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The Culture Interview – singer/songwriter Luz Elena Caicedo


8 Minute Read

Luz Elena Caicedo, in her 50s, is the brilliant Colombian singer/bandleader with Conjunto Sabroso, a world-class Latin band who has performed everywhere from the UK to China. Luz has just released her FIRST VIDEO and it’s of the beautiful Yo Soy Mujer Con Tantas Mujeres Dentro (I Am A Woman with So Many Women Inside) which celebrates women and also highlights their global struggles. It coincides with International Women’s Day today. It also comes out at a time when Colombia has just made abortion legal. You can watch it here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJk3Q7G5dqU

Tell me something about the connection between this song and International Women’s Day?

I would say that because the song focuses on sorority and the idea that we are in essence a collage of the many other women in our lives, and because it both celebrates women’s achievements and highlights our universal struggles, it is directly connected to this special date.

Some would argue that Women’s Day should be every day but I believe that having a specific date to mark International Women’s  Day – is an acknowledgement of our struggle, and of the fact that we have only gotten this far because of the courage, battles, alliances, support, and sacrifices made by so many other women before us. As I say in the song: ‘…we are standing on the remains of many others sacrificed…’

And also about the making of this video? The director is a woman too?

Yes, the video director is Alejandra Jimenez a Colombian film-maker. It really was an organic process, I happened to sing the song (which I was in the process of recording), in her husband’s Zoom birthday party during the lockdown, and she really liked  it, she said ‘that is an amazing song, it really touched me, Luz Elena we have to do a video of it…’, I didn’t think she was serious, but the next time we met, she brought it up again, and I was so flattered, I said of course that I would be honoured.

She explained her vision and what she wanted to do, which was to include shots/images from the women in my family, as well as other close friends. I said I would also like to include some of the Latin American songstresses who have influenced me musically, such as La Lupe from Cuba, Toña La Negra from Mexico, and Mercedes Sosa from Argentina who all appear in the video, intertwined with images of women in marches, social leaders, indigenous women, as well as images alluding to mother earth ‘La Pachamama’ to which I dedicate a verse to in the song.

As Alejandra says, there are many layers to the video. Another important aspect of the creation of the video was the various women coming together contributing their time and expertise, namely my niece Lina Maria Caicedo also a filmmaker and archive producer, who provided all the archive footage, and supported me throughout the process, and Elena Rodriguez who assisted Alejandra with technical issues. This video truly was an example of sorority at its best!

Do you relate to particular women’s struggles in the world?

I don’t consider myself a feminist, although you could argue that I may have perhaps rewritten the narrative of what was expected of me as a Colombian woman from a conservative family, given that I chose not to have any children, and that I am a bandleader and lead singer of a band in a male-dominated genre, in that sense I would say that perhaps I’m more of a feminist by action than by personal perception.

I don’t belong to any active group combating gender inequalities, but of course, I relate to the many issues and struggles that as women we all face, for instance, less pay, less credibility as an artist, fewer opportunities in professional settings, the fight against domestic violence, the legalisation of abortion etc.

Tell me how Conjunto Sabroso started?

I never intended to be a Salsa singer, I was a Colombian and Latín folk dancer for many years, I actually saw myself as a dancer who sang a bit and played a bit of guitar. However, when I came back from my year abroad in Mexico in 1992 the Latin/Salsa scene had exploded in the UK. I was told there was a Salsa band auditioning female backing singers, and I went to audition and got the gig.

It was a 7 piece band, all men plus me. I didn’t really like their repertoire, but it was an opportunity to sing professionally which I had never done before! My harmonies were not very strong and after 8 months they told me I was going to be on a three-month trial, and that I would have to go if I didn’t improve because they were ‘…going up in the world, and I wasn’t moving with them…’ I felt very hurt naturally, but I decided to leave soon after that conversation, and form my own band, where I wouldn’t be told what to sing by a man.

