Michel Hernández

Michel Hernández

Photo: Anna Turayeva. (www.g-rubalcaba.com)

Gonzalo Rubalcaba: “Denying my art to my own people is out of place”

Help us keep OnCuba alive here The news was a bombshell in Havana. Jazz star Dizzy Gillespie, visiting Cuba to participate in the International Jazz Plaza Festival in 1985, approached a young Gonzalo Rubalcaba on the stage of the Parisien hotel, to invite him to the concert he would give the following night. The musician, barely 17 years old, was surprised and after that a horizon of infinite possibilities opened up in his career. Gonzalo is today, along with Chucho Valdés, one of the main exponents of Cuban jazz on the world circuit. The musician left Cuba more than 30 years ago and his career quickly rose to the pinnacle of jazz. With several Grammy Awards and major collaborations in the jazz world, Rubalcaba was preparing to embark on a new world tour with singer Aymée Nuviola, but the project was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. From his home in Miami, where he lives “just about 4 minutes away by car” from his colleague and friend Chucho Valdés, Rubalcaba has spent almost 3 months in confinement with his family. He has used this time to finish the album Viento y tiempo, which he recorded with Nuviola, and to carry...

Photo: Campusfrance

Five songs to celebrate the rainbow

The search for freedom has always throbbed from below, imposing itself on a transcendent area in the history of music. We already know that freedom has been a concept as manipulated as it has been decontextualized, and has not often lost part of its most vital meanings along the way. But the desire to conquer it has been a fundamental objective of many battles, as sexual minorities have exhibited in the face of oppression, marginalization or discrimination of all kinds. That struggle has not had a colorless or gray sound. Rather it has had behind it a feverish music band, which has given consistency and fervor to the songs of the rainbow. According to their own personal experiences, each one has given an interpretation to the songs that have accompanied them along that journey. It hasn’t been easy, but in the end, from intimacy or from the marches with the raised multicolored flags, they have managed to unite in songs that have become hymns of a cause that is not only gay, lesbian or intersex. These songs also belong to those who know that, although a theme cannot completely cure us, it does have a curative influence on the history...

Cuban musician Cimafunk in a frame from his video clip “Me voy.”

Cimafunk is home, and he’s staying there

With the spread of the coronavirus around the world, there has been an explosion of memes on social networks with the popular theme of “Me voy,” by the popular Cuban musician Cimafunk. The song was just what was needed for many Internet users to call on people, in a humorous tone, to stay home in the face of the health emergency caused by the pandemic. “Me voy,” belonging to the first Cimafunk album, Terapia, is experiencing a rebirth at this time after the enormous success it achieved after its premiere in 2018 by this musician and composer born in Pinar del Río, one of the undisputed stars of contemporary Cuban music. The artist has just returned to Cuba after several tours outside the island and has gone to lock himself up in his house, but he has not stopped developing new projects that he hopes to resume when the health emergency is just a bad memory. Meme on the theme “Me voy,” by Cuban artist Cimafunk. The musician has kept himself abreast of the new course his most popular song has taken so far, has reviewed the memes on Facebook and is grateful that it takes...

The Trombone Shorty Foundation will have a relevant presence in the Jazz Plaza. Photo: Laura Carbone

Bill Taylor, president of the Trombone Shorty Foundation: Havana and New Orleans are related spirits

The U.S. Trombone Shorty Foundation will arrive at the International Jazz Plaza Festival to strengthen cultural ties between Cuba and New Orleans, with an agenda of concerts that can’t be missed, among which the performances of the Tank and the Bangas and The Soul Rebels bands, and Chief Monk stand out. The president of the foundation, Bill Taylor, talked with OnCuba about this project called Getting Funky in Havana, which has among its precedents the visit made by the remarkable trombonist Troy Andrews (Trombone Shorty) to the Cuban capital more than two decades ago; an experience that defined the creative life of this influential musician, who has collaborated, among others, with stars of the caliber of Jeff Beck, the Dave Matthews Band and Lenny Kravitz. The Trombone Shorty Foundation will have a relevant presence in the Jazz Plaza. Photo: Laura Carbone Why is this Getting Funky in Havana trip important? New Orleans has a very rich and dynamic culture. One of the reasons why it is so powerful is that it mixes many diverse influences and styles―such as the gumbo metaphor―and different ingredients that come together to create a unique flavor. Connecting with Cuba is important...

