A report by Marjua Estevez for Billboard.
With Cuba making headlines every other week for one reason or another, and U.S.-Cuba relations at an apparent standstill, it behooves us to explore the music spectrum of the island, which currently (and necessarily) goes beyond the traditional and globally acclaimed sounds of salsa.
Today, a new wave of rappers, jazz musicians and reggae artists are on a steady come-up, some of whom have used their contemporary voices as a stepping stone in the Anglo market and popular culture. Here are some of Cuba’s little-talked-about music stars, in an age where the Internet has afforded us a sonic vista into the island nation.
Con100cia: Composed of rappers and producers El Individuo and JD Madafaca, Con100cia is a young hip-hop duo repping Havana, Cuba. Staunch supporters of their native island, El Individuo and JD Madafaca pride themselves in preserving hip-hop’s lyrical integrity with storytelling that explores family heritage, political discourse, love and Afro-Cuban identity. But for the pair that lives to have a good time, their party anthems — like “Baila” — are a must-hear to help set things off. El Individuo was recently signed to Guampara Music, Cuba’s first independent urban record label.
DJ Jigüe: Cuban music experimentalist and historian, DJ Jigüe has performed on stages all around Europe and the Americas. His work in the world of music fuses traditional bata drums, elements of hip-hop and electronica, and is both performance and political. You’re sure to have a good time if there’s a stage with Jigüe on it. Did we mention he’s the founder of Guampara Music? Yeah.
DJ Lápiz: Cuba’s own DJ Lapiz recently released his debut album Puro En Babilonia (PURE IN BABYLON). Lápiz boasts an incredible history of producing for some of today’s greatest out of the island, including Latin Grammy-nominated singer-rapper Danay Suarez, Los Aldeanos and the new generation of MCs like Con100cia. An advocate of each one, teach one, Lápiz has also taught the younger waveof Cuban artists how to navigate the digital world by teaching them how to use platforms like SoundCloud and other social media apps. His expertise lies in the genres of reggae and hip-hop.
Alexander Abreu: Considered one of the most versatile Cuban musicians, and widely recognized as one of the greatest trumpet players of his generation, Alexander Abreu is the founder and director of the Cuban Timba band Havana D’ Primera. Known for his highly sophisticated melodic voice, Abreu is also a skilled instrumentalist who has made a career of fusing rhythms across salsa, jazz, funk and Afro-Cuban.
Dayme Arocena: Born and raised in Havana, Daymé Arocena is a singing drum. Her mouth blooms a litany of ethereal chants, a sacred devotion as impeccable as her white ensembles against her molasses skin—traditional garb in the Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria. She moves in the world the way she moves on any stage: swaying hips and wagging fingers, building a quiet momentum that becomes a thunderclap. A toast of the global jazz community, who carries both Celia Cruz and Aretha Franklin in her heart, Arocena is a must-have on any playlist surveying the Cuban musical spectrum.
Danay Suarez: Born in Havana, Cuba, and raised between El Cerro and Buena Vista — a pair of barrios she describes as historically “conflicted and riddled with social issues” — Danay Suarez is a four-time Latin Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter and rapper whose gritty, yet poised lyrics explore spirituality, love and the human condition. She prides herself in being a pioneer in reggae in the Spanish language.
El Micha: Born in Havana, 27-year-old Michael Sierra Miranda is known everywhere in his hometown as “El Micha”. One of Cuba’s most prolific artists today, El Micha is a main component of the Cubaton scene and has been featured on dozens of albums and compilations published all over the world, including Kola Loka (“Se Extrana”), Baby Lores (“Tu Eres La Mia”, “Yo Soy Cubano”), Insurrecto (“La Ricurita”) and Cistychov (“Si Te Vas”). Having toured all around Europe, the reggaetonero appeared on Cuban boy band Angeles’ newest single and music video, “Me Enamore.”