Thursday 28 May 2009

A Cuban In Cuba (Music)

Rap in Cuba has come a long way since the hazy days of the early 90s. In 1991 salsa was the dominating musical force on the island with rock, almost covertly, following very closely behind. There was, however, a gap for those young people who did not fall for either genre. That is why the Panamerican Games in the summer of that year provided the perfect backdrop against which Cuban rap developed. All of a sudden the Cuban youth witnessed a contingent of US journalists, athletes and independent travellers, many of them black and many of them in powerful positions, wearing the latest hip-hop fashion and swaggering around Havana. And to cap it all the first images of Vanilla Ice, Mc Hammer and Bobby Brown beamed from our television screens and acted as a catalyst for many a future MC to pick up his/her mic. Rap had finally landed. Overnight groups sprang up here and there. Amenaza and Primera Base were the more popular ones. In fact I remember going to the Alamar amphitheatre to see the first ever Rap Festival in Havana circa '92 or '93. But despite their energy and vigour, the first Cuban rap outfits were mere rip-offs of their American counterparts, copycats of more successful groups like NWA and Public Enemy. The watershed arrived in 1999 with the release of Orishas's debut album 'A Lo Cubano' (Cuban Style). Orishas was a Paris-based quartet (nowadays they are a trio) that blended the standard hip-hop MCing with traditional Cuban music. This record was heavy in production and arrangements and solid in vocal delivery. I would not be exaggerating if I said that it put Cuban rap on the map as well as paving the way for future artists.

And one of those artists is Telmy Telma, or Telmary, her stage moniker. Here's a singer who claims to rap 24 hours a day (the clip has English subtitles, by the way) and on the evidence of her debut album, 'A Diario', you could be forgiven for thinking that she may actually mean it. 'A Diario' is a record that from the hilarious cover reading 'Parental Advisory: Cuban Content' to the guests' list takes the listener through an amazing musical journey.

Even the Intro(Rezo/Prayer), usually a fifteen-second self-indulgent exercise that barely deserves a footnote in the credits of any record, is a powerful prescient tool in this album that announces the arrival of a real artist.

'Fiesta' ('Party'), finds Telmary duetting with Athanai, one of the most famous Cuban musicians nowadays,(and to think that he and I went to college together and that his song 'Séptimo Cielo/Seventh Heaven' was performed for the first time in faraway countryside Pinar del Rio instead of urban Radio Ciudad de la Habana where it premiered shortly after) and the result is a feelgood track that could well fill up the floors of many a party this summer.

"Que Equivoca'o" ('You're So Wrong') deals with an errant, alcoholic partner and his pathetic excuses whilst trying to make up for his errors. 'Marilu' is dedicated to Telmary's mother and it boasts a guest slot by none other than Mayito, the singer from the salsa band Los Van Van, besides sampling the original 'Marilu', a composition by the same salsa troupe. 'Sueño Brujo' ('Enchanting Dream') has another famous contributor guesting on it, Marina 'la Canillas' from Ojos de Brujo and that's the clip you'll be able to watch below. 'Wondering (Sly)' has the ever hard-working Yusa duetting with Telmary. Yusa has been a regular feature on this blog for a long time now and it is also her skillful fingers playing the bass guitar that we see in the clip below. 'Spiritual Sin Egoísmo' ('Selfless Spiritual')is probably my favourite track from the whole album, difficult statement to make when this is a groundbreaking record full of top tunes. This song starts as a 30s or 40s jazz tune, it changes dramatically and ferociously halfway through and it finishes with an operatic voice ghosting in in the background whilst both Telmary and guest singer Kumar let rip in rapid-fire funk-jam style.

If you are looking for a sound to your summer, those sweaty and damp nights when there's hardly any breeze and humidity hits the 90%, this is your record. Whether it is a slow, sultry number you're lusting after, or a fast, uptempo one, this record's got all the ingredients you need for a summer holiday, preferably playing on your car stereo en route to somewhere nice and fresh. Southern Spain anyone?

Next Post: Song for a Spring Sunday Morning to be published on Sunday 24th May at 10am GMT

Copyright 2009


  1. After listening to the music I feel like I have had a brief holiday. Very nice beat to it.

  2. enjoyed your review. :-)

    familiar with Ojos de Brujo, and Orishas.
    not so with Telmary. will seek and enjoy.

    would like to suggest other cuban band:
    Madera Limpia; would love to read your thoughts on this.

    thank you, and
    keep on bloggon' :-)


  3. Always happiness over here at your place Cuban. ALWAYS.....I love that about you :)

    Steady On
    Reggie Girl

  4. Give me a moment to get used to your spacey new look - very nice! Only that I miss that amazing dance photo you had before, sometimes I came visit just to see it... any reference for it?