Photo: Alejandro Ramírez

Cuban Jazz today: the endless list

Cuba is a prodigal land for jazz. Historically, the island’s instrumentalists have triumphed on the world’s most relevant stages and have exerted a remarkable influence on generations of musicians both in Cuba and around the world. There is currently a thriving Cuban jazz scene represented by greats from the most diverse generations that converge and keep the country at the forefront of the genre. We propose a brief tour around the instrumentalists who have marked the evolution of Cuban jazz. The list is a work in progress because it’s impossible to summarize the contributions Cubans have made to the multiplicity of styles that coexist in that beautiful universe of jazz. GONZALO RUBALCABA (B. 1963, HAVANA) Gonzalo is at the top of any list of the best Cuban jazz players. With an extremely refined technique, and a unique style defined by his interest in deepening tradition from a contemporary perspective, Rubalcaba was “discovered” in 1982 at just 21 years old by the jazz star Dizzy Gillespie during a concert at the Parisien cabaret club. The American took the stage and invited Rubalcaba to accompany him at the concert he had planned at the Havana Jazz Festival. Mere months later Rubalcaba had...

Photo: Michel Hernández.

Cimafunk: “My thing is still an experiment”

Wearing a black T-shirt, two rings on his left hand and sunglasses, Cimafunk opens the door of the studio of the National Laboratory of Electroacoustic Music, in Vedado. The singer had just arrived an hour ago to finish recording the chorus voices for his new song "Potaje," in which he had the services of an all-star formed by Omara Portuondo, Chucho Valdés, the Aragón Orchestra and Pancho Amat. "Emphasize the voice more, give it more space, more breadth," the singer asks a girl who squanders her singing power in the solitude of the studio. She is behind the microphone and Cimafunk accompanies her with catchy choruses from the recording board. "What’s up, how’s everything, there’s water, soda, take whatever you want," he tells me as the musicians from his band start arriving. Most of them are less than 30 years old. One of them got to the installation on a skateboard. "A car almost killed me, it gave me a terrible fright because all of a sudden it seems the skateboard wasn’t working," one of the instrumentalists says with fear still showing on his face. The others don’t pay too much attention to the matter when they see that everything...

Cuban Yandy Núñez on top of Europe. Photo: Courtesy of the interviewee.

I can’t get out of my head the idea of ​​climbing Everest

Yandy Núñez has just made a grand entrance to the history of world mountaineering. In three days he became the first Cuban to climb the 5,642 meters to the top of Mount Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe located in southern Russia near the border with Georgia. There are no records, at least known, that another Cuban has been able to perform the feat. Which is why this Havanan recalls that he exploded with joy when he managed to climb to Europe’s rooftop. Yandy Núñez emigrated from Cuba in 2015. He currently lives in Reykjavik, Iceland, where he learned to be a guide on glacier exploration routes. The young 31-year-old Havanan, born in Calabazar, is at the Russian Mineralnye Vody airport while we chat via WhatsApp. The mountaineer speaks in gusts, still shaken by the adrenaline rush that runs through his body after touching the European sky. He checks his ticket and sets off for Moscow. In the air he finishes answering the questions about that feat he keeps in his heart as a medal won in a life or death battle. Yandy Núñez on top of the Elbrus. Photo: Courtesy of the interviewee. Why did...

