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InterviewsCuba's Anima Mundi Make Big Waves with The Way

Posted on Monday, January 17 2011 @ 20:04:06 CST by Pete Pardo
Progressive Rock

Anima Mundi is from Cuba. They have a decidedly symphonic progressive sound that has been compared to bands like Yes in their heyday back in the 70s. Most of the band has been playing music since adolescence. The band is one of Cuba's best progressive bands on an island that is not known for its progressive rock roots. It has been difficult for them to gain recognition because of their location and the global communications difficulties they encounter from Cuba. That may be changing next year as they have locked up some European tour dates.

The band is lead by Roberto Diaz, who plays lead electric and acoustic guitar. The symphonic sound is greatly augmented by the keyboard and synth playing of Virginia Peraza. Carlos Sosa's voice gives Anima Mundi its unique character amongst Yes – like bands. Yaroski Corredera's bass playing will bring back memories of Chris Squire. Jose' Manuel Govin's drumming never misses a beat and like Alan White is the glue that holds the band on rhythm. Sea of Tranquility Staff Writer Mark Johnson recently caught up with both Roberto & Virginia to talk about the band and their latest release, The Way.

SoT: Roberto and Virginia, welcome to the Sea of Tranquillity. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to discuss your new album The Way and all things Anima Mundi.

Roberto, please tell us how you all decided on the name of the band. Your words and music fit so well with Plato's philosophy.

Roberto- Interesting question, since the very beginning of our band we were sure about one thing, we would write and play progressive rock but at the same time we felt passion for the spiritual matters so we decided to join both things as one. There is always some spiritual message in our music. Universe as a living being, the entire creation as a kind of stage in evolution, the body of Sole Spirit travelling back to know It's self. The human quest searching for ultimate love and truth, so the Plato's term "Anima Mundi" (Soul of the World) came to my mind and the band agreed on it, due to the concept that we wanted to transmit in our music. We always try to transmit lifted ideas, state of mind, and soundscapes to other people and feel our selves surrounded by this same energy as well.

SoT: Virginia please describe your start in music. What inspired you to create music?

Virginia - I started very late in this world of music, after I had turned 17. When I was a kid, I went to a fine arts school and everybody thought I was going to become a painter and go to a painting academy; however, my mom bought a piano one day and everything changed. Though she had been a pianist in her youth, she never wanted to play in concerts and devoted herself to be a music teacher but never taught my siblings and me how to play music. Maybe it was a tough way for her. So… when she bought that piano, I began asking questions about musical writing and also began playing simple songs. Since it was too late to get a musical conservatory, I decided to major in musical education, to be a teacher of musical appreciation for children. My painting teacher got upset and my mother warned me about the fact that I should work as a teacher later on. Nonetheless, I didn't give it much thinking and nowadays I don't regret. I had to study very hard and my piano teacher helped me a lot to gain time regarding the learning of this instrument which was the most significant for me during the whole university studies.

Later, I met several prog friends, among them Roberto. They loved The Beatles, Yes, King Crimson along with other classic musicians, such as Tchaikovsky, Ravel, Falla, Stravinsky, Bach, etc. Those were beautiful years and when our degrees were done Roberto founded the band and I began playing the keyboards in Anima Mundi. I believe that at the beginning they didn't have anyone else and I had little experience.

Anima Mundi has been the musical career of my life 'till now.

SoT: Roberto, how would you describe the concept of The Way?

Roberto - "The Way" concept explains how to travel the path of supreme knowledge using our deepest aspirations. It's the way of cosmic love and total understanding. "Spring Knocks on the Door of Men", the main piece of music tells us about where men found an ancient manuscript of an unknown book untitled "Apotheoses at Infinitum" which narrated the unbreakable bond between Spring, (Mother of the Universe), and the human race, and how men, lead by Spring, return to the Cosmic Source. The other three songs are related with this story but you have to insert them into your own mind picture because they appear as reflections or exhortations.

SoT: Describe the process of writing lyrics and making music in Cuba.

Roberto - I think that this process should be pretty close to any composer or musician in any other country in the world. You try to listen to the inspiration and the tunes that come into your mind. Then you must use your best musical skills to become these ideas in a piece of music as good as you can. The hard thing in Cuba is that there is no space or vision for a band like Anima Mundi because in Cuba progressive music is a genre completely unknown. Just a few, a very few people know something about it, so it's quite hard to get the feedback that musicians need. Excessively, there is a lot of material lacking of all kinds, so to survive it has been very difficult for us and many, many times we have been almost at a point of giving up.

SoT: You are very popular in Cuba. What are your plans to help expand your fan base?

Roberto - Dear friend, actually we are not a popular band in Cuba at all. Yes, it's true that Anima Mundi is well known in a small circle of rock devotes but even there, we are not so much popular because in Cuba, Metal is the power genre of rock. Nowadays everything else is a lot of salsa, folklore, and traditional music plus a great invasion from Caribbean rhythms.

