Guest DJ Raul Midón's Eclectic Influences Make Perfect Sense : Alt.Latino The multi-instrumentalist and vocalist blends jazz, Latin music and soul seamlessly on his new album, Bad Ass And Blind. His musical touchpoints range from Paco de Lucía to Mercedes Sosa.

Guest DJ Raul Midón's Eclectic Influences Make Perfect Sense

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/534433839/534691034" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

FELIX CONTRERAS, HOST:

From NPR Music, this is ALT.LATINO. I'm Felix Contreras.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU AND I")

RAUL MIDÓN: (Singing) Come rain or come shine.

CONTRERAS: This week, another in a series of fabulous Guest DJs. We have in the studio with us Raul Midón. Raul, thanks for coming, man.

MIDÓN: Oh, thank you for having me.

CONTRERAS: Raul Midón is a veteran singer-songwriter, performer. He's got a number of albums out, and he has a new one out on Mack Avenue right now. It's called "Bad Ass And Blind." Which track are we listening to?

MIDÓN: This is called "You & I."

CONTRERAS: Let's hear the rest of this track and then get into some conversation 'cause he brought along a playlist that is so dear to a lot of stuff I love to listen to. So we're just going to talk music for about 45 minutes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU AND I")

MIDÓN: (Singing) Or shine, no matter if the crazy world outside seems so unkind, it always will be you and I against the world. Everyone has an opinion about the way that we should live. And I promise I will be there with the love I have to give. No matter if it's rain or shine, no matter if the crazy world outside seems so unkind, it always will be you and I against the world.

CONTRERAS: "You & I" from the album "Bad Ass And Blind" from Raul Midón. Raul, great record all the way around, man.

MIDÓN: Oh, thank you.

CONTRERAS: You know, and as we were talking just before we started recording this afternoon, I thought I heard a little bit more R&B in this album than in some of your past records, but you were saying that there's actually a little bit more jazz now.

MIDÓN: Yeah. This album is the deepest jazz album that I've made. I mean, there's R&B, if you want to call it that, in every album that I've made in some way or other - you know, soul music, whatever you want to call it. I sort of prefer soul. I - maybe it's broader. I don't know. But this album - I got a chance to work with some great, really deep jazz musicians, people like Clayton and Gregory Hutchinson and Nicholas Payton. And so that kind of inspired me to write some tunes that take advantage of the great skills of the musicians that I was working with.

CONTRERAS: This is a Guest DJ, and we did ask you to bring in some stuff. So you have a list of music. Where do you want to jump in, man?

MIDÓN: Well, I guess we could start - for me - one of the great influences for me, starting very young, is flamenco. And of course, as a guitarist, I could not ignore Paco de Lucía. So this is an album that is so dear to my heart because it is flamenco, but it's flamenco - it's like a paella, you know? It's flamenco with all kinds of stuff in there. It's a flamenco root, but there's jazz. There's Latin influences. There's incredible playing on this album. It's Carles Benavent and Paco de Lucía, for the most part, with some palmas and also some great singing by Camarón de la Isla.

CONTRERAS: Oh.

MIDÓN: So it's just...

CONTRERAS: (Laughter) It's all stars, man.

MIDÓN: ...Absolutely - it's a desert island type of deal, this one.

(SOUNDBITE OF PACO DE LUCÍA'S "MONASTERIO DE SAL")

MIDÓN: In some ways, Paco de Lucía is unmatched even today. As a guitarist, I can just tell you that he's doing, you know, (vocalizing) with these two fingers of the right hand. It's - that is crazy. I mean, that's just insane.

CONTRERAS: The index and the middle finger.

MIDÓN: Yeah. Yeah. That's the picado, the flamenco picado. But he just took it to a level that I don't think anybody is doing today. There's people that can play at that same speed, but they're doing it in a different way. He has this articulation because he's doing that with his right hand. And of course, he has the ability to do left and right hand combination. But that picado and the rasgueo is still pretty much unmatched, as far as I know.

