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  P18 P18 Interview with Tom Darnal
 by An'So & Ju, APRIL 2003

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What does P18 mean?
- It means the 18th district of Paris or Patchanka. But we didn't really think about the name . In the beginning we worked really hard but we didn't want to think about a band name in terms of a marketing strategy. In fact, the story is that we simply put the name P18 on the cassettes we produced in the beginning. And then we stuck to it.

You released a first album called "Rumors of War" which you can hardly find today. What's the story of that album, which identifies fully with the Zapatist movement?
- It symbolizes two loves: one for the drum'n'bass and the other one for the Zapatist movement, which was new at that time. I went to the Chiapas in 1990 and in the beginning of 1994, three days after the riot. The poesy and content of their speech impressed me. The revolutionary movement as well, because they didn't have the possibility to fight armed like the red brigades. There is an Indian wisdom that says "we take arms, because it's the only way to make us heard. But this solution is poor. We prefer fighting with words." I've got a problem with the political engagement of artists. I think, it' s better to hand the micro to the people who really have to say something instead of simply using their ideas. That's why Itried to integrate the statements of their speech and their slogans into the music. We made that, but, however, there is more to "Rumors of War". It's sort of a compilation. At that time a lot of artists in Paris were into drum'n'bass, techno and a bit hardcore, like the "puci" and the "decapés". But no one managed to release an album. So I did the job. We all met and released a disc under Fermin Muguruza's label. That wasn't a hard job at all. I'll reuse the album and put it on the P18 website. It's good like that.

In 1992 it was said that Tom Darnal failed with his sampler on Cuba. Could you tell us the story of how you got to know the family Teuntor?
-1992 was the time of the Cargo 92 with Mano Negra. We had some dates on Cuba and just after the date in Havana we had 10 days free. I wanted to stay to meet one of the cousins of Barbaro Teuntor. I felt well with the family and they invited me to stay a little bit in Cuba. A friendship developed and they invited me several times to stay at their place. In 1996, when we met again they asked me to form a band, but that was kind of a dream. Actually, it wasn't really possible. Barbaro was on tour with la Sierra Maestra and I was still playing with la Mano. And then I founded P18 in the basement of 18th district parallel to Mano Negra. At one point I had enough of being in a Home Studio. I was missing the physical impulse you can receive from making music. But with this family the impulse was there. It got always very hot. I told myself that we would make some sort of groove afro-punk, techno and that we would wait and see where it would take us. I don't know how to play salsa. I learned to play the guitar with the Sex Pistols and the Ramones and I told myself that, today, I'm not going to learn how to play the piano and all that anymore. They told me that was no problem and everybody does what he can do best. At that time the youngest ones were 18 years old. That's what we wanted to do.

Jungle, electro or techno, terms that are used interchangeably if your are not a specialist, seem to be incompatible, at first, with the warmth of Cuban music. Were the mixture of the different styles in P18 an old bet between you guys or is it really what you wanted to do since the formation of the band?
- When we started mixing on the "mix tape" we said to ourselves: it's possible. You can have a music that plays a certain tune while we are singing another one. That's atonal. But we didn't really think about that, although I was inexperienced in the electro styles of that time. At the time of Mano Negra I put the development of my electro culture in brackets when we went to London in 1990. It was the period of "Pro DJ". But I wasn't doing it with all my heart. I didn't mix and I didn't go to the record store every Wednesday to buy new releases. P18 seemed to be a good idea. You set a rhythm and it brings warmth to the song. You set a certain sound, an echo, an effect and you can lay the voice over it. It seemed to be good solution to make a universal music. But sometimes it works out well and sometimes it doesn't , because it leaves a lot of space for the feeling and for improvisation. I like that.

Viewing it in retrospective, do you think you did more in the Cuban scene with electro or in the electro scene with Cuban music?
- I think we do more in the Cuban scene than in the electro scene. In the electro scene the musicians are very strict with themselves. In the beginning, they criticized me for playing too many things at the same time; too many chants and to much percussion. However, I would have never said to the Cubans that they should play less percussion. Here we have a bit too much reticence and contempt. On Cuba we don't have this problem. Many people appreciate the melange and are very interested. When we went to The USA we met important people from the house and electro scene. They told that they liked our music and that they wanted to do this genre of mixing, as well. The only problem that they had was the lack of Cuban influences. That assured and encouraged us in our musical idea.