Regarding plans to expand our fan base, we think that Anima Mundi needs to play gigs abroad. We need to meet the audience at our live performances. This is an immediate need! On the other hand we also need to extend our presence on the web, but at this point we have a lot of obstacles due to access to the Internet in Cuba is not easy at all. So step by step we have improved our web presence as best we could. We hope to keep on this direction.

SoT: Virginia please describe the main keyboard set up you use to make those wonderful sounds for Anima Mundi?

Virginia - I've got a Korg N264, Roland XP-80, and another Korg DW-8000; they are the main keyboard set up with which I have arranged some presets. I've also got a CD with the Mellotron samples which a friend sent me some years ago. This is the basis of my work in Anima Mundi, besides this is what I've been able to find here. I'd like to play other keyboards someday, for example Alesis and Kurzweil, Nord... I know they will please me very much...

SoT: Time to Understand, the album opener, takes a different direction from where you left off with Jagannath Orbit. How would you describe the difference in the writing style or maybe life experiences which influenced you to create a new start on The Way?

Roberto - Jagannath Orbit is, in general sense, a more energetic, euphoric and kaleidoscopic album. It transmits a lot of joy. It's what I think and I have felt during all those years. It was written as independent pieces of music and we know that it has more wide influences even from Cuban music, although we don't intend that influences were evident. On the other hand The Way is quite different. It's an album more introspective, meditative and it has lot of dramatic parts. It was also written as a concept album from beginning to the end. I feel the "The Way" marks a new Anima Mundi direction, music with more symphonic influences and orchestral perspective of writing. We wish to keep in this direction for the next album.

SoT: Spring Knocks on the Door of Men is my favorite epic of the year…hands down. This is writing and playing the way it used to be. What was the inspiration for this magnificent epic? What are some of your favorite parts of the song?

Roberto - This epic is inspirited in what I think is the most significant life goal: the searching of the ultimate reality and the relationship between the highest power of Life (Mother Spring) and the freewill of Men (human kind). Spring is an evocative symbol of the transmutation force of endless patience, love and understanding behind all things which is able to elevate the human race toward the light and love.

Musically speaking it is a kind of mosaic of great manners of musical composition using the mood and structures of symphonic music mostly in the Romantic and Impressionist periods. We also take lots of strength of the epic works of the classic prog bands from the seventies.

My favourite parts are: Act II Revelation - Apotheoses at Infinitum Part III Heading for Eternity - The Last Journey and Part V Mother Spring – The Way.

SoT: Virginia, which is your favorite song off of The Way, and why?

Virginia - Spring Knocks on the Door of Men. It is one of the most important songs for all of us so far. Each single part was fairly well attained, in my consideration. The epic has wonderful melodies and the conceptual idea is also important to me. Spring knocks on the door of men and wakes them up from the winter, darkness, ignorance and brings about life, light and love. It is the major song of the album. Musically speaking this piece of music has a pretty symphonic construction in most of its parts and I do like that.

SoT: Virginia, your keyboards on Spring Knocks on the Door of Men bring back memories of some of Rick Wakeman's best. What was the inspiration for this magnificent epic? What are some of your favorite parts of the song?

Virginia - Act 2 is one of my favorite, also a brief climax in Act 3 that isn't repeated again. I really enjoy the whole song. Inspiration lies on the very topic of the lyrics. All the lyric images were evoking to me and the music itself. Each part was coming to life by itself and during the rehearsals we tried them out to test their sonorities and to provide them with an order. Finally, during the album production we removed and added some details and everything got ready. Spring is a very long theme but we like to play it live a lot.

SoT: Virginia, which is your favorite Yes song and album?

Virginia - It is a difficult question to me. I like Fragile very much, to me is an ensemble of little jewels. However, I'd be heretic if I leave Close to the Edge and Going for the One out; I cannot highlight only one of them! Favorite song? Also hard to find: And you and I, Awaken, Turn of the Century, many … I'm a fan of Yes, they are my idols and the first prog band I ever listened to.

SoT: Roberto, with the Way, you have captured the power and spirit of the old Yes so well. However, Carlos' voice adds a new dimension to the sound. Which is your favorite Yes song and album?

Roberto - I can't tell you about a favourite song or album because I have many of them but I will try a cluster of them: Close to the Edge, And You and I, Siberian Khatru, The Revealing Science of God, Awaken, The Gates of Delirium, The Ancient and Heart of the Sunrise. The albums: Close to the Edge, Tales from Topographic Oceans, Relayer, Going for the One and Fragile.

SoT: Roberto, it sounds like spring is your favorite season. Please describe a typical spring in Cuba.

