INTERVIEW: Michel from Cuban band Asere

I had the opportunity to catch up with singer and trumpet player of the band, Michel, before a gig at the Rich Mix Centre and found out about the origins of the band Asere and how he prefers British people to British food….

How did you first come to form the band Asere?

We formed in 1998 in Havana where we started to making traditional Cuban music. Totó La Momposina actually discovered us in Havana and since then we’ve had the opportunity to travel and work with other singers across the world. We are still so grateful that we get to keep going and discover new ways of playing our traditional music in the 21st century.

What inspired you to choose the name ‘Asere‘ for the band?

Well, the name is a Yoruba word from Nigeria. The original meaning of the word has quite a spiritual definition, meaning pride or immense respect to the Gods. However, over time this name has taken on a new meaning, now meaning ‘friend’ or ‘mate’ It was Totó who suggested the name during the early days when we were rehearsing.

How does playing in the UK compare with playing at home?

We love playing here and in Europe and have had the chance to play at some great gigs. We tend not to play so much in Cuba as there is a bigger market for dance music and music from the United States that we often can’t compete with. Our music tends to only attract a fairly specialist market back home. However, in Europe we have a bigger audience, full of dynamic young people who have more respect for the kind of music we do. Sadly we don’t really have this in our own country

You’ve been playing for over a decade now. How would you say your music has changed over the years?

I think it has become richer. We have more choice over the kind of concerts we play at and we’ve had the opportunity to play at many great festivals and concerts worldwide. Through this, we’ve found ways of keeping our music alive. Our new CD, ‘Junio Groove’, has many tracks that are more instrumental. We’ve also been included sounds from Flamenco and Middle Eastern music, which have definitely contributed to making our music richer

What has been a career highlight for you so far?

Several months ago, Songlines Magazine chose our latest CD, ‘Junio Groove’, in the top ten of the best new world releases in their May issue. It really showed us that we are on a good path right now. Songlines is a world music publication that is renowned for its quality music critics and journalists, so to be considered third on this list was a really good sign for us. It’s also been a motivation for us to carry on and push ourselves to be better. Also, the collaboration between Asere and percussionist Billy Cobham, was a great exchange of cultures. We were able to draw from his all of his previous jazz experience and he was able to benefit from our fresh Latin sounds.

So we are here just before you are about to perform. What do you do to focus before a concert?

We tend to rest and take it easy. I have a few friends in London and so it’s always good to see them beforehand. It’s also good to spend sometime together as a band, be calm and mediate together.

So you’ve been touring hard over the summer promoting your latest CD in Europe and the UK. Have you had any opportunity to taste British food?!

Yes…I can’t honestly say we are in love with the food here! But we really like England as a country. The multiculturalism of cities such as Bristol and London is something that will always draw us to England.


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