an interview with Luis Mario Ochoa



It was only a few days ago that I’ve praised Luis Mario Ochoa’s CimarrĂ³n album as perfect vehicle to warm these cold days. I’ve already played his songs Bacuranao and Afro-Cuban Chant on my radio shows. If you liked them (or the sound snippets on the cdbaby and Luis Mario’s own site) then don’t hesitate and tell him so…this charming Cuban man from Canada is always interested in any kind of feedback as he tells in the jazz-not-jazz interview amongst many other things.

Q: You were born and raised in Cuba. Why did you relocate to Canada and not to the USA for example?

Luis Mario Ochoa: I came to Canada from Cuba in 1990. I always wanted to be in a place where I could musically and personally do whatever I wanted to do, without having to answer to anyone. So, when I came to Canada (performing with a trio of traditional Cuban music), I decided that this was a great place to build my new life. A year later, my parents were able to leave Cuba too (they relocated to Miami, US). Today I am proud to have US landed immigrant status as well as Canadian citizenship, but I will never cease to be a Cuban, regardless where I am and where I go, and I am very proud of that.

Q: Who has influenced you musically and which of today’s musicans keep influencing you?

Luis Mario Ochoa: My first musical influences came from my father; he started teaching me guitar when I was around 7 or 8. He is a guitarist and vocalist, and was founder of Trio Voces de Oro, one of Cuba’s most notable romantic trios, a beautiful Cuban and Latin American musical tradition that unfortunately has not been recognized these days as it should.
My parents realized that I was taking music a little more seriously than they had expected, and at the age of 11 they enrolled me in a conservatory to study music full-time, so I did 13 years of non-stop classical guitar and general music studies. Classical was the only music that one could study in the Cuban music schools in the 70s and 80s. However, I never stopped loving my popular music roots. Aside from romantic trios, I listened as much as I could to old records of Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, I liked that romantic period of the music in the USA very much.
I also enjoyed Brazilian music and the Bossa Nova movement. In Cuba we had a similar movement called Feeling, made up of composers and singers that interpreted very romantic boleros and I also liked that very much. We Cubans in particular and Latins in general are a very romantic and passionate people, it is part of our idiosyncrasies and culture and that’s one of the things that non-Latin people either love, or hate about us.
Then the fusion sounds grabbed me, with perhaps the musician that influenced me the most in my youth: Brazilian composer, pianist and arranger Eumir Deodato. The sound of electric pianos fascinated me and the music of Stevie Wonder, and pianist/composer and arranger great Clare Fischer were a big part of my growing up as a musician.
In Cuba, groups such as Irakere, Afro-Cuba and Los Amigos also created a great impression on me. And in the very early 80s when I discovered Celia Cruz, a renewed interest in my Cuban dance music traditions knocked on my musical doors.
In guitar, there are several players that I admire from the classical world such as Andrés Segovia, John Williams, Leo Brouwer and Alirio Díaz, to jazz with Joe Pass, Wes Montgomery and Grant Green, as some of the ones I enjoy and from whom I have learned the most.
My style of music is very Bop oriented; however, I believe that those musicians, composers, singers and arrangers I just mentioned, were the ones that influenced my style of music the most as a singer, guitarist, composer and arranger.
Today I listen to many things: from classical, to jazz, to salsa, to pop and beyond, admiring the works of other composers, arrangers, and performers, without having to be exactly influenced by them. Now it is time to use all the experiences accumulated during those long years of studies and integrate them into my personal sound. That doesn’t mean that I am not learning something new every day, but now I think I have developed my own style.

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