After two decades of freelance, teaching, touring and recording, the Canadian pianist found himself in Havana recording his first solo album “Cuban Safari”. Alongside Cuban ex-pats Daymar Calvario, Daniel Rodriguez, Yasel Barreras and Camaguey-based Randy Veitia Godinez, the band recorded at an unknown studio in the Castro compound. Police pay-offs, a jam-packed vehicle full of musicians, 14-hour sessions, a missing sound engineer and detours around the Hurricane-flooded streets of Old Havana brought the world this hard-fought victory for music. Cuban Safari breathes from a 1957 Chevrolet where Ryan Timoffee’s visions of Cuba meet the real Cuba in a dramatic meltdown.
The Cuban Safari
by Ryan Timoffee
In 2017 I had been on a composing frenzy and everything I wrote had Cuban flavour. Since I returned from Cuba for the second time in January, I felt very connected to the music of the island and it was manifesting in everything I wrote. So my next step was to turn my Cuban-influenced temas into something real. That is when I ran into my good friend Daymar Calvario.
While in New York, I stopped by to see Daymar at a show in Brooklyn. I played him the rough recordings of my tunes and to my surprise, he was genuinely enthusiastic about the music and insisted we work together. This was exciting because Daymar was one of the best musicians I ever played with. As the former long-time bass player for Pupy y Lo Que Son Son, I knew Daymar would insist on the highest quality work and bring the authentic Cuban sound I was looking for.
The next step was to figure out how to get the right musicians in the same place at the same time to complete the project. So we decided the best place to record would be in the cultural epicentre of Havana, Cuba. Daymar called up some of his favorite musicians including virtuoso percussionist Daniel Rodriguez, saxophonist Yasel Barreras and trumpeter Randy Veitia Godinez and we all flew to Havana on a bunch of airmiles I saved up. The adventure was set to begin!
The studio time we booked fell through when we arrived in Cuba. There were a lot of complications in Havana due to Hurricane Irma. The Malecón was washed out, electricity was sparse and traversing through the streets was difficult due to the damage to the infrastructure. Also, there was a food shortage at the time due to shipping stoppages. Luckily for our project, Daniel found another studio located in a house on a high security military compound. Through various daily security challenges and difficulties simply accessing the studio, we were able to record the music successfully. We traveled more than an hour and a half in each direction across Havana through several detours to get to the studio while extended family and friends were waiting at the house to take care of us after the long 14 hour recording days.
After our original sound engineer abandoned ship we were fortunate to hook up with recording engineer Evelio Rodriguez. Each day we drove to the studio in a small car jam-packed full of musicians, friends and family. Daymar contacted Diana Osumy Sainz Mena (trombone) to play on several tracks and Yoandri Castro (vocalist from Pupy y Lo Que Son Son) for the song Guajira . We were also visited daily by a host of great Cuban musicians all curious about the gringo who composed in a Cuban style. Late nights at the studio meant the only time we had for the beach was at 2 a.m..
We had several encounters with the police during our time in Havana. Sometimes related to the number of people jammed into our small car each day. Other times due to the questionable validity of our paperwork and a few instances of excessive speeding, which was justified. One instance, while in East Havana, Daymar and I were detained by the police for interrogation because we had the incorrect paperwork for the vehicle. We had exchanged the vehicle through the rental company due to a malfunctioning air conditioner but forgot to bring the new paperwork. They held my passport until we were able to clear it up.
Although the majority of the album was recorded in Havana, the project continued in Canada and the USA. I recorded all the piano and keyboards in Canada. Daymar invited some of New York’s finest Latino musicians to make special appearances on the album including Javier Porta (flute), Yuniel Jiminez (tres), and Roman Lajara (guitar). My good friend Dean Faulkner recorded some incredible guitar tracks on Bolo and Cohiba Funk. Jerry Ramos, our sound engineer extraordinaire, pulled the tracks together in a big way at Mercury Recording Studio in New Jersey. Jerry mixed and mastered the project and worked his magic throughout the entire album.
The Cuban Safari was as much about the journey in bringing the music to you as the music itself!
We hope you enjoy!
Ryan is a pianist, producer and composer based out of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He composed, arranged, produced and played piano and keyboards for his debut solo album Cuban Safari. Ryan is also the co-bandleader, composer, and keyboardist for instrumental ensembles Deerfoot and Secretmen.
