical guitar performer and professor.
After winning the Classical Guitar Festival in Poland, he traveled around several Polish cities and began his career as a composer, producer, and arranger a year before graduating from music school. Later on, Guerra studied classical guitar for a few years with some of the largest professionals of his land and moved to Spain, where he earned a master’s degree in classical guitar in the Conservatory of Music in Madrid.
At present, the artist is dedicated to composing classical and popular music and creating soundtracks for various American television channels, highlighted among them Disney, CBS, PBS Networks, and Univision. In addition, he works as a university professor and music producer.
He is the producer of the work of his sister, fellow artist Yamila Guerra, and his parents (Rosell y Cary), which demonstrated a close relationship to family and professional level.
We received him in Internacional Salsa Magazine to know a little more about this very talented Cuban and some details of his brilliant artistic career.
I am very happy to have a very special guest today. This is the producer, arranger, composer, and classical guitarist Yalil Guerra. How are you today, Yalil?
Hello, Karina. It gives me enormous pleasure to have the opportunity to be in what will be a wonderful interview for International Salsa Magazine. I thank you with all my heart, so all is very well in the city of Los Angeles, but I am a little cold. But yes, it is all right. I am a producer, composer, arranger, and lover of good music.
All right, Yalil. We wish to start this conversation by talking about your musical beginnings and your background. How did you get interested in music? When you started your career? When one can say that you started pursuing this path of music? What kind of music you listened to and what inspired you were a kid?
Well, basically, that is a very simple thing. I had the great joy and the fortune of being born in a musical family. My parents, duo Rosell y Cary, were very popular in the ’70s and ’80s in Cuba. Thanks to this influence, both my sister Yamila Guerra and I (she is a singer and I am the producer of all her music) have been involved in these musical processes from a very early age, I mean, our house was a circle of constant visits of artists and musicians in Cuba, mainly in Havana, which was the city where we used to live. Thanks to this influence, my curiosity about learning the art of music was aroused that is so abstract, but at the same time, so infinite in what is the knowledge for all that I have to learn. In fact, I continue to study and never stop studying because it is too big.
These influences come mainly from popular music, as well you know. Not from traditional music, but from popular music, as my parents sang in this style, romantic music was a little influenced by the music coming from Spain, pop from the ’60s and ’70s. At the same time, living in Havana means opening the window and hearing Afro-Cuban music or eventually listening to a song on the radio, a filin (a word derived from Feeling to define a popular song fashion that emerged in Cuba with extensive American roots), a bolero, a rumba or a guaguancó. In other words, it is all a hybrid of influences that obviously wake up child to start studying music. Seeing my father play the guitar encouraged me to choose that instrument as a first option and, well, that is how the journey in the world of music started.
All right. Obviously, you come from a musical family. Your parents are both musicians and your sister is also a musician. It is not difficult to assume that this was what influenced a bit your chosen path, but, besides your parents, what other musicians that also influenced and were important in your decision to dedicate yourself to this in the future could you mention?
Well, my first influence came from the family. After that, when you start listening and discovering the world of music, you start doing it without having strong knowledge of what you are listening to at first. Just, I like it or not and this I like it was what made me start studying music. I had the joy of being accepted at the prestigious National School of Arts in Havana, where I graduated in 1991 and, later, I studied at the Superior Art Institute for two years. I am very grateful for this nice opportunity I was given in my country. It is something incredible. Then, I had very good music, guitar, different music subject teachers. In this school, I got the chance to learn about classical music and to have the influence of the music of Europe. There I discovered Johann Sebastián Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludvig van Beethoven, Richard Strauss, Arnold Schoenberg, Igor Stravinski, Alban Berg, and all the great masters. That opens up a world of knowledge and development of musical taste that is when your education begins and start telling: I like this composer more than the other one.
Parallel to this, as I have been studying classical music, I continued to work with my parents in popular music because I got to work with them. This path next to them helped me to understand the repertoire of Cuban traditional music, which was not taught in the art schools in Cuba and allowed me to enter into this world and to develop both worlds: classical and popular music. That allowed me to mix both worlds in the work I am doing in both classical and popular music today.
