Eduardo LeivaBorn: October 13th, 1944, Valencia (Spain)
Upon his return in Madrid, Leiva was immediately asked to accompany young pop singer Juan Pardo on his nationwide tour. It was not long before he became a much sought-after session pianist in the Madrid recording studios; soon, his talents as an arranger were discovered as well: by virtue of his conservatory background, he was able to pen instrumentations for small combos as well as fully-fledged orchestras. Important record companies such as CBS and Hispavox called upon Leiva’s services regularly. In the 1970s and 1980s, Leiva was a ubiquitous figure in Spanish recording studios, working as a pianist, arranger, and producer for many of Spain’s most successful recording artists in many different genres. In the 1960s, he worked with El Duo Dinámico (Manuel de la Calva and Ramón Arcusa). Later onwards, he recorded four LPs with Juan Pardo and played the piano on no fewer than eight Julio Iglesias albums, including ‘Emociones’ (1978) and ‘Amor’ (1982).
Leiva mainly worked with pop and Latin artists in Spain and the Latin American countries, including Lolita Flores, Mocedades, Massiel, Sergio & Estíbaliz, Juan Carlos Calderón, Georgie Dann, Jarcha, Rocío Jurado, Ana Belén, Gonzalo, María Jiménez, Pablo Abraira, the Argentine duo Pimpinela, as well as two singers from the Canary Islands, José Velez and Caco Senante, and the Venezuelan superstar José Luis Rodriguez ‘El Puma’. In the early 1980s, Leiva produced all albums for progressive pop band Cadillac. His expertise was also frequently called upon by artists from other corners of the Spanish music panorama, such as singer-songwriters Rosa León, Miguel Gallardo, and Emilio José, and copla interpreters Isabel Pantoja and Manolo Escobar.
Leiva regularly worked in the United States, most prominently as the producer for Philip Michael Thomas’ album ‘Somebody’ in 1988. In 1983, he was the conductor of the American delegation at the Marché International du Disque et de l’Edition Musicale (MIDEM), the world’s largest music industry trade fair, held annually in Cannes. Leiva also recorded an album with Albert Hammond and worked with Scottish singer-songwriter Donovan. Moreover, he came over to London to produce the Spanish version of the song ‘Barcelona’ by Freddy Mercury and Montserrat Caballé. Because of his extensive work in the recording studio, it was not very often that Leiva found time to write music himself, although he composed two songs for El Puma.
As an arranger and conductor, Eduardo Leiva regularly participated in the OTI Festival, a song contest for all Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean which was held annually between 1972 and 2000. He made his debut in 1979 when he accompanied Rosa Maria Lobo to Caracas (Venezuela), where she represented Spain with ‘Viviré’. In 1985, when the festival was held in Seville, Leiva was the musical director of the entire show as well as conductor of the beautiful bolero which was that year’s Spanish entry, Caco Senante’s ‘Esta forma de querer’. He conducted three more songs which represented Spain in the OTI Festival, ‘Bravo samurai’ for Vicky Larraz in Lisbon (1987), ‘Dulce maldición’ for Alex & Cristina in Buenos Aires (1988), and ‘Duérmete mi amor’ for Paco Ortega & Isabel Montero in Las Vegas (1990), before he decided to enter the competition as a composer himself. The delicious ballad ‘Manos’, which he had written a couple of years previously in collaboration with lyricist José Maria ‘Chema’ Purón, was chosen by TVE, the Spanish public broadcaster, as the most suitable choice for the 1996 OTI Festival. Interpreted by Anabel Russ and conducted by Leiva himself, it managed to win first prize in the contest which was staged in Quito, Ecuador.
From 1979 onwards, Eduardo Leiva became involved in working for TVE, initially as a pianist in various television programmes and, mainly in the 1990s, as a conductor and musical director. He became a household name for Spanish TV viewers through his appearances in the immensely popular game shows ‘¿Qué Apostamos?’ (1993-2000) and ‘Grand Prix’ (1994-2001), in both of which he not only conducted the orchestra, but was given a prominent role as co-host as well. Other programmes in which Leiva’s orchestra participated, include the musical comedy ‘Encantada de la vida’ (1993-’94), ‘Arco de triunfo’, ‘Sábado noche’, ‘Puerta a la fama’, ‘La llamada de la suerte’, ‘Todo en familia’, and ‘El gran juego de la oca’ (1993-’94).
Due to the many television projects Leiva was involved in, the studio recordings which he led became increasingly few and far between. In the early 1990s he more or less decided to draw a line under this part of his career, although there were occasional excursions into the studio – most prominently a renewed visit to London in 1996, where he conducted a session with the London Symphony Orchestra for the renowned Spanish pop vocalist Paloma San Basilio. In 2001, Leiva composed the soundtrack to the television film ‘El camino de Santiago’, while he also wrote the music to several historical documentaries for TVE and Antena 3.