Descemer Bueno: “Urban music is in absolute decline”

Descemer Bueno is a kind of music creation worker. The musician barely rests in his aim to take his music to all possible stages. Just a few months ago he made his debut in Argentina and has already imposed among his next destinations the conquest of the public of the South American country. His first concert in Argentina was in La Trastienda, a well-known club of that country’s artistic circuit. There were two musicians in the audience who were carefully listening to his songs: Javier Calamaro, brother of the legend Andrés Calamaro, and Ulises Bueno. With the second he not only shares his last name, but also his desire to conquer, to expand. Descemer's songs have been heard in half the world, sung by him and by other international performers. In Argentina they are trickling in. There, Ulises is an icon of the genre called quartet, a mixture of ska, reggae, cumbia and fast rock and roll. Ulises, brother of a musician, Rodrigo, who had his heyday and died almost 20 years ago when he was at the height of his popularity, set out to continue his legacy and defend a work that will last and not be dilapidated by...

Cimafunk in Central Park. Photo: Sama Dizayee

Cimafunk in New York: “I’m in a dream”

Cimafunk has never been patient. The musician did not sit down to wait for luck to knock on his door and he set off to conquer the world after leaving the medical career in Pinar del Río and making a living in different trades when he settled in Havana. He knocked on doors that remained closed and opened others with the will of a long-distance runner. Erick Iglesias, his real name, got everybody on the island eating out of his hand and in a very short time he has hoisted his flag of stylistic miscegenation in a handful of the main sites that are part of the universal history of music. On his return to the United States he filled Central Park to capacity this Monday during the summer concerts and put thousands of people dancing to the rhythm of his Terapia. The public included a large Latino community who knew about the "Cimafunk phenomenon" and others who sat down on the grass of Central Park to witness that kind of rhythmic orgy caused by the drive of these rhythms inherited by the Cuban from his African ancestors and all those stars who have traveled the path of the origins...

Alden González. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez

Alden González: “What happened with Santiago’s carnivals seems shameful to me”

Alden González accumulated enough merits as a producer during his work with the Septeto Santiaguero. He won two Grammy Awards with the group and contributed to giving some shape to records that bear witness to the international drive and high credits of traditional Cuban music. After his departure from the group he put together an ambitious album project with experienced arranger and producer Geovanis Alcántara, which will soon come out to keep root music on a steady footing in Cuba. For this they summoned three heavyweights from the island’s music scene: Mayito Rivera, Alain Pérez and Alexander Abreu. The album A romper el coco was recorded in the Havana and Santiago de Cuba EGREM studios, and treasures 10 anthological themes of Cuban music given by the island's sound contemporaneity and the proven experience of its producers. "Working with those three greats of music was a big challenge. They have great knowledge about what they are doing. With the Septeto I was part of the group, but now it’s different. I have to make sure that everything I present is convincing," says Alden in an interview with OnCuba. "I have been friends with Alain Pérez for years, also based on the...

Carlos Lechuga. Photo: Taken from FB.

Carlos Lechuga: “Cuban independent cinema exists; everyone knows it”

Carlos Lechuga is 35 years old and is one of the young filmmakers with one of the most relevant works in Cuba. In 2012 he presented his opera prima Melaza and four years later he premiered his second feature film, the controversial Santa y Andrés. Lechuga has carried out his work independently and has been recognized in the international film circuit. Although he has suffered misunderstanding and censorship, he continues to defend the idea that Cuban cinema must chronicle the country and tell its stories, however hard they may be. The filmmaker, whose work is about to be consolidated within the so-called author's cinema, is preparing his third film, Vicenta B, with an obvious autobiographical nuance. He spoke exclusively with OnCuba about this project, as well as about the controversies surrounding his other films and the so-called independent cinema. How did the idea of ​​Vicenta B come about? It came from the idea of ​​making a film about the existential crisis of a black woman. Most of the time we see Caribbean or African women represented in films, the problems that afflict them are very real, material. Almost every time that topics such as "the silence of God" or "lack...

