composer . arranger . guitar player . vocalist . producer
Let me tell you the stories behind my music... “Spice Road” is a project made by two good friends: Anthony Jonathan Richter and me, Yoni Vidal. For us, life is music and music is passion… Photo: Patricia Bouquillon Our first meeting was in Singapore at Fabrice’s World Music bar in March 1998. Toni Richter was member of the club and a formal customer for two years. I was the lead guitar player of the Spanish band “MATADOR” which had been touring in the region for a few years. One day, playing the flamenco tune from Paco de Lucia “Entre dos agues,” I drew his attention. He asked to meet me and quickly we discovered that we had the same passion: music. Toni and I became very good friends. Spice Road In the summer of the same year we decided to go together on holiday across Spain. Toni was a Spanish history lover and I, as a Spaniard, knew my country quite well. For two weeks we travelled, visiting Castilla Leon and his rich historical roads and monuments, the caves in Atapuerta, “el camino de Santiago”, in Galicia – my own little village Mezquita, in Madrid – the Prado museum, the “corral de la Moreria” and his sensual flamenco show, Puerta del Sol, Cibeles, Toledo and his monuments, the Tajo and the old capital of Spain, Castilla-la Mancha across Don Quijote and Sancho Panza roads, the wind mills… Photo: Patricia Bouquillon My return to Belgium after so many years travelling was a mixture between the joy of coming back and the regret to see that part of my Asian life was going to be over after a phone call alerting me that my Asian company had collapsed.I travelled so much those four years: Singapore, Jakarta, Bali, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Sri Lanka, Maldives, but also Mauritius, Gabon, Morocco, USA… I learned so many things, heard a lot of music, new instruments, new sounds, met so many people, lived so many adventures… I had to do something, I had to use all those memories, those stories, those countries, those situations, those feelings…I had to compose some music from all the things that inspired me, that I lived, that I felt…
A cd project was on my mind for a long time. I had to create music, where I would try to bring the atmosphere of all the cultures that I loved so much. For three months I lived like a recluse at my parents house, in a room transformed into a studio, with my ten guitars around me, my pictures, my memories just facing a music sheet, composing with the idea to do a record project which might be called “Eurasia”. I wanted to mix my Spanish guitar and influences with Asian instruments. Toni, who was in Singapore, and completely involved in the project, became my co-producer.
After spending a lot of time on the phone, we decided that each one of us would buy the same hard disc recording system. One would be in Europe, the other in Singapore and I’d travel with a memory disc from one point to the other with the datas. Miguel Augusto, my cousin and sound engineer, recommended me good microphones and showed me how to do a good take. I studied the manual of the VS 1680 from Roland for weeks. I learn also how to use a score editing program. All it all, it takes me around a month to be ready to start the recording. I started the demos.
Toni said that we should have a nice story on this cd. After checking, we noticed that the name “Eurasia” was already used by someone else. Toni, the genius, came with a brilliant idea. Knowing my music, my life, my trips and my passion for oriental and mid-oriental music we decided to call the CD “Spice Road”. The music and the arrangement should carry the listener to some of those great countries on this antique road.
First I did a cd with 6 tracks. I start recording the drums played by Victor Gonzalez in an old bunker from the army in Grevenbroich (Germany) that we transformed in a studio. In one afternoon it was done. After that, a lot of musicians helped me for the other instruments. I laid down my guitars on the tracks and the tunes start to show what they would look like… it was an exciting experience…
Sometimes, I dream music. In my dreams I hear the melody, the chords, and the arrangement. What is hard is to wake up in the middle of the night at 4 a.m to find my old “Panasonic” tape recorder. Two nights before bringing my tracks to my cousin to do a raff mix, I dreamed about Noor…Noor was a belly dancer from Egypt who I meet in Sri Lanka where both of us were part of a show. In my dream, she was dancing to beautiful “Hispano-Arabic” music.
The following morning I remembered it, so I programmed the backing and recorded in 3 hours the demo with parts of guitars and parts of midi files. This music was sounding good to me, so I added it to the others demos. Miguel mixed the six tracks and few weeks later, I was on my way to Singapore. Toni was very satisfied and happy with the demos. He likes the music a lot. We started to think how we could improve the tunes. I thought about bringing together five people. I just wanted to show the music to them and ask for their comments and suggestions.
The final word had been given by a musician and a friend, and probably one of the guitar players that I admire the most for his skill, his musicality, his kindness, and his humanity—Stephane Martini. When we went back to Brussels, Toni and I gave him the demos. 3 days after, he gave me his comments. He wrote 5 full pages of interesting comments about my harmony, my arrangements, and my sound, giving me interesting advise about how to improve the tunes, generously sharing his great knowledge about instrumental music.
