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October 17, 2017
Friday, May 19, 2017

‘Argentine music has a wonderful tradition — and a glorious present.’

By Veronica Stewart
For the Herald

Marcos Cabezaz, a local ‘world music’ composer on technique, life with his unusual instrument and how his new album is linked to Congress and the Casa Rosada

When Marcos Cabezaz plays his marimba using six mallets at a time, he looks like a musical octopus of sorts. Watching him coordinate his movements with such dexterity is an amazing sight. Yet there’s something in the way he plays that tells us he feels comfortable in that complexity, and that he manages to master it with significant ease.

An expert in this primitive instrument, thought to have originated somewhere along Africa and Asia hundreds of years ago, Cabezaz is now releasing 1,200 metres, an album with compositions almost exclusively for marimba.

Prior to a concert that will double up as an album presentation on Sunday, he took some time to talk to the Herald about his new record, his career and his unorthodox choice of instrument.

How did your career as a musician begin?

My father was a singer of folklore — which he liked to refer to as “native music” — and my brother Pablo is an excellent bassist. I got into the conservatory when I was nine, and a year later I was already part of a family band where I played charango and guitar. A bit later on, I got into rock and jazz thanks to Pablo, while at the same time improving my skills in classical music at the conservatory.

What attracted you to the marimba in particular?

At the conservatory, I specialised both in guitar and percussion, so my musical training encompassed all academic percussive instruments, including the ones with “keyboards”, such as xylophone and vibraphone; there was no marimba at the institution when I started studying there.

After I graduated, I began working professionally and realised I had a knack for playing things with bars — perhaps because the guitar had made it easier for me to read melodies and harmonies — so I focused on that.

I found a marimba on sale and bought it, having saved my first paycheques for the occasion. After that, we never came apart. It was a special meeting between us, though I still don’t know if she’s as attracted to me as I am to her!

What unique sounds does this instrument offer?

It’s hard to describe its sound. The best thing readers could do is buy my album and reveal the mystery for themselves (laughs)!

I try to take its possibilities as regards timbre and harmony one step further from what the more orthodox ways of playing do. In any case, the modern marimba has its techniques and its schools. All of them look to develop the quality of its sound and a sort of swiftness when playing.

We also want the polyphony it has to offer to be heard loud and clear, so we look to improve the movement of the drumsticks.

What is the six-mallet technique like?

The six-mallet technique I use is a combination of two musical teachings, that of Leigh Howard Stevens and that of Gary Burton. It consists of playing using six mallets at a time, holding three in each hand. I began doing it all on my own almost 20 years ago, looking to make chords last longer and to bring different harmonies together.

How would you define your music?

My definition changes constantly. Sometimes, I say my music articulates elements true to Argentine and Uruguayan rural folklore with elements from traditional written music and jazz, but the truth is, there are no festivals for that genre. So I guess calling it “world music” would make for better marketing!

How did your last record come about? You called it an autobiography. Why?

The idea for my record came up thanks to the generosity of Jerónimo Guiraud and Olivia Houssay. I was doing a series of shows for marimba and when they saw that the music wasn’t recorded, in an effort to fix that, they invited me to their studio to record.

Calling it an autobiography has to do with it being a careful selection of my work for marimba. There are pieces in the album that are several years old, as well as others that are fresh out of the oven.

Besides, because my work and my life are so intimately intertwined, I couldn’t conceive one without the other; hence the autobiographical element to it.

The title of the album, 1,200 metres, refers to the distance between the House of Congress and the Pink House. Why did you choose to name it like that?

Because it’s a scenery that has witnessed many fundamental moments in Argentine history. Although some of them are very tragic, the album tries to describe hope, and an urge to move forward.

How many Argentine artists play the marimba?

Today, every conservatory in the country has a marimba, and it’s an instrument any student specialising in academic percussion has to play. There are also local craftspeople who make sure that students can have access to their own instrument. All this contributes to its growth.

I don’t have a list of Argentine artists who play marimba, but I know the number is growing, even if we’re not as many as violinists or guitarists.

How would you describe the Argentine music scene today?

Argentine music has a wonderful tradition — and a glorious present. It has a very strong personality, yet at the same time, it doesn’t close off to what’s going on in the rest of the world. That’s why many of us think of local artists when we think of a “foreign” genre like jazz. I just hope my music brings something to this scene.

When and where

Marcos Cabezaz is presenting 1,200 metres on Sunday, May 21, at 7pm at Usina del Arte (Cafarena and Av. Pedro de Mendoza).

Free admission. Tickets can be picked up two hours before the show, limited to two per person.

 

@verostewart

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