Will Quantic Holland talks about his move to Cali and the funky, latin grooves of his Combo Barbaro

By 11 June, 2010

Over the course of many different monikers and using an assortment of styles and rhythms Will Holland has established himself as a producer (and musician) capable of marrying modern production and beat-making with a classic sound. His first albums, recorded as Quantic, saw him mixing soul, funk, samba and jazz, resulting in tracks that could fit on the dancefloor just as well as they could on a jazz compilation or listened to at home. During this period he would also start recording as Quantic Soul Orchestra, which was more of a band than a producer-led project. They would gain a huge following thanks to spirited live performances and became the best-selling artist on the Tru Thoughts label.

The final Quantic Soul Orchestra album was recorded in Colombia and featured Peruvian pianist Alfredo Linares. In some ways this could be seen as the next stage in the world of Will Holland. Since moving to Colombia he has recorded as Quantic Presenta Flowering Inferno, a lush dub and reggae project, and Quantic and his Combo Barbaro, where he would explore latin grooves and would once again team up with Linares. We spoke to Will about this project and how he has found life in Colombia:

First off, what attracted you to Colombia, and in particular, Cali?
A good friend of mine and music writer Beto Gyemant and I travelled there together. I have a friend in New York, a Caleño, and he was always hounding me to go there: “Man, you have to check the records there”. So I’d sort of heard about it [Cali], a spot in Colombia where Salsa became very popular very quickly and groups of DJs and music lovers regularly held events playing and trading rare Afro-Antillian music from Cuba, Puerto Rico, New York & Venezuela. Around 2006 I met Beto down there and stayed with my friend’s grandfather. We spent a week there visiting different record dealers across the city and hangin out with local musicians, that was when I met with Freddy and Alfredo who now play and travel in my band.

Was there a particular style of Colombian music that, off the bat, appealed to you?
The first song that switched me on to Colombian music was ‘Cumbia en Do Menor’ by Lito Barrientos (Incidentally from El Salvador). I had spent extensive amounts of time looking for records in different parts of Puerto Rico, there I discovered all kinds of new sounds, Plena from Puerto Rico, Haitian Compas, New York Latin Jazz and Cumbia and Porro from Colombia & Venezuela. Cumbia was instantly appealing as it had a more steady, downtempo rhythm than salsa, Porro also got my attention because of the loud & fancy snare work in most songs and quantity of horns involved.

Could you tell us how the Combo Bárbaro idea came about? What was the genesis of the band/record?
The Combo Bárbaro is a group made up of musicians I met in Colombia and Panama. I wanted to make a record that was directly influenced by the variety of popular music in Latin America. Up until then I’d recorded Latin music and alot of Soul music both in live and sampled form, but I wanted to make the Combo a live band playing a combination of Funk, Latin and more symphonic sounds, like a mixture of records I like from Panama, Colombia and Brazil’s heyday. The catalyst for the record was having Malcolm Catto come over from the UK and record a weeks worth of sessions with me and several key Cali musicians, including Alfredo Linares.

It seems that Cali has stolen Alfredo Linares too. How did you find that guy and how was it like working with him?
Alfredo spent alot of his early life moving around Latin America performing, fulfilling different contracts with Bars and Record Labels. Like many musicians in that era, he moved to Caracas [Venezuela] where there were alot of recording opportunities and worked with Billo there for some time, he also worked for a time in Argentina and New York. Alfredo got a contract in Bogota to play Bossa Nova, I think that was when he moved. Eventually, when Cali really hit the Salsa/Narco boom in the 80s, he moved to Cali to play often 2 or 3 presentations a night. Alfredo earned his Salsa royalty whilst in his late teens, recording for Peru’s Mag label, he was resident pianist and arranger for many recordings, mostly uncredited, but you can hear the attack, the Alfredo attack! I learnt of Alfredo’s work through some of those early recordings and later was introduced to him by my friend Beto. The first material we recorded together was for the Quantic Soul Orchestra record ‘Tropidelico’.