Regarding the composers of great influence in classical music, I can tell you about Johann Sebastian Bach (who is key in the contrapuntal development of everything that has to do with the development of musical motifs), Mozart for his melodic development, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Richard Strauss, and Rachmaninoff from Russia (he is also very important and I love his work). There are great artists and composers who left behind a wealth heritage. In the case of popular music, of course, we have the greatest. That is, there are so many composers, artists, and musicians who have influenced my development that it would be a little unfair to leave anyone behind, and for that reason, sometimes I have trouble mentioning some of them because I would have to mention the full history. The result of what I am today is simply the story of everything I have listened to, what I could learn, and life experiences. The knocks, the joys, the sorrows are the things that really make you create your own seal and your own individuality.
You have been killing it on awards and academic training in classical guitar. You are highly notorious for performing all kinds of instruments. Could you tell our readers what other instruments you play? What other instruments do you play in your shows?
Absolutely, you know that the classical guitar allows you to play multiple levels or melody lines since it is a polyphonic instrument, you can have a musical accompaniment as the bass and have percussion. It’s a very rich instrument, so that gives you independence in your brain that is equivalent to that of a percussionist because you have multiple things going on at the same time, which makes it different from a flute (a monophonic instrument, which can only play a single melody or a violin). The piano is also polyphonic, so you can also do the same thing.
Then, I expanded from guitar to piano, since it is mandatory for all music students to practice or study complementary piano in Cuba. In my case, I had the opportunity to have a piano at home and practiced three or four hours a day for guitar and two hours for piano. So, I play piano and guitar at the same time, to the point where I played repertoire on the piano, which was what many top-level pianists who were only dedicated to that instrument did. Because I love the piano, of course, I don’t consider myself a classical pianist or anything, but I do play the instrument in popular music.
From there, the guitar gives you the advantage of expanding to similar or common instruments like the electric bass, the electric bass guitar uses the same three or four bass strings of the guitar, so it’s very easy for a guitarist to pick up a bass guitar or electric bass and play it because all the positions are the same. The Cuban tres is another related instrument, which is very easy to get in tune in the same manner as the first three strings or the highest strings of the guitar: E-B-G. Many guitarists play the tres instead of the original tuning which is the E-C-G or F-sharp-D-A that is played in Santiago de Cuba. You can play like the guitar because you only have to lower the note a half-tone of C to B and you have them in the same positions, therefore, it is very easy to make the transfer from one to another.
Of course, when you change instrument, you have to learn how you look at music again because the function of each instrument changes. The function of the electric bass is not to provide harmonic support, but a precise rhythmic accompaniment for the notes of harmony to ensure the constant framework of what the song is going to be, as well as the structure and columns of that building you will listen to. When you play the Cuban tres, it is very similar to on a piano and a guitar, so you can do two functions, either harmonic support through a tumbao or a melody (he makes an example of the notes). If you can play with both those things, then, as long as you understand musically the path that you are on, you are not going to have any problems. The problem happens when you have confusion, as there are times when you want to insert the mindset of one instrument into the other, then, that is where sometimes there can be a short-circuit, but thank to the Lord, I have always been very alert to my own mistakes because I am human and can make mistakes. I have to improve them, know what I am going to do and everything.
I have had great opportunities to put this into practice and there is a friend’s orchestra in Los Angeles, it is about a dear Venezuelan colleague named Carlos Navarro, it is the Clave y Son Orchestra. I have performed with him for many years and he always invited me to play the tres, but it turns out there is a pianist, so a type of musical filtration may happen. In that case, I have to see what to do to avoid disturbing the pianist, because, sometimes it happens that the piano and the tres do the same and clash, so you have to be very aware in real-time and create musically speaking to know how to avoid that. However, it is a beautiful thing to do. In the case of the requinto, it is a very popular instrument used in trios or in Mexico and is a small as the guitar tuned a fifth above. From there, I started learning Baby bass that is like a double bass, which I also learned to play. Then, I jumped to percussion, tumbadora, bongo, timbales, maracas and güiro. Within that madness, I learned sound engineering that is what you see back here (he points to his music studio in the background), how to record, produce, mix, edit, master a record, how to record video clips, how to edit them, how to do color correction, how to publish the video. In short, the whole process from a to z in music production to avoid depending on any record company that needs certain aesthetic requirements which do not engage what I’m looking for and, thus, to have more creative freedom.
Wonderful! Okay, Yalil, you have stood out for performing certain musical genres and styles that are not the most typical or famous in your country or that have not made Cuba known around the world. Many would think that classical music is not very popular in Cuba, although in reality this is not the case, since there is a lot of talent in all genres in Cuba. On that note, could you tell us what you try to express to the world in your music, bearing in mind that these are not the most famous styles on the island?
