A short walk around Havana will soon show how polarised the post millennial Cuban music scene is. On the one hand, almost every bar, hotel and club band will be pumping out retreads of ‘Buena Vista’ standards for a massive tourist market with dated, sepia toned expectations of what Cuban music should be.
Meanwhile the youth on the streets are tuning into Miami radio
for reggaeton beats, or checking out the latest burnt offering by homegrown hip hoppers. So young professional Cuban musicians are in a bind. To make a living, they’re obliged to play endless versions of songs written one, two or even three generations before they were born. But you don’t need conservatoire-trained musos to operate an MP3, and many of them loathe what their peers are listening to, preferring instead to play progressive jazz or elaborate jazz rock fusion to show off their chops. Which neither the gringos nor the majority of young Cubans want to hear.
“There’s a kind of stagnation,” says executive producer Zack Winfield, whose many trips to Cuba in recent years have convinced him that things there weren’t going to move anywhere fast without some novel input from abroad. “So our question was: ten years after ‘Buena Vista’, what’s the next evolution? How do you get these young guys to broaden their minds and to explore …when their only real source of cash is in hotel bands playing Buena
He and his colleague Ado Yoshizaki, together with producer-manager Tim
Hole, dreamt up the idea of marrying the extraordinary skills and talent
of the cream of Cuba's young musicians with the know-how and worldly
perspective of cutting edge producers from the UK and the US.
It’s from this idea that Revolution was born. As things progressed, they threw in few other wild cards, like former Moloko singer Roisin Murphy and emerging talent Jenna G. Also on board were expat Cuban hip hop act Orishas. Their genesis in Paris has meant they see and hear things differently from local hip hop groups, so their involvement in Revolution really was all about ‘bringing it all back home’.
“They have such little influence from outside, in Cuba …so this was a real attempt to take all these incredibly, talented young guys and form them into something and teach them things and share their experiences, bring all their talent to the knowledge and wisdom of experienced producers…and to see whether that would inspire them to start creating something new for themselves.”
The Revolution were the result, and their contributions can be heard on every song of Revolution, two from each of six producers, all bringing different spins on contemporary styles. Norman Cook (a.k.a Fatboy Slim) is a legend in his own lifetime and needs little introduction. Guy Sigsworth is best known for his work with Björk, Madonna and Alanis Morrissette. Marius De Vries’ diverse projects have ranged from the Sugarcubes to The Sugarbabes. Cameron McVey and Jan ‘Stan’ Kybert together brought their experience with the likes of Massive Attack, All Saints and Neneh Cherry.
South Londoner Rich File has worked with James Lavelle as part of U.N.K.L.E. and co-wrote the score for the film Sexy Beast. And Poet Name Life brought his stateside experience in the Black Eyed Peas posse to the mix.
Among the many Cuban players who make up The Revolution, the duo Anónimo Consejo represent Havana’s grass roots hip hop scene. Then there’s Ariday Vega Martín, who wrote and sang her contribution with astonishing speed and skill. Last but most certainly not least, the vocal quartet Sexto Sentido seem to have been the major discovery of the project: “We call them ‘Cuba’s
Destiny’s Child’, chuckles Zack. “They light up a room when they walk in and they sing perfect four-part harmonies live.” Although well schooled in Cuban harmonies, they weren’t bound by them, coming up with their own R&B influenced melody lines without prompting. It’s this kind of interaction the team behind Revolution were looking for. Looks like they found it.
For more check: www.therevolution-revolution.com