I also have to ask you about Arthur Verocai, who’s getting a fair bit of attention at the moment. How did the collaboration begin for the album, how did you find out about him?
I was switched on to Arthur by my photographer friend B+, he had been working on a film called Brasilintime and got to know Arthur through research for it. I’d been a fan of Arthur’s solo record and was keen to have him try out a few scores on some of the tracks I had recorded in Cali. We pretty much interacted by email until I travelled down to Rio and Sao Paulo to record, it was an amazing experience, he’s one of the true masters of our time.

It strikes me that the album doesn’t really seem to fit easily in any one category. There’s so much more than Colombian influences on the record. When I hear Alfredo Linares I think of Puerto Rico (maybe because I have listened to too much Willie Colon), then there’s Verocai’s arrangements which add some 70s Schifrin steeliness to some of the songs, not to mention the Indian singing on one of the tracks. How did this sound come about? Was it always going to be like this or did ideas just come along as the record progressed?
I’m always asked to classify my sound, a difficult task as its often something that naturally takes form as the record progresses. The main thing is to record the rhythm tracks, like a Motown or Reggae record; drums, bass, guitar and piano. After that’s done, you really can take a record in a number of different directions, as long as you have good rhythm tracks. That’s why reggae works so well in my opinion, because you can make 3, 4 different versions of the same backing tape. During the creative process of Tradition in Transition, there were certain tracks that spoke out more and were more obvious to construct musically, there were others that were more troublesome. Often the making of a record doesn’t have a logical narrative, I mean on the page that is, it’s further complicated by traveling with a laptop. Where as in latter day recordings, you’d make do with the musical talent associated with your studio or band, these days you can travel wherever and record whoever, so you can imagine you can get distracted!! My flight paths for 2008 might reveal more about the making of this record than anything.

How has the transition been for you from making music in the UK to now making it in Cali? I mean this question in terms of the people you are working with, i.e. musicians, as well as just the general feel of the place? Is there more of a scene/vibe in Cali that lends itself better to making music? Is there more of a connection with folkoric music?
I imagine that when someone comes to the UK from outside, they are aware of a vibe, its hard to see it when you live there, but it is there. Equally, when I first moved to Cali, I was struck by a sort of Troipcal Urban enviroment with lots of musical nooks and crannies to explore. As time goes on, you get more culturally climatised, so it gets harder to keep switched on to things. Creatively, it is a goldmine, Colombians are blessed with a talent for musicality and expression, unrivaled in some ways. Cali saw a massive boom in the 80s, a demand for salsa orchestras and bands to play all the night clubs, country clubs and fancy mansions. Sadly, in Cali today, you do struggle to see that quantity of bands play, it has all been downsized. However, that means there are alot of talented musicians kicking their heels, perfect for an opportunist producer like myself.

I understand you also have an analog set-up. Have you always preferred analog equipment to digital, what was the rationale for this choice?
I’ve always had an analog set up in some capacity or at least a two track tape machine, right from the start of making music. I’ve used a mixture of Digital and Analog technology to get my sound, in Colombia, due to cheaper rent more than anything! I’ve been able to record more and more with Tape Machines as I have the space I’d never be able to afford to rent in the UK. Both digital and Analog have their merits in my opinion. There are things you can do in half an hour with Pro Tools that might take you three days with a Tape Machine. I believe that the tape sound gives, retains and often accentuates some of the wonderful things about live music, like harmonic distortion, tremolo, dynamic range, attack and decay. But the tape machine also rarely lies, it requires a higher level of musicianship usually and a certain degree of professional awareness in the room. Like developing photos, stop frame animation or film making, the technology allows you time to think and consider the process as you go along, there is also a certain amount of decision making that needs to be done there and then in order to move forward.

I know the band are playing in England soon. Really looking forward to catching it in London. What are the general plans for Combo Bárbaro? Will there be another album?
Yes, I plan to be working on another studio album later this year.

And also, is there some kind of film around at the moment? I’ve seen a trailer for Tradition in Transition but can’t find any other reference to a DVD.
Yes, we made and screened a short film about Cali and finishing the Combo Barbaro record. We’re looking to do a few more shorts before releasing it on DVD. We’ll hopefully be showing the film at some of the summer shows.

Tradition in Transition: A Postcard from Cali (TRAILER) from Quantic on Vimeo.

Quantic & his Combo Bárbaro @ the Echoplex, LA from Quantic on Vimeo.

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