Chino is one of the leading figures of Barcelona’s Blues and Swing scene. A highly original guitarist. His style on slide guitar, encompassing blues, swing or jazz manouche, is unmistakable. Together with his band “The Big Bet”, they have left their mark on numerous clubs and festivals throughout Spain and Europe. An explosive and charismatic live performer, he will impress the most demanding audience.
Hernán “CHINO” Senra was born in Argentina, on August 14, 1980, in the city of Buenos Aires and began playing an electric guitar that his grandmother gave him at age 13. He had several teachers, including Mario Pugliese, Miguel Botafogo Vilanova and Gabriel Gratzer but the style has developed over the years emerged progressively and discover self from the “Dobro” on his first visit to Europe, was 18 years old when he crossed the ocean for the first time.
Always playing in the street and traveling by train … Perhaps traveling, being alone and rely on himself helped him understand more clearly the Blues. His first steps as a professional musician in Argentina gave them, first touching only, on the street. Later joined by other musicians and formed Down Home, at the time was a group of well-established rural blues to basics with who played in Calle Florida and in some pubs and bars of the city center.
Soon, more precisely in June 2001, traveled again to Europe to stay in Barcelona, where he was fortunate to meet Ivan Kovacevic, who two years later refunded “DOWN HOME” encompassing a much more energetic and staff.
Following the enthusiastic reception by both critics and audiences, in July 2012 the group released the album “Six” as the first of a series of 3 discs, each comprising 6 original songs. In February 2013, the second of the series “Six” was released. He heads the following groups: CHINESE & THE BIG BET, THE ACOUSTIC BLUES COMPANY, DOWN HOME ORKESTRA and is director of Studies and teaches at Escuela de Blues de Barcelona.
What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?
For me the blues is a language… a way of playing music. Very simple, but very difficult because of that simplicity, where the character and personality of the musician is more than important.
I’ve learned that the only way to do it is being yourself. So you have to know yourself and put your life experience in you playing… passion, love, hate, anger, sadness, happiness, etc…
Knowing yourself also means you need to know your limits, and turn them into your weapons. Do what you can do and what you know to do, and do it as good as you can.
If you are good as yourself, you’ll be the best, ‘cause nobody can be you… but if you copy, you will be just an imitator…
“It’s (Blues) like tango, flamenco or like jazz manouche… it has it’s has something that cannot be written on the paper, It has to be inside of the musician.” Photo by Roser Zúmel
How do you describe Chino sound and what characterize your music philosophy?
Well… my sound depends on the amp the venue has or on the sound tech. working at the place…
Being serious, I don’t know how to describe it… maybe this is not good, but I try to find the better sound for the moment… every venue and every show is different… I don’t play the same way in a small club or at a big festival.
My music philosophy… on the first question I near answer to that… Since last years I just try to keep it simple, nice, and good… good for me. If I like it, I believe it, so I can be true on stage.
What’s been their experience from “studies” with Mario Pugliese, Miguel Botafogo and Gabriel Grätzer?
I didn’t study too long with them and I was too young… but after the years I understand a lot of things.
I remember Mario told me one day…”Ok, this is the last lesson… I have no more to teach you…” I was sad and disappointed, but now I understand what he did… or well, maybe he wanted to get rid of me
Miguel was a big star for me… I was a child and I was a bit shy and nervous at his lessons. I don’t remember many technical things, but he was the first to mention “the power of the limits” and how music changes while you change, while you grow up and while you have life experiences.
With Gabriel I’ve discover the roots of blues. The country blues was a new world for me… and I was amazed. With him I made my first steps with slide and fingepicking…
From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the blues and slide?
The big secrets are not that big… you understand when you are ready to.
When I came to Europe I spent long time alone and playing in the street. Always in Open G and with my slide and fingerpicks. I didn’t even listen to music…just played it. And suddenly somebody comes and ask you to play a… Bob Marley song for example… and I tried to play it my way, with my tuning….
That’s how I started to develop the technic, by myself.
I imagine the old bluesmen, without YouTube or even radio at home. Their way of learning must have been different to nowadays. Maybe they used to learn a few things from somebody and then try to develop it at home, on their own way. I tried to do something similar.
What are you miss most nowadays from the OLD DAYS OF BLUES & SWING JAZZ?
I think, (but I cannot be sure cause I wasn’t there) that music was less rational or intellectual, to have fun, enjoy and dance also. I think artist wasn’t judged buy their technic but by their show on stage. I also think they wasn’t “purist”. They had create something
Are there any memories from the European Blues Challenge, which you’d like to share with us?
I will never forget the guy with the advertising showing “10 minutes”
We had a good time, we sold a lot of cds and we made many contacts. That’s why we went. We had no intention to win. When we see the people enjoying with our music or buying our cds and asking to sign them, that’s to win.
The organization was great and also the venue and the sound. Great work.
I know great bands here that don’t wanna go because they don’t believe in music competitions. Me neither, but I think the competition is not the important thing; the important thing is to have the chance to be known by programmers from all around Europe.
