“Every time I go out to play, to sing, I show my training and above all I put the name of Venezuela up high and without talking too much”.
She reaffirms that; We have done a good job, making our music and Latin culture known.
It is indisputable the mark that many Venezuelan artists who have decided to settle abroad leave on their way around the world, because they are distinguished by their achievements and place the name of Venezuela in great, making their fellow citizens feel proud of their successes, such is the case of Yma America Martinez, born in Caracas and based in Germany for almost 30 years.
With a musical vein that she inherited from her parents who, she points out, were the fundamental pillar in her formation and career, and why not, for having grown up in one of the most musical parishes of Caracas, the San Agustin del Sur neighborhood, Marin sector, from where great characters have emerged including her uncle, the choreographer and dancer Carlos Enrique Orta (+), who toured with his dance company Coreoarte great stages around the world.
His musical beginnings were with a group created by his father “Los Azulitos Juveniles” where he sang aguinaldos with his sisters and neighbors, to later join the San Agustin Choir at the Don Pedro School “Fe y Alegria”. She received her academic preparation at the “José Ángel Lamas” Music School and at the “Simón Bolívar” National and Youth Orchestra, to continue her cello studies in Paris at the “Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris” and singing and composition at the CODARTS of the World Conservatory of Music in Rotterdam.
Yma America is a singer, musician, composer, arranger, plays the cello and the cuatro. Her clear and powerful voice makes her very sought after throughout Europe. She has worked with different groups; Kimbiza, Latin Sampling, Francisco Zumaqué, Conexión Latina, Mirta & The Goalgetters, Dúo Ymaya, Cubop City Big Band, among others. He has participated in major jazz and classical music festivals such as the Ruhr Guitar Festival, the North Sea Jazz Festival, the RuhrTriennale, the MusikTriennale Köln, and the Elblandfestspiele. In 2004 her perseverance made her the winner of the international competition “Voice and Guitar” in Saarbrücken-Germany, where she won the first prize together with the Colombian guitarist Andrés Mendoza Villamil.
Another relevant fact in the life of this artist can be seen in the song “Juégalo”, a song she composed and sang for the Bacardi company commercial, which became a hit in the summer of 1998 and 2000. He participated in the musical “King of The Lions”, with WDR Big Band in the main role of the Lilipuz children’s concert “Die schlaue Mama Sambona”; and has performed more than 30 times with the production “Adventure Weltumrundung” of the Fly & Help Foundation.
She has on her shoulders the responsibility of a great project that she is carrying in Germany and wishes to realize in her native country, making music with percussion for deaf people called “FEEL SOUNDS”, because of this proposal in 2010 she was awarded with the Disability Policy of the Innovation Prize of Cologne (KIB).
She assures us that; “The language of music is the same all over the planet”, with this phrase we enter to discover the virtues, dreams, and desires of the interviewee.
How does Yma America define herself?
“It is not easy to answer this, but I think I am a very patient and calm person, too much I would say. I don’t give myself a bad life, fortunately, I have done what I have wanted and desired, thanks to the support of my parents and family in general.” “I am a character to whom, thank the god’s things and opportunities have been offered to me, some I have taken advantage of, others not, there are some which I have not realized in time that they have been there waiting for me and I have lost them. But I can say that I have lived my life, with the ups and downs, good and bad, without involving anyone and that is how I have been leading it and learning”.
Part of his training was obtained through the “José Ángel Lamas” Conservatory of Music and the “Simón Bolívar” National and Youth Orchestra. What do you thank them for and how do you give back your training with them?
“I thank them for part of my training as a musician than I am, because the other part I owe to my family and my people where I come from.” “-Give back-“, I think that every time I go out to play, to sing, I show my training and above all I put the name of Venezuela up high and without talking too much”.
What do you think of the phrase “No one is a prophet in his own land”?
“-I honestly don’t know what it means-“. “I don’t think I would have started singing professionally if I had stayed in Venezuela. I played cello in the National and Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, I played and substituted for the cellists in the Philharmonic Orchestra of Venezuela and in the Municipal Orchestra of Caracas, I sang solo at every party and family celebration, and in reality, I was very quiet at home”.
“I don’t think I am a “prophet” where I am, I always do the best I can and people value it and many times also criticize it, of course”.
Why did you choose Germany and not another Latin American country? How many years have you been living in Cologne?
“I left Caracas in 1986 for Paris-France, thanks to the fact that my grandmother worked for a wealthy family and they offered to help a relative to study abroad, specifically in France because they had relatives there. First, my uncle Carlos Enrique Orta, a choreographer-dancer with a long international career, went many years before, and then I wanted to “take him up on it” after a while”.
