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Entrevista Interview

Aleix Tobias:

“Music transforms us and gives us zest for life”

C

oetus is the collective project of 20 musicians, using folklore to understand the past and experiment in the present, in collaboration with artists such as Sílvia Pérez Cruz and Marina Rossell. Over the last 11 years they have made three albums and given many live performances, and they started their career with the support and participation of living legend Eliseo Parra. Now living in Pontós Convent, Coetus project leader Aleix Tobias also runs workshops and cultural events. How do you relate to traditional percussion? I started drumming when I was 16, a little late because there were no musicians in my family. When I was 20 I decided to go to Africa to carry on studying. Afterwards I went to Brazil and Turkey and I got into different drumming traditions all over the world. When was Coetus born? When Eliseo Parra asked me to play with him I started learning about the different drumming traditions in the Iberian Peninsula. And then one day I said to myself I’d like to put together several instruments that were generally played on their own to see what would come out of the mix. This was the origin of Coetus, and there was also a social idea at the base of it: as a Catalan person I felt I had a lot in common with the rest of the country despite the political attempt to tear us away. And when do you decide to create an orchestra? My intention was never to give concerts or record CDs but to share ideas. I had some songs recorded at home and invited people to come and listen to the new language I had come up with. On the first day 16 people came and since then the band has grown and developed. Except for three who went to live abroad, all of us have been here since that first day. Why did the Eliseo Parra phase finish? Eliseo left the band because he was 67 and he was tired of travelling so much. He believed it was about time for him to slow down.

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You are with Carles Dénia now. Yes. I felt sorry when Eliseo left because he was my mentor and I had learned a lot from him. Then I believed the only person who could substitute him was Carles Dénia, who knows the Iberian folklore so well. At the moment, we are reorganising the orchestra to adapt it to him. I see Coetus as a living being, as an organic band. You’re right, it’s not a usual band. It has to do with a community experience. When we meet up, the individuals are connected to the group. Everyone plays a role in the whole. It’s beautiful but difficult to balance at the same time. The orchestra is composed by around 20 musicians. Is it easy to work with such a big group? In general we all live and work easily together although every now and then something might happen that affects the group. Usually, though, everything flows quite well between us and we tend to be positive—we’ve been together for 11 years now, we are a family and the most important thing is that the music we make transforms us and gives us zest for life! Folk music is the basis of all of your records. We live in a very rich area regarding folklore, and I think that’s priceless. Folk music talks about people’s problems, it shows where we come from, explains our history and our vision of life. In the past music wasn’t thought for being played on stage—the farmer would sing a song while picking olives in the field to thank nature for them, and the most important thing is to remember and preserve that memory. This is Coetus’ main goal. You use very peculiar instruments, how do you choose them? We research those objects and tools that have become musical instruments when people needed to make music out of the things they had in hand. What’s Iberian percussion? Most of the Iberian folk music is played with an instrument and the voice. This basis can be amplified, but we hardly ever find different voices, polyphony, in our folklore. For instance, we take a song traditionally played in Asturias by a tambourine and a voice and we add a square drum from Salamanca and another drum from Mallorca to it. We experiment with the sound emerging from that combination. It’s a bit like cooking. In 2011 you travel to Brazil, where Martí Hosta films a documentary. We were on tour between Salvador da Bahia and São Paulo for 15 days and we felt amazingly welcome. Brazil has an incredible folklore and drumming tradition. In this sense, they are light years ahead of us. I completely disagree with the “third-world-countries” idea. Regarding rhythm Senegal is way ahead of us too. How can we retrieve all these folk songs? Thanks to private and public documents and recordings. The truth is that the interest on folklore has woken up late—around 1950s— and many things had already disappeared then. Much material has been lost forever. //

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