Palette Magazine

Gema Corredera talks about her life, career and recent release Feeling Marta

By Carlos A. Martin

Feeling Marta is intense and moving, a showcase of Corredera’s virtuoso vocals.
Feeling Marta is intense and moving, a showcase of Corredera’s virtuoso vocals. Photo: Elvis Suarez / Glasswork Multimedia

Gema Corredera’s excitement at the prospect of discussing her career and life experiences on a rainy winter evening is electric. The Cuban singer and Miami resident comes bearing gifts. She has a copy of Feeling Marta — her latest effort, just released at the end of 2015 — tucked under her arm. “This has been a long-awaited project,” she says. The album was recently recognized as one of the best 25 albums of the year by the Mexican newspaper La Razón. “I felt overwhelmingly indebted to the music of the great Cuban singer-songwriter Marta Valdés, and this is my homage to her and her magnificent career.”


Planting Seeds

Gema, as she is called by those closest to her, grew up surrounded by music. “My home in Havana was right next to El Conjunto Folclorico Nacional, so you can imagine we were always listening to the beating of drums and the sound of the batás” she recalls. “My parents loved bolero, folk music and Mexican rancheras, which meant that in my house there was always something playing.”

Since she was very young, Corredera displayed a passion for improvisation. She delighted in playing with song melodies and, without really setting out to, changing them. When Corredera was 10, Leopoldina Nuñez, her music instructor, surprised her. During one class, Nuñez informed Corredera that what she was doing had a name: jazz. “I didn’t know anything about jazz, and culturally I had no association with the genre, but there was an instinctive connection that was guiding me down that path.”

From that moment, Nuñez introduced her young pupil to a realm of different possibilities. “I began to listen to Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan, and I realized that if there was something like what they were doing within Cuban music, then that’s what I wanted to do.”

While learning with Nuñez, Corredera also studied classical guitar for seven years at the Escuela Nacional de Arte and later moved on to choral music and musicology at the Instituto Superior de Arte de la Ciudad de la Habana. “Studying allowed me to immerse myself in my research and garner a deeper understanding of music without having to distance myself from singing,” she says.


A Bit of History

After graduating, Corredera experimented with different kinds of music. This would lead her to meet and collaborate with a host of well-known artists and songwriters. “I felt comfortable with folk music and singing while playing the guitar, but I also made other kinds of music, taking on experimental projects, including music for film and theater.”

It was around that time that she began working with Pavel Urquiza, a young songwriter whose work she says, “everyone found a bit strange, but which I thought was excellent.”

Gema y Pavel were a resounding success from 1990 through 2011. During that time Corredera lived in Madrid, and in 2000 formed a jazz quartet and a girl trio she dubbed Habaneras — for which she both sang and played the guitar. “I had three projects going on at the same time, each with a different format,” she says.

In 2011, the duo announced they would split to pursue separate career paths. “I had to move to Miami. This is where I found the emotional stability I needed to start something that could distance me from the duo while at the same time represent who I am as a whole.”

After working for some time, she released Derramando Luz in 2013. The meticulously crafted project of superlative material was her first effort as a solo artist and included a beautiful rendition of “Tengo” by Marta Valdés, alongside famed Cuban pianist Gonzalo Ruvalcaba.


Feeling Marta

Corredera’s relationship with songwriter Marta Valdés dates back to her adolescence.“I had the incredibly good fortune of meeting Marta when I was just 12 years old, and from that first moment there was a magical vibe between us,” she recalls.

Feeling Marta comes from an encounter that took place between Valdés and Corredera in Miami. “After that meeting with Marta, I decided to go to Havana to share experiences and have conversations with her that would provide the necessary information to take on the project.”

The result is a masterpiece, and 14 songs later, Feeling Marta is an authentic jewel within the current musical landscape. With singular nuance and incredible vocal range, Corredera weaves and builds one track after another, proving herself to be a sophisticated artist capable of transcending the everyday.

The CD, which she is currently promoting, is doing very well says the singer-songwriter. “We’ve received a great response from critics and the audience at large, and in the end, that’s what makes me happiest.”