Obviously, popular music is more popular, forgive the redundancy, which means that it is mass-produced and a product of mass-consumption. However, serious or classical music (popular music is also classical because when you are singing a song from the 1920s, it is already a classic) has been grown in Cuba since the 18th century with Salas, Saumell and Cervantes in the 19th century. On the next century, this occurred with Caturla, the first generations of composers, Roldán, the Grupo de Renovación Musical (school of Cuban composers created in Havana), and what came after 1959 with those born, raised, and studied after the start of the Cuban Revolution, the generation to which I belong.
I tried to make a dream that was out since childhood, which was to be a composer. Even being a prominent guitarist, I always visualized myself looking for and writing in partbooks with pencils and erasers so that, when I became a composer, I had those scores. You know that there has always been much shortage in Cuba due to this access to the international market to buy products, so it was very difficult. There is no consumer market like there is in a capitalist country, so this kind of thing was a little more limited. However, I always managed to get a notebook from the school and I kept it, then I would ask to get another notebook after a month and so I accumulate them. At the end, this led me to pursue my dream of being a composer, which is the last thing to be studied. It is the opposite of being a doctor because you study general medicine in the first place and, when you graduate, you decide if you want to be a specialist doctor. In music, it is the opposite; if you study any specialty such as piano, trumpet, percussion, or instrument, you graduate and then you start working. If you wish to keep studying the generalities of music, you have to go down in composition or orchestra conducting. you are going to make university degrees, you have to take a Ph.D. in the two already mentioned or musicology.
I have gone down this path of composition through the study of classical music without further pretensions and always knowing that there was a very important legacy of very good composers in my country and the rest of Latin America. Without great pretensions, I began to put in practice what I had learned in Cuba and Spain, where I also studied at the Superior music Conservatory in Madrid. I also had the great opportunity to get a scholarship. At no charge, I studied classical guitar, counterpoint, and fugue. It was a wonderful experience. From there, I could also gain a lot of knowledge that has helped me to develop this way of music and composition.
As for musical styles that are not Cuban or not known, popular music is known everywhere and that access to popular music is what makes classical music not very well known. Remember that classical music has always been seen as music of elites and I am very glad that did not happen in Venezuela with the great work by the Simón Bolívar Youth Symphony Orchestra and its founder, Maestro José Antonio Abreu, whom I could know in Los Angeles on a tour of the Symphony orchestra conducted by Gustavo Dudamel about three or four years. Cases like these are examples of the approach of art music to the population is something that can have a very positive impact. The same thing happened in Cuba, where there has been mass access to music education that makes children get involved in spiritual enrichment and enlightenment to a different path.
This classical music is not the first thing I start composing. I have just been making popular music for 20 years and working hard for Univision, composing, producing and arranging music for shows like the Latin Grammys Awards, Lo Nuestro Awards, and Sábado Gigante. In fact, I am part of everything related to the orchestration and the arrangement of what you listen to in the music of Univision News. I have been working on almost all of Univision shows and many artists that I collaborated with in productions or played with them. However, my career has not taken off because there are so many people doing the same thing that competing with the great figures who are already signed or who, back then, were already signed by the big record companies was very difficult, especially if you are young and in a country like the U.S. where you are not supported by any cultural institution that endorses your work and you are in limbo.
The market runs on the market, for example, if there are one or two million Venezuelans in Miami and you are a Venezuelan singer, you have the opportunity that those two million buy your music in addition to the ones you already have in Venezuela. In Cuba, something different happens; generally, if you sing or your music is played somewhere else, there is a political conflict that mixes everything together and all hell breaks loose, from which the market and the record companies are always on the lookout. For this reason, they often opt for countries where there are no such conflicts.
