Michael League talks about Eliades Ochoa
I remember watching the Wim Wenders documentary on the Buena Vista Social Club for the first time as a 16-year old kid in Virginia, worlds away from the then-mysterious island of Cuba.
I had been playing guitar for two years, and was immersed in the jazz, blues, and funk of my own country. My musical tastes were fairly diverse even as a teenager, so the film appealed to me instantly. But when Wenders turned his attention to the guajiro in the cowboy hat, I was hooked. He appealed to me in a different way than the other Buena Vista members. It was virtuosic, but not flashy. It was full of fire and spontaneity, but still cool and calmly confident. From that moment, Eliades has had a special place in my musical life.
When Dani Florestano called me to produce this new album with Eliades, I said “yes” before he could finish the question. It’s a big risk- bringing in a gringo to represent the music of a folkloric and cultural icon, especially when that gringo is known for making contemporary (and slightly strange) music. But as I learned while producing American folk icon David Crosby’s most recent album, sometimes a clash of worlds (be it generational, geographical, or musical) can create a beautiful cocktail.
I was really shocked at how smoothly things went in the studio. Aside from being a very magnanimous person and a giant of a musician, Eliades is very receptive to the possibilities of involving outside musical opinions like my own. Even with a long career of success, he wants to keep evolving as an artist. I think that’s why I was brought in to the project. I have respect for the Cuban musical tradition, and Eliades is open-minded about unconventional ideas. Therefore, the combination allows us to push the music forward without compromising its essence and deeply embedded tradition.
From the moment we started recording, I felt that this album was special. The players, the sound, the songs, and the vibe combine to create an unplaceable feeling for me. I think that it represents the rich musical culture of Cuba, but that it is able reach out and touch the world beyond that mysterious island I fell in love with as a child.