Photo: Izuky Pérez

Haydée Milanés: Music from within

Haydée Milanés is one of the most versatile musicians of her generation. She is sitting in her living room at home in the Havana municipality of Nuevo Vedado. She’s dressed completely in black wearing a T-shirt with the Russian cartoon characters Bolek and Lolek, so beloved by those born in the ’80s. Next to her is her husband and manager, photographer Alejandro Gutiérrez. They’ve just finished filming some video clips requested by the iTunes platform as promotional material for her new album, Amor Deluxe. We begin our conversation and right away she talks about her father, Pablo Milanés, founder of the Cuban nueva trova (also known as the New Song Movement) and an indispensable singer-songwriter for several generations of Cubans. “I especially remember one afternoon. I sang very softly,” she says, “and I was very shy. I was afraid to sing. We were at a party at my dad’s house with a lot of important musicians. There was a piano player and my dad asked me to sing a song. Then he came up to me in front of everyone to tell me to project my voice, as if he thought nobody was watching us. It was hard, but it...

Cover of the Habana Abierta album.

“Rock ’n’ roll with timba is awesome”

Habana Abierta was an explosion in the Cuban underground scene. The members of this creative group recorded, after settling in Spain in the 1990s, the album 24 Horas (1999), which was all the rage in Cuba's alternative circuit in pirated copies that went from hand to hand as if they treasured many young Cubans’ personal and shared memory. The album transcended its purely musical fate to become a generational document. It restated the insular reality, endowed it with new symbols and showed the underside of its social dynamics to bring to the surface the multiplicity of anxieties, wants and spiritual needs of thousands of young people, who immediately identified themselves with songs that spoke of that country’s street poetry that generally did not have a foothold in the established discourses. The Habana Abierta phenomenon was growing at the speed of a cruise ship on the island. It did it until it finally became the soundtrack and the booming voice of a generation, as had happened before with albums like Como los peces, by Carlos Varela, or Santiago Feliú's Futuro inmediato, just to mention two discs fairly close in time to the expansion of this band of irreverent globetrotters that was...

Issac Delgado. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

Issac Delgado: “My music needs Cuban reality”

There is a song that forever united Isaac Delgado with Celia Cruz. The legendary salsa singer had recorded "La vida es un carnaval" but she didn’t give it prominence in her battle repertoire. However, everything changed suddenly when they surprised her with the news that Issac, from Havana, was turning it into a success that strongly jumped to the first places in the world’s hit parades. "I was on a tour of Europe with Celia and my orchestra. She had recorded the song 'La vida es un carnival,' by Argentine Víctor Daniel, but she did not want to sing it live because it was very long. When I returned to Havana, the musicians in my orchestra encouraged me to perform 'El carnavalito,' as they called the song, during a concert at La Casa de la Música. "I was surprised with its success. So much so, that I played it again at the end of the concert. Then we rapidly went to record it at the Sonocaribe studio of the ICRT and it became a total success. "When Ralph Mercado saw the popularity of the song, he recorded it for Latin America and Celia started singing it," says Isaac, who is...

Cimafunk during the Miami concert. Photo: Eloy Costa / Cimafunk's Facebook profile.

Cimafunk’s music spree in the United States

Cimafunk’s success during his debut in the United States was no surprise. The musician landed after having jam-packed every space that opened its doors to him in the Cuban circuit. It’s a known fact that filling a theater or an open-air square is not, by itself, an example of an artist defending a work of quality that withstands the passage of time. There are many examples of this kind in Cuban music. Cimafunk, however, has managed to combine popularity with a work that, while still taking shape, has shown that he was born with an original creative sense and an interest in being part of something new in the contemporary scene. His repertoire, consisting of his debut album Terapia, was born from his research of the classics of Cuban music history and the reinterpretation of phenomena such as the historical James Brown or Funkadelic. And from that amalgam, developed with full awareness, the work of Cimafunk, who is already recording his second album with the certainty that he himself has set a very high bar and must then be up to the circumstances, has been sustained. Erick Iglesias, who left his name behind along the way to adopt, with a...