Returning to the subject of classical music, after a while, I had a dream in which I saw a vision of Jesus Christ. I did not grow up as a Catholic or a believer, but I had a very particular dream and it was the only time I dreamt of Jesus Christ, who told me: Yalil, the music you have to make is this. When he opened his mouth, a symphony orchestra sounded. From that moment on, I started writing classical music and the first album that got me nominated for a Latin Grammy. This was an album that took me a while to produce out of my own pocket and I went to Cuba to record it. I also recorded here in the United States and was nominated for Old Havana. Chamber Music Vol. I in 2010. Next thing after that, my career took off, which was like the starting point with my first production that continued at an accelerated pace. Not only by doing my own works, but producing other artists and musicians who were just like me, because they did not have support and I humbly start supporting them and produce them with my label. By the year 2021, there are now eight nominations in the classical music categories of Best Classical Music Album and Best Contemporary Classical Work and a GRAMMY win in 2012. As a record label, I have won two Grammys and earned fourteen nominations, adding other artists. So, I mean, it has been an arduous and intense task without resting.
You left your country many years ago and were in Europe, where you achieved many successes and had a prolific career there. You were very successful both in an academic and artistic aspect. In that sense, leaving your country a long time, visiting so many countries and the nostalgia that everyone who leaves their country feels, how did this influence your music? How do you think the fact that you left your country at such a young age may have influenced your music?
I have never left Cuba. Cuba is in my DNA. I left Cuba when I was 20 years old and now I’m 47. I did not dry my hair, even though you do not see gray hair here (laugh), but I have never left Cuba. On the contrary, an interesting phenomenon happens. Cuba is like a mother, it’s like a coat that embraces your soul. It is my land, even if I am in Burundi or Australia, I eat Cuban food for breakfast, I drink Cuban coffee and I consume the news in my country. I watch the sources of information from both Cuba and Miami. I am fully aware of various information channels about what is happening in the world. I am very aware and very connected with the musicians of my land, I constantly go to Cuba, my music is played and released in Cuba and I always have interviews on the radio, television, and written press in the national newspaper. I can’t complain and I think it’s very important that an artist can have access to this type of connection to his homeland. I never was one to enter into a confrontation or political and religious viewpoints. I believe that life can be seen from many points and if I see something in a way, another person can see it in a completely different way. Therefore, I always try to avoid conversations or points that can keep human beings disunited.
Human beings are disunited since their beginnings in creation; from the time you have a different mother language than the one I speak and we live miles and miles from each other, there is a division because we do not understand each other. I have to find someone who learns your language so that I can translate it. Then comes the division among races, the borders of the countries, economic and political divisions, currency, trade divisions, among others. In other words, there is so much division that what I do not want is to contribute to division between human beings; what I want is unity. Of course, the greatest powers that be live from disunity; I do not live from disunity, but from union and embody all souls with what I do best, which is music, and that is a process that requires a lot of concentration and inner peace to do my personal best.
Outside of Cuba, the experience of being in other countries like Spain, where I lived there for so long, and seeing my country from a different perspective. I saw it from a perspective of discovery and knowledge to Cuban artists I never had the chance to know because they left the country, where many mistakes were made like removing certain historical figures of Cuban music and this has been fixed. Many talented generations have passed and many adjustments and changes have been made at this point. That is wonderful, but ever since I lived in Cuba, I did not know them; in Spain, I could figure out who Celia Cruz was and my teacher Aurelio de La Vega (classical music composer).
This contact with another discography that was in my hand made me discover another Cuba with another vision as a reflection of the era before the Cuban Revolution. If I had lived in Cuba, I would have discovered it too, but I was in Spain, so I discovered it in Spain. It does not mean that those who stayed in Cuba did not discover it, since you can listen to all the music that exists there from before in recordings, but I had to leave and I discovered it outside of Cuba; so let me just clear this with that, so they cannot say I said that this music was not listened to. Whoever lives in Cuba knows who Benny Moré was and who were the great figures and orchestras from the past, but I had to live this experience abroad and that brought a more cosmopolitan learning to interpret this music, so that I had to learn to play salsa in different styles, for example, how it is played in Cuba, how it is played in Colombia, what the repertoire in Puerto Rico is, how it is played in Venezuela. That is to say, there are so many variations created by styles or by groups that generate specific sound marks with their ways of dancing and making music to absorb all these styles and knowledge, incorporate them and make them your own vision.
That is what happened to me and that is why my popular music is cosmopolitan and is not only 100% Cuban music. On the contrary, that is the music I want a Venezuelan, a Colombian, a Panamian, and a Cuban to like. You cannot say that this is only Cuban because this is Colombian, this is similar to the Niche Group, this is similar to El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico or this is from the Fania All-Stars. No, this has a seal that is the seal of Yalil Guerra and it sounds like my arrangements, my music, my world, and the way I talk (laugh).