From 1992 onwards, Leiva has been the pianist, arranger, and musical director of the Chattanooga Big Band, an eighteen-man-orchestra with four vocalists, which specializes in live performances with music of genres as far apart as jazz and disco, salsa and blues. The band usually performs four or five times a month and has played for audiences throughout Spain and Portugal, while it was invited for international gigs in as far away as Cairo (Egypt) and Beirut (Lebanon). In 2006, the orchestra released a 3CD called ‘Doble sentido – Homenaje a Leiva’, for which Eduardo Leiva himself penned all arrangements.
Eduardo Leiva in the Eurovision Song Contest
In 1986, the Eurovision Song Contest final was held in Bergen, Norway. Cadillac finished tenth amongst twenty competing entries. A slightly disappointing result, according to Leiva: “It was a good song, quite modern. It certainly deserved more than it actually got. Not that we felt really downhearted afterwards, because, usually, the level of songs in Eurovision was very high – much higher than in OTI – and, as a result of that, the voting was quite unpredictable. For me, it was an extremely enjoyable experience to work with the Norwegian orchestra. Although my English is far from perfect, it was good enough to communicate with the musicians. As usual, in the week of rehearsals, there was ample free time, which allowed us to see a lot of the city and the surrounding area. And to eat loads of salmon, of course…”
One year later, in 1987, when the festival took place in Brussels, Eduardo Leiva was present again as the Spanish conductor. Spain was represented by Patricia Kraus with ‘No estás solo’, a quite peculiar ballad composed by Rafael Martínez and Rafael Trabucchelli, which finished nineteenth. Leiva does not have very fond memories of this particular Eurovision project: “Neither of the two composers had the ability to conduct an orchestra, so that is why I was called upon to write the adaptation and to come along to Brussels to lead the orchestra. When I was working on the arrangements of ‘No estás solo’, I realized that it would be impossible to do well in the contest with this song. I absolutely hated it, even more so because of the singer, Patricia Kraus. She is the daughter of world-famous opera singer Alfredo Kraus; because of that, she apparently thought she was more important than anybody and behaved very arrogantly, although her singing abilities were no more than average.”
Leiva continues: “In spite of all this, my working relationship with Patricia Kraus was good; of course, I was enough of a professional never to vent my particular opinions publicly. As I had anticipated, we did badly in the voting, receiving only ten points – all from one country. The atmosphere among Spanish delegation members in the greenroom got worse and worse as the evening progressed. Johnny Logan was a worthy winner that year; in general, Ireland used to be one of those countries that submitted good songs nearly every year. I must admit, however, I hardly paid any attention to the entries other countries came up with. Nevertheless, the atmosphere during rehearsals was always cordial. What I remember is that the Spanish delegation used to have a particularly good relationship with the Maltese. This was because the heads of delegation of Spain and Malta used to trade points. Having said that, I want to stress the musicians themselves were never involved in this kind of cheating.”
In 1990, Eduardo Leiva made his comeback in the Eurovision Song Contest after an absence of two years. In Zagreb, Yugoslavia, Spain was represented by the sisters Encarna and Toñi Salazar, better known as Azúcar Moreno; they performed a highly original up-tempo effort with elements of Spanish traditional music interwoven into it: ‘Bandido’, composed by Jaime Stinus and Raúl Orellana. The studio arrangement was by Miguel Angel Varona. Although the song scored well with 96 points and a fifth spot, it will probably be best remembered because of a severe technical failure on the part of the Yugoslavian organisation.
Leiva remembers every detail: “In those days, it was allowed to use pre-recorded tracks, which were played alongside the live orchestration. I had had to completely rewrite the arrangements, because the Azúcar Moreno production team used a lot of Spanish guitar and percussion sequences. It is not easy at all to reproduce such effects with an orchestra; I added strings to make the song more suitable for the Eurovision Song Contest. To make sure I knew when to start conducting, there was a ‘click’ which preceded the audio tape. I was supposed to hear the click through my earphones. While I was apprehensively waiting and waiting for the click, after a while, I suddenly heard the fifth bar of the pre-recorded tracks! There had been no click, however! Because of this, of course, it was impossible for the orchestra to play the live arrangements synchronically with the tracks; so I shouted ‘stop!’ While the track kept on playing for a while without the orchestra, the two singers in their despair left the stage. Later, I learnt what had gone wrong. In the control room, the director had failed to open the sound circuit for the pre-recorded tracks. The result was that nobody – neither the viewers at home nor anyone on stage or in the hall – was able to hear anything. One of the director’s assistants discovered the mistake quickly; however, instead of stopping the tape and rewinding it, they suddenly opened the circuit, but too late for me to hear the click. What I felt like at that moment? To be honest: I felt like an idiot, because I stood there with my hands lifted, waiting to start conducting. It was no fun experience. Luckily, the second time around, everything went well.”
