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Toronto, Ontario, Canada | INDIE

Toronto, Ontario, Canada | INDIE
Band World Funk


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The best kept secret in music


"Spinning with the new sounds of Havana"

"It's soul, man!" pronounces Gilles Peterson, his face lighting up as he takes a sip into his chilled mojito. "Cuban music is from the heart, it's free, there are less rules somehow," the DJ extraordinaire tells CNN about the endless energy of the island's music.

It's been 13 years since Ry Cooder and a group of outstanding elderly musicians took the world by storm with "Buena Vista Social Club," a global album hit which helped put Cuba on the world music scene.

Now, stepping from the shadow of Buena Vista, a generation of ambitious young Cubans is daringly crossing diverse musical territories, creating a fresh sound which fuses traditional Latin rhythms with hip hop and funk grooves.

"Some years ago a few American rappers like Talib Kweli, Erykah Badu and the Roots went to Cuba and sowed the seeds for the underground hip hop scene and now it's alive," says Peterson, whose latest project showcases Cuba's contemporary musical effervescence -- from latin, afro jazz and fusion to hip hop, funk, reggaeton and pop.

In "Havana Cultura," Peterson introduces to the world the likes of honey-voiced Danay -- "an absolutely superstar" according to the influential DJ -- and Ogguere, an energetic hip hop duo which blends original Cuban rhythms with funk, rumba and rap.

These 21st-century Cuban musicians can delve into traditional music forms with the same ease as they burst into vigorous rap lines. They make up for the lack of access in technological means with an unsurpassed passion and determination to communicate their art.

"The life of an artist in Cuba is a sacrifice," Danay told CNN. "We have to use a lot of raw material and recycle it again and again because many times the right conditions don't exist.

"There are many talented street artists who have to walk a much longer road in order to write music and express themselves. But you can do it if you work hard and if there's love for the art."

In tune with Havana's unique spirit, this fledging music movement works best when performed live. On stage, the energy of the grooves and the breadth of fresh talent stimulates all senses.

"When we perform our music we are passionate and sentimental," says Ogguere's Edrey after a ferocious live performance in east London. "Cuban art is conscious, it's hard, beautiful and lively. There is a lot of energy and feeling."

A lack of funds and equipment cannot contain the scene's enthusiasm. As the movement develops the musicians are becoming more ambitious.

"We want people to identify themselves with what we do -- regardless of whether is salsa, hip hop or funky, all that mix of rhythms is our way of making people enjoy what we do. We want them to learn a new philosophy of life based on giving love, feeling happy and celebrate," says Ulises, also of Ogguere.

Influenced by the likes of James Brown, Fela Kuti and the Roots, Ogguere say they rely on their friends across the world to get their hands on foreign music since Cuban radio would play mainly salsa and reggaeton.

"These young Cuban musicians need help. Most of them don't have Internet and this is quite radical, but they survive because they are so hungry for information," says Peterson.

"In Europe people are a little bit more lazy, a bit more cynical, but these were the most disciplined musicians I've ever worked with, they wanted to take their opportunity." - CNN Travel


"Llena de amor el mambo" - Album 2008

"Gilles Peterson Presents Havana Cultura" - 2010



Edrey is the one with the movie-star smile who can sound like James Brown (“get funky!") or Snoop Dogg (“I got my baby...") when a lyric calls for some convincingly sung African-American English. Ulises sticks to Cuban Spanish and exudes the kind of patient intelligence that might seem more adapted to teaching university classes than rapping in music videos. They call themselves Ogguere, a Yoruba word that translates as “soul of the earth," and they're the elder statesmen of Cuban rap.

In fact Ogguere has been around only since 2004, but their partnership began a decade before. Edrey and Ulises got together in the early 1990s in the Santos Suarez neighbourhood of Havana, where Edrey lived (and still lives) with his grandmother on Avenida Serrano. Ulises grew up in El Cotorro, the site of the old Modelo Brewery, and he had to travel two hours to come to Santos Suarez every day. The two would hang out in Parque Policía , a public playground where people from all over Havana came to rap and breakdance. “I know Alamar gets credit as the site of the first rap festival, and I respect that, but people should know about Parque Policía.

In 1996 Edrey and Ulises started working with Pablo Herrera, Cuba's premier rap producer, who also happened to live in Santo Suarez, on Calle Zapote. Somehow they managed to resist the temptation to slide into the potentially lucrative reggaeton niche, as many other Cuban rappers had done before and have done since. “Our idea is to use all the rhythms that we have in Cuba - mambo, son, chachacha - and bring them into rap music and mix it up with funk, rumba, and the music that all our ancestors were listening to in Cuba," says Ulises. “We want to make folkloric music, as far as the way we %27poeticise', the way we rap. We want our grandparents, despite their age, to feel like they can share something with us, and us with them."

A case in point would be “Cha Cuba", the track that Edrey and Ulises recorded in 2001 with Orquesta Aragón, a traditional charanga band that has been around since 1939. Reputed to be the first meeting of cha-cha-chá and hip hop, “Cha Cuba" helped earn Orquesta Aragón's “En Route" a Grammy nomination for “Best Traditional Tropical Latin Album".

Ogguere came into their own a few years later with “¿Como esta el yogourt?" and with an accompanying video clip directed by renowned Cuban artist Alexandre Arrechea. So what exactly do they mean when they ask “How's the yogourt?" “That's something my mother always said to me when I was young," Edrey recalls. “She was always saying I drove her crazy. So one day we decided to make a song about it, and now it has become a really Cuban thing, a national thing, even international." But most of all it appears to be a Santos Suarez thing. “Ask people in the neighbourhood %27¿Como esta el yogourt?' and everyone knows how the yogurt is"," Edrey says with a laugh. “Here in Santos Suarez, we're all family. One big family."

At the time of this interview with Havana Cultura, Ogguere were back in the neighbourhood, taking a break from recording their first album, “Llena de Amor El Mambo," which features contributions from Cuban artists such as Chucho Valdés, Haydée Milanés and Roberto from the Van Van. Ulises, for one, is not displeased with the result: “The fusion of contemporary music with mambo that you hear on our album - I really don't think there has ever been anything like it before."