Roberto - Yes, it is my favourite season (she) brings hope and beauty. Well, let me think, seasons are not very pronounced here in Cuba. Cuba is always green even in winter. Spring time begins dried and fresh but turns hot, moist and rainy later. Birds are singing, flowers blossom but there is no snow to melt. It is a beautiful force of nature that brings a great power of rebirth and transmutation. You can sense and feel there is something coming.

SoT: The pipe organ sounds on Flying to the Sun and There's A Place Not Faraway bring back so many memories from Going for the One. Describe how you created this sound. Will there be more pipe organ in the future of Anima Mundi's music?

Roberto - Yes there will. The pipe organ is always a tone which could be breathtaking, able to offer a deeper sense of space and majestic for mystic ambiences. Lately, we have been writing some pipe organ parts for the next album.

Virginia - Yes, there will be more of this sound in the future. I like it. On our next album there are pipes also. In particular, I like the effect in "Flying to the Sun", because pipes are mixed with some spacey sounds and it results in a dense atmosphere, with chorus sounding far, the outcome appealed to me.

SoT: Those eerie sounds at the beginning of Time to Understand, how did you create that soundscape?

Virginia - "The Way" needed an intro, because the one that we had planned was Spring's bassoon Intro and Spring got it. Then, there was no Intro for the album and we began recording just what we had done in the shows before we play "Time to Understand", an ambience. Next, the steps with the orchestral sound appeared. And it worked out.

SoT: Who is the Cosmic Man?

Roberto - Cosmic Man is every human being, he or she, you and me. The deal is that just a few people have met him or try to find him. He is our highest being.

SoT: Describe how your Jagannath Orbit album approximates the real experience.

Roberto - Well Jagannath mean in Sanskrit Universe as a living and aware being so Jagannath Orbit means all that happen when are aware of this relationship. The whole creation is orbiting around this spiritual nucleus. So the album is a kind of kaleidoscopic sight of Life. Its topics tell us about different aspects of Being such as the similarity of Light and our selves (We are the Light), the quest of existence (Toward the Adventure) balance and order of the different elements and levels (Rhythm of the Spheres), love (Sanctuary), the promised land (There's a place not faraway) and the cosmic dream (The Awaken Dreamer...Planets).

SoT: Which is your favorite song off Jagannath Orbit, and why?

Roberto - I think that is "Rhythm of the Spheres", although "We are the light" and "Jagannath Orbit" are great too. But "Rhythm of the Spheres" provides me in the album, as much as live, a contemplative spirit, and a kind of a trance which is really releasing and enjoyable to me.

SoT: Virginia, Rhythm of the Spheres is one of your showcase songs. Can you tell us first how you prepare to create and then how you perform one of these instrumental extravaganzas live?

Virginia - Well, I have to say that I don't remember how each part came to life. Roberto provided some of the primal ideas. We generally put the themes to the test in live shows and in rehearsals before recording them. The second part - The Water - was principally pervaded by improvisations and solos, ambiences, and in that way it had been played most of times, and it remained so 'till we recorded it. This song has a great deal of improvisations, though we stick to the way it's been recorded and try to play it live like that now. During the recording process some other layers of keyboards and guitars were added. Rhythm of the Spheres is a very interesting theme to play in concerts, very exciting at least to me.

SoT: We Are the Light and Rhythm of the Spheres are brilliant epics. Your guitar shines through well. There seems to be more backing vocal support on this album than on The Way.

Roberto - Yes it is true, in both themes guitar is very active throughout. Even the guitar playing includes different kind of performance intentions and musical colours as well as the use of many effects and processing.

Regarding topic of backing vocals, you right too, "The Way" is an album where Carlos Sosa voice keeps leading the song mostly of time while in "Jagannath Orbit" there is a lot of backing vocals supporting Carlos voice or even my own voice in "Jagannath Orbit" (in the Orbit of Love) or "Toward the Adventure" We decided to omit some of the backing vocals arrangement in "The Way" after they had been put into test, because we felt that they don't insert quite well into the main musical concept of some melodies. Nonetheless there is nice backing vocal in "Spring Knocks on the Door of Men" part II that I like so much.

SoT: Virginia, do you sing backing vocals on either album?

Virginia - I didn't sing in "Jagannath Orbit", I did backing vocals in "The Way"

SoT: Virginia, which is your favorite song off Jagganath Orbit, and why?

Virginia - It turns difficult to me to look at this album from outside. Roberto and I spent much time working on it, in the mix and recordings. There are certain songs that I love playing, such as We are the Light. This piece of music is like a kaleidoscope with many diverse parts and very brisk. I also enjoy performing Rhythm of the Spheres. There are others which satisfy me because of the result of their recording (Toward the Adventure & Jagannath Orbit); however they aren't my favorite when it comes to live shows.

SoT: You use the didjeridoo at the beginning and during Rhythm of the Spheres. That helped to add natural and ancient sounds and feeling to the song. Will you use it more on future Anima Mundi albums?

