Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Guitarra Mía

At last I feel as if I'm making headway; for a number of years now I'd made repeated efforts at cracking the guitar and tres; and although each time I tried I succeeded in making some progress, I never generated enough momentum to see it through. It was shaping up to become one of life's regrets. Thankfully this time it's different; and I put it down to having invested an inordinate amount of thought into drawing up a detailed plan AND sticking to it like a pit-bull to a postman's shin.

I had set a final target of a six song mini-set: varied but with mutually complementary numbers, covering the range of styles and absorbing the techniques that I wanted. The styles are típico to modern, and the techniques were designed to allow me to play the guajeo style of Arsenio Rodriguez over a complementary AfroCuban bassline adapted from the Travis method. In the faster tempo numbers where this might not be possible, I've been inclined to use chords and arpeggios with percussive counterpoint on the soundboard.

I'm finding it tough to get going on some days; there's such a lot of material to cover that it takes ages for things to come together. A sense of decision paralysis seems to like lurking nearby. But four months plus and this guitar-player wannabe's still at it - with all the songs in place albeit in various states of repair. Overall it's been a summer well spent.

This process has been just as valuable to me as an educator. Why am I succeeding this time when I didn't in the past? Is it in having spent the time establishing the final context? I think so, as now, every practice has a setting, every success is perceivable, every advancement makes clearer the way ahead.

Mosts of all, the guitar has taught me not to be greedy. To recognise that in order to achieve success, one needs to be brave enough to say "no" to those seductive "really nice to have but not at all essential" things; and to recognise them in their different guises.

Obtaining early results is a cornerstone of effective teaching, and learning to play this instrument has revived my understanding of its significance.

Yeo Loo Yen

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Spanish Half

Sometimes one just has to bit the bullet and get on with it.

The revamp of the website in Spanish has at last started. A few months ago I restructured the salsa website in English; to reflect accurately its position relative to the local organisations, and to maintain its continued relevance worldwide. I'd been delaying doing the same for the Spanish version - www.salsa-merengue.net for just one reason; I'm not the one doing the translating.

That task's been taken up by the embarrasingly talented Ana Santiago Menendez: educator, singer-songwriter, dancer, bajista, and gold-panner extrordinaire (Yep, you read that bit right). I suspect she didn't know what she was volunteering for, otherwise it'd still be only a monolingual site. I wanted to make sure that the new structures were bedded down properly in the English version, so that there wouldn't be any extraneous work due to a lack of organisation on my part.

Having worked with Ana in songwriting for the band before, I can very much appreciate the vast amount of work needed to get the message right. We're still looking for accurate translations for "close hold" and "bugbear".

Perhaps there's a hint of cultural pride; it doesn't do to have a top salsa site in English and not in Spanish. That might nark one's sensibilities. Thank God cultural pride doesn't extend to my wanting to translate it into Chinese.

I wonder what "close hold" is in hokkien?

Loo Yen Yeo

Friday, September 01, 2006

Doing something right

It's an open secret that 4 de Diciembre and its previous incarnations of Grupo 271 and Chévere have been in the recording studios, on and off, for the past three years. In that time we've amassed a veritable mountain of material, some of it truly inspirational. Sadly a good proportion of it will never see the light of day, because of some inherent flaws that render it unsuitable for release.

I put those down as much to our then level of inexperience, as well as a recording studio that was not, I feel, particularly sympathetic to the needs of a Latin band. But we are lucky in that now, we have in our midst an experienced recording engineer in the shape of Dan.

A few months ago, we decided to take the step and do the recordings ourselves.

The proposition of getting us all, a large-ish Latin ensemble on tape isn't a small matter. That's part of the reason for my writing hiatus; I've been busy planning with Dan our recording strategy, our equipment needs, getting it sourced and making it happen. The last pieces of the jigsaw: the recording desk, remaining microphones, connectors, gates and compressors, will be arriving within the next couple of weeks. Once it's all hooked up to the stuff we've already got, we'll be good to start.

I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to this with a strange melange of anticipation and trepidation. For me, it remains the final and best opportunity to have our hard work, character and creativity rendered in a lasting manner - to hold in our hands a permanent token of an exceptionally rewarding period of our lives.

We actually have enough material for at least two albums, and we've elected to go for the greater challenge of having our first release comprising solely original material. We're not "easy route" kind of people.

Watch this space.