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    Posted: May 15 2010 at 11:12



Hailing from Cuba, Anima Mundi have always combined prog sounds with other music genres and used instruments that are uncommon for rock. Echoes of Celtic, Cuban, New Age, Symphonic Rock music can be clearly distinguished. 

I have always been very impressed by their second album and this band was high on my wish-list when I started to do interviews for PA. I got in touch with them and the interview was answered by Virginia Peraza and Roberto Díaz.

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Let's start with the beginning. When was Anima Mundi set up, by whom and how was your formative years ?  

Anima Mundi began as a group of friends, all of them majoring in musical education from the Havana Pedagogical University Enrique José Varona. The first line up was Gustavo Comptis, bass and vocals; Abel González, guitars, keyboards, and vocals; Ariel Valdés, drums; Virginia Peraza, keyboards; and I, guitars and vocals. There was another member, Rolando Vigoa, who lasted a short time; he quit before the first live presentation but we still recall him as one of the founders.
In the spring of 1996, we started gathering material, rehearsing and buying some instruments in order to initiate the project. Those were beautiful years due to the dreams and desires about doing great things that we had; however we were also filled with naivety.
The primal ideas were always related to making prog rock, inspired by our classical idols Yes, Genesis, ELP, Rick Wakeman, Pink Floyd…and also by the influence we had from classical music because of the music school.
Here in Cuba, we faced a total disinformation about the resurgence of prog rock in the 90s, no new band was known; we weren’t even acquainted with their names and work. Some years after our start, we listened to a few songs by TFK, Spock’s beard, Anglagard, etc. Yet we couldn’t own an album ‘till many years later, when linked to computers, mp3 arrived and all the different variants of exchanging musical information via digital means.

Just to start with, I want your thoughts and opinions on your two albums, starting with....  



Your first album Septentrión from 2002.

Septentrión belongs to a certain period of Anima Mundi music. We spent some time playing with bagpipes and Celtic flutes, closer to sonorities like neo prog, folk and symphonic progressive, even some Celtic music. All this new sonority became easier to be listened to by the regular audience than what we did in our beginnings, that’s why during that time we achieved our greatest fame in the island. We gained many fans, gave plenty of shows along the country and even were offered a proposal of recording an album, Septentrión, with a local label.
This proposition didn’t come true and we ended up recording the album by ourselves. By 2000, when we began building up the album, we lacked technology because, and it is so hard to say, computer purchase was banned for Cubans and you couldn’t own one unless you would bring it from another nation under legal governmental authorization, or buy it in the black market; hence, recording this album was a total heroic deed. A friend who is a sound engineer made the records at his place, with an old PC and under these unfavorable conditions. The work sounds different to the way in which its songs are played live and also different from the way we wanted it to be recorded.
Some critics have mentioned in reviews that the sonority of Septentrión is more original than that of Jagannath Orbit. I disagree with that statement. I don’t think that the fact of using a less traditional instrument in prog rock like the bagpipe must be taken as a transcendental event; we didn’t also do that for that purpose, we just did it because we fell in love with the magic that the flutes and bagpipes provided some numbers with. I believe that it is a wonderful album and pleasant to the ears.



Your second album Jagannath Orbit from 2008.

Jagannath Orbit was totally recorded with exclusive material from 2002. Not long after starting the production, difficult moments hit the band. Ariel Valdés, our founding drummer traveled to Canada and didn’t return. Virginia and I got alone because the other musicians quickly lost interest. We had to wait years to continue the album and remake the band with new members.
Jagannath Orbit was born in the middle of the most difficult moments. With it we wanted to attain the wished sonority and to serve that goal we had to look for everything that was necessary to do it home. There is an interview in the ProgRésiste magazine in which we give more details about this process.
To my consideration, Jagannath Orbit is an iridescent and kaleidoscopic album. I consider it very brisk and provider of joy and euphoria to the one who undertakes this progressive journey. It is 100% symphonic prog and we respected the genre canons. We didn’t want to create anything new, it simply occurred.
Putting aside the lighter sonority of the bagpipe period led us to lose followers and a curious datum: some local scene critics, when faced to a more purely progressive sonority and a shift in lyrics from Spanish to English, simply ignored us and looked away, certainly thinking that we had taken the wrong way.
Finally, we can’t help feeling deep happiness and satisfaction when we see Jagannath Orbit released by Musea nowadays, and also deserving of a plenty of good reviews in the “real world”, as we usually say.