“As you can imagine, both singers were quite nervous at that particular moment. Luckily, the atmosphere improved considerably thanks to the many points our song was awarded with. It was an attractive song with an evocative title (‘Bandido’ means ‘bandit’ in English, ed.); the singers were the main reason for the success, however. They were gypsies, very happy and amusing girls, who put a lot of energy in their performance. Apart from the technical difficulties, I must say that the quality of the orchestra in Zagreb left something to be desired. It was not as bad as the orchestras I worked with in the OTI Festivals, but certainly worse than the average Eurovision orchestra.”
In 1991, Spain made a real effort with a convincing ballad, ‘Bailar pegados’, sung by Sergio Dalma. In the festival held in Rome, Leiva conducted the orchestra for this entry and helped his country obtaining a more than respectable fourth spot. Leiva: “The contest took place in the famous Cinecittà film studios and, as far as I remember, the organisation was okay. Our song was good that year, but the singer was fantastic! The general opinion was that we were one of the favourites to win the competition, so it felt as a bit of a disappointment when we came fourth. Unfortunately, in Eurovision, the best song does not always win. Nevertheless, I cannot conceal the fact that I was proud when a song with arrangements written by me did well in the voting. After all, the arrangement is one of the key elements of a song: it makes or breaks it. So I felt involved with all of the entries which I conducted – except for the one by Patricia Kraus, perhaps…
In 1993, Eduardo Leiva conducted his fifth Spanish entry in the Eurovision Song Contest, ‘Hombres’, a pop tune written by Carlos Toro and performed by a young singer from Andalusia, Eva Santamaría. In the contest held in the Irish backwater of Millstreet, Spain finished eleventh. Leiva: “I thought our song was poor. It was produced by a guy from Germany, Ralf Stemman – and it was a production with a lot of sequences and synthesizers. In other words: not very appropriate for the contest as it was at that time, with a live orchestra. For me, it was extremely difficult to write an orchestration with strings and brass to this particular song. In fact, I had to change it completely to make it suitable to the contest’s rules. It was an okay orchestration, but far from outstanding. I was not very confident we would do well and the voting proved me right… quite a pity, because the vocalist was good. The festival in itself was an enjoyable experience, although it was kind of peculiar that it was staged in a village which was a one-hour-drive away from the nearest hotel.”
The 1995 Eurovision Song Contest took place in the Irish capital of Dublin. Spain was represented by a young girl called Anabel Conde, who performed ‘Vuelve conmigo’; this magnificent ballad was composed by José Maria ‘Chema’ Purón, with whom Leiva worked on many occasions. Conducted by Eduardo Leiva, ‘Vuelve conmigo’ finished second behind the Norwegian winner ‘Nocturne’. Paradoxically, in spite of the good result, Leiva felt extremely disappointed: “We really should have won! ‘Vuelve conmigo’ is the best song amongst the seven Eurovision entries which I conducted and the production was very good, too. I wrote the arrangement in collaboration with a keyboardist with whom I worked often in those days, José Miguel Estébanez. The second reason we should have won, was that Anabel Conde was great, in one word! At the dress rehearsal, everybody believed she was the best candidate for first prize – including the orchestra musicians. We were astonished when Norway won it. Of course, the Norwegian entry was a good composition, but it essentially was an instrumental piece with only some vocal parts at the beginning and the end. To our mind, it was not a song and should not have been allowed to participate in the first place. Our delegation leader wanted a review of the voting and we seriously considered submitting a protest to the organization of the contest, but, in the end, it was decided upon to accept the results as they were. Yes, we felt really unhappy, even more so because it was nearly thirty years ago since Spain had last won the Eurovision Song Contest.”
Leiva’s last involvement in the festival came in 1996, when he accompanied singer Antonio Carbonell to Oslo. Carbonell used to be in the popular band Ketama and, with two members of that group, he came up with a fusion flamenco style song, ‘¡Ay, qué deseo!’ He failed to impress the international juries and finished twentieth. Leiva recalls: “Ketama’s record company commissioned me to write an orchestration to the item. As on all previous occasions, I was given carte blanche to write the arrangements as I thought was right. Harmonically speaking, it was a very complicated song and it took me a lot of effort to write a good score which included string and brass elements. Don’t get me wrong: traditional Spanish music could work in Eurovision, but, as this was such an intricate composition, I was never really confident we could do well with it.”
About his experiences in Oslo that year, Leiva comments: “I enjoyed my week in Oslo thoroughly, partly because it was really nice that the musicians of the Norwegian orchestra as well as the musical director of the contest (Frode Thingnæs, ed.) believed the orchestration I had written was the best of all songs participating in the competition. I found out about that when somebody showed me a Norwegian newspaper; it turned out a poll had been held amongst the musicians. Obviously, this was something I was really proud of! Not because of that – but the orchestra in Oslo was the best ever I worked with for a live show. Unfortunately, upon my return in Spain, when I watched a video recording of the show, it turned out the quality of sound retransmitted on television had been extremely disappointing.”
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