Cuba is the home of the son, the danzón, the chachachá, among others. They may not be the styles that you are involved in, but which Cuban musicians that are not in the genre in which you work do you think are most influential in Cuba and your career?
Look, I do not have specific groups or musicians. What I do have is a library of so many people who have influenced me. If I am going to make mention anybody, I can name NG La Banda, its great director, and songwriter Jose Luis Cortes, who in his time released an album in 1989 and 1991 that impacted my listening. I think it was called NG La Banda en la Calle and had some incredible songs with tremendous arrangements. That record had a great impact on me, but I tell you that before this were Los Van Van, the Trío Matamotos, the danzón orchestras, Orquesta Aragón, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, La Rumba, La Tumba Francesa, La canción, La Nueva Trova, La Trova Santiaguera, and La Trova Espirituana. There are so many fields that Cuban music has that I don’t want to name someone specifically. I think it is the result of everything and that is the beautiful thing about it, because when you receive the result of everything and you are not partial to a single movement, you can develop a broader vision of music. That is why I am not limited, so if you tell me I have to make Reggaeton, I can make Reggaeton for you. I am not going to do it like Daddy Yankee or like everybody else, but I’m going to do it my way. If you tell me to make son montuno, I’m not going to do it like Miguelito Cuní or like el Sexteto Nacional de Ignacio Piñeiro or like more modern ensembles like Buena Vista Social Club who made its son in an eclectic style and with some electric guitars that Ry Cooder added, resulting in a mixture that I personally find a little odd.
Cooder created an interesting sound and that provided a new market to Cuban music in the United States. However, that has a little bit to do with what was happening historically, as a few years before the socialist bloc collapsed and the return of Cuban music to the United States was with the traditional music carried the minds of pre-Castro Cuba and I think it was a kind of geopolitical move that, after studying and reading widely, I came to this conclusion. It was a way to reintegrate Cuban music into the American market and industry.
Basically, the influence of Oscar D’ León, who is a great musician and singer from your land, had a tremendous impact on Cuban music when he went to the Varadero Festival in the 80’s. The musicians loved working with Oscar D’ León and seeing him in action was a magical experience. Also the visits from these other figures and personalities who traveled to Cuba before and after the Cuban Revolution have always brought what Cuba has been through eternally, which is an island with the port all trade that went to Latin America and to Europe arrived. We received a lot of information and privileges from people who visited the land, shared, and stayed with us.
Despite being a small island, Cuba has given birth to a large number of talents that are still popular. What a contradictory thing; the development of culture really takes place in countries where there is an economic blossoming and an explosion of trade while in Cuba there has been an eternal blockade by the United States since 1959, so the country has no trade on a massive level. It only trades with few countries and cannot access to credits from international banks. This kind of thing also greatly affects the access to goods; despite this, there is an important cultural development not only in music, but also in literature, plastic arts, and cinema with the limitations of creating a film, but you do realize there is always a great cultural movement despite not having a flourishing economy or international trade for being isolated. Internet is what has helped to know more about what is going on in Cuba because prior to this you did not know what was going on inside Havana. Nowadays you find out that there are concerts, musicians and what they are doing on a daily basis. It is a wonderful experience.
When you gather with friends and family, what music do you listen to and dance to?
As you know, my house is full of musicians. My parents are singers, my sister is also a singer, I am also a musician, my children play instruments, my fiancé is also a musician. Basically, we almost do not listen to music, it is the truth. This is the time when we do not listen to music because as long as we are working with music all the time, the moment of rest is when we do not want to listen to music. It is like when the doctor is in a consultation for twelve hours and, when he gets home, he does not want you to say check my blood pressure or give me a pill for a headache. He will say that he does not want to talk about it more and what he wants is to watch a movie. In our case, it is the same and, as you know, music is an impertinent element because that travels through the ripple of the air, so we are constantly invaded by noise that is not musical nor is caused by music. Then, this keeps you from resting. The only moment of rest of when you have is when you go to sleep or have a low noise environment in which your ears rest, but, meanwhile, your brain is continuously unlocking a voice, a rhythm, a harmony, a song, or a speaking voice. Well then, we enjoy the time for celebrations while conversing (we are not always able to do so), having dinner, or doing other things.