I realised I was more of a lead singer, as I felt like I was in the straightjacket of singing backing vocals with a bunch of men and just looking pretty. I formed a band where I had the freedom to do what I wanted, specially choosing my own repertoire, which was very liberating. It was a great lesson, it gave me the courage to start something that has stood the test of time. Today I am proud to say, we are one of the most popular and longest-running Salsa bands in the UK, and are blessed to have some of the most outstanding, talented and experienced musicians on the Latin scene playing with us!

And your history as a singer? Did everyone in your family sing?

There are no other musicians in my family but my maternal grandmother (I am told I look very much like her) and her sisters sang in family reunions when they were young, they apparently had very beautiful voices. My grandmother lived with us, and I have beautiful memories of her singing all day, and singing to us, she would have a different song for each one of us.

How important is it for you that you are Colombian?

Being Colombian is very important to me, I love my culture and our music. Being a Colombian folk dancer as a teenager gave me a sense of belonging, and that was very important in my formative years, as I understood my place in this society. I am part of an immigrant family, and have the benefit of enjoying the best of two different cultures, as I love London and the amazing multicultural aspect of this amazing city!

How do you choose the songs that you sing which come from all over South America?

In terms of the Salsa band Conjunto Sabroso, I choose them with Wilmer Sifontes, who is co-leader of the band with me. One of us will suggest a song we like. If it makes us both want to dance, we have it written out and for sure it goes in the set. I have written a few of them, and the audience really like our original tunes, so we must be doing something right…! 😉

For Matices Latinos which is kind of a contemporary folkloric Quartet, I choose most of the songs, and it’s an opportunity to play many different genres from the Latin American songbook. We have the benefit of sharing the same language in most of the Latin American countries and therefore we listen to each other’s music, which is what makes it so interesting. I am now singing more of my own songs in this band.

And are some of them passed down through your family?

The songs are not necessarily passed down through our families, but we have been definitely influenced by the music our mothers and fathers have listened to. Dancing and festivities and celebrations are Intergenerational in our culture, so we get to share much of the same music!

How is it being Colombian in London?

It’s great, as I said before it feels fantastic living in one of the most iconic cities in the world. I feel very privileged to be here, I love London for its openness and respect for people’s individualism. I love that there is space and audiences for all types of music, including mine, and that because there is so much appreciation for the arts here, it’s an amazing place to thrive if you put your mind and effort into it.

We think of salsa when we think of Colombia but tell us something about La Cumbia?

Cumbia is an Afro Colombian rhythm from the Caribbean Coast, and it is also Colombia’s national rhythm. It is traditionally played with drums, Gaita which is an Amerindian and ancestral flute, and voice. You also have orchestrated Cumbias, and this music is danced throughout Colombia, Latin America, and has also taken Europe by storm in the last ten years.

What have been some of your favourite gigs?

Some of my favourite gigs have been playing in China in The Beijing International Festival, at The Poly Theatre in Beijing in 2001, playing in Kenya at The Kijani Festival in 2007, playing at The Jazz Café after coming out of lockdown last year was pretty special, playing two open-air gigs in Carnaby Street also last year was amazing, and two weeks ago playing at Tomek Zaleski’s life celebration event, who was a renowned Salsa DJ and collector who did so much to promote Salsa music in the UK and sadly passed away this January! He did the liner notes for our first Conjunto Sabroso album!

Look out for @conjuntosabroso on Insta.

 

 

AofA People: Tim Hutton – multi-instrumentalist/producer/songwriter


10 Minute Read

Tim Hutton, 59, is a multi-instrumentalist (self-taught guitarist, bassist and drummer as well as a brass and piano player) producer/songwriter. He’s toured with many high profile bands like Dexy’s to Fela Kuti, Groove Armada to Amy Winehouse and Prodigy plus written songs and recorded as a vocalist or instrumentalist for several others.

What age are you?

