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Harold Lopez-Nussa: from Havana to Indianapolis

Fernando Rodriguez By

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This interview was translated from Spanish.

Harold Lopez-Nussa's music reflects the full range and richness of Cuban music, with its distinctive combination of classical, folk and popular elements, as well as its embrace of jazz improvisation and interaction. His trio was invited to play at this year's Indy Jazz Fest in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Lopez-Nussa was born into a musical family in Havana on July 13, 1983, and still lives in the city's Vedado neighborhood. He has French ancestry on his grandmother's side. His family included many musicians: his father, Ruy Francisco Lopez-Nussa (percussion), his uncle Ernán Lopez-Nussa (piano), his brother Ruy Lopez-Nussa (drums), and his mother, Mayra Torres, who was a piano teacher.

Lopez-Nussa discussed growing up in a musical family in Cuba to his upcoming performance at the 2018 Indy Jazz Fest at Jazz Kitchen (see calendar below).

All About Jazz: Tell us a little about yourself?

Harold López-Nussa: I am a Cuban musician and I came from a family of musicians. My mother was a piano teacher and my father a drummer. I have been a soloist for more than ten years and I have tried to learn every day from the different experiences of life and music. My music is categorized as "Cuban Jazz."

AAJ: How long have you been interested in music?

HLN: I grew up listening to music and living it, not only with my parents. My family is full of musicians and the neighborhood where I was born, Centro Habana, as well; there I listened to all kinds of music on the radio, in the religious acts, at the street parties... In the small apartment where I was born I remember that we had the dining room table and the piano in the same room and just upstairs, my parents' bed and my dad's drum kit. Every morning, my dad lifted the mattress from the floor and set up his drums. So although I started studying music at the age of eight, I have lived music my entire life.

AAJ: The López-Nussa family is very well known in jazz, what can you share about your uncle Ernán, and your brother Ruy?

HLN: The greatest influence of my brother and mine comes from my uncle Ernan and my father Ruy. We have learned a lot from them, especially to love and respect music. Every day they have been aware of everything we do and every day they have sage advice for us that is always very spot on. I really do not believe that my brother and I would be where we are today had it been with a different family. It has really been a determining factor in our training. Our mother, grandmother and even those who are not musicians have always been living music with us and supporting us at all times.

AAJ: You play and dabble in various genres. Are there preferences? How do you get to jazz?

HLN: Well, I had a strong background in classical music. It is what is studied in school in Cuba and there I learned a lot. Then when I was about eighteen years old I experimented with other types of music, like Cuban music, pop, or jazz. I was fortunate to have the support of my family and my friends, from whom I also learned a lot. And in those years I was playing popular dance music with several orchestras in Cuba, with singers, etc... At first it was very difficult for me because I came from the classical world where everything is written on paper and the idea of not having everything written made me uncomfortable. Especially jazz, which is music where surely the role of improvisation has a much greater importance. The idea of improvising terrified me and it is curious because today it is precisely what I like the most. Improvise, change, be in constant risk of mistakes. Not knowing exactly what is going to happen is very exciting!

AAJ: What motivates and informs your music? How do you combine the wide range and richness of Cuban music with jazz?

HLN: The personal experiences, the trips, the different cities, the different musicians and musics that we are getting to know. But above all things Cuba and especially Havana is the place that inspires me the most: Its streets, people, friends, problems, parties, music everywhere. The everyday life from there. We have learned Cuban music and jazz on "the street" as we say there. We did not have an education at school about jazz or Cuban music. There we studied classical composers and especially instrumental technique. Then what we have done, the musicians of my generation, has been to find a way to combine what we learned in school with the rest that we are learning on our own. The mix between Cuban music and jazz has been instilled for a long time and it is a very strong brotherhood. Simply everyone is finding their own way to do it.

AAJ: What musical concepts can a listener expect from your live performance?

HLN: There are many really and every time new concepts are incorporated, but what I love the most is energy—energy that we can create between us and hopefully the audience can take home. That is my goal, to try that the special moment that we are on the stage is also special for the public and can share with us the joy—that gives us always a special feeling be able to make our music.

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