Finally, I had everybody’s comments and started the “final work”.In January 1999 I went to “Chapas studio” in Brussels. The owner, Javier Puertas, was with me in Asia as second guitar player in the Matador band. His studio was close to the Brussels south station “la gare du Midi”. The drums were recorded by Victor Gonzalez who played already in the demos and the bass was by Serge Dacosse. Two days after, a part of the bones of “Spice Road” were done.
The European part of the work was going well. For the following months, many musician friends helped me once again. Dino Palumbo and his magic “Rhodes piano”, Fabian Facci a synthesizer genius, an accordionist—the mystic percussionist Siavac, Fred Malempré at miscellaneous word percussions, the “Castañuelas from Emilio”, André Mewis at the keyboard and many more…
My second trip to Singapore was around mid November of the same year. While I was on the plane, it wasn’t yet clear to me how to use the traditional Asian instruments and blend them with the others in the context of the album. Also, I had to face another problem; I didn’t have enough music to achieve a complete album…
Toni’s “Trax Studio” is in the middle of the Singaporean’s Chinatown. 9b Pagoda Street to be exact. I was at the right place and at the right moment to get inspired by the typical Asian atmosphere! I stayed there for two and a half months.
My hotel -a nice little Chinese house- was only 200 meters from the offices of my artistic agency “Aria Artists International”. I was recording late at nights. Toni was there almost every night. He loved it. Outside, the tropical air was carrying to my window the smells of curry and chilly from the local food courts and incense from the Indian temple that was around the corner.
Singapore is a great city, very involved in its traditions but also as terribly modern as any other occidental big city. The most famous street is Orchard road…
Photo: Patricia Bouquillon
ORCHARD LIGHTS I remember the first time that I went there. It was Thursday of May 1994. Just after landing, my colleagues and I took a cab from Changui airport to Jalan Lada Puteh (“our” street for the following four months) and crossed that big avenue. I was so surprised! Singapore no longer appeared as it did in the old movies: with little streets and Chinese citizens dressed in traditional clothing, carrying carriages or riding everywhere on their bicycles… It was a modern city, definitely more than the one that I left 15 hours ago, Brussels, the heart of Europe! Singapore was in front of me with her big avenues, buildings, shopping centers, gardens, and hotels. What drew my attention most was the music. We could listen to American and traditional music everywhere…I’ve been on Orchard road many times. In fact, Fabrice’s world music bar was located in the basement of the “Dynasty hotel” which was in the middle of the avenue. The Singaporeans, the tourists, Orchard Road, the lights, the music – all of it inspired “Orchard Lights”.
BOAT SONG One day Toni told me that we should add a traditional Asian song to “Spice Road”. “Boat song” is an Indonesian-Chinese song very well known in the region. In the original version, the song is a love story between a man and a woman. The man is on a boat on his way to the woman while he sings for her. In my version, we just change the situation a bit in that way where she instead goes to him. I conceived the arrangement in two parts.
The first: with a clear Chinese atmosphere and repetition: with a more accentuated Spanish harmony. In my version I was looking for an exotic sound that would please and relax the listener. The “Er hu” is a traditional Chinese violin; the sweet voice of them sounds wonderful in this context.
We really tried to take care of all the details. One evening, Toni and I went to the ocean shore, in Marina bay just to record the sound of the waves for the intro of our “Boat song”. A few days after, we recorded the “Er hu”. Now the problem was where to found one “Er Hu”-player? I didn’t know anyone…Janice, Toni’s assistant, decided to call the Chinese orchestra of Singapore.
A young Singaporean, 18 years old, long hair, extremely skinny, wearing blue jeans and a white T shirt walked into the studio. I doubted him. I gave him the score and a can of coke. He asked me for a music stand for the scores and then he wrote numbers under the notes. I didn’t want to say anything to Toni but I think that he was also sceptic about him. The studio is divided in two by a big soundproof glass, like most studios.
The difference is that here, it wasn’t simply a window but almost a complete transparent wall made by 4 huge pieces glass. When he started to play the melody, my eyes and my ears couldn’t believe what was happening. God, what an exquisite sound, coming from that instrument; it was like the music was coming from nowhere, would appear to you, and leave you breathless…
The “Er Hu” has been recorded on “Boat Song” and “Galician sunset” by Goh Cher Yen. For the vocal we called Diana, whose voice is as sweet as her beauty. She did just two takes and we chose the favourite. The result? Listen. You’ll be amazed…
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Robert Nalim, a Singaporean with Indian roots and a great drummer and percussionist, understood how important it was to mix instruments that aren’t very often played together.
He was completely involved in this project and came with nice ideas about the Indian “Pot”, the Indonesian “Anklongs”, the Chinese drums, and the “Gong”. It was like he was sculpting the sound…
Let me just say that I’m proud of the “Boat Song”. It proves that the mixture of cultures—of sounds—can give beautiful results when you play it from the heart …
We decided to use the song “Querer” from the show “Cirque du Soleil”. The music was like a mixture between Habanera, tango and Portuguese Fado. After receiving the right to use it, I rearranged it for “Spice Road”.