59 and a half. As I approach each new decade for some reason I start straining at the bit, only to arrive there, cast my eye around and wish I could leave. Next year I’ll be thinking about subtracting at least five years off in answer to this question. Seriously though, I feel kind of relaxed about being a 60-year-old. It’s the new 40 – maybe I’ll achieve the kind of gravitas we were originally all supposed to get when we hit that age.

Where do you live?

I live in Leeds. I met my lovely now ex-partner, with whom I have a nine-year-old son when I was in the middle of a tour in 2002, and we had a night off in Leeds (I was living in London then, as I did for 30 years). I made a lot of friends that night and used to love visiting for fun times. Eventually, about five years later we properly got together, and as I was at a kind of crossroads with things generally at the time, and it wasn’t an option for her to move down, I made the move up. We ended up living ten miles out of town in Guiseley and I absolutely hated it. We however loved each other and had a son, which gave me a very concrete reason to be up there, and when we split up, very amicably, I had the opportunity to move back into the centre of Leeds, which was always what I liked. I’m an urban kind of, um, spaceman. I’m very happy about my new situation there, which I’ve been in now for nearly three years. I’ve been looking after my son a lot of the time this last year, it’s been fabulous.

What do you do?

I’m a musician – songwriter, singer, instrumentalist, arranger, producer. I do productions and sessions from my set up at home. I play live and tour with an array of bands, most currently being my band Doghouse Derelicts, of which more later; Dub Pistols, which I’ve been part of for 20 years now, and play mainly brass but sometimes bass or guitar live and all 3 on recordings. Above and Beyond, whose acoustic/semi orchestral tours I have played on without exception over the last 10 years, taking in venues like Royal Albert Hall, Hollywood Bowl and Sydney Opera House and playing the trumpet, trombone, French horn, guitar, keys, tuned percussion and vocals (they call me the Octopus); and also Red Snapper, for whom I’m playing the odd gig (when they happen) playing the guitar, and I travel wherever needed for other sessions and writing gigs. I’ve got writing/singing/playing credits with people like the Prodigy, Ian Brown, Amy Winehouse, Groove Armada, etc.

What’s it like being your age?

I’m finding this upcoming shift into my seventh decade quite profound, slightly terrifying and kind of beautiful. I’m starting to feel very differently about my place in the world, and how I go about things, how I handle and present myself, and how I’d like to be remembered. I’m being forced, this time, to think about eating and exercising correctly through likely impending type 2 diabetes, following my dad and his dad before me at roughly the same age – it’s yet to kick in though so I think I can do loads to offset its arrival. I also seem to be totally reappraising my approach to being in relationships (I’m not in one) and what I want out of life in that area.

What do you have now what you didn’t at age 25?

On a material level, it’s the means and knowledge to create fully produced music on my own equipment – something very few people could achieve when I was that age, and also clearly very useful to me, and something I fantasized about in younger days, and on a personal level an awful lot more confidence and sense of self than I had then.

What about sex?

Sex is taking a back seat for me right now. I’m not really communicating with the sexual part of myself – at all – through active choice. I was an absolute hound for sex and drugs on tour and off for a good couple of decades and I just need to give the whole thing a rest, and it feels great, and incredibly energising. I don’t think about sex at all when I’m alone. I appreciate a pretty girl when I see one but that’s where it ends. I guess lockdown has something to do with it, but I welcome it.

And relationships?

Since splitting with the mother of my 9 year old, I’ve had three very short-lived relationships, all of which ended with the feeling that I would just prefer to be on my own. I’m not saying I’ll never be in one, but I don’t want any more of that type of brief and ultimately disappointing scenario, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my own company so I’m not going to be persuaded without being absolutely steamrollered by an incredibly deep and beautiful connection with someone. I look forward to that happening, I just don’t expect it any time soon.

How free do you feel?

Personally, I feel very free. The freedom to do what I enjoy and am good at in order to survive; and the freedom to be the person I am, or want to be. The one proviso to this would be Brexit, which seems to be disastrous for touring prospects in Europe so far – the source of a significant chunk of income annually, up to now.

