Yissy Garcia: born with groove
By Gabriela Jimeno at Tom Tom Magazine
Photo by Alejandro Azcuy
Tom Tom Magazine: You had a very early start. Your father Bernardo García (drummer of Irakere and of Arturo Sandoval’s band) is an incredible musician and it is very clear you carry music in your blood. Tell us about your musical education, both academic and at home, and the importance you think each had on your upbringing as the musician you are today.
Since I was very little I knew I was going to be a percussionist, as you said, it is something that is in my blood. At first my family thought it was a game, until they realized my passion for percussion was very serious. I started at the music academy at the age of 10. I was very lucky to have incredible teachers, school was very important in my formation as a musician. I learned to play the piano, a little bit of musical harmony, history of music and most importantly drumming technique: grip, the movement of my hands, rudiments, etc. I studied classical percussion, xylophone and timpani for 9 years. They are not the instruments I feel most comfortable with, but they are basic instruments to any music student in Cuba.
You have been part of many drumming competitions. Apart from the recognition and the prizes, what role does this experience have on your musical formation?
I’ve participated in competitions like “Fiesta del Tambor” (Cuba), Jojazz (Cuba), Percuba (Cuba) and Master Jam (Ucrania). At first I was always thinking with competing that it was a matter of winning or losing. But with the years I have started seeing these competitions as a musical exchange. Of course you always want to take the prize home, but being a part of such a rich environment and gaining the approval of the judges and the audience is a prize in itself. Thanks to these competitions I have gained recognition as a drummer, which has lead me to being able to work with great musicians in Cuba and all around the world.
Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez and Giovanni Hidalgo are two of the most influential percussionists alive and you have had the chance to play with both of them. Tell us about those experiences and what you learned from them, both musically and as human beings.
I am very lucky to know so many percussion giants, such as Giovanni Hidalgo and Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez whom I consider to be a great friend. When I started to get interested in jazz I watched their videos and thought “wow, these two guys are monsters.” Back then I never thought that I would run into, much less play alongside them. I remember it was at the Barbados Jazz Festival where we spoke for the first time. I love the way they play, their creativity and how modest and simple they both are. Those are all characteristics to follow as examples. From them I also learned that you have to study, study, study and always stay focused on your goals.
You have also worked with Arturo Tappin and Roy Hargrove, who are melody masters. How was that experience?
I love both Roy Hargrove’s and Arturo Tappin’s music. Having had the experience of playing with them was a landmark in my life, accompanying their melodies and their improvisation was a gift from life.
What are your thoughts on the influence that electronic music beats and drum machines have on contemporary drummers? How have these new ideas influenced your drumming? I can tell that Jojo Mayer is a big influence on your drumming. He has a very unique approach to drumming in which drum & bass is the style but jazz is the spirit.
I think music is always changing, there are always new genres and sub genres, etc. I particularly like some genres of electronic music, like drum & bass. My cousin is a DJ and he was the one to first show me drum & bass. As soon as I listened to it I started using some of their groove variations in my music. Right now in my band Bandancha I work with electronic elements: a drum pad as well as a DJ. I try to fuse sounds from electronic instruments with Cuban rhythms. Jazz is such a broad genre that it gives the possibility to fuse it with any style, any instrument, any sound, it is amazing. Jazz plus electronic music is one of my favorite fusions. Although it is really hard to apply ideas from computer sequencers or drum machines into the drum set, drummers like Jojo Mayer have shown us that it is possible.
Your impressive career reminds me a lot of Terri Lyne Carrington. She is also in front of her own solo project now, in which she combines jazz with more contemporary styles like rap, sampling, electronic instruments, etc. When I saw your solo project the connection was undeniable. I felt I was watching the Cuban version of Terri Lyne, and I mean that as a compliment in every way. Is there any direct influence? Are you familiar with her work?
She is one of my favorite drummers, I follow her work closely. One of my favorites is her concert (which is available on DVD) Future 2 Future with Herbie Hancock, another one of my idols. I think unconsciously Terri Lyne and I have a lot in common, our musical tastes are very similar. I have never had the chance to meet her but I am hoping that day will come soon.
Many of your solos are very groove-oriented, which is not common in jazz drummers. You have long rhythmical phrases that evolve, very melodically, very musically. Please tell us about this.
Playing around with the tempo, creating melodies and dynamics- those are my main thoughts when soloing. And of course what type of music I am soloing over is also very important, that is what drives the melodies and the phrasing. I do not like to put myself inside a box. I like many drummers that play very different and specific styles, and I think I am a combination of all of them, with my own touch, with my roots.
If you could describe what “groove” is, that which makes a drummer sound more special than another, without taking into account technical abilities, how would you describe it? And what would you say is the most important thing for a drummer to keep in mind about “groove”?
I really don’t think it is something that I can explain with words. I think it is something that each person carries inside, beyond technical abilities or virtuosity, it has to do more with feeling, feelings that one is able to translate into the instrument so well that it touches other people. Groove is something you are born with, it is not something you can study. No audience can stand still to a solid pocket groove, and to make others feel something you have to feel it first. Groove starts with each individual drummer.