You are currently both playing live and preparing a new album. What is the latest update ?  

We play live once a month in the space that the Agencia Cubana de Rock gives us, the auditorium Maxim Rock. Apart from playing in this place, it turns hard to perform elsewhere. Anima Mundi isn’t famous anymore here in Cuba as it was years ago. In spite of our decreasing audience we keep faithful to playing live shows. In our concerts, we play material from our three albums and also non recorded songs. Sometimes, we include covers such as Arthur (Rick Wakeman) or Firth of Fifth (Genesis).
With respect to our new album entitled “The Way”, we are extremely happy to announce that it is almost finished. The releasing date given by Musea is August 2010, so we are working full time on the art work and mastering details.

I have compared your band to the likes of The Flower Kings, Yes and Spock's Beard. But how would you describe your music and who would you compare Anima Mundi to ?  

I can easily describe our music; however, it’s not simple to me comparing Anima Mundi to another band, this is more like critics’ stuff.
Our music is merry and positive, principally made on major tones. Maybe it is due to the strong sun in these latitudes. I wouldn’t like to lose these colors in the future. The symphonic touch is also quite present and melodies represent an important characteristic. Our music is built up from melodies as basis rather than from a rhythmical base, improvisations, or jam. We aren’t virtuous since vertiginous demonstrations are not our flair. As instrumentalists, ‘till now, we haven’t searched for velocity while playing and making our music and arrangements. While making the arrangements we utilize a wide sonorous variety in guitars (Spanish, folk 12 and 6 strings, electric) and keyboards, due to we do like the mix of sounds from modern synthesizer with those from classical Mellotron, Hammond and Moog, though it becomes difficult to use these last ones in live shows because we don’t have the means to play with those original tones. The distortion excess doesn’t call our attention either. Regarding the lyrics we prefer to transmit a positive and optimistic message related to the human beings’ spiritual search.
Nonetheless, I couldn’t speak clearly about who we’re similar to when we make this kind of music, what we give and what people receive.

There is no denying that your country Cuba is dividing opinions in both our community and in the rest of the world too. I have my own issues with the authorities in Cuba. But that is strictly between me and them. How has the US trade embargo and the political issues influenced your international standing and career ?  

The answer to this question is a tough one and has taken a lot of time. I had an English friend once that worked in Cuba as a cultural reporter for an important magazine for some years. She used to tell me that if she hadn’t lived here she wouldn’t have understood the functioning of many things in this place, and even when she comes to understand everything it turns out to be really hard to explain to her English speaking compatriots and friends.
Sincerely, I don’t know what our international position would be if the embargo didn’t exist, but I do know that our career and position would be totally different if there were another political approach in Cuba with respect to its citizens. We would be a band that makes its music with similar conditions to other bands in the world, and we would certainly have a place after 14 years of work in the world prog family.
If you ask me how this happens I could tell you that I have anecdotes for a whole book; however, I would never write that book because I’m only a musician who loves making music and talking about economic and political problems is offensive to my spirit.
I’m really sorry because it’s taken me a lot of time to reply this request, and I’ve written very much but left very little.
I don’t want to think about and go over the topic of prohibitions, tribulations, legislations, confiscations, “it’s not permitted…” “you cannot…” I don’t like focusing on hardships, besides the Muse might get afraid, go and never return again. We’re musicians and we don’t feel comfortable dealing with these issues. Despite everything, Anima Mundi exists and outlived all the Cuban bands which tried or made anything in this genre, progressive rock, and we intend to continue.

You have released your two albums on foreign labels. What is your experience with them ?  

