A Cuban musician in Istanbul, Yanssel Castellon
Cenk Erdem – ISTANBULIstanbul is being filled with music each and every moment and no matter whether it is the daytime or the night you can feel the multicultural variety and feelings in the air and on every street corner in the city.
There is always the potential to meet a musician from any culture in Istanbul, yet it is still surprising to encounter a big Latin Cuban Orchestra right in the city under the leadership of a talented musician from Cuba, Yanssel Castellon.
Castello finds inspiration in Istanbul and the reason he stays here is simply a story of love.
Born in Havana, Castellon has roots with talented musicians in his family and he came up with his band Los Amigos using acoustic instruments to bring a traditional feeling of original Cuban music, though he also presents a very rich Latin music repertoire with his band in his shows too.
Leading the one and only original Latin Cuban Orchestra in Turkey, he is passionate about bass and he believes that bass guitar gives a clear direction to others in the band too. I had a chance to get to know him and singer/bassist Castellon spoke about his very original love story which connects him to Istanbul. I also had a chance to ask him about how he described Cuban music and what was next for the band. Castellon also defined the inspiration he gets from Istanbul.
It has been almost five years since you came to Istanbul. How did you come up with a brand new story in Turkey?
I had these proposals for some job opportunities in Turkey and Italy… Meanwhile one of my friends told me how Turkey’s such a beautiful country and I took my chance on Turkey. Although the story starts with a career opportunity in Turkey, it goes further with a love story. I met İlksen on a Latin night gig and that’s just before I planned to go back, but I didn’t hesitate at all after falling in love and I stayed.
You were born into a musician family. Can you tell about the famous star in the family nicknamed “The Magic Flute?”
A: Richard Egües, nicknamed “The Magic Flute,” is one of the most successful and popular musicians of Cuba as a flautist. He composed today’s classics of Cuba such as danzon and cha cha cha pieces. He was a very busy musician but I and my dad used to watch his shows every time he came to Cuba and he was a great flautist. Once he said to me, “I feel it, you are going to be a great musician; you got that energy.”
You chose to be a musician just like your father and he was your teacher in a way. How would you describe the ambiance in your childhood at home?
He was not only my first teacher but also my idol. He was such a great teacher and musician composing and making arrangements. The music my father did was basically tangos and a wide variety of Latin music. In our house we used to listen to World music too besides all the Latin music. I had a chance to know older talented musicians and had so many experiences. I was only 15 years old when I had my first stage experience together with some of them and I was on the percussions.
How do you describe the role of music in your life?
Music is such a passion and I’m in love with music. Throughout the years of conservatory music was my one and only love. I was just like turning off the world and giving myself to music all the time. I was just reading notes and trying the play the bass in my mind all the time, at the school, on my way home, on the road and at every moment.
I have a strong connection with music and I can correct anything wrong around myself with the help of music, I just feel like I repair the things around [through music]. And although we don’t speak the same language in Turkey, I can feel the same emotions and joy together with the audience with the help of this strong connection. I’m trying to give them a message like: “Be happy, fall in love, relax and feel free.”
How do you describe your project in Istanbul as a singer, bassist and Cuban musician?
I love to sing so much but I feel lost and lonely without playing bass and even I may lose the melody. Bass guitar gives a beautiful sound; it’s strong and it leads the other instruments. As long as we have bass I feel secure and sing in a very relaxed way. Our band consists of Cuban musicians [who] all live in Istanbul but when it comes to [the Latin Cuban] Orchestra I try to get some Turkish musicians together. Once I said if we could make it, the band would be full of the best Latin musicians of Turkey. And it still is.
We have so many talented musicians in Turkey who can’t read music, what about your tradition?
Of course we have some too. For instance, our traditional music “son” is music created by these types of musicians who can’t read music but play by ear. And the traditional music son has been transmitted through this way. Honestly our tradition began with those musicians. Musical education came into the scene way after the revolution in Cuba.
Cuban music and Latin music associate with more of a happy sound in my mind. How do you describe your traditional music?
It’s not all about [a] happy sound. There is some sad music with the feeling of nostalgia too. For instance, a beautiful bolero, “Dos Gardenias,” is a romantic, melancholic song and it tells about love. But the other types like son, cha cha cha, merengue [and] cumbia are more energetic and fun just because they include rich rhythmical variety and percussion. When it comes to lyrics, they include metaphors; some are funny and positive but sometimes lyrics are political and socially conscious. All of them are just about life.
Finally, as a musician born in Havana, how do you describe the inspiration you get from Istanbul as a city?
For me being in Istanbul still feels like a dream. If we compare Cuba and Turkey, they are totally different cultures. But I feel like there are so many common aspects between two. Cuba is a key country in the Caribbean region and Turkey is a key country between Asia and Europe. Istanbul feels like it includes all the essence of different cultures. I can feel a complete essence of Europe in Istanbul sometimes and sometimes I can feel Latin America too. Istanbul is resourceful and it is open to anything anytime. In fact your culture with the darbuka drum feels close to our culture with rumba. Havana and Istanbul are so different in a cultural sense indeed but it also feels so close in some ways. All these are very inspiring while trying to write the music I dream of.