“Actually I wanted to study cello for 1 year in Paris and return to Venezuela, but when I finished my 1st year of study at the “Ècole Normale de Musique de Paris”, they offered me to stay and I didn’t refuse. The last year of studies in Paris I didn’t have much money to live and in Köln-Germany lived the musicians of COREOARTE (a Dance Company created by my uncle Carlos Enrique Orta with dancers and musicians from San Agustin), at that time I went every weekend, on Fridays after classes, from Paris to Köln and I returned on Mondays at 6 am and arrived directly to classes in the afternoon, I did that because we played; Renis Mendoza, Felipe “Mandingo” Rengifo, Charles Peñalver, Orlando “El Diablo” Blanco and me in the street to collect a little money and cheer up the streets and faces of the Germans, and with that I could buy food for the whole week in Paris until the following Friday when I returned to Köln. … and so on for many months until when I finished my studies, I decided to move to Köln and the first months I lived with Renis Mendoza who shared his apartment with another boy from Corporate and then I got my room sharing an apartment with a German girl”.
“I lived first in Paris from 1986 until 1990, 4 years and from 1990 until today in Köln, next year I will be 30 years based in Germany, I say “I have my bed in Köln”, because in reality I am almost never at home, thanks to music and life that has given me so much.”
“I never thought, nor have I ever imagined living in another Latin American country, I think that from here, I’m going home… To Venezuela!”.
How has the German public been receptive to Latin rhythms, has there been no resistance?
“At this moment there is a stagnation in the development of activities with Latin music, but in the same way there is more and more receptivity, I know we have done a good job, making known our music and Latin culture, there are several Salsa bands with German musicians, there are more and more dancers, more dance classes, many have understood the message and others interpret it to their wave but there is much atmosphere and places with Latin music, with Dj of Salsa-Merengue and the crap they call Reggaeton music”.
“I must say that some years ago there were more Salsa orchestras with German musicians and there were more Salsa Festivals that unfortunately has been reduced by the phenomenon “Salsa Dj” I think and I’m almost sure, because it is cheaper and people dance the same. That has done a lot of damage to live music”.
What memories do you have of being under the baton of these great maestros Abreu, Aldermaro Romero, Carlos Riazuelo and Yehudi Menuhin?
“I don’t really remember at the moment any particular experience or directly with them. Although I had more contact with maestro José Antonio Abreu, the experience was the same as with many of the members of the ONJV. But of all of them I was always struck by the confidence with which they could dominate and control the number of musicians that an orchestra has and above all that in classical style and pieces the feeling that is transmitted is that of the conductor and not that of the musician or the performer. Of course, they were wonderful experiences”.
How many compositions have you made?
“Honestly, not many, approximately 12 but that have been arranged, played and recorded, only 4.”
Your parents have been promoters of your career, what do you thank them for?
“My parents are the reason for my profession, it is from them that this Yma America that you are interviewing for my work has come out. Thanks to their way of being, to their offspring, to their education, I thank them for what I am and what I have done… My life”.
Are you still constantly growing, what anecdotes do you have from your time at the “Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris” and the “Conservatoire de Musique du Monde”?
“In Paris, I think, having to change the mentality of learning everything little by little and without haste in Venezuela, to the need to put my batteries because here they do not wait, you have to give it hard and meet daily, plus that prompted me to learn French faster”. “And in Holland to go from being a student to being the singer of the Cubop City Big Band of the conservatory Prof. Martin Verdonk (percussion), Leslie Lopez (bassist) and directed by Prof. Lucas van Merkwijk drums that was strong, especially at the beginning that was to understand how they interpreted Latin music that is something other than Latin Jazz, then we started with Mambo de una, and as Leslie Lopez was the bassist of Puerto Rico there was a balance and there we were learning and getting experiences all equally”.
How does it feel to work alongside Dutch percussionist and producer Lucas Van Merwijk and to be the lead singer of the successful “Cubop City Bing Band”?
“Working with Lucas and those wonderful musicians, people with an extraordinary musical level, is very relaxed, zero stress, we have all learned there, the failures and successes have gone hand in hand with everyone. Next year (2020), with CUBOP CITY Big Band we will celebrate 25 years together and for sure something good will be done, something wonderful is being cooked, with the maestro Edy Martinez -pianist, composer and Colombian arranger-, of course, also thanks to Lucas’ wife, Roosje who does a great job, she is the organizer/manager of that crowd and of all the tours”.
Have you surrounded yourself and trained with musicians that due to their quality and trajectory are considered the best, what do you think you have yet to do?