Our experience with foreign recording labels is perhaps bound to the fact of being Cubans living in Cuba.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a good opinion about the Italian Mellow Records and its manager Mauro Moroni. We don’t even know how many albums they have sold because we have never received any sales receipt, nor have they paid a penny, or reported to the royalty companies. Septentrión shouldn’t be on sale since 2006; yet it continues to be sold, maybe driven by Jagannath Orbit good reviews. Mellow Records hasn’t kept in touch with us, not a word; the entire contract has been broken. Our situation with this recording label was and is still bad. We wouldn’t advise any band to sign a contract with them. However, since I can do nothing about it right now or at least I think so, the best thing I can do is not to give any thoughts to the problem ‘till I can occupy myself in concrete actions.
Musea was in charge of distributing our second album Jagannath Orbit. Musea brought us confidence again in getting a place in the progressive world and in letting prog fans access to our music. We’re very happy for the warm welcome the album had and also the good reviews, we didn’t really expect it.
This step that we took with Musea was crucial for us on account of the disastrous experience with the Italian Mellow and the later effort, energy and resources put on Jagannath recording. We were truly tired and considering the option of having a long break. Then it came a bit of that necessary feedback, and it changed our mood. It did so because we knew that our music was being listened to by people who consume everything that exists in prog music and they found our work good and capable of transmitting all the joy and hope we put on it.

You were included on a state funded rock scene programme in Cuba some years ago. Please tell us more about this programme. How is the situation regarding distribution and sales of music in Cuba these days ?
 
Nowadays, rock music in Cuba survives in a low percent of the population with a tendency to decrease. Rock has been a marginalized genre by means of a non written silent law valid since the 60s. This conducted to the almost total annihilation of the Cuban scene and to the frustration of many generations, all of it bringing about the gradual disappearance of followers. This happened because of the fight against capitalism and its cultural and ideological trends.
About two years ago, the Cuban government created the Agencia Cubana de Rock whose objective is to provide Cuban bands with a place to play live shows. The site has been built up for this purpose and offers certain technological conditions regarding sound and lights. The Agency is also in charge of managing the commercialization of the bands belonging to its catalog, something that turns hard due to the present cultural and economic policies of the country.
All the Agency working personnel were somehow related to rock music in the past. Most of them are young and work hard to keep the place going, though just a little can be done. They have a profound wish of working and getting rock out of the narrow space imposed over it for decades. However, this isn’t in their hands but in the government’s.
Summarizing, the Agency was a kind of debt with rock music in the island, at least regarding a physical space, show management, etc. Nonetheless, it doesn’t relieve essential problems and can’t deal directly with the sale and distribution of albums. This job is only done by Cuban labels (They scarcely produce rock music, maybe on account of the lack of a market). We cannot sell our own albums in the live shows because laws forbid private business.
Particularly, I’d like to highlight an incident that we had with the Cuban customhouse when they decided to confiscate us 35 Jagannath Orbit CDs sent by Musea because they considered them “too many”.

What is your plans for this year and where do you want to take this band?  

The number one plan is to release “The Way” with Musea. Also, to keep giving live shows because it is what makes us feel alive; we consider a band off the stage a dead one.
We are preparing material for a future album too. We’d like to include some songs from our beginnings, year 1998, which we couldn’t record because we wanted to do it with a symphonic orchestra and it was impossible at the moment. These numbers are very thrilling and sometimes we play them live with new arrangements.
Regarding how far we’d like to go with our music, I guess that as far as possible. We love our work and wish to take it faraway.

Just to wrap this interview up; do you have any regrets in your music career ?
 
We don’t regret about anything.

What are your five alltime favorite albums?  
 
The indispensable to me are these ones though I can name many others favorite too:
1- Close to the Edge (Yes)
2- Tales from Topographic Oceans (Yes)
3- Foxtrot (Genesis)
4- Selling England by the Pound (Genesis)
5- The Voyage of Acolyte (Steve Hackett)

….. Virginia wants to choose 7 albums……
  1. Fragile (Yes)
  2. Thrak (King Crimson)
  3. Dreams (Anderson-Kitaro)
  4. Close to the Edge (Yes)
  5. In the Region of Summer Stars (The Enid)
  6. A Day of Future Passed (Moody Blues)
  7. Hybris (Anglagard)
Anything you want to add to this interview?

I want to thank on behalf of the band all the people that support us around the world, all the fans that keep track of our work and give us strength, all the ones that broadcast our music and many others. Anima Mundi says thank you very much.
We also want to send our greetings to all the labels which spread progressive rock around the globe, giving it a chance to come to light. I’d like to repeat a friend’s words: long live prog rock!!!

Thank you to Virginia Peraza and Roberto Díaz for this interview. I am really looking forward to their new album. 
Their PA profile is here and their homepage is here

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 15 2010 at 11:21
Nice interview, they are a band I quite like.
I hope more people know their music, they won't regret!

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