What are you proud of?

Mainly my boys. My elder two have turned out to be such lovely and capable people whom I really admire, who have both pursued careers of their choice in and around music (I tried to warn ‘em haha!) – my eldest Jake is a sound engineer and drummer who works with Edwyn Collins and others (he engineered David Gray’s last album) and Liam has been a pro drummer since a very early age and has a string of credits to his name (also Edwyn, plus Neneh Cherry, Mabel, and a constantly growing list of new bands and producers), and my youngest is just incredible – so talented in any direction he chooses, but he’s only nine so has yet to set his course, and I’m not pressuring him – but he loves performing, is very musical, very literate, quite sporty, and so comfortable in front of a camera in a way I just wasn’t. He amazes me every day.

What keeps you inspired?

People I meet and spend time with, changing circumstances keeps me inspired and on my toes, movies and books, new and old, familiar and unfamiliar music, instruments and players; and a little bit of mild (not skunk) weed. I don’t drink and I’ve stopped everything else.

When are you happiest?

When I’m with my boys.

Where does your creativity go?

Probably fairly obvious by now I’ll have to say music – I do also like writing, and want to write a book sometime before I expire – but I haven’t really found an outlet for that yet, or given much time to it. My mum was a writer, with the pen name Barbara Whitnell, and was prolific, and I’ve inherited some of that urge for sure. Her Dad (whom I never knew) was a keen musician, and that’s the bug that got me.

What’s your philosophy of living?

Treat everyone as you would be treated yourself, and find what it is you want to do, and pursue it doggedly. Don’t be put off by fear of the consequences and playing safe if that’s what you really want to do, be serious about it and go for it – the rewards will be great. Ok, I’m a single 60-year-old man living in a flat in Leeds, but don’t judge…

And dying?

Death is looming large for me at this very moment, as my Mum died last week…I don’t fear my own death at all, but I fear the deaths of those I love. However, for my Mum, it was a blessed release in many ways, and she was in no discomfort at the end – and suddenly she’s no longer the small, helpless, isolated old thing she’s been for the last year, unable to speak the words she wanted to after a stroke four years ago, she’s gone but suddenly in our hearts and minds she’s the person she was in her prime again, and we can forget her trials of the recent past. I guess I’ll say that death is inescapable, and part of life for us all. I don’t know if there’s anything afterwards – the science-minded will say definitely not, but consciousness itself hasn’t been properly located anywhere in the brain, so…if there is, wow! If there isn’t, I shan’t be bothered, clearly.

Are you still dreaming?

Oh god yes. I’m dreaming like a mf most nights, usually, there’s a festival, a gig, a party or my kids in my dreams, and a lot of repeating themes – one being that there’s an amazing gig I’m about to do, but I either can’t get to the stage, or I do and I realise I don’t know the parts, or I’m not plugged in, and usually the gig never gets started. But I’m also still dreaming in terms of ambitions in life – I have dreams for my boys and me, – and Doghouse Derelicts, the band that I started seven years ago with my northern dwelling, bass playing compadre in the Dub Pistols Dave Budgen. We have started at last attracting interest from people offering opportunities to take it where we wanted to – we haven’t played the industry game at all, concentrating on creating and releasing tunes and playing live (when we can), and finally people are coming to us. Our dreams are big, and we’re worthy of them.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

Hmm, tough one…I haven’t done much outrageous stuff recently – my last outrageous action was about 15 years ago, when I knocked a ridiculously overzealous bouncer out onstage at an Ian Brown gig in San Francisco, and a picture of me looking like Muhammed Ali (I’m very far from it!) ended up on two pages of the NME! More recently I’m afraid I’m struggling to think of anything. I’ve done some outrageous long-distance drives after gigs on very little or no sleep, that I wouldn’t advise anyone else doing. Sorry, that’s all I’ve got or all I’m saying…

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