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5 Things We Learned from Arthur Hanlon's Upcoming HBO Max Special 'Piano y Mujer'

Alessandro Martino

Arthur Hanlon

For Arthur Hanlon, recording his new album Piano y Mujer was like revisiting the early days of his career.

"I had the idea of doing something like this since I was 17, which was when I started to play professionally in Detroit where I grew up," says the Miami-based pianist and songwriter. "A lot of times, venues didn’t have enough money to pay the whole band so they’d just send me with my piano and the female vocalist. It’s a format I’ve always been in love with since then."

His new album, which dropped April 9 and its accompanying HBO Max special is set to air April 16, reunites some of the industry's most iconic female voices including Kany García, Natalia Jiménez, ChocQuibTown's Gloria "Goyo" Martínez, Evaluna Montaner and Nella who team up with Hanlon for intimate performances of classic songs powered by his piano. Along with special guests such as the album's producer Motiff -- who plays the guitar and co-arranged the tracks with Hanlon -- a live mariachi ensemble for Jiménez's powerful "Cielo Rojo," a gospel choir for Montaner's glorious "Hallelujah" and an all-female band to back them up.

"The project just sort of evolved when I started talking to Motiff. All of a sudden, we had a mariachi and a choir. And then we thought, we need a band. But if we had a band, it had to be all women so we have a 10-piece female band with us," the piano virtuoso explains.

From Nella's "Caballo Viejo" to García's "Evidencias," the biggest challenge was to find a way to make these songs sound different from their original versions. "The problem is that everyone knows these songs so there is so much pressure to nail a different version," says Hanlon. "I thought about calling Motiff because he's edgy and can play like 10 different instruments. And he has that classical formation that truly represents the essence of the project. Working together on the arrangements really allowed us to find a nice, refreshing balance for these songs."

Recorded in October at the Faena Hotel in Miami, the HBO Max special will include a behind-the-scenes look at the recording of the performances and the actual performances by Hanlon and the five featured artists, who each sing two songs: a Latin classic and one of their very own tracks.

Ahead of the special's arrival on HBO Max on Friday, here are five things we learned from Piano y Mujer:

Turning a theater to a sound stage 

Recorded in the middle of a global pandemic, Hanlon's team turned the Faena Hotel, which was empty at that time, according to the pianist, into a makeshift sound stage. "We literally took over the hotel for about four days," he says. "They have a small theater which we converted into a giant sound stage by taking out all the tables. The little stage they have, that’s where we put the all-female band, and then in the middle of the place we created the set. Obviously, we were all getting tested constantly."

What Hanlon looks for in collaborations as a pianist

"As a pianist, I'm always looking for for the magic in the music and in this case, the magic of women with my piano," Hanlon says before performing a striking version of "Hallelujah" with Montaner on vocals. He adds, "I have a story with all of them and have collaborated with most of them in the past. That's what makes all of this extra special."

On why he decided to perform "Caballo Viejo" with Nella 

"Nella is Venezuelan and so the idea was to look for songs that everyone really feels strongly about," Hanlon says. "'Caballo Viejo' is a hit and an iconic song from Venezuela. It's also one of my favorite songs of all time."

Nella adds, "Believe it or not, this is the first time I ever sing this song 'Caballo Viejo.' Although it's a song that every Venezuelan carries in their DNA, it is something special to sing that song now. I thank you for letting me bring something from my country to this project."

Jairo Varela is Goyo's ... cousin (not uncle)

When ChocQuibTown's Gloria "Goyo" Martínez takes the stage with Hanlon, they talk about why they chose to perform Grupo Niche's "Gotas de Lluvia." "I told [Goyo] one of my biggest heroes in music is Jairo Varela [Grupo Niche's founder] and she said, 'He's my uncle.'"

"Well, I used to call him tío (uncle) because that's what you call older people in Colombia and I always saw him as an older person with authority," explains Goyo. "But in reality he was my cousin. It's the first time I say that."

The first thing Natalia Jiménez and Hanlon do when visiting Mexico is ... 

The Spanish singer and Hanlon perform a heartfelt rendition of "Cielo Rojo," one of the iconic Flor Silvestre's signature songs, with a live mariachi. Following their performance, the pair reveal the first thing they do when they're visiting Mexico: "When I get off the plane, the first thing I need to do is eat a taco," says Hanlon. Jiménez adds, "lots of tacos and drinks."

Editor's Note: Hanlon is married to Billboard's vp/Latin industry lead Leila Cobo

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