(SOUNDBITE OF PACO DE LUCÍA'S "MONASTERIO DE SAL")

CONTRERAS: And a loss that we still feel very strongly 'cause he passed away unexpectedly - what? - two years now, three years.

(SOUNDBITE OF ASTOR PIAZZOLLA'S "INVIERNO PORTEÑO")

CONTRERAS: Another track you have on here is Astor Piazzolla.

MIDÓN: Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ASTOR PIAZZOLLA'S "INVIERNO PORTEÑO")

MIDÓN: Astor Piazzolla - "Invierno Porteño" is the song I brought in. But there's so many of - the thing about Astor Piazzolla that is so amazing to me is this is a guy who studied with Nadia Boulanger, you know, the great composition teacher of the 20th century. And Piazzolla took all of that knowledge of counterpoint and classical music and jazz and put it into the tango and took the tango - once again, it's kind of like Paco. It's the same thing. He kind of took the tango to another level but kept the essence of the tango. And I actually had conversations with Piazzolla about this.

CONTRERAS: Did you really?

MIDÓN: I did. I was able to hang out with him and talk theory with him. And it was really fascinating because when I first started to speak with him, I - you know, I was a lot younger. And, you know, every time I heard a minor nine chord or some kind of thing, I thought, oh, that's jazz, you know? And he said, well, no, no, it's not jazz. It's counterpoint, you know? But then as we started talking, he started talking to me about Dizzy Gillespie and how much of - influential it was and "Miles Ahead" and...

CONTRERAS: Wow.

MIDÓN: ...You know, and Gil Evans and all that. And then he kind of acknowledged that, of course, jazz was a huge part of his DNA.

CONTRERAS: Another giant of music, from Argentina this time. This is "Invierno Porteño" from Astor Piazzolla.

(SOUNDBITE OF ASTOR PIAZZOLLA'S "INVIERNO PORTEÑO")

CONTRERAS: It's funny how that kind of artistry - when you talk about musicians like Paco de Lucía and Astor Piazzolla - it's immediately identifiable that they are doing something very, very special.

MIDÓN: Absolutely. The thing about Piazzolla is it's so emotional - you know, the music. And it captures this sort of urban sadness - that's how I think about it - you know, in Buenos Aires. It captures a particular feeling that - it just brings me back to Buenos Aires when I hear it.

CONTRERAS: Let's talk a little bit about your background 'cause you - I guess your father was from Argentina, correct?

MIDÓN: Yeah.

CONTRERAS: Talk to us a little bit about your mother and your father and how their early influence influenced you in terms of making music.

MIDÓN: Well, I mean, my father is - you know, was a professional dancer and just an avid music lover, and I mean avid. So we had lots of records. And, you know, for us - and it's something that I don't see anymore. We would gather around and listen to a record, and it wasn't on in the background. It was - we would listen to a record from beginning to end, and that's the way we listened to music. And so - and my father had such a wide taste of music. So, you know, we would listen to "Aida," and then we would listen to Piazzolla, and then we would listen to John Cage or...

CONTRERAS: Wow.

MIDÓN: ...Yeah - or Harry Partch or, you know, really, really out stuff. And then we would listen to, you know, Paco de Lucía or Savickas (ph) or Sonny Rollins. You know, my dad had a huge jazz collection as well, so it really - in - early in - you know, in my life I was into "Sonic Exploration" (ph) because of all the music that we listened to. We didn't - you know, it wasn't like, oh, we like this kind of music or that kind of music. It was just music.

CONTRERAS: All right. Let's get back to the list. What do you want to listen to now?

MIDÓN: Well, let's check out Los Muñequitos de Matanzas.

CONTRERAS: The great Afro Cuban folkloric group. And before we play it, let's give listeners who may not be familiar with the band just a little bit of preview of what they're about to hear.