My idea was to keep the habanera rhythm – the style exported from the Spanish colonies – and mix it with Asian instruments. The Indian “pot” was for me an obvious choice. Mario (Bass) and Alina (Piano) from Mexico gave a bit of their “latin feel”. For the voice we chose Ivy Cabdulan. Beside the fact that Ivy has a diamond in her voice, she is also from Philippines, an ex-Spanish colony. Maria was also from there and played her violin in the strings section. A song sung by a Philippines singer isn’t only symbolic but was also an opportunity for the concept of the album which was basically to mix Spanish and Asian influences together. For the accordion, I asked one of the best players that I knew: Fabian Facci from Italy.
RUMBITA INDIA In “Rumbita india” I was looking for a party feeling, just carrying on having fun and enjoying the rumba with the musicians. One day, Navim, my other percussionist, came with his tabla master Sayam Sunder from Delhi (India). He was in Singapore doing master classes and Navim was his pupil. I was talking with Navim about what the best pattern would be for the song. The master gave us his precious advice. After few minutes, Navim offered to his teacher to play on the record. He accepted it! The teacher really enjoyed the tune and shared a bit of his art with us. Of course, I recorded it! Mario played the bass, Alina the keyboard part, Robert the “pot” and I, of course, played the guitars.
One month later Toni and I had a meeting with the F&B manager from the “Westin Stanford Singapore”, the highest hotel in the world. My manager, Toni, was discussing my future two week gig of Latin jazz at “Sunset Bar”, the famous jazz club of the hotel. While we were talking, my attention was drawn by an incredible sound. Behind us, on the stage, a bold man—maybe 35 years old—was playing on a grand piano the strangest scales I had probably ever heard. His right hand was going up in one key while the left hand was going down half a tone up from the other key…
After finishing the meeting, I went to talk to this weird musician. His name was Patrick Pennefather, composer and obviously a great musician. He explained to me that he was travelling with his wife Sheela – the singer of “Saltimbamco”, a show of “Cirque du Soleil” at that time in Singapore. They were from Toronto and he told me that all the artists from the circus were in this hotel. They allowed him to rehearse at the grand piano of the club during the daytime. Patrick was also a clown, but now his activity was to compose for modern dance shows or for airlines companies. I saw him several times the following days. As we were talking, he explained to me that he went to improvisation classes in Canada, classes that I did also with Garret Liest at the Liège (Belgium) conservatorium. I proposed that he record at the “Sunset bar” one improvisation. One day, I brought to the club the material, micros, recorder, and cables and did the setting… Patrick used the grand piano and I used something different: the electric guitar with an “E-bow”. “E-bow” is an electro-magnet that creates a magnetic field that—placed at a precise angle from the strings—produces a smooth and warm sound like a flute. We recorded 23 min of “limitless” improvised music. I closed my eyes and imagined being on a Balinese beach, my hands free to play any sound they like. Patrick’s notes where falling like raindrops over my heat, refreshing my creation. After a selection of the best moment of that session “Bali Mystique” was born…
photo: Patricia Bouquillon
ENTIENDO Entiendo means “I understand” in Spanish, and is a homage to the passion of my life, the guitar. I didn’t “compose” this song; my guitar gave it to me. It’s like a present from god; another way to communicate. The particularity of this tune is the arpeggio which requires all five fingers of my right hand. Some one asked me once: “Why would you did you play an arpeggio in this way?”
I replied “Well, I have five fingers in each hand, no? Then why shouldn’t I use them?” I used two guitars to record this tune. For the arpeggio, Toni’s guitar (a Pedregosa) was perfect; that guitar has body and incredible bass. I played the melody with my own guitar. Robert came after to create with the “anklongs” (Indonesian percussions) and the pot what is a simple but beautiful mood. Close your eyes, listen, and imagine that at sunset you arrive to the beautiful site of Petra in Jordania after a long trip on horses …
MEZQUITA This was one of the pieces I composed first. I was looking for a nice groovy rumba with a bit of a funky sound. Like the others, first I did a demo, then after correction, I recorded the final drums, bass, keyboards, percussions and guitars. The first time that I listened to this track, it was nice but I noticed that something was missing. I had to add something more “world music” to this arrangement.I thought about a male voice that would do some flamenco vocals just for the atmosphere. I knew just one person that would understand perfectly what I was looking for: Miguel Angel Garcia, a Spanish singer of the “MATADORS” which was my band in Asia for five years. Miguel was now the owner of a nice flamenco club in Brussels. I went one Sunday morning to his bar with a microphone and my digital recorder. He was tired because he sang and worked in his club until late the night before, but that wasn’t a problem for him. In 10 min, in one corner of the club, with one headset and a microphone, he gave his voice to my music. I composed it into my wonderful little Spanish village in Galicia, “MEZQUITA”.