Ryan was exposed to music at an early age listening to his Father and Uncle play and sing at the piano. He started piano at the age of four under Nancy Redekopp. After two years at the University of Calgary he traveled through Europe for several months and then transferred to the Jazz Studies Program at Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton. After graduating and working as a professional musician for a year he went back to school and completed his Bachelor of Music in classical piano performance at the University of Alberta under Janet Scott-Hoyt. Ryan also traveled to New Orleans to study with jazz legend Ellis Marsalis while working as a freelance musician and piano instructor in both Edmonton and Toronto.
Ryan became interested in Latin music while filling in for pianist Chris Andrew in latin group Bomba featuring Israel ‘Toto’ Berriel of Los Munequitos de Matanzas. He has performed with the Don Berner Big Band, Daymar Calvario (Pupy y Lo Que Son Son), Carlitos Irarragorri (Celia Cruz), Sandro Dominelli, Fred “Mickey” Finn, John Cameron, Maracujah and The Four Aces. Ryan composed, produced and played keyboards for the instrumental fusion group Deerfoot, producing their debut album while living in Toronto. He also co-arranged, co-wrote, produced and engineered instrumental album with fusion band Secretmen after returning to Edmonton.
Hailing from Camaguey, Cuba, Daymar Calvario is a multi-instrumentalist, arranger, bassist and violinist based out of New York. Daymar was bassist and co-arranger for Pupy y Los que Son Son from 2008 to 2012 and has played with artists such as Pedrito Martinez, Mayito Rivera,Jerry Rivera, German Olivera, Nachito Herrera and Tematika. Daymar is active on the NYC music scene as a bass player, keyboardist and arranger and was co-produced of the album Cuban Safari.
Born in Bayamo, Cuba, Daniel Rodriguez is a percussionist, timbalero and master drummer based out of Los Angeles. He currently tours with the Isley Brothers and is timbalero for Arturo Sandaval. Daniel has also played with artists such asAlain Daniel, Juan Guillermo, Raul Torres, Jose Feliciano, The Brothers Jonson, Shadmer Aghili and Colin Hay. Daniel was a featured soloist at the 2016 and 2017 NAMM shows in Los Angeles alongside Yasmane Santos.
Yasel R Barreras
Yasel was born and raised in Camaguey, Cuba where he studied music at the Jose White Conservatory of Music. Yasel is a saxophonist currently living in Naples, Florida where works as a professional musician. Yasel has played with artists such as Leoni Torres, Clint Wiley, Winslow and the Rockefellers, and Link Montana. He works at the Naples Grande Beach Resort where he performs multiple times per week as a solo artist. Yasel also performs at the Café and Bar Lurcat.
Randy Veitia Godinez
Randy lives in Camaguey, Cuba where he plays trumpet professionally. Randy studied music at the Jose White Conservatory of Music and works as first trumpet for the Camaguey Symphony Orchestra. He plays with many traditional Cuban music ensembles in Camaguey including El Son Entero and Septeto Moquequere de Candita Batista.
Deerfoot is Dean Faulkner (guitar), Ryan Timoffee (keyboards), Kurt Ciesla (bass) and Ron Samson (drums). The Canadian band is an instrumental quartet influenced by jazz, rock, funk, hip-hop, avant-garde, and modern electronica. Their philosophy of pureness and honesty invents music that is spontaneous and improvised in sound, yet highly arranged and organized in format. The outcome is the creation of impulsive and original beats that fuses genres together into funkadelic electric jazz rock.
Deerfoot’s origins stem from a 1998 band consisting of Timoffee, Faulkner, Ciesla and drummer Ryan Vikedal (of Nickelback fame). As Vikedal left to tour full-time, Timoffee went on to complete his post-secondary classical piano studies, while Faulkner spent the next couple of years studying graphic arts and composing. Throughout the years, they often played together in various bands. Ciesla went on to become part of the well-known Canadian Juno Award winning group, the Corb Lund Band, which he is still involved with. Deerfoot was officially formed in as part of a project experiment to meld various styles of music. Self-described “weirdos,” their interests and experiences in the industry lead to this maniacal and nonsensical merging of genres that pushes to the edge of musical styles.
Secretmen‘s sound is funk-based groove with a driving rock energy with simple yet memorable compositions balanced with adventurous solo improvising. Secretmen is keyboardist Ryan Timoffee, guitarist Dean Faulkner, bassist Kurt Ciesla and drummer Eugenio Pacileo. The band has developed their own musical style that allows them to stretch out, change and manipulate the foundational composition in a live setting.
Secretmen draws upon influences spanning John Scofield to the music of the Beastie Boys, Tom Waits, the Meters, and Black Sabbath. In 2009 Secretmen released their debut album self-produced, engineered, and mixed by Ryan Timoffee featuring compositions from Ciesla, Faulkner and Timoffee.