“For me the blues is traditional music. It can change through the new generations, but has its own soul. I cannot explain it… But after the years I think I understand the feeling of the blues.”
Which memory from the road with the blues in Argentina and Barcelona makes you smile?
Uff… I always laugh when I remember Edwind, the contrabass player who used to play with me in Argentina…
One day I was playing alone, in Florida Street, in Buenos Aires, and a big fat guy with a contrabass came and stood up beside me without even saying hello… I had a big crowd, and when I looked at him he said: -“Keep playing, I follow you, I have two children to feed”. That’s how we met.
He was always smelling bad, but not because he was dirty but because of the gut strings… he used to put them cow grease to keep them in “good condition”.
On the last trip we did together before I came to Europe we found a cheap room to sleep and the first thing I saw when he opened his old suitcase was a gun. I said: “What the f…, are you crazy?!” and he said – “I came here to make money, and nobody will take it”. That summer I made the money to pay my flight. We were playing every night in the street, even in the afternoon in the beach, under the sun…
What is the best advice a bluesman ever gave you?
I didn’t meet many bluesmen… but the one of the best advices in my life was: “Be yourself.”
I remember Bob Brozman told us at the workshop… “the slide players have better sex”.(laughs!) This is not an advice but is something very important to know.
What the difference and similarity between the ACOUSTIC FOLK BLUES and MODERN ELECTRIC BLUES?
I don’t know what you mean with modern…
For me the blues is traditional music. It can change through the new generations, but has its own soul. I cannot explain it… But after the years I think I understand the feeling of the blues.
One of the magic things of the blues is that it changed from acoustic to electric without losing the escence.
It doesn’t matter if its acoustic or electric, the blues is only one.
It’s like tango, flamenco or like jazz manouche… it has it’s has something that cannot be written on the paper, It has to be inside of the musician.
Why did you think that Blues and Swing continues to generate such a devoted following todays?
Because they are “truth”. They are emotions… And everybody understands and need emotions.
What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you’ve had?
One of the best jam was with Hono Winterstein at the backstage of Pipa Club in Barcelona… A real jam to have fun… with no audience… we were ten people maybe….
I always thought that Hono is a great player… but after playing with him songs like “Cielito lindo” or “Besame mucho” I understand he is a great musician, who loves music.
We had incredible fun that night.
One of the best shows I made was with Bob Brozman… he was a wonderful musician and person.
Other big show I will always remember will be “Thouars Blues Festival”. We were nervous because after quitting with our drummer we called a student from our Blues School to play with us. After that he is part of the band. The theater was crowded and the show unforgettable. At the end we left the stage and finished the show unplugged.
Do you know why the sound of slide and resonator guitar is connected to the blues?
I tried to investigate about it but I didn’t find to much information… Its also connected to western swing and Hawaiian music, even Oscar Aleman, an Argentinian jazz player had a resophonic guitar.
They are loud, great to play in the street… If Dopyera Bros. would have lived in Buenos Aires maybe they would’ve been used to play tango, or if they would have lived in France Django would have had one…
What are the secrets of resophonic and slide?
Maybe the secret is to understand it like a different instrument. The guitar has mutated a lot. Is not the same a classical guitar or a heavy guitar with 0.8 strings… We call them the same but are like different instruments.
I play with slide and open G tuning and sometimes people ask me how I can play swing. I say that if an accordion or a violin can why not me? The point is I don’t try or expect to do the same as a guitar.
Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is?
It’s a music that comes from heart that has to be sincere to be good. That will always work.
The blues by itself is just a language; the message is on the interpreter. Its a way of expression that gets near to everybody… of course if the musicians are good too.
How do you describe your contact to people when you are on stage?
I’m lucky… The people like me on stage. I try to establish a dialog with the audience. I do my best to break the wall between the audience and the band. I play for them and I talk to them, I look them in their eyes. I put all my energy to make them have a good time. But it takes time. Its a kind of seduction. So at the end of the show we talk the same language and it’s a big party. And they give me energy back. Give and take.
That’s why I didn’t have expectations about the Blues Challenge. Is impossible to do what I’m used to in 20 minutes. We transmit feelings, music is an excuse… an instrument…
“If you are good as yourself, you’ll be the best, ‘cause nobody can be you… but if you copy, you will be just an imitator…” Photo by Roser Zúmel
What the difference and similarity between BLUES, SWING, TANGO and FLAMENCO. How close are?
They are very close to each other, as I said before, they come from heart. Music with feeling… with roots and tradition… a good recipe that will last for long.
Do you remember anything funny from Bob Margolin, Bob Brozman and Nathan James?
I had a great time with them… short but good. We are not close friends and maybe they don’t even remember about me but I admire them. They all have personality and understand the blues… and the three of them are humble people.
What is your MUSIC DREAM? Happiness is……
My dream… well, my dream came true many years ago… it begun when I got to Europe and started to grow up like a professional musician… so my dream is to keep on dreaming the rest of my life, to keep on playing and growing up every day… the rest comes by itself.
Interview by Michael Limnios