How did the recordings of Urban Cuban work? They give the impression of being a musical voyage with side trips across Colombia and arrangements of Toto la Momposina. The project took a while ..........?
- It took some time. At the beginning Urban Cuban and Rumors of War had to be mixed. It had to be an album based on the concept of a voyage like Pink Floyd. A bit Zapata's Latin America and Che Guevera in one. Then no one wanted to release the album, because the songs were a mixture of drum'n'bass and French songs. Those styles had to be kept apart. Afterwards there was the hype of Cuban music. And I was eventually told that my album wasn't that bad (ah ah). That took a while but I wasn't under pressure. We just had a small studio in the basement of Patchanka. I knew that the album wasn't ready yet. It still had be refined; we had to go in a studio again. I absolutely wanted to stay auto-productive. I wanted us to advance step by step to make an album that wasn't bungled. We finished it.

Contrary to groups like Sin Palabras which take samples of old pieces, you feel that there has been a musical research on P18's part. P18 gives the instruments a lot of space and doesn't only use samples. How does the band function to record an album?
- We know beforehand what we want to do. When we go to Cuba and have violin sessions to do we record them. There are also things that happen coincidentally, like in the case of the violins of the Orquesta Aragon. I wanted violins but I didn't know any violin players. They were recording just before us in the studio, so I simply asked them to play for P18. They agreed straight away. We give music a lot of space. I even try to reduce the samples to the maximum. And you make sessions of instruments with the sample behind. That way it's new stuff and it is more lively.

You presented the last P18 album Electropica like a lost city.
During socialism, there were people in Havana and Cuba who saw the island as a new paradise. It didn't work and architects were eager to build cities and a new urbanism which would fit to the tropicalism and the new technologies. They never finished their work. I could feel this longing for the creation of a new world and which has never been fulfilled. What I find fascinating about Havana is not the old houses you see in Buena Vista Social Club, rather the things more modern and in the sixties style, where it is nice to live in but which are not finished. The last time I went to Havana I concentrated on this part of the city. There had been a lot Italian and Southern American architects that had worked on the urbanism of Havana. They were communists that had been attracted by the idea of Cuba. The realization of projects depended on the money which was either there or not. In the projects you can feel a drive to something new, modern and post-colonial. These people tried to create urbanism for the proletariat to live comfortably. But the projects could never be fully realized. Electropica is a bit of that. An idea of urbanism but completed with solar cells, wind turbine and an urban electropicalism.

The album is more radical on the part of the electronic sounds, while exploring the Africa-Cuban style. Is that the case?
- It's true, the new album represents the ideas I could not develop in the first album. At that time I new a lot of Afro-Cuban pieces and some santerias of Cuba. But I didn't know enough to work on it. It's only later that I was able to mix it with electronics. And the critics appreciated the mixing. I have also been influenced by the producer of the album, Laurent Cola, who is very much into house music and who knows this stuff very well. He understood the link that could exist between Afro-Cuban and house music. We could throw ourselves into the realization of the new album in a calm and confident way. He collected this kind of music and we had the basic music material to realize the mixing.

Lately we met Thomas Arroyos of Dusminguet who was a member of Mano Negra. What could be the influence of Mano Negra on your career with P18?
- It's all the live aspect of music. When you have been part of Mano Negra, you can't continue playing that style anymore. You have to go further than rapid ska. If you follow your musical path that you started with Mano Negra, it's clear that you have to develop into P18, or Manu Chao, because you can't keep doing the same thing. It' s better for King Chango to do some Mano Negra while we stop. Long before Mano Negra I have wanted to do music with a lot of percussion. The Teuntor family gave me the possibility to explore this field of music. And this is the logical relation to Mano Negra: It's to keep on searching. I have given a lot of reggae influence to Mano Negra but was more satisfactory for me to do other things.

Is there any goal you are trying to reach with the music? Is there any message you want to spread through music?
- We try to express the feeling of community and well-being. We are alle different and at the same time all the same. We all have our own life. We are no longer teenagers but we are unified by the music which makes you travel and spreads good things. I think that the role of the committed artists is not to explain that the war is stupid or that there are social inequalities. This would mean you are very immature. My aim is to share moments of happiness I had in my life, so that I can offer new horizons. I want to give the public perspectives of a better world. This is what I try to do. I don't think it's the role of the artists to spread a militant discourse. They should leave to associations who do an excellent job.

This is what you think. But on one of your loud speakers is written "US Army go home".
- Sometimes things go to far and you have to express your opinion.



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