From the time José Cónde spent growing up in Miami to the life he leads now in Brooklyn, New York, Jose has been surrounded by cultural and musical diversity. According to José, when living in Brooklyn, “you are a little bean in a melting pot and you have access to other flavors so it’s a wonderful thing.” José definitely chose the right pot to simmer in.
Musically and lyrically dynamic yet consistent, José Cónde, has provided his listeners with music that has the power to entertain, educate, and expand musical boundaries in a category driven society. In 2000, José formed the group, José Cónde y La Ola Fresca and reinvented traditional Cuban sounds. Musical fusions of bass driven funk and traditional Son Cubano and salsa in songs such as “El Chacal” and “Ritmo y Sabor” propelled Jose and his band into the forefront of Latin groove.
After recently deciding to go the solo route, José has departed Cuba to explore the world in a quest similar to that of an apothecarist blending just the right bits and pieces of different elements to create something new and whole.
José, like his music, takes cues from the simple and profound qualities and patterns found in nature. José is just as rooted to crafting music as the Matapalo (Strangler Fig Tree) he sings about in his eponymous solo debut album.
From an early age, José knew that he and music were connected. “I was a kid who was just fascinated by music. I sang along with the radio when I was a kid. It was something that was natural. I had three life goals when I was a child. The first one was to be a professional football player- that didn’t work out. The second was to be a musician- that worked out. And the third was to be a marine biologist…”
José’s fascination with music also led him to find song and rhythm in things that aren’t always considered musical. “When I was a kid I thought my mother was very musical. The way she would scold me, I thought it was like a mambo. Mambo is intense and it’s forceful and dramatic. I guess you could describe my mom’s scolding as all of those.”
“A lot of the music my family listened to I enjoyed. My mom listened to Benny Moré, Celia Cruz, and there was a great album that Nat King Cole did in Cuba in the ’50s. She loved that album and I listened to it and didn’t really know what I was listening to. But now I listen and realize how great it was,” José said.
Along with jazz, Son Cubano, and salsa, seventies funk and R&B played a large part in José’s developing musical tastes. “I listened to the radio a lot. I was really impacted early on by anything funky. I can remember being a kid in the 1970’s and listening to the Jackson 5. “You see, I was drawn to funk, bass…anything that Quincy Jones produced, José said. “I loved James Brown. So somehow that sort of fused inside of me and when I formally started studying music, I started on a journey and eventually came back to those sounds.”
With the release of his solo album comes yet another facet to José’s musical capabilities. As José puts it, “It’s an eclectic record but it’s a pop-alternative record with world music influences.” Although that may seem like a mouthful, it’s more like an earful of worldly goodness.
José surprises his listeners by mixing foreign sounds, ranging from rumba and samba to reggae and dancehall, with lyrics that illuminate the inherent links between humans and nature. “I went through a very traditional Cuban period and then I started infusing the funk and now I am doing a little bit of both along with world music,” José said.
In addition to blending varying beats and sounds from different time periods and cultures, José infuses his music with a delightful mix of real life experiences and inventive (sometimes didactic) storytelling as is the case with “Matapalo Matamusa.” “I infuse a lot of different experiences in that song (‘Matapalo Matamusa’). I’ve been going to Costa Rica for years. I love the story of trees. I love to be in Nature and it gives me energy, José said. “Some people go to church, and I go to nature. So there is this tree that is a strangler fig tree and it’s a beautiful tree. It’s just so powerful and vicious. And it’s ruthless but so is nature.”
“Sometimes in life, it happens that someone will get near you who may not be the best for your longevity, somebody that can bring you down, and sometimes there is a leader like this that coddles people just like the Matapalo. And what this leader or person is actually doing is strangling them and tying a noose around them. I just went off on this story… part of it is being a songwriter…”
An important part of José’s musicality is not taking himself too seriously and allowing himself to indulge in his senses. “The song ‘El Vestido’ came from nature and really, it’s una pecadilla cubana. El vestido es una flor. It looks just like a flower upside down and I’m a honeybee. So, it’s a sexy pecadilla. It came from being Cuban, enthused by a beautiful dress (or many beautiful dresses).”
“Every song arrives differently. I think the worst songs are those where you sit down and decide, ‘I’m going to write a song.’ Some come out of lyrical ideas that I have on a plane or on a bus or on a subway. I find it better to write while I am moving and I am just leaving my thoughts, my quotidian thoughts, somewhere else. If I get a musical idea, I used to call my answering machine, I don’t do that now, now I call my Blackberry and I will actually have a backlog of ideas.”
Even though José is in the middle of promoting his new album, touring, and maintaining his record label, he is still ready for more. “Now I am getting ready to start writing for some other projects. I have to sit there and listen to everything I left on my Blackberry, go through notes that I made randomly…it’s all over the place, but that’s sort of beautiful in a way. No matter how digitized things become, I am still where I was 20 years ago, you know, with little papelitos por ahi por alla. I really get inspired sometimes and I just let it sit. I milk as much as I can and let it sit and then I am a real revisionist. Then when everything is written, I’ll go to studio and start recording.”
José Cónde is a musical magician and it seems like he still has some surprising tricks in his hat. He is constantly creating and working to craft music from unexpected sources and unknown places. With all the musical experimentation Cónde does, he pauses when he thinks while thinking about what kind of music would make him feel a little intimidated. “Avant-garde jazz… No, not really, if I want to approach it I do. I am foolishly blind…or fearless.”
Watch José Cónde’s music video for “El Avión” from his new self-titled album below.