We also dance to Latin music, primarily Cuban, and by Cuban I mean the year 1964 with the recently deceased Johnny Pacheco of the Fania All-Stars and Jerry Masucci, who created this term in salsa in which my studies and researches are also based, so I think this comes at a critical moment in relations between the United States and Cuba in 1959 when Fidel came to power. All relations started to be severed and Cuba stopped being the provider of this kind of music to the world; it was danceable music that was in movies and ballrooms in Europe and the world. Automatically, someone has to take over to provide this kind of music to the rest of the world and this happens in New York. Remember that many Cuban musicians traveled to New York and were settled since way before Fidel came to power and worked in this city; these Cubans taught many musicians from other countries on how to do certain things and the salsa genre was standardized.
When I say that it was standardized, it means that it became more standard. It also means that a musician from any part of Latin America can learn the tumbao of the tumbadoras in a simple way, a bass player can learn what to do in a simple way, and a pianist can do the same. From there, a sort of standardization was created for this music to be adopted at a more cosmopolitan level and it is partially great that this happened because, despite 62 years of limited access of Cuban music to the international market, this music remained in force in the United States, allowing many Cuban and Latin America orchestras to make a career by creating repertoire, songs, discography and many ways to make money that were vital to the development of this industry.
When I came to the United States, I find out that there is salsa music which was a term created here in 1964, since after the Missile Crisis, Cuba began to have a bad reputation in the international press and Cuban music as a term was not widely accepted by the Mass Media or the mass press, therefore, the word salsa also includes Cuban music along with other Latin rhythms that came with hindsight. The name change really helped to keep this music active; instead of referring to it as the latest Cuban music, you call it the latest salsa. This has a little bit to do with this geopolitical stuff that occurs in history; if you are attentive and observe it well, you can realize that. However, I am very happy that there are a great number of Latin musicians who have embraced Cuban music, made it their own, enriched it, and expanded it as with jazz.
Jazz was created in the United States; of course, there are many theories on how jazz arrived and how it is promoted, but nobody talks about the influence of Gottchalk, who is an American pianist and composer who travels to Cuba in the 1800s and met Saumell who exerted a great influence on his music. This is how Gottchalk became the father of the styles that would become jazz and the basis for all that was Saumell with his bass rhythms. Many things in history sometimes go unsaid; they are hidden and quiet, but they are there.
The fact that I have been able to meet these musicians from Latin America in Los Angeles, across the United States and Spain help me to enrich myself because I could understand different points of view of how other nationalities look at music and what the point is of music. Dance music is to be danced, not to prove that you are a good musician; it is so the dancer can dance. If you want to prove me that you are a good musician, then pull out a guitar and play a Bach Prelude and Fugue; but if it is for the dancer to dance, you have to give him what he wants and that is rhythm, cadence, syncopation, turns, choruses, and energy; these are the things that you learn in life and I have been fortunate to be in a country where I have received this continuous influence, which helped me to have this vision.
It is so interesting you said in the previous answer, which means that if the musician who is always listening to all kinds of musical sounds, there comes a point that he prefers a bit of calm and quiet unlike other professionals when he reunites with his family and friends in his spare time, right?
I go further. I could tell you that this is the case of many musicians, artists, and producers of the guild. Remember that music is passive entertainment; you’re listening to it and it is coming in, but you do not realize that. Everyone who works in this industry does not listen to music when he wants to rest. Generally, when he listens to music it is because he is going to analyze what another person did because he already sent it to him, but he doesn’t want to listen to it in the moment of rest. He will want to do something totally different because he is in a recording studio for hours and hours and the last thing you want to do is listen to music.
So, it is not just my experience, but I know a lot of musicians who do the same I do; they don’t want to listen to music or anything, just wanting to rest, to watch a movie or to read a book. I always recommend reading a book, especially because there is a lot of material and information that do not appear on YouTube videos, TikTok videos, Facebook notifications or any of those places that are designed to keep entertaining you and to keep you away from personal life and human interaction. Therefore, it is important to take a book, turn its pages, pick up the phone, call a person instead of texting him, or simply handwrite a letter. These very human traditions have been dehumanized with the advent of new technologies, but I do think we need a little bit to come back into these times to contact the most human side. Covid-19 has helped a little bit in this; this confinement has made you spend more time with family, but you have had less contact with the world. On the other hand, it has been dire, because as social beings, we are created to be in the process of social interaction continuously.
To finish, what do you think was the most pleasant or memorable experience in your career?
