Tag Archives: Cuba

On “Sonocardiogram,” Daymé Arocena Goes Home

Dayme Arocena

Photos by Pablo Dewin Reyes Maulin

For Cuban jazz singer Daymé Arocena, the live setting is more than just an opportunity to sing some songs—it’s a chance for the audience to get an authentic glimpse of the performer behind them. “When you see an artist in the live concert, you see their soul,” she says. “It’s the most important thing for me—it’s the moment you show off who you are.” 

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ÌFÉ’s Otura Mun Explores His Divine Destiny

Ife

Photo by Mariangel Gonzales.

DJ, producer, percussionist and composer Otura Mun was born Mark Underwood in Goshen, Indiana. A drummer fluent in R&B and jazz (and the youngest member of the renowned University of North Texas drumline in his freshman year), Otura Mun took his first life-changing trip to Puerto Rico almost 20 years ago. He now calls the island home, and it’s where he and his ensemble ÌFÉ create electronic music that channels the musical and spiritual worlds of the African diaspora throughout the Americas and the Caribbean.

The ensemble and the music they make are also connected to Mun’s desire to study the Cuban rumba—which led to his initiation as a babalawo, or Yoruban high priest. The perspective now orients both his musical and his personal life.

As Otura Mun explains it, he chose the title IIII+IIII for ÌFÉ’s debut because it marks “the beginning of a new era, a change in the guard, a spiritual awakening,” a path an individual can take on their divine destiny.

To talk with Otura Mun is to become caught up in a heady whirlwind of ideas about music that’s constructed with layers upon layers of aligned signs and evoked meanings. We caught up with the San Juan-based Otura Mun via Skype to get a glimpse of the wondrous, spirit-filled world that informs his music.

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SXSWatch: The Powerful Spitfire Storytelling of Cuba’s La Dame Blanche

La Dame Blanche

La Dame Blanche, SXSW 2017. All photos by Daniel Cavazos.

As soon as you hear Yaité Ramos talk about her journey, from developing as a classical musician in the famed Escuela Nacional de Arte in Cuba, to finding her voice as a hip-hop artist in the streets of Paris, it’s evident that she’s a warrior—battle-tested and not afraid of the unknown. Artistically, she identifies herself as La Dame Blanche, a nod to the scary yet benevolent ghost at the center of a French opera of the same name, but also a picaresque wink at her status as a santera and a black woman. She’s a raconteur. With the flute as her chosen weapon, and Marc Babylotion Damblé of the Orisha’s providing the beats, she marches on-stage and raps about the characters, hardships, joys and lived experiences between the two places she calls home—France and Cuba.

On 2014’s Piratas and 2016’s 2, her spitfire rapping and strong delivery are underscored by bass-heavy staccato beats, turntable scratching, and a sophisticated mixture of cumbia rhythms intermingled with dancehall, Cuban rumba and son. In the midst of this fusion is Ramos’ flute, is sweet, bucolic melodies rounding out her signature sound and giving her music an emotional breadth that reveals the heart underneath the combativeness. After years of touring across Europe and the Americas, she’s finally performing at one of the music industry’s biggest events, South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.

Ballroom D at noon on a Wednesday in the Austin convention center is hardly a match for La Dame Blanche. In front of a small audience in a cavernous grey room she took the stage wearing reflective aviator sunglasses with a lit cigar in one hand, and made her SXSW debut by belting out the word “Maria.” To her left, a DJ dropped a chorus of support and to her right, a live drummer joined in. You may have to speak Spanish to fully understand the nuances of her lyrics, but the intent comes through just fine. Her swagger on stage and the way her impressive register suddenly drops at the end of a line is reminiscent of Missy Elliot. After the first ballad, she grabbed a flute, gripping it like a baseball bat and resting it on her shoulder before launching into a jarrings classical melody. Later in the set, she retreated to the back of the stage, only to emerge with her arms in a boxing stance, slowly lurching forward, as if sparring with the small, but captive audience.

Bandcamp caught up with Ramos on her way to SXSW to talk about her performance at its Sounds of Cuba showcase, the stories she likes to tell and why—after years of performing jazz and classical music—she chose hiphop as her medium. The interview was conducted in Spanish with English translations below.         

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Resistenzia: A Voice from the Cuban Metal Underground

Resistenzia

Given the recently-broken cultural isolation of the long-standing American embargo of Cuba, coming across a band like Resistenzia from outside the country might feel like a pleasant shock—but the band has been going for a solid decade. In 2012, they recorded Guerra Avisada (War Warned), and have subsequently released a single, “Quisiera.” They’re currently demoing tracks for their second album (including a Pantera cover), but finding a studio—never mind the money to use it—remains a challenge.

Their sound is a forceful blend of hardcore and thrash, with occasional atmospheric keyboards; if Resistenzia were from an American city, it would be easy to imagine them on the Victory roster. Though the lineup has fluctuated over the years, particularly when it comes to drummers and keyboardists, vocalist Amaury Trimiño, rhythm guitarist Lianna Teruel, and bassist Delvis Díaz have been constant presences. They regularly play shows around the island, and even host their own annual festival called Festival de la Resistenzia, a day-long affair with support from local musicians, and they hope to celebrate their 10th anniversary this year with a larger tour around the country.

Díaz answered questions by email, in Spanish. His original answers, and our translations, are below.

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Meet ÌFÉ, Puerto Rico’s Spiritual DJ Wunderkind

ÌFÉ

Since his arrival in Puerto Rico in the late ’90s, Otura Mun has become one of the pillars of the island’s independent music scene. He’s worn many hats, first as dancehall selector DJ Nature, then as a producer for acts like Young Ragga and the folk singer Mima. Hearing him tell the story of how he got to the island, everything leading up to his new project, ÌFÉ, seems serendipitous. It began with an airline error that left Mun with a free ticket to anywhere. He chose Puerto Rico. The island’s rave scene was exploding, and he quickly established himself as one if its premiere DJs.

In a way, Mun’s entire life has been leading up to the creation of ÌFÉ. During a public lecture in San Juan last month, he dove deeper into his personal history. He was one of the few African-American freshmen in the acclaimed University of North Texas drumline, a feat that required unnatural amounts of discipline, tenacity, and dedication, as well as a willingness to fight. Those same traits led him to pursue a variety of musical and spiritual paths. He was recently initiated as a babalawo priest in the Yoruba faith, and trained in Cuban rumba—a percussion-based music partly derived from Yoruba praise music. His first solo project, ÌFÉ is where all of his pursuits—his faith, his study of percussion and rumba, and his love for dancehall, intersect. It’s one of the most unique live electronic music projects to come out of Puerto Rico in years.

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