    And thank you for this warm music - and what a strong, gorgeous woman!

  5. Another new sound for me, and a calming one, CiL.

    I think the Spanish language set to music is more fluid than the English language, and flows with an easier rhythm and a smoother movement. Perhaps, too, it is the sound of a woman's soft voice that makes this piece a pleasure to hear.

    Thank you, for still one more adventure in music.

  6. I loved the song!

    I also like the new appearance of your site.

    Regards from Nowy Sacz,

  7. Dear Cuban, thank you for your comment on my blog!

    Gosh, I don't what to say, this is a great review and again I have learnt lots. Thank you for it. The song is great and I'll look for more and I agree with Fram, the fact that it's sung in Spanish makes all the difference. I guess the fact that I don't speak the language makes me focus on the rythm and melody more.

    Have a great weekend.

  8. Wow. Even hearing it the first time it completly pulls you in.

    I really like it and I know the more I listen I will be loving it.

    Thanks for your congrats xoxoxoxo

  9. Many thanks to you all for your kind comments.

    Manuela, the photo came from my screensaver where I currently hold close to a thousand images of dance and movement. I love dance photography, especially the black and white variety, and I will be using some of those photos in my banners. Thanks for that Deep Forest, by the way :-).

    Greetings from London.

  10. I normally dislike rap, but when it's done in Cuban it sounds much more poetic! Plus, the music pulls you in.

    I see you've "redecorated" your blog. Looks great. Very crisp and fresh:)

  11. I really love this track! You are right, it is perfect for a hot humid day - I've just been helping in the Gleeful & Greedy Restaurant, so it's perfect to relax with after an evening's work!

  12. Pedimos a todas las personas e instituciones defensoras de los derechos civiles en el mundo que contribuyan a la movilización del Primero de junio, lunes proximo, donde exigimos al gobierno cubano a:
    - Liberar a los presos políticos en Cuba
    - Levantar las prohibiciones que impiden a los cubanos entrar y salir de su país
    - Levantar las prohibiciones de acceso a Internet para los cubanos

    Durante todo el mismo día, un día entero, todos los blogs y webs de cubanos y no cubanos presentes en esta manifestación, dejaremos abiertos nuestros blogs, o webs, con la misma página de inicio y una idéntica reclamación.

    Haremos en nombre del pueblo cubano, al gobierno de la Isla, tres legítimas reivindicaciones:
    -Libertad de todos los prisioneros políticos.
    -Libertad para entrar y salir del país.
    -Libertad de acceso a Internet.

    We ask all persons and institutions defenders of civil rights in the world that they contribute to this mobilization, and we call the Cuban government to:
    - Liberate the political prisoners.
    - Abolish the interdictions which prevent the Cubans from entering and leave of their country.
    - Abolish the interdictions of access in Internet for the Cubans.

    Nous demandons à toutes les personnes et institutions défenseurs des droits civils dans le monde qu’ils contribuent à cette mobilisation, et nous appelons le gouvernement cubain à :
    - Libérer les prisonniers politiques.
    - Supprimer les interdictions qui empêchent les cubains d’entrer et de sortir de leur pays.
    - Supprimer les interdictions d’accès à Internet pour les cubains.

    Chiediamo a tutte le persone e istituzioni che difendono i diritti civili nel mondo di contribuire a questa mobilitazione, e invitiamo il governo cubano a:
    - Liberare i prigionieri politici in Cuba
    - Togliere i divieti che impediscono ai cubani di entrare e di uscire dal loro paese.
    - Togliere le proibizioni di accesso a Internet per i cubani.

    Küba Hukümeti ve tüm dünyaya çağrı:
    - Küba’daki siyasi mahkumlarının serbest bırakılması.
    - Kübalıların kendi ulkelerine serbest giriş ve çıkışlarını engelleyen yasakları kaldırılması.
    - Kübalıların İnternet erişimi üzerindeki yasakları kaldırılması için.

    Bu dünyada sivil haklarını savunan tüm kişi ve kurumlar katkıda bulunmalarına davet ediyoruz ve Küba hükümetine çağrı da bulunuyoruz.

