Marialy Pacheco: A Sunshine State of Mind
The aforementioned musicians represent the Cuban tradition from the 1930s to the early 1990s, but a newer generation of Cuban musicians, more specifically jazz inspired, has made its mark on the international stage and on Pacheco. She cites pianists Chucho Valdes, Roberto Fonseca and Gonzalo Rubalcaba as major influences. "Gonzalo still inspires me today. I have to be careful that I don't play too much like him," she says, laughing. Fonseca, Pacheco relates, was one of the people who guided her most when she started playing jazz, and his influence has left an indelible stamp. "I was very much inspired by him," says Pacheco. The close relationship Pacheco developed with Fonseca provided her with a source of inspiration, but it also posed a musical obstacle. "At some point, I got the feeling that I was starting to sound a little bit like him," she admits. "I think that when you start playing a style of music which is not what you've been used to, then it's really hard not to sound like those people you admire. But I always try to be honest and try not to sound like anyone else."
Pacheco formed a trio in Havana with bassist Ruy Lopez-Nussa (Harold's brother) and drummer Damian Nueva Cortes, but it was short lived, as the pianist left Cuba in 2004 for Germany. "I became more of a professional musician outside of Cuba. It was hard in Havana, but I think it was harder outside Cuba," says Pacheco. "In Havana, I had my family there. I had the comfort of having my mum and dad there to support me, and the little money I made in the jazz clubs I could put in my pocket. I didn't have to worry about rent or bills. I only had to worry about being brave and playing. When I went to Germany, it was a totally different world. You really have to think not only about playing but about getting enough income to support yourself. It was really hard, and I had bad times in Germany where I had no work at all. There were no gigs. People were telling me, 'No, we're fully booked. No, we can't. No, no, no.' I had no money at all," she says, laughing. "But it's like that; there are good times and bad times."
Pacheco however, toughed it out, and good times followed bad: "I thought I'd maybe stay for a year or two, but I ended up staying for five years." In that time, Pacheco recorded two trio albums, a solo album and a Latin jazz/pop album, Agua (Sony Classical, 2008) with Cuba Nova, which Pacheco describes as "a really beautiful project." As she looks back on her time in Germany, the balance for Pacheco is positive. "I miss it," she says. "I had bad times, but I also had really good times."
In 2009, Pacheco swapped the cold winters of Germany for the year-round sunshine of Brisbane, Australia, perhaps a surprising move on the surface. "I know, I know, everybody asks me why I'm not in New York. They don't like my passport there," she says ruefully. "I came to Brisbane because my partner is from Australia. We met in Germany, but he wanted to come back home, so I came here. It was a big risk, because he came here for work, but when I came here I had nothing, and I didn't know anyone."
Just prior to her move to Brisbane, Pacheco played a gig as guest soloist with guitarist Tommy Emmanuel in Hamburg. Pacheco recalls the great guitarist's advice. "Tommy said, 'You really need someone in Australia, because no matter how good you are you have to play, and if you don't know the right people you're going to stay at home." The early days in Brisbane were tough. "Oh boy, it was hard," recalls Pacheco. "The first six months, I had no work. I just stayed at home and practiced. Once I got in contact with Lyn [Irwin], it started to get easier because she knows so many people. She's highly respected here in Australia, and she's really helped me a lot to go ahead. It's getting better, and I love it here. It's beautiful.
Pacheco feels at home in Australia and finds many similarities between the Aussie and Cuban characters. "They are similar in so many ways. Cubans are very relaxed and easygoing as well. I think it comes from the sun. Both countries are hot the whole year, and this influences the character." Aussies are well known for their forthrightness and telling it like it is, a trait shared by the Cubans, but when it comes to music, Pacheco explains, there's a hard-edged honesty about Cubans, which may seem rather blunt to Aussies. "In Cuba, we have no fear about telling someone, 'You're not good enough.' I think that's why we're so goodbecause we're hard on ourselves as musicians. In Australia, the same as in Germany, they are more: 'Don't say that. Don't be too hard on the kid. He's not good enough, but he's a really nice person.' I'm there thinking, 'No, he sucks! He might be a really nice person, but he's not a good player.' That's it," Pacheco says, laughing.