Cuban artist Michel Mirabal along with works of the personal exhibition that he is exhibiting in his gallery workshop, as part of the collateral activities of the 13th Havana Biennial. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

Michel Mirabal: “I find art anywhere”

Bordering a scarcely paved street, with small houses worn out by the years, is the gallery of Michel Mirabal, one of the Cuban painters with the greatest international projection in the last years. Mirabal decided to set up his studio on the outskirts of the Havana town of Guanabo, on a plot of land where there had been nothing before. Only dust, dirt and a steep slope. He did it for a reason that resides on his roots. He named his studio Finca Calunga. "I was born in a marginal neighborhood. I know what it is to live in a place where there are daily problems. When I started in the world of art and sold my first works I always said that I would love to work with children," Mirabal said to OnCuba in one of the corners of his gallery. "I had a grandfather who always taught me that children are the most important thing. That's why I founded this place to welcome children and young people. This was a mountain where there was nothing and little by little, with a lot of effort, we built this dream that today is a reality," he added. [caption id="attachment_198198" align="aligncenter"...

Pablo and Varela, two voices, two generations.

Pablo Milanés: “I can’t be away from Cuba for a long time because nostalgia invades me”

Pablo Milanés arrived on dot at noon at the PM Records studio with his wife, Nancy, to continue the pre-rehearsals of two concerts this Friday and Saturday with Carlos Varela at the Flamingo Theater Bar, Miami. Carlos was waiting for him in his usual black clothes and with a guitar from which he plucks some chords. The meeting seems like a party. Carlitos, as Pablo calls him, makes a few jokes to his friend, who starts to laugh like a child. They hug each other, talk a little about the topics they will review and lock themselves in the studio for almost an hour. The singer-songwriters are separated from the sound table by a glass pane. From the room you can hear Pablo’s and Varela’s songs played indistinctly by both musicians. Those of us who listen to "Como los Peces" in Pablo's voice and "El breve espacio en que no estás" by Carlos Varela, know that what is happening there is something memorable. They are two musicians who have defined the spirit of several generations, each of their songs carries a strong symbolic charge that represents us and continue to stand as testimony of their lives, ours and that of...

Francisco el Hombre. Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez.

Havana World Music, a festival that should not die

The Havana World Music Festival has brought to Havana bands and artists with a rigorous proposal far removed from the commercial patterns of the industry and the massive entertainment circuit. This event has been an oasis in the middle of a cultural panorama where artists are hardly promoted with a work based on alternative concepts and discourses, which could expand the perspective on the most diverse paths of creation among many Cubans. The festival has managed to gradually consolidate itself and show that it can almost be inserted in the international circuit of events of this nature and place Cuba on the tour program of many bands of international caliber, something that spectators and local music lovers have been demanding for decades. In this edition, the program included a series of bands that performed shows full of adrenaline, combined with high-sounding and original sound mixes. Brazilians Francisco el Hombre and the veteran Californian band Ozomatli climbed to the top of that list, with a couple of concerts that crowned Havana nights. The Brazilians were a flood of energy. It seemed that from one moment to another they were going to explode on stage. In the middle of their show they...

Tomás Piard.

Cuban filmmaker Tomás Piard dies at 71

Tomas Piard was a filmmaker who made no concessions. He got behind the cameras as if it were a method to survive and a way to bring to the limit what can be understood as freedom of expression in the cinematographic sphere. Influenced by the aesthetics of surrealism, Piard belonged to that class of filmmakers who could be considered a maker of "cult" movies. His work was especially for those who face cinema to try to decipher the most hidden mysteries of life and enjoy the harshness and spiritual conflicts that this process can entail, that exchange between the filmmaker and the spectators, between his way of interpreting the most hermetic aspects of life and reality. Piard was a filmmaker who lived according to his own rules, with his own time and based on that he exercised a profession he began in the 1970s and which he assumed, as we said, as a profession of faith. He was witness to the most tremendous and complex eras of Cuban cinema and from his uniqueness he knew how to find the formulas to direct films that helped expand the conceptual themes and artistic horizons of national cinema. In his creative record we...

