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Te Lo Dije (I Told You So): Cuban pianist Harold Lopez-Nussa brings timba and more to Jazz Alley next week

Harold Lopez-Nussa at the piano
Gabriel G. Bianchini
The Kurland Agency
Harold Lopez-Nussa, mixing musical styles

Harold Lopez-Nussa is excited to be back on tour in the U.S., promoting his latest album, "Te Lo Dije." Jazz Caliente host Robin Lloyd connected earlier this week when he landed in Miami.

HLN: I'm very, very, very glad and excited to be touring.

RL: You're still touring on "Te Lo Dije," your album from last year, right?

HLN: Yes, we will do like a mix between "Te Lo Dije" and I'm bringing some new music also.

RL: And you're working with a harmonica player? What's that about?

HLN: We couldn’t bring other Cuban musicians. Because of the COVID, it is almost impossible for Cuban musicians to get a visa. My brother and I had visas from last year that are still working, so we needed to find musicians who live in the States. I first thought of Gregoire Maret because I used to play with him as a guest. We did a couple of shows in New York at the Blue Note, and we did a couple of festivals in Europe a few years ago and I love him; he's beautiful guy. He plays beautifully. I thought that the mix would be would be nice with him doing the same melodies that the trumpet did on the album, and some other stuff that I wrote just for him. And then we also have Luques Curtis on bass, one of my favorite persons and musicians. So I could not be more happy.

RL: I’m always impressed withyour brother Ruyas well, the drummer.

HLN: Oh, yeah, I'm always happy to be with him, of course!

RL: I think the first time I saw your name was with the 90 Miles Project, with vibraphonist Stefon Harris, trumpeter Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah and saxophonist David Sanchez. That was a while ago, 2010.

HLN: Yeah, that was a great experience. They came down to Havana. I got a call from the Cuban Music Institute; they asked me to write some music for the project. So I wrote these two pieces for them, and that was great. I knew about David Sanchez for years because he had come to Cuba before and I played with him with (flutist and bandleader) Maraca. But I didn't know too much about Stefon Harris and Christian Scott. When I discovered their music, I was blown away. They are such great musicians and also great persons. We spent, like, five days in Havana together. We did the very famous recording session in one day, I think, and then we did a a beautiful concert in Havana. I wasn't able to go on tour with them because it was too complicated to get me a visa. But I did the album.

RL: "Te Lo Dije" is more of a mix of modern styles, is that right?

HLN: Yes, it is a kind of experimental thing. We, the four of us, wanted to try making a danceable album, you know, in the spirit of the Cuban experience. So, I took some liberties with music that I love: mozambique, timba, songo and even reggaetón, which is not Cuban, but is party music in Cuba all the time now. So that was the idea. And then we we just spent some time putting together the music with the guys. And we did two days recording sessions in the studio.

RL: I don't think people in the States know what Timba really is. Maybe you could explain that.

HLN: Yes, definitely. Timba is the modern version of of what Son was. It's an evolution. And it's what the popular Cuban bands do right now. So it's a mix between a lot of things. It has a lot from rumba, from the Son, of course, and even from jazz and from funk. Adding the drums that the Son didn't have before, so sometimes the drums are doing like a funky rhythm. And then the conga. This is very powerful. It's very strong. Some people don't like it because it's too strong. But I do. I love Timba, and I love groups like Habana D'Primera, I love Alain Perez. Unfortunately, they are not that famous here, but Los Van Van is one of my favorite bands in the world.

RL: Why is reggaetón so controversial?

HLN: Mostly this is because of the lyrics; they usually are not nice. They usually don't talk well about women, or social relations in general. But, but I like some groups of reggaetón that don't do that. And it's simple music, the lyrics are simple and popular. There are a couple of reggaetón artists that I like very much, and it's very popular in Cuba, I mean, everybody dances reggaetón. I have two daughters. They love to dance reggaetón!

So that was the beginning of the idea: Let's try to mix jazz and reggaetón, and we'll see what happens.

RL: Tell me about Cimafunk, who is one of your guests on the album.

HLN: He's a singer and a composer. And he does a mix between funk and Cuban music. He's doing great right now. I mean, I just saw concert of him in Miami two days ago. I was amazed. His band is beautiful, and he's a very nice guy, a young guy with a lot of ideas. He wants to do things all the time. In Cuba, he released a song called "Me Voy." That was a big, big, big hit. You could hear it every day, any time, anywhere, it was crazy. So that was how I met him, because he was very popular with this hit in Cuba. I called him, and we did a virtual collaboration because he was touring and I was touring at that point. We would go go back and forth for a while with the song. But I'm very happy with the result. He did a beautiful job.

RL: What do you think you're going to be doing next?

HLN: I'm not that sure. I have a couple of projects in mind. One is a project with my family. The name is La Familia, with my uncle playing piano. We'll have two pianos and two drummers — my father and my brother. And the same guys who are with me on the last album, Mayquel Gonzalez on trumpet and Julio Cesar Gonzalez on bass. But I'm not that sure. I have a couple of things in mind, and we'll see what comes out next.

RL: How are things in Cuba right now for musicians?

HLN: Oh, not easy at all. The last two years have been horrible because of the crisis, the COVID. COVID is strong now in Cuba, a lot of cases and the economy is every day worse than the day before. So life is very difficult. And for musicians, it's worse. We don't have work because no places are open to play in. Then we have an inflation, and we see prices going too high. So this is not a happy time in Cuba right now.

RL: I'm so sorry to hear that. But I'm glad you're coming to Seattle next week.

HLN: I love Seattle, and I love Jazz Alley. I think it's our third time playing there. Every time it's been beautiful. They treat us very, very well. It's perfect. I'm just very, very excited to be able to tour again and to present this new band. I can't wait. I'm looking forward to it.

Harold López-Nussa and 'Te Lo Dije' | EFG London Jazz Festival 2020

Catch Harold Lopez-Nussa's Timba a La Americana at Seattle'sJazz Alleynext Tuesday and Wednesday, Oct. 26 and 27. We'll start Saturday's Jazz Caliente with "Habana Sin Sabanas" from the album "Te Lo Dije."

Jazz Caliente airs Saturdays at 5 p.m. The show is hosted by Robin Lloyd and produced by KNKX Public Radio.

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Originally from Detroit, Robin Lloyd has been presenting jazz, blues and Latin jazz on public radio for nearly 40 years. She's a member of the Jazz Education Network and the Jazz Journalists Association.