MIDÓN: Los Muñequitos de Matanzas is one of the great, great Afro Cuban groups of the world. And they do something called guaguancó and rumba. This is to rhythm what counterpoint is to melody, as far as I'm concerned. So in rumba, everybody plays a specific part, and then within that, there's improvisation. It's like a rhythmic puzzle that comes together. And so, you know, it's interesting 'cause people think of it as primitive music, but actually rock 'n' roll is a lot more primitive rhythmically than guaguancó, I can tell you. There's so much going on, if you listen. It's - and then there's this soul, this deep African soul that comes through in this music. I'm moved to tears every time I hear this music. I can't explain why. It's that deep for me.

CONTRERAS: This is "Vale Todo" from Los Muñequitos de Matanzas.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VALE TODO")

LOS MUÑEQUITOS DE MATANZAS: Oye, niño, (inaudible) que están Los Muñequitos de Matanzas. (Inaudible) (Singing) Pero ya que estoy aquí y veo que quieren ustedes saber quién soy yo. Pero ya que estoy aquí, y veo que quieren ustedes saber quién soy yo. No pierdan tiempo, suban al cielo. Y cuando le abra la puerta y entonces vean a San Pedro, él dirá que yo soy la llave, rumbero, la llave en la rumba. Y vengan sabios cantores que los quiero oír cantar. Y vengan sabios cantores. Rumbero, la llave, la rumba. Conmigo sí, conmigo vale todo. Conmigo vale todo. Conmigo vale todo. Otra vez. Conmigo sí, conmigo vale todo. Rumbero. Conmigo vale todo. Conmigo vale todo. Conmigo sí, conmigo vale todo. Rumbero vale todo. Conmigo vale todo. Otra vez. Conmigo, sí. Conmigo vale todo. Guagancó la rumba (inaudible) Conmigo vale todo. Otra vez. Conmigo sí. Conmigo vale todo.

(Inaudible) Conmigo vale todo. Otra vez. Conmigo sí, conmigo vale todo. Guagancó (inaudible) Conmigo vale todo. Otra vez. Conmigo sí, conmigo vale todo. Rumbero (inaudible) vale todo. Conmigo vale todo. Otra vez. Conmigo sí, conmigo vale todo. Conmigo, conmigo vale todo. Conmigo vale todo. Otra vez. Conmigo sí, conmigo vale todo. Guaguancó, conmigo vale todo. Conmigo vale todo. Rumbero. Conmigo sí, conmigo vale todo. Guaguancó, conmigo vale todo. Conmigo vale todo. (Inaudible) Conmigo sí, conmigo vale todo. En Cuba, en Nueva York, donde quiera, conmigo vale todo. Otra vez. Conmigo sí, conmigo vale todo. Rumbero.

(Inaudible) vale todo. Conmigo vale todo. Rumbero. Conmigo sí, conmigo vale todo. Guaguancó. Conmigo vale todo. Rumbero, conmigo vale todo. Otra vez. Conmigo sí, conmigo vale todo. Rumbero, conmigo vale todo. Conmigo vale todo. Otra vez. Conmigo sí, conmigo vale todo. Ah, conmigo vale todo. Conmigo, conmigo vale todo. Ah, conmigo vale todo. Rumbero (inaudible) vale todo. Ah, conmigo vale todo. Rumbero (inaudible) vale todo. Ah, conmigo vale todo. Rumbero (inaudible) vale todo. Ah, conmigo vale todo. Guaguancó, rumbero, vale todo. Conmigo vale todo. (Inaudible) Conmigo vale todo. No te arrepientas porque vale todo. Ah, conmigo vale todo. Guaguancó, la rumba (inaudible) Ah, conmigo vale todo. La rumba (inaudible) Ah, conmigo vale todo. Rumbero (inaudible) Ah, conmigo vale todo. Rumbero (inaudible) Ah, conmigo vale todo. (Inaudible) Ah, conmigo vale todo.

