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Madrid City in English
Tuesday 21st of November 2017
Matt Sachs 1305 29th of April 2013 by editor 29th of April 2013
Oriol Llopis Photo: Goyo Conde
Just the write beat

Matt Sachs reports on Habana7: Historias que cuentan (Stories that They Tell), a recent night of conversation, tales and memories provided by some of Spain’s top writers and critics in the music field

More than 300 guests have flocked to Madrid’s Teatro Calderón near Puerta del Sol to listen to the stories, reflections, and thoughts of four of the best known and most influential communicators in the Spanish music business. The atmosphere in the Teatro is both professional and cordial. Yet, as the opening funk band begin to energise and the audience start to take advantage of the open bar, excitement fills the air. The event is sponsored by Havana Club, the famous rum brand, and when the four guests walk into the limelight, it’s to a rapturous welcome.
    They seat themselves on the broad stage, at the back of which is a large screen to accommodate supporting videos. In a comfy leather chair is Diego Manrique, one of Spain’s most famous rock and pop music journalists. Manrique has created and worked on various radio and television programmes, such as El Ambigú and El Pais, and founded the popular music magazine Efe Eme. Next to him sits Diego Manrique Photo: GoyoConde Beatriz Pécker, the director and host of the popular Spanish music show Rockopop and former director of the Independent Music Station on Spanish National Radio, RNE3. Then there’s Juan Claudio Cifuentes, or “Cifu” for short, the jazz music critic, educator, and record producer, whose radio broadcasts have popularised jazz music in Spain. Finally, we meet the eccentric Oriol Llopis, the legendary rock music critic who appears more of an aged rock star himself. The conference is moderated by the journalist Alberto Granados.

Name game
To open proceedings, the experienced speakers begin to recount how they started in the business, and when they first fell in love with music. Granados directs the discussion through numerous topics, eliciting the speakers’ opinions on everything from befriending musicians to how to deal with bribes from record companies who want to guarantee interviews with their stars. Manrique comments that artists shouldn’t be friends with critics, because it means “you become part of the marketing machine. I rarely have telephone numbers of singers, which is better because Sabina once called me at three in the morning to write up an article.”
    It feels like four old friends, sitting around the living room recounting tales of their youth and the result is absolutely addictive and charming. When old photos of the speakers are shown on the screen, depicting each in their youth, they laugh at their naïveté and choice of fashion while simultaneously marvelling at their vitality and innocence.
    Their experiences meeting musicians from around the world bring famous names to the fore. Pécker refuses to generalise about great performers, citing an interview she did with Leonard Cohen, when he showed “a lot of patience, because I speak terrible English!” She also remembers interviewing Paul McCartney, during which his wife at the time, Linda, whispered responses into his ear. Cifu, on the other hand, describes how his first assignment with his idol, Miles Davis, went horribly because Miles kept trying to get the better of him. While intervewing all four members of Van Halen, Manrique recalls that David Lee Roth, the lead singer, finished by making his best attempt to speak Spanish.
    Llopis, who sits aloofly with his legs crossed, not once taking off his dark shades, interrupts Granados and the rest intermittently to reference his meeting with a stoned Iggy Pop, and being invited to dinner at Axl Rose’s house. He also refers to interviewing Mink DeVille, the late70s/early 80s US rock band, who only “asked was that there was a bouquet of roses on the piano.”

Music and movement   
The power of music is illustrated when Granados asks each guest to name a song that has a deep personal meaning. As the selections are made and the songs are played, these experienced journalists light up with enthusiasm and emotion. Cifu pantomimes the drums on Coltrane’s “Blue Steps” and Manrique bops along to “Singing in the Rain”. When Llopis is questioned about why he chose “Shake Some Action” by the San Francisco rock band from the 60s, The Flamin’ Groovies, he states defiantly: “Because it is the best song ever. Period. You don’t have to analyse it further.” It’s hard to argue with that amount of conviction.
    The event comes to its end with a video montage of Spanish musicians and artists, from a wide range of media and genres, honouring the work of the four. It’s hard not to feel touched by the comments, which describe how the speakers’ words, publications, and programmes have influenced their lives and careers. As the four guests gaze up at the screen, it suddenly becomes obvious what has brought them together on this stage, as well as what has brought all 300 people to the Teatro. It’s the same thing that has brought human beings together for centuries: an absolute love of music.

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