Archive for Things I like

An artist more people should know: Henry Fiol

Some of you may already know this, but I am a fanatic for Latin music, Afro-Cuban styles in particular, and most especially the bongo drums.  When I first started teaching myself about this range of music sometime around 1997, I looked for records that well-known Latin musicians regarded highly, records that influenced them in their careers.  One person suggested the 1978 album “Siempre Sere Guajiro” by Saoco, calling them an “underground cult legend of New York salsa”.  Of course I had to buy it.

This album blew my mind.  It has some of the tightest rhythm ever, especially from the horn section.  The arrangements are “open” enough that you can hear every individual instrument, but still rich and full of complexity.  The lyrics are colorful and culturally deep.  And the singer—what a voice, and what nuanced phrasing!  That singer is Henry Fiol.

Siempre Sere Guajiro album cover

It turns out he also directed many of the creative choices of the band at that time, and he even painted the album cover art (as well as the covers of some of their other records).  It also turns out he was very dedicated to his own vision of how the music should be performed, to the point where he had a falling out with the co-founder of Saoco, and they parted ways, with the other bandleader keeping the band name.  From that time, Fiol recorded under his own name.  His style relies heavily on traditional Cuban folkloric flavors and lyrics, with no modern electronic additions, no trap kit drums, and no jazz, rock, or disco elements—yet with an urban sense of urgency, and a soft spot for vocal doo-wop as sung on the street corners of New York when he was young.

Saoco’s music influenced me hugely at that time, and it informs my tastes to this day.  I wanted to hear more from this band and this singer, but it wasn’t until a couple of years later that I found more of their long-out-of-print records released on CD.  And during that time I had read comments from other musicians saying that Fiol was difficult to work with because of his very particular artistic vision, and that he had been shut out by some of the powerful figures of the Latin music recording world in New York, people who control the record labels and the contracts of the performers.  At that point I assumed we had heard the last from this iconoclastic artist.

But then in 2004 he released a new album entitled “Guaperia” on his own record label; and in the liner notes for that record, it is made clear that he did not stop recording or performing over the years, and that his successes during that period were mostly in Central and South America.  But even knowing that he was still active, it did not occur to me that he might have a presence on the internet, because his aesthetic is so strongly based on old-school music, and because I associated him with an artistic peak in the 1970′s.  This assumption was especially foolish of me because his email and web addresses are also in the liner notes of “Guaperia”.

For several years I lost track of the Latin music world, pursuing other interests—but here in 2010 I thought to myself “I wonder what Henry Fiol is up to these days”, and Googled him.  It turns out he not only has a website, he has a new album up on that site, free to download!  I almost cried from happiness.  http://www.henryfiol.com Hearing this record, and seeing that Fiol is still active and doing great things, has renewed my excitement to be involved in Latin music, and inspired me to pick the bongos back up.

Once you have heard that album, if it speaks to you at all, I know you’ll want to hear the rest of his records:

Siempre Sere Guajiro

Macho Mumba

Fe, Esperanza, y Caridad

Retrato Musical

Sonero

La Ley de la Jungla

El Secreto

Don Del Son

La Juma de Hoy

Creativo

There are other records by Fiol and Saoco, but many of them are out of print and very hard to find.  However the beautiful music within is worth the hunt, and the price!  If you can only buy one, get Siempre Sere Guajiro—one of the best tipico salsa albums of all time.

Should Henry happen to find and read this page, I offer him my deepest respects, regards, and thanks.

Macho Mumba album cover

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For balance: brands with GOOD customer service!

Writing about my negative experience with TC Electronic (that wasn’t the first time, by the way) put a sour taste in my mouth.  So now I want to name brands that have done the right thing; companies or individual artisans who have demonstrated that they know how important it is to earn the respect of their customers.

Hipshot.  They have bent over to help me so often and so promptly that I can’t even believe it.  They will do anything to make the customer satisfied.

Genz Benz.  Their customer service is legendary.  I haven’t bought any of their products yet, but I would and I will with the fullest of confidence in their support.

Diamond (pedals).  Responsive, generous, and helpful.

Mouser.  On the few occasions that they made a mistake in a delivery of components, I called and they sent me the replacement items with no questions, no hesitation, and no hassle.

AMI/TAB Funkenwerk.  I bought one of their items used, and it got damaged in shipping from the previous owner.  I contacted Oliver, and with no hesitation he said “send it in”, and he repaired it at no charge.

Euphonic Audio.  Exact same story as AMI!  Plus the chief engineer was quick to respond to each of my emails.

Musician’s Friend.  I know they are a corporate machine owned by a corporate giant that may not always do the right thing, but I have to give credit where credit is due and say that any time I have had an issue with an order from MF, they have corrected the problem or accepted the return, with no trouble at all.

Aguilar.  I have criticized them many times, yet the owner took my criticisms with good humor, maturity, and a genuine eye to setting things right.  He responded positively when he could have responded negatively, and I deeply respect that.

Source Audio.  A batch of one of their products turned out to have a defect, and rather than waiting for people to complain, Source pro-actively posted a message explaining the situation and making it clear that anyone who received a defective item would be taken care of promptly.

Dave Hall Amps.  I have communicated with Dave several times, by phone and by email; he is always very personable and very responsive to customer questions.

FEA pedals.  Frank is a really good guy, and he stands behind his products 100%.  Very helpful, and offers upgrades whenever he improves a model.

I’m sure I’ll think of more examples as time passes, and I will add them to this list.  Consider this list not only a roster of good people and good work, but also a stern rebuke to the many companies that seem to think their customers are only a nuisance.

Edit: I removed Pigtronix from this list.  Dave used to treat me well, but the last few communications from him have been terse, unfriendly, and unhelpful, for no reason I know of.

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About the name “OVNI Labs”

Let me just say up front that I am not a UFO “believer”.  The name came about because I wanted to start making and selling effects pedals, and I wanted a brand name; it had to be fairly short, sort of futuristic or technological, with an international flavor, and where the web domain name was not already taken.  So I came up with “OVNIFX”.  “OVNI” means “UFO” in Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Italian; it stands for Objecto Volante (or Volador) No Identificado.  And it seems like “FX” is understood in most of these places as well.

Since the market is already flooded with small-time pedal builders, I decided to put the effects business on hold until I complete a degree in electronic engineering–I have about two to three more years left. In the meantime, I wanted to give my existing compressor-reviews page more of a professional identity, so I figured that the “testing laboratory” of OVNIFX would naturally be called OVNI Lab (or Labs).

Only after going ahead with that, and spreading the links around, did it occur to me to Google “OVNI Labs”; I discovered that there is a person already using that name for their prolific message-board posts on the subject of UFO’s.  *forehead smack* Should have known.  Oh well–I got the domain and they didn’t.  Kind of the same thing with my old website about bongo drums, bongomania.com–Googling it turns up mostly posts about a headshop in Germany called Bongomania (they sell bongs).

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