RITMO LATINOThe cd was finally mixed when Tony told me that we might have more of a chance to be on the radio if I could compose a nice, smooth song. My problem was how to insert a more commercial tune into a world music cd while respecting the idea of the guitar revisiting the ancient spice trade route… I found the solution in my memories. One of the biggest frustrations in my life was never to share the beautiful countries I’ve seen with the woman I loved. I would write lyrics around my story, my trips, discovering wonderful things but unfortunately, always alone.
Sitar for Indian atmosphere, even a nice and smooth bugle solo by my talented friend “Pierre Malempré;” I tried to put the ingredients to fit in the mood of the rest of the cd. Dino did a wonderful playing with his Rhodes piano. I also called Adrien Verderame, a very talented musician, who very kindly played drums and bass on the track. For the first time on the album I used three different types of guitar together: steel strings guitar, electric guitar and Spanish guitar. Sophie sang on the chorus and then finally, I recorded my voice. To add a bit of mystique to the song I added few sentences from a peaceful and positive Buddhist prayer at the end, before the Spanish guitar solo.
TURQUOISE LOVE NOTES Turkey is a fascinating country. Its story, its traditions, its food and of course its music. Turkey’s participation in the spice road’s history makes Turkey one of the most incredible countries I’ve ever been. I’ve been there several times and of course I also met musicians from there, such as Denis Chackar, a diplomat from the Turkish embassy in Singapore and also a great friend who piqued my curiosity by showing me bites of her culture. One day, she gave me a cd from “Erkan Ogur,” an amazing Turkish guitar player and composer, that I would meet 2 years later in Rotterdam thanks to two other friends. One is Husna, a traditional “Ottoman” singer and her ex husband, Tan, singer, musician and composer. Husna sang the mid and final part in Turquoise with a kind of vocal improvisation that sounds like an instrument. For the percussions, Siavach -the Iranian percussionist- created an interesting and rich atmosphere. this mystic fellow is the kind of man that goes to live with the touaregs in the middle of the desert just to learn how to play “darbuka” like them…. I must also give credit to Emilio the flamenco dancer teacher from the school “Los Mimbrales” in Brussels who very kindly accepted to play “castañuelas” on this track. Dino Palumbo played the Rhodes piano that we recorded in his nightclub “La Notte” one cold evening in Liège. I don’t play “saes” the Turkish guitar, so I tried to recreate that sound with a mixture of Spanish guitar and a mandolin. I’ve been several times to Turkey. What is certain is that I love that country: its music, its rich culture, its wonderful people.
ARABIA Arabia is a song inspired by a woman: Noor. She was belly dancer and I meet her a longtime ago in Asia. I saw her in my dreams with her long red hair and her beautiful smile, dancing with her sexy costume to a beautiful music which I recorded the following morning. On the final version, at the beginning of the song, the Arabic feel is given first by Zora Thasi who is the mother of my talented friends from Morocco, “PANACHE CULTURE”, a reggae band. That charismatic, wonderful woman kindly lent a bit of sunshine with her voice to the intro and the middle section. I recorded her in the living room of her house in five minutes. I didn’t give her any directions, she just started when she felt the urge and as far as I’m concerned it was perfect. Fabian Facci played the Arabic intro on his “trinity” keyboard, also from his house one nice spring afternoon. It only took the first take. He was very inspired. Maybe some of his cigarettes were boosted by some special mixture…Anyway, often the first impression is best so I kept it and I love it. For the percussion I was looking for a genuine sound. Siavach the Iranian percussionist came with a lot of little instruments. The ground of my studio was looking like a mini market on a Sunday morning! Darbuka, bendir and miscellaneous little percussions were recorded to recreate a real Arabo-Andalousian sound. When I finally recorded my guitars, my head was spinning while I was playing. The excitement to hear what you create is great and the adrenaline high. The beautiful Noor was dancing in my head…may be one day she’ll hear it and dance to it. Who knows…?
Arabia, Spice Road by Yoni Vidal – live, Rex Theater Wuppertal, 2007
CONCLUSION”Spice road” is the result of five years work, a lot of joy, but also a lot of frustration, but among it all, a wonderful human adventure, a dream that comes true. It was long and hard work that I never could have achieved without the help of all my musician friends and my family which was always by my side at anytime, as well as Miguel Augusto who has always been there to share a lot of problems and of course a lot of solutions too! But among them, my thanks go to A.J. Richter my friend, my mentor and my co-producer who helped me and gave me the strength to do this enormous work. Things were much easier when we are working together Toni… Today my goal is to promote my music, my shows and my cd. Check it out, I’ll try to bring it as far as possible, maybe close to you. It would be nice to meat each other…