Recently we met Gerald Clarinda, the band leader of La Ritmica. Over some tasty Cuban food we had a nice lil chat about his idea of “Caribbean Fusion”, his manifold albums now digitally released by Faluma, his life between cockpit and stage and between the Antilles and the Netherlands.
We had many travellers in a musical sense here on TropicalBass.com, but this guy is official: he is also a pilot. Hence his musical concept won’t surprise you – read yourself.
Before we go deep in the vita of this musician extraordinaire you might check out this fresh soca tune for Rotterdam Carnival this weekend which did also major damage at St Marteen carnival three weeks back.
Hi Gerald, maybe you can start by introducing yourself
I’m Gerald Clarinda and I’m from the Netherlands Antilles. For those of you who don’t know about the Netherlands Antilles, we are a former Dutch colony consisting of six islands in the Caribbean, three of them close to the coast of Venezuela and the others are on the other side of the archipelago close to Puerto Rico.
We play all different kinds of music on these islands. Throughout the centuries everybody from different countries passed by…except Germans…nah just kidding, we do have some Germans living there. And everyone left their influence behind. That is typical for all the Caribbean countries, for example the African influence is everywhere. So through the years it makes a remix, a nice remix. We could call it that way.
I come from a big family of musicians. I started music when I was three or four years old. I was playing folklore music.
What kind of folklore music?
Our folklore music has a typical African style bass with a little European touch. We have the Vienna waltz for instance. We also call it the waltz, but it is Africanized. We have the Mazurka, we have a polka (done our way) and the “hardcore” African folklore played with African drums with words in Papiamentu.
Papiamentu, our local language is a mix of different languages with a Portuguese base. According to our history, one of the first settlers on our islands were Jewish people from Portugal. During the time of the inquisition, they all fled to Holland and from Holland to the Caribbean. So they came with a Portuguese slang. Then everybody else came and everbody did their contribution to the language and it became Papiamentu. This is basically a language everyone can understand, and that is why we use it in our folklore music.
When I was young, I had many aspirations. I wanted to become a pilot, that was always my dream.
The music was in my genes and went automatically and I never thought that I would do something big with it. But a cousin of mine went to study on another island, and there he played with a very popular band of that time. I loved that so I said hey, I would like to try that too.
That is what gave me the inspirations to go more deep into music. I took piano lessons and I taught myself a few things.
What instrument did you originally play?
I used to play the xylophone, and also percussion. The african style of drums. Then afterwards I started to take piano lessons and I learned to play the bass. I used to play trumpet before…you name it.
After college I didn’t have the financing to go and study to be a pilot, so what I did was go to the States and do music college. That is where I did my jazz music, I played bass. Then I went back to Aruba and played in a hotel then started playing with a band that was quite popular at that time.
What was the name of the band?
The band was called S-United and we used to play soca. Not only soca, we would also play compa, merengue, and stuff like that. Maybe also a little salsa, but mostly soca. We played mostly soca because in Aruba, there were lots of West Indians, who came in the beginning on the former century to work at the refinery, so of course they brought music with them.
In Aruba we have 56 years of carnival, so I grew up listening to soca. I was really fortunate to be born and raised there, with all these cultures. My neighbor in front of me was Indian, the one in the back Haitian, next to me was Antillean, left to me was Dominican. So we had a little bit of everything.
I finally got a scholarship for a university in Holland, so I went there to study to become a pilot. I did that for two years, but I realized I was more busy with music than doing the piloting stuff. I would do my schoolwork during the week, and travel to play on the weekends.
What kind of music were you playing while you were studying in Holland?
I went to lots of jam sessions. I’d just say I was a musician then go and participate and do some networking. By that time I started to do a lot of freelancing. At that time I used to read music very good. Now i’ve gotten lazy. In those days you could put a newspaper in front of me and I’d play it! Because of that, there were a lot of people interested. They’d call me for a lot for salsa & merengue gigs and various other styles of music. Then after the two years I went back to Curaçao to do my piloting job.
