Interview with Christian Weaver – La Timbala –
Getting a stage full of people and make it work can be challenging. It is a case of creating harmony between different instruments, disparate voices and diverse characters. However, there is a band in Manchester which seems to know the secret to turning such a mixture of personalities into a unique combination of lively colours and sounds.
La Timbala does Cuban music — a blend of traditional and contemporary rhythms with the ability to transform an ordinary performance into a Cuban carnival. It offers a mixture of rumba and Afrocuban jazz, of classic old songs and original compositions that talk about a whole country, its history and its people’s way of life.
La Timbala was founded in 1995 by Christian Weaver. The British musician had travelled to the Latin American country to research the social significance of rumba and his trip turned out to be the start of a long association with musicians in La Havana and Matanzas.
Even though his contact with Latin jazz and Cuban music began when he was a child —“through some old records my mother had”—, it was not until his twenties when a friend really opened his eyes to the intensity of Cuban rumba. A recording of a band called Los Muñequitos de Matanzas made him realise Cuban music contained just about everything he loves about music and, as a result, he set up La Timbala.
Now, 17 years after been created, La Timbala has become a huge group of Latin and British musicians, singers and dancers who share their interest in promoting the wealth of Cuban culture all across the UK and beyond. On stage, La Timbala fills up the room with its percussion, its Spanish lyrics and its Latin moves. Its director, Christian Weaver talks about this company’s work on the occasion of its latest show at Matt and Phreds.
I.B.:La Timbala offers traditional and Afrocuban jazz, but what are your influences as a band? Where does your work come from?
Christian Weaver: Rumba, cajon and guiro: this is what refuels me every year in Cuba, and reinvigorates my interest in running and organizing a group here. Also the carnival music of Cuba, the amazing Cuban Timba groups, and the other musicians I am lucky enough to work with. As a band it is the mighty power of Cuban music in the world that inspires us and brings us together.
I.B.:Many of the songs La Timbala plays are traditional songs or have a great influence of traditional Cuban rhythms. How do you manage to make them “fashionable”, “up-to-date” and, above all, attractive for an audience that may not necessarily be familiar with Latin music?
C.W.: I just love the music we play, that’s why I play it. It is not a concern of mine to make it fashionable. I just hope people might love it even a tiny but as much as I do, that they might be provoked into dancing, and that they might come away having had a fantastic night sharing live music and dance with other people.
I.B.: But there is another challenge: the language. Your lyrics are mainly in Spanish but your audience is made up of English speakers…
C.W.: Music just is, once it’s out there it’s out there, uncontrollable, able to reach any ears that are open and available. It is musicians that truly make cultural connections. They are gregarious, they will often work with anyone and everyone, thus creating links and cross influences. This is the whole story of Cuban music as well as other genres around the world.
I.B.: So… is there a market for Latin music in the UK and, especially, in Manchester?
C.W.: Yes, I think there is a market for any good music in Manchester; it’s that type of city. Our audiences are very mixed. We don’t play specifically to the ‘salsatecha’ (salsa discos) market, we do love salsa dancers who love live music, but we equally love anyone who wants to get up and dance to what we do, it’s why the music is there. We really just hope to reach music lovers and dancers of whatever type, as well as hardened Cuban music fans, percussion heads and jazzers.
I.B.: Your last show has taken place at Matt and Phreds, and there are new dates coming. How does it feel to perform here?
C.W.: Matt and Phreds is a great venue in Manchester. I love it when the dance floor is packed late at night and the air is thick with sweat and essential rhythms, or when the audience is keyed into some delicate, intricate jazz. It’s a Manchester institution already, isn’t it?
If you want to know more about La Timbala, you can visit their website: http://www.latimbala.com/
You can also listen to their songs here.