Roberto - Yes, if it were necessary maybe it can be used again. As you have told very well it adds a powerful and unbelievable ancient sound. It was played by Jacobo García a Spanish youth who I remember as a very nice guy and very skilfully on this instrument.

SoT: Virginia, how did you create those incredible sounds on The Awaken Dreamer in the Soul Garden Dreams the Flower Planets? They took me back to the kind of enchantment I remember from early Yes.

Virginia - Well, perhaps people don't associate it with Entangled from Genesis's A Trick of the Tail, but to me it has something to do with this song; I always liked the leads with vibrato, they sound very spacey and mysterious. These sounds combined with voices, in this case, create the tone of the main tune; nevertheless, there are back sounds because I imagined the back harmony somehow untuning and I didn't want it to be perfect. In the long run, it didn't resemble what I had in mind but remained like that. What follows is an ambience with several layers with slow guitars, bass and keys, Roberto is guilty… I like the beginning very much, the guitar duo. This song is brief buy full of little parts, all of them different.

SoT: There is more of a Topographic Oceans feel to Jagannath Orbit, would you agree?

Roberto - I have never thought about the entire "Jagannath Orbit" with a feel close to Topographic Oceans, but I think that some pieces of music could be pretty related with. There is something in "Rhythm of the Spheres" and "The Awaken Dreamer … Flower Planets" and maybe certain parts of "Toward the Adventure" for example, quite close to Tales… They could give us a more ancient and hermetic musical perspective as well as descriptive and contemplative attitude just "Tales from Topographic Oceans" does.

SoT: I know you also have another album Septentrión. Can you tell us about that one? Will that be available globally or through iTunes someday?

Roberto - Recently we are working on this. Septentrión was on our website for free downloading, just for a while; but I will do it again for anyone that is interested.

SoT: What is next for Anima Mundi? Is there a concept that you would like to explore next?

Roberto - We are working on a new concept album. We are eager to make it as soon as possible but we would rather to take all the time we need to carefully craft it. Quite symphonic and full of strange and evocative soundscapes a mix of ancient and futurist tunes. It is going to be based on independent tales that finally will join as one single story or concept.

We want to also record an album with some songs from the band's beginning which never were recorded or even unpublished in the first demos. We are also writing new songs and creating some new ideas for another album.

SoT: I know a tour of the USA is hard to imagine in the current political environment. Do you have plans to travel to Canada, South/Latin America or Europe?

Roberto - Yes, we have been invited for Prog´ Sud 2011 (France) and "Slottsskogen Goes Progressive"(Sweden) for summer 2011. Still, there is so much to arrange regarding flight tickets and Cuba's requirement. But we are very enthusiastic and we'll do our best for it. The band will also try to arrange some gigs in different European countries for summer. Let's see. Hope so.

Regarding USA, we personally know lots of Cuban musicians and artist who travel to USA every year for performance, using cultural visa. Especially from popular Cuban music, songwriters, hip hop, etc but not rock bands till today at least. If Anima Mundi were officially invited, I think we'll be the first rock or prog band, whatever, playing in USA. And we loved such honour!

SoT: What place or venue would you most like to play?

Roberto - - Well, there is lot of great places and venues around the word but for me it is the audience that is most important. So I would like to play in every place where people would be interested in our music.

SoT: Virginia, what would you like to create in the future? Is there a concept that you would like to explore next?

Virginia - I would love to make a personal album, with versions of some things that I like of classic music; I would like to explore some spacey music too, because I love the dense atmospheres and ambiences, and the layers of sounds. When I get what to work with, then I will do it. Now I don't have keyboards that sound as I need.

But, mainly I wish that Anima Mundi had a long life and prosperous!

SoT: Which artist or band would you most like to work with in the future?

Roberto - I couldn't answer this particularly point because I've really loved lot of bands and artist in my entire life and I'm also very open person and I think that each experience with any artist or band will be enriching for me. I'll be pleased to share musical and personal experiences with many nice people. It will be great.

SoT: Is there anything I have not asked that you would like to write about?

Roberto - Oh Yes, I would like to send my regards and gratitude on behalf of Anima Mundi to our friends and followers in Cuba and around the world. It has been extremely wonderful and moving all the support, affection and love that we have received from them. Thank you all, we'll do our best for our next albums and we truly hope that soon Anima Mundi will be out on the stages.

Long live Prog!

SoT: Virginia and Roberto, thank you for again for taking time out of your busy schedule to discuss all things Anima Mundi.

Virginia - Thanks a lot dear Mark for your support and kind help.

SoT: Thank you both again for taking time out of your busy schedule to discuss all things Anima Mundi. We hope to do this again once your new project is released.

Mark Johnson

(Click here to read our reviews of The Way)



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