CONTRERAS: I can listen to this all day, man.

MIDÓN: F***ing amazing.

CONTRERAS: (Laughter).

MIDÓN: Sorry. Who put that on the radio?

(LAUGHTER)

CONTRERAS: I might just let it slide, man...

(LAUGHTER)

CONTRERAS: ...'Cause there really is nothing else to say, man.

(LAUGHTER)

MIDÓN: Well put, man.

(LAUGHTER)

CONTRERAS: Los Muñequitos de Matanzas. You know, and when - as we've discussed on this show here and other occasions, you know, that you could really break all of that down and understand that it's a basic building block for all the music that has come out of the U.S. in terms of what's commonly referred to as salsa.

MIDÓN: Salsa is sort of - I don't know - I guess the reduced version of this. Which is not to put it down. It's just it's a - isn't it - it was a concept of some New York guys - right?

CONTRERAS: It was...

MIDÓN: To kind of take all the different - the Puerto Rican, the Cuban and kind of put it into a - into one thing, right?

CONTRERAS: Well, the term salsa became sort of a marketing term...

MIDÓN: Exactly.

CONTRERAS: ...You're right, for guaracha, for son, for bomba, plena, all the stuff that...

MIDÓN: Right.

CONTRERAS: ...The guys were using in the early '70s from the Fania label, mostly...

MIDÓN: Right.

CONTRERAS: ...And all the little subsidiaries. But it, of course, has since become such a worldwide phenomena...

MIDÓN: Right.

CONTRERAS: ...That now people will say, oh, I don't know how to salsa.

MIDÓN: Right.

CONTRERAS: You know, when they...

MIDÓN: Right.

CONTRERAS: ...Talk about they don't know how to dance.

MIDÓN: Well, everything becomes a verb.

CONTRERAS: (Laughter).

MIDÓN: Salsaing.

CONTRERAS: (Laughter) Let's go salsa.

MIDÓN: Right.

CONTRERAS: We're in the studio with Raul Midón talking about music, talking about salsa, talking about all kinds of great stuff. I wanted to ask you about a song from one of your albums, "Don't Hesitate" - "Mi Amigo Cubano," that you did with Bill Withers.

MIDÓN: Yes.

CONTRERAS: Tell us how you - how that came about.

MIDÓN: You know, I wish I could say I came up with the idea, but I didn't.

CONTRERAS: (Laughter).

MIDÓN: I got a call from Bill Withers. And, you know, I worked as a background singer in Spanish for a long time, but I wasn't generally writing in Spanish for the most part. And he called me up, said, I want to write a song with you in Spanish. And I was like, what? Really? You know, and I thought to myself, well, he doesn't speak Spanish. How is this going to work, you know? And of course, the way it worked was, you know, I went over to his house and he would say, Raul, how do you say, how is your wife in Spanish? I said, ¿cómo está tu esposa? He said, put that in there.

You know, and so really the idea for the song, even the chords, like, the first kind of one to four thing, is his idea and I just kind of filled in the lyrics. (Singing) Mi amigo cubano, hola. ¿Cómo estás? And that's literally his phrase that he wrote in Spanish. Like, he told me that. And I'm like, really? But it turned into a really cool thing. You know, we just - and we kind of worked on it and he would say, well, tell me, how do you say my brother, how we don't speak any more. Mi hermano no hablamos más. Put that in there. And that's how we wrote it.

CONTRERAS: Wow. Great story, great track. This is "Mi Amigo Cubano" from Raul Midón featuring Bill Withers.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MI AMIGO CUBANO")

RAUL MIDÓN AND BILL WITHERS: (Singing) Mi amigo cubano, hola. ¿Cómo estás? ¿Qué pasó, mi hermano? Tú y yo no hablamos más. Separados por circunstancias fuera de nuestro control, y a pesar de las distancias entre tú y yo, aún eres mi amigo cubano. Hola, ¿cómo estás? ¿Cómo están tus hijos? ¿Tu esposa y tu mamá? Tengo en mi memoria noches bailando en La Habana y es nuestra historia que vivirá en mi, recuerdos de ti. Mi amigo cubano, mi amigo cubano. ¿Qué pasó, mi hermano? Mi amigo cubano.