The experience that keeps playing is the beautiful thing about it. It is an inexplicable experience in which I come into contact with a universe that could be God, creation, or something spiritual. I cannot define what it is in terms of scientific or religious, but it happens to me that when I write a classical work on paper in my brain, write it, conceive it, listen to that music played by a good orchestra, live the premiere and listen to these sounds in real-time. It brings tears to my eyes. These are peak moments of creation where only The Lord knows what the mystery is, why this happens, what keys are activated in me as a human being when I hear my own music performed and very well played. Those things are unique. Of course, the awards and recognitions are always appreciated and historical moments help you to take forward my name. They do not buy you a plate of food or give you a glass of milk, but they do allow you to get acknowledgment from society and make known what you do in a world as complex as the one we are living in. It is always a nice thing to blow a drop of air in that dark cloud.
Music should always be supported by the cultural institutions of all countries and, unfortunately, this is the last thing that is taken into account in many cultures. Music is viewed as comfort or an element of distraction and we are unaware of how important it is to have art in society. No one remembers who was the army general from Vienna in 1850 or who fought beside Napoleon Bonaparte, but you remember Beethoven, Goya, Mozart, and Bach. In 100 years, you will know who the creators were and those who have really done important work to leave a strong legacy in good faith that generates a lasting social impact for centuries. It is a pity that societies do not support the arts, so I applaud Venezuela because I know there is a very important cultural movement there as in Cuba and other countries of the world. I hope you continue to support the arts, which is the important thing.
Sure, despite economic problems and political situations, music and culture do not stop.
Of course. Remember the expression of the feelings from the creator and of those who are active members and participants involved in that creation. Music has to be the expression language, and naturally, expressions are always going to be divided into different points of view; there will be expressions in favor of a system and expressions against a system, both are valid. As well as a painter that has drawn a historical character with a longer nose to make him look like Pinocchio, there will be another painter who paints him with a smaller nose to make him more believable and give a more heroic pose. Each creator will always have his point of view and it must be respected, as it is part of creation; but bridging or ignoring these differences in politics, literary creation, painting, architecture or music must always be endorsed by the cultural institutions of all countries and no one must stay out of this opportunity because that is vital for the development of a society and, above all, for the cultural legacy of a nation.
A positive message to all the readers of International Salsa Magazine, musicians in general, or anyone with access to this interview. Many people have fallen into depression and all sorts of emotional problems arising from the pandemic caused by COVID-19.
Absolutely. The first message is that if you are alive, just be grateful. If we are alive today, there is a morning. If there is a morning, there is continuity. If there is continuity, there is a legacy and the tradition continues, so we should be happy to be able to open our eyes every day and start planning what I am going to do tomorrow. I want to be ready for when all this is over. When it was announced that everyone is vaccinated and we return to normal life, I am going to see what I will do, how the time has helped me, how I am outdoing myself by the time I go outside again, and what I am going to present as a new work. This is what is important, since this confinement time has been like we were on a small island in our house, which has been like a prison. In prisons, prisoners often have the opportunity to pursue careers because they have enough time to do so and we should do everything to reach that point of learning and say I am going to study something different or how I can improve myself. It is not about seeing what someone else does or trying to copy the success of this artist to do the same. What I have to do is to see how I am going to reform myself, grow, how I am going to project the next 10, 15, or 20 years of my life, what your target is.
After understanding that process, it is very easy; life will go on and we will move while smiling and laughing at mockeries of fate and the traps of life. Once you understand that process of how life works, you will see such a crazy balance and will discover that falling down is not the problem, but learning to rise up like the phoenix. In this way, we go where mediocrity never goes.
Yalil, your web page or social networks where you can be followed.
Well, you can use my Facebook page Yalil Guerra Composer. There is my Twitter page, there is my Linkedin page. There is the YouTube channel called Yalil Guerra RYCY Productions, which belongs to the company and you can find all my videos there. I can send you this information later, but I basically have my personal website which is yalilguerra.com, but it takes a lot of work to keep it because I am involved in my doctoral studies at University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA). I’m already in my senior year and a TV show I’m producing online with my sister Yamila Guerra and the new piano albums have me a little busy. My days can start at 5 a.m. and end at 10 or 9 p.m. and I even have two or three sunrises. It is kind of intense, but I like it. I love to study and the message is to move on with life that everything continues.
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