Giraldo Piloto, director of the group Klimax. Photo: Yander Zamora

Founder of the orchestra Klimax, creator of the Fiesta del Tambor, widely respected drummer, and composer of numerous hits such as “No me mires a los ojos,” Giraldo Piloto is one of Cuban music’s most emblematic figures of the last 30 years.

The 53 year old musician, composer, and band leader has turned Klimax into one of the island’s most popular groups, renowned for its complex arrangements, songs, and diverse sound.

Piloto is celebrating his group’s 20th anniversary with a new album, which he had hoped to release last year, but unfortunately wasn’t possible “due to various commitments,” he comments to Granma while reflecting on the band’s history, the emergence of timba, and lack of opportunities for groups to play in public spaces.

What stage does the album Mis 21 años mark in Klimax’s history?

The album was scheduled to be released least year on Klimax’s 20th anniversary. However, given various work commitments, I had to postpone its release date. I was able to invite many of the musicians I most admire to help record the album, including Alexander Abreu; Paulo FG; Tania Pantoja; “Robertón;” Yeni and Mandy, from Los Van Van; Manolito Simonet; Pancho Céspedes; Leo Vera, and Brenda Navarrete as a rapper; and Usaín del Monte as a folklore group. Its like the Team Cuba of timba but molded to Klimax’s style of music. I wrote eleven of the songs on the album, as well as another by Piloto and Vera (Añorado encuentro).

Mis 21 años (My 21 years) features different currents and paths. There’s bolero, romantic songs, and popular music. For me, these collaborations with many other artists contribute, above all, to strengthening and preserving popular Cuban music. The album is an independent production, but I’m in talks with Egrem to see if they want to release it. If talks don’t go well, I’ll approach other companies in Cuba. Whichever way, various international record labels are interested, like Universal Music.

Why did you decided to record an independent album to celebrate such an important anniversary for the group?

I’ve been using this method since 2004 for several reasons. In general I think that Cuban record labels aren’t prepared to take on every album that you present. It takes a while for them to make decisions given budget considerations, or the number of artists they have, and often actually producing the album takes too long. An artist can’t work at this pace because they’ve got to release their work on time, in order to meet the needs of dancers and fans. That’s why we do it this way. If we end up recording with a foreign record label, we will license it for Cuba.

We haven’t released a new album in four years for different reasons, but now its time to put out Mis 21 años so that the people know that Klimax is coming out with a new project and changes to its line-up. We’ve now got two female members and they’re great singers.

Klimax’s music is renowned, among other things, for the complexity of its arrangements, features which also defined timba in the 1990s. Could this perhaps put-off today’s dancers looking for an easier sound?

Klimax hasn’t made concessions in regards to the way we make music; meaning that it’s not necessary to remove or cut back the harmonies in a song to make it “catchy” or so that the melodies or tumba’os are easy. We have taken on the risk of making music the way we feel since the group was formed to date. It’s a tricky risk because music is being increasingly simplified. But I think we would be betraying the loyalty that we feel inside if we didn’t continue to defend the path that we have charted since the very beginning. What’s more, this work is what makes it possible for us to be invited to jazz, world or Cuban music festivals.

Have you ever thought of breaking up the band?

People have at times suggested that I could develop two other projects, in addition to Klimax; one jazz and the other a larger format. I’ve never thought of splitting up the group because it is a dream which marked the beginning of my career as a composer at a personal level. It was the moment in which I was not only composing for other artist, but also myself.

Timba experienced a decline after its boom in the 90s. What really happened to the movement?

One of the most important reasons why timba started to decline was that cultural institutions began to take attention away form the genre. For example, they canceled television programs which promoted bands, such as Mi salsa, Buscando el sonero, FM, or Contacto. Later they created new ones with different concepts. I remember that if you were a timba artist and they invited you on television you couldn’t play timba. You’d have to bring along a singer to sing bossa nova or a polska. They also closed the Palacio de la Salsa and the venues which used to book bands no longer received funding to do so.

Now efforts are being made to revive Cuban music, but lots of changes are needed in order to do it right, bearing in mind the current context and new tastes. On the other hand, provincial and municipal institutions need more support to be able to hire bands, while these groups must also have more help from television.

How did bands manage given this adverse situation?

We didn’t feel excluded because the boom in Cuba reverberated in other places around the world. We didn’t have work, but were invited to different international festivals, fairs, on tours. This helped keep bands with the most interesting projects alive in the Cuban cultural panorama. The truth is that we’ve got to put popular music in its rightful place.

If you go to Brazil, the majority of what you hear as soon as you enter the airport until you leave is Brazilian music, the same in Jamaica or Mexico. This happens in all countries with outstanding culture, and should happen in Cuba too. Currently, Cuban talent is far above the idea some people have of contemporary Cuban music and of some artists that have become popular around the world or win awards in genres such as reggaeton or so-called Latin music.

What inspired you to start theFiesta del Tambor?

I organize the Fiesta del Tambor every year in the Mella Theater, where I bring together the principal popular, folklore, jazz and dance groups. It's hard work. I do all the planning, promotion, and take care of all the details to make sure it's a success. The event has been self-financed since its creation 16 years ago and we don’t pay one cent, although we have seen the likes of the most outstanding Cuban and international artists. But I would like Cubans to be able to watch the big concerts we put on it their own homes, but it's difficult to get TV stations to record our shows, and then we see them repeating other musical content in their programming, above all foreign ones.

We hold a percussion, casino and rumba competition during the festival. I would also like to see Cuban musicians based in the U.S. participate, such as Horacio Hernández, Dafnis Prieto or Pedrito Martínez, who told me he would do everything possible to come. My main objective with this festival is to make my own contribution to Cuban culture. And I hope to continue along this path.

The groups mostly play in places with high entrance fees which the majority of fans can’t afford. Do you think this could affect their links with the Cuban public and the spread of popular music?

The Ministry of Culture is an institution which can organize concerts in public spaces. The people want to hear their bands, but beyond the casas de la música (main music venues), which as we know, charge high cover charges, groups barley have places to perform.

Do you feel any sense of social responsibility as an artist?

Almost all musicians have had offers to leave Cuba, but personally, I have never considered it. I’m very committed to Cuban popular music, to its development, its promotion in all possible spaces. I organize the Fiesta del Tambor precisely because of the responsibility I feel to my country’s culture.