    Pedimos a todas as pessoas e instituições que defendem os direitos civis no mundo que contribuam com esta mobilização y fazemos um chamado ao governo cubano para:

    - Libertar todos os presos políticos em Cuba
    - Levantar todas as proibições que impedem os cubanos entrarem e sair do seu pais.
    -Levantar as proibições ao aceso a Internet para os cubanos.

    Wir fordern die kubanische Regierung auf:
    - Die bedingungslose Freilassung aller politischen Gefangenen. Das ist und bleibt unsere Hauptforderung
    - Darüber hinaus klären wir auf, wieder einmal, dass die Reisefreiheit in Kuba eine akute Menschenrecht Verletzung ist. Daher verlangen wir eine endgültige Reisefreiheit für die Kubanische Bevölkerung. Das wir ohne jegliche politische Hindernisse unser Land Frei verlassen und zurückkehren dürfen.
    - Abschaffung des Entzugs im Internet. Freizugänglichkeit ins Internet für alle Kubaner und Abschaffung der Stattlichen Kontrollen für die Bevölkerung Kubas in das Netz.

  13. Cuban, fabulosas esa Yusa y Telmary, cierto? Tienen un swing!!! Me gusta mucho como suenan; crean un rico ambiente. Por cierto, amiguito, me da mucho que sea yo quien te invite a lo que viene abajo!!! Como diría ese clásico que adoro: you ain't seen nothing yet!
    Un ciber abrazo!

  14. This was so good...she seems to be casting a spell..Telmary!! And the hits keep rolling on !
    Thank you...
    Southern Spain? Yes!!!

  15. Many thanks to you all for your kind comments. It's been a splendid day here in GB and we went out to a little village quite far from where we live but where we had a fab time, a lovely trek through lush greenery and a well-derserved picnic after that long walk. Photos and commentary to follow soon.

    Greetings from London.

  16. Oh, ma é il mio browser? o hai cambiato completamente il design del tuo blog?

    Non sono abituato a questi colori cosi chiari, mi ricorda quando da giovane mi hanno intervistato in una caserma di polizia eheheheh ;)

    Bel video e bella canzone Cuban! Buon mix tra rap e stile tradizionale!
    E la cantante é molto ma molto bella!!!!

    Un abbraccio da Colonia,

  17. CiL, what a great treat! Normally I am only so so with rap, but I have to agree with Fram, this is so much more. The Spanish language and the slightly flamenco rhythm turn this into quite a different, better style of rap.

    Thank you for introducing me to this artist - lots to discover at every visit to your bit of the blogsphere!

    Also, thanks for your recent visit to my backyard and the kind comments you left.

    Look forward to you Sunday blog, for sure will be dropping in to visit tomorrow.

  18. Love this post! I've gathered as much Cuban music as I can from Cubans and Cuban friends in Canada but always love finding more. Thanks

  19. Conooooo, pintaste el GAO!!!!
    Me encanta Telmary!
    Aquí estamos los tres Albert, Maylin y un servidor (tonin) en una conversación telefónica y cayendote en el blog, para relajar por aquI.

  20. Many thanks to you all for your kind comments.

    Greetings from London.

  21. Love the new look. Crisp and clean...and the dance photo is divine.

  22. Many thanks, Diva. And lovely to see so many photos of your trip to italy. You make me jealous.

    Greetings from London.

  23. Genial, como siempre.
    your reviews are delicious. I saw Telmarys a lot in Cuba with Interactivo and with William Vivanco, her boyfriend for sometime and someone I really really like. She has a "swing" probably without rival in Cuba!! haha. I wish I looked like that.
    Watching at this video you have here I saw Libre, really good too.
    I saw Ojos de Brujo in Habana in a concert and LOVED them. She has an amazing voice, even greater look, and the musicians are very good too. Great mix of flamenco with rap and other styles, absolutely AWESOME.
    I love finding them here in your always interesting blog.

    Saludotes cubanos

  24. Thanks, lisset. I have yet to see both Telmary and Ojos, but I have seen her other clips on youtube and she really is the business.

    Greetings from London.

  25. Orishas! Ojos De Brujos! Yusa! and now Telmary! I can't take it, I love them all! Cuba produces so much well-crafted music that I really can't keep up.

  26. Many thanks, fly girl. Indeed, we do produce great talent, don't we?

    Greetings from London.



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