(Singing) Separados por circunstancias fuera de nuestro control, y a pesar de las distancias entre tú y yo, aún eres mi amigo cubano. Te extraño, te extraño, te extraño, pensando en ti y de tu forma de trabajar. Es lindo recordar. Mi amigo cubano. Tus manos danzando con herramientas, trabajando juntos. ¿Cuándo yo te vuelvo a ver? ¿Qué pasó, mi hermano? ¿Qué pasó, qué pasó, qué pasó, mi hermano? Tú y yo no hablamos más. Quisiera saber de ti y de todos tus amores. Mi amigo cubano. Mi amigo, mi amigo, mi amigo, mi amigo, dulces recuerdos de ti. Espero que te encuentre bien y sí te quiero ver. Quizás un día nos encontramos otra vez. Pescando sobre el mar, se desaparece el tiempo cuando tú estás y el amor cura todo el mal. ¿Qué paso, mi hermano? Mi amigo cubano. ¿Qué pasó, mi hermano?

CONTRERAS: Raul Midón, we're come at the end of our little session here, man. I want to thank you for coming in and sharing this amazing list of music with us.

MIDÓN: Oh, thank you for having me. And it's a pleasure to talk about music. And I have to say that this took me on a journey. Some of these records I hadn't listened to when I started thinking about what has influenced me as a musician. And it really took me on a journey that I needed at this point in my life. I needed to get in touch with what got me excited about music. And a lot of these records is - are - had - you know, did that for me and continue to do that for me.

CONTRERAS: Well, that's very nice, man. I'm very glad that that happened.

MIDÓN: Thank you. Thank you for that.

CONTRERAS: I'm anxious to see what comes out of that then (laughter).

MIDÓN: Yeah, right? Me, too.

CONTRERAS: Raul Midon's new record is called "Bad Ass And Blind." You can get it on Mack Avenue Records. We want to thank him again for coming in and sharing this music list. And we have one last piece of music.

MIDÓN: So this is Mercedes Sosa, one of the great singers. And, you know, a record that influenced me for a lot of reasons - "Cantata sudamericana." So this particular tune is called "Acércate cholito" and it's just a beautiful Peruvian waltz.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ACERCATE CHOLITO")

MERCEDES SOSA: (Singing) Acércate al Perú, acércate cholito, ven pronto, ya verás, será para contar. Iremos de la mano contemplando las bellezas y las fantasmagorías de la Lima colonial.

CONTRERAS: Mercedes Sosa on ALT.LATINO. This is going to take us to the end of the show. Raul, again, thank you for coming in, man.

MIDÓN: Thank you.

CONTRERAS: Want to remind everybody again, you can hear all of this music we played today on our website at npr.org/altlatino. And don't forget to check us out on Facebook and Twitter. We are NPR's ALT.LATINO. Raul, where can we find you on Facebook and Twitter?

MIDÓN: Well, you can - you know, raulmidon.com is the website. And then I'm on Facebook and Twitter, as well.

CONTRERAS: That's M-I-D-O-N.

MIDÓN: M-I-D-O-N - Mike, India, Delta, Oscar, November.

(LAUGHTER)

CONTRERAS: I'm Felix Contreras. This has been ALT.LATINO. Thank you for listening. And now, Mercedes Sosa.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ACERCATE CHOLITO")

SOSA: (Singing) Ven pronto que un Perú recién nacido ya te espera, hay un reflejo nuevo en la sierra y en el mar. Con aire jaranero de vals criollo y marinera compañero, compañera te esperamos por acá.

Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.