“I have done and learned many things in life, both personally and musically, I think and I know that I still have a lot to do and to learn”.
Hasn’t the language been an obstacle?
“No, musically speaking, no, the language of music is the same all over the planet.” “The French language I had to learn quickly because I came from Venezuela directly to the Conservatory of music, in Holland the classes are in English and I did not have to learn Dutch and the German language has been strong in other daily situations or life in general.”
In which festivals have you participated both in Europe and Venezuela?
-I can’t tell you exactly how many, but in these 30 years living in Germany and making music professionally there have been many, in almost all of Europe”.
You have a project with deaf people in Germany, which we hope can also be realized in Venezuela. Tell us about this musical project and why did you decide to make this the theme?
“TO FEEL – SOUNDS, but as a proper name I named it “FEEL SOUNDS” in view of the fact that the sense of touch is much more developed in deaf people and my work is based on making music with percussion, so the vibration of the sound is what they feel.”
“It is a project that I have had in mind for many, many years, exactly 1980, when I was studying “Hotel and Tourism Administration” at the University College of Caracas and doing field work in San Jose de Rio Chico, at the end of my activity and visiting people, they made me a party, drums and fulias until dawn, they were 5 drummers, the father and 4 children and at the end the father tells me that one of them was deaf. And the young man played very well, I never imagined that he could be deaf, he played perfectly and we even danced salsa. And from there I had the idea of working and teaching percussion to the deaf.”
“After all that time, in one of those twists and turns of life, I had courage and started to study “German Sign Language” and planned my workshops, I went to the deaf schools in Köln, many percussionist friends helped me, Renis lent me his drums and plays with us every presentation at the end of the workshops, other friends lent me their rehearsal room to give the classes, my Sign Language teacher supported me looking for money to keep going. … and so, this year I celebrate 10 years of having developed it here in Germany and the experience has been wonderful, every day I learn more and more of this world that I can not imagine, but to see the face of everyone when they feel the vibration of the sound when playing a drum, even hearing people, people without hearing problems, that feeling is unique, fascinating!
Working with children and adults with special conditions is a great challenge, how does it feel to see this experience become a reality?
“I have already been invited to several cities in Germany, Holland and Poland and I want to continue doing it, take it to my country and fulfill my desire to develop it there, carry it out, execute it and make it known in my Venezuela. Although several years ago I attended a conference held by FEVENSOR Federation of the Deaf of Venezuela, with the assistance of several Latin American countries, Spain and Australia, I made an exhibition and presentation of several young deaf people who attended, with the participation and collaboration of Naifer Hernandez and Juan Carlos “El Indio” Betancourt percussionists of San Agustin / Marin, but everything stayed there. Of course I must always be present to be able to move forward, that’s how it is. I lack the economic support because the program, the project, the subjects, the desire, the yearning and the yearnings are already there, but I keep moving and insisting, searching and “curucuteando” until I find the proper support”.
What new projects are on the way?
“We recently started a new Latin American Music Trio project, let’s say from Mexico to Argentina, with Prof. Thomas Böttcher, German pianist, Renis Mendoza, Venezuelan percussionist, also from San Agustín/Marín and me singing and playing Violoncello, we are in the preparations, making videos, propaganda, looking for a program and composing, also in conversations and looking for an agency to sell it and take it forward. The 25th anniversary of Cubop City Big band next year, finish looking for the musical program for those celebration concerts.”
“Continue with my musical project “FEEL SOUNDS”, giving my classes and music workshops to groups of deaf children, youth and adults and from January I start to give talks about this new proposal to students of “Special Education and Pedagogy” to continue moving forward with this and take it forward until I get to Venezuela and the whole world.”
What does St. Augustine Parish mean to you?
“It is the neighborhood where I was born, there is all my childhood and adolescence, I love and respect its inhabitants very much, besides my family whom I love with all my being, there have always been many valuable people there and that multiplies more and more, thanks to the work that artists have been doing and all that educated and fighting generation that lives and has always maintained that contact of training and information with the new generations. San Agustín is the good people who live there, the rest is everywhere on the planet”.
Venezuela in one word?
“-MUSIC-” in capital letters.
Facebook: Yma América
By: Eiling Blanco Correspondent in Venezuela
Article of Interest: Renis Mendoza “San Agustín is like a continent and Marín is its capital”.
- Poncho Sanchez visited us at the Salsa Museum - December 1, 2023
- The Great Pichie Pérez and his brilliant career - November 1, 2023
- Metamorphosis: from music to photojournalism, a reinvention without limits - October 28, 2023