Spanish Andy y Lucas duo.

Andy y Lucas duo will debut in Cuba with “Nueva Vida”

The Spanish Andy y Lucas duo, which reached high levels of popularity during the past decade, will perform in Havana as part of the festival A bridge to Havana 2019, from April 22 to 29. Well known for songs like “Son de amores,” which climbed to first place on the list of Latin music hits produced by the U.S. magazine Billboard, and "Tanto la quería” and "En tú ventana," the duo will be one of the groups with the greatest drive of the festival’s program. Organized by singer and director of the Karamba group Jorge Luis Robaina, the event’s participants will include, among others, Nassiry Lugo, the vocalist of Moneda Dura, who returned to Cuba with his band after seven years of absence. The Cadiz musicians sold close to 600,000 copies of their album titled Andy y Lucas and soon released records like Andy y Lucas en su salsa and Desde mi barrio. Already at the time the duo was considered a breath of fresh air on the Spanish scene with their rhythms straddling flamenco, pop and rap and they began "invading" the U.S. market with remarkable success. https://youtu.be/n-zHCwxtpec The group was able to surpass the forecasts that considered them another...

Omara Portuondo. Photo by Gabriel Guerra Bianchini

Omara Portuondo: “The Woman I Am”

  The life of Omara Portuondo tells part of the history of Cuban music. She captured the intensity of Havana nights during their reign in the birth of the feeling with the D’Aida Quartet, she turned the famous Tropicana Cabaret into her own paradise before a public that could not take their eyes off of her when she interpreted those songs full of glamor and hopeless loves, and she installed herself in the front row of the revival of traditional music with the Buena Vista Social Club. At 86, Omara has a ritual that accompanies her like a religion. Every morning she looks at the seaside drive from her apartment and she takes the sun if “the agenda allows it.” “On the other hand, I don’t smoke, I don’t drink and I always try to take care of my health,” commented to OnCuba the so-called Bride of the feeling, a title she earned during her long seasons in clubs, cabarets and any place that allowed her to sing those songs that have become live chronicles of bohemian Havana. Omara, living legend, does not feel the stabs of nostalgia. She has lost close friends, she has had to reinvent herself several...

Chucho Valdés. Photo: Taken from the official website of the artist.

A Night for the Jazz Revolution

Legends of the American and Cuban music will join in concert on April 30 at the Great Theater of Havana to commemorate the International Jazz Day, organized by Thelonius Monk Institute, the Cuban Institute of Music and UNESCO. The Cuban capital will be the main stage of a celebration hosted in previous years by cities such as Osaka, Paris and Washington. The poster for this 2017 – which other musicians could join in the next few days - is headed by the giants Herbie Hancock and Chucho Valdés, and integrated by other jazz greats such as Antonio Sánchez, Marcus Miller, Richard Bona and Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Herbie Hancock is one of the most prominent jazz musicians in the United States. His innovative style and continued interest in experimentation led him to pursue a revolution in American jazz in the 1960s, with revamping languages ​​with which he embraced the freedom of jazz and sharpened his creative talent alongside giants like Miles Davis, that pioneer who gave meaning to the term of “fusion“ and united the languages ​​of jazz and rock. Herbie Hancock. Foto: www.mehysocks.com Over the years, this pianist and composer has expanded the American sonorous universe by...

The Trovuntititis turns 15

The Trovuntitis is one of the groups of larger size, recognition and quality in the panorama of contemporary Cuban music. But these attributes didn’t come from heaven. The truth is that these young musicians, based in the city of Santa Clara, have stayed in the tracks on the so-called “smart song” with high creative proposals in which poetry and music come together in a natural way.

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