In Curaçao I was mostly into jazz. The folklore thing was nice, but I wanted to do something different. Something that I could train for and develop myself. After a while I went back to Holland and got a good job with KLM. During the beginning of KLM I had some off-time so I went to study a world music course at the Rotterdam conservatory for three and a half years. There they didn’t teach you not to mix, but they give you all the information, the history. That was the start of my experiment.
I was still freelancing with all kinds of different musicians, then I went to play with this band called Cachito La Ritmica 93′. It was a band of mostly Dutch people, a lot of guys from the conservatory. The main vocalist was a guy from Uruguay called Cachito Vaz. He is the one that sang on my first international hit called “Solo Tu y Yo”.
In 99′ I finally started to record my own stuff as a soloist. I started my first recording called Cachumba. I sent it to a record label in Holland and they loved it and they said they wanted to buy it immediately.
After my first album was released on this label, we had grown a lot of attention from abroad. By now the band had grown apart, so I kept the name (because it was a part of me), and with that we developed it into what we are now. It was a really nice period. We were really busy, playing all over the place.
Were you still doing this pilot job?
Yeah! I organized my schedule most of the time so I could be at all my gigs. It worked out very well. With La Ritmica we have about 9-10 albums, 2 or 3 singles and 2 DVDs. We had songs that grew a lot of attention internationally. We are still trying to go forward, and now we are at Faluma!
What does La ritmica stand for?
We consider ourselves as representatives of the Caribbean. That’s why we came up with our concept of Caribbean fusion. Caribbean fusion is just the Antillean culture.
If you hear a merengue or salsa band, they play only merengue or salsa. When they try to play something different it sounds a bit funny. But with La Ritmica, we are made of many different cultures and have been able to fuse these different sounds together, and that is the itentity of La Ritmica. That is the message we would like to bring forward with our music to the world.
I think the main difference to others is, you don’t try to copy these cultures, you are really part of them
That’s right we are really part of this cultures and it reflects on our language, our food, etc.
Do you see new influences? Where do you wish to be in the future?
We’d like the keep going the same way we are going. Continuing to fuse the affluences and try to be heard on all the islands. Our biggest wish is to perform a tour each year on all the islands in the whole archipelago. Start in Miami and finish iin Aruba, passing through Cuba, St. Martin, Trinidad and so on. We are going to be there soon, I hope. I have a feeling. It’s just a matter of continuing. It’s not easy, but that is the aim. I think that being with you guys at Faluma is an interesting platform for people around the globe to get to know our music and culture.
Are the other band members from the same islands?
Our rhythm section is mostly Antillean. We have two germans on our brass section. We have a cuban playing the trumpet. One of our lead vocalists is from columbia. He is a very important part of our band when we are performing to the latin tunes. Especially the salsa stuff. If you really want it to sound latin, you need a latin vocalist.
I really find it interesting that there are so many different languages on your album, do you really speak them?
I speak all of the languages. It think that is also part of growing up around all these cultures, you really pick up the languages. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll make a Caribbean song in German! That would be nice.
Are you writing most of these songs?
Sometimes I do, sometimes people from outside. Mostly arrangements and compositions I do, so most of the sounds you hear, thats me.
So how do you start when you want to do a new song?
It comes just like that. Most of the inspiration comes when I’m a t 20 thousand feet. My eldest daughter lives in Aruba, and I haven’t seen her in many years, and I started writing a song called “Thinking of You,” simple as that. I just had the theme but I didn’t work it out. So yesterday I had a dream, and I dreamt of her and the tune came again, the melody, lyrics and everything… “When I see the stars, I think about you. When the ocean is between us, I think about you”…
Speaking of the lyrics, what are you talking about in your songs?
It depends, songs that I really do like are socio-political. Not hardcore political, but stuff that reflects all people. But I also make songs about carnival. They are fun and not so intellectual. We also made one about the gulf war, the Americans going to Iraq. I really liked the military vibe of the tune and we associated it with carnival.
So can we also see La Ritmica in the carnival environment?
Yes, this year we will be part of the Rotterdam carnival. We used to sing on the mainstage but not in the parade itself so this will be the first time we participate in the street parade
La Ritmica at reverbnation.