Cuba's digital destination
Although these electronic–acoustic genres originally developed outside of the island, once they arrived, they quickly took on elements of Cuban style, rhythms and beats, and there are now a deal of artists involved in these two areas, most, but not all, associated with Laboratorios de Música Electroacústica. Juan Blanco (1919) is the godfather of this centre and this movement, with a tremendous heritage and compositional output, and one of his first pupils, former rock musician, Edesio Alejandro, has, over the years, been best known for his electronic music for film—especially with one of Cuba´s finest directors, Fernando Pérez. More contemporary notables are the young Monica O´Reilly and Sigrid. We´d also like to mention a young experimenter—Fernando Fors—who apparently just works out of his small bedroom, but they say he produces great stuff and is a real innovator.
Within electronic music—house, techno, etc—most notable are personalities such Joy Ban, Wichy del Vedado, DJ Kike, DJ Edgaro and DJ Raciel, who each have their own, individual approach and varying ways of mixing Cuban styles with electronic forms. If you find yourself in Havana and like this type of sound, they play fairly regularly, and are known by everyone at the Salón Rosado de la Tropical and La Tropical discotheque.
Ask anyone who´s in the know about the Electronic music scene in Havana and the name N.E. will undoubtedly come up as the most experimental and cutting edge of the lot. N.E. are old friends—Alexis de la O and Edwin Casanova who, rather surprisingly, started out, respectively, as architect and fine artist. So how did this charming but very serious pair of young professionals jump from buildings and paint to music and the world of experimental Electrónica?
Alexis was the first, in 2000, to have access to a computer. He soon got hold of some music software (not always easy in Cuba) that made it possible to mix limited loops and, fascinated to learn more, began to produce his own. After showing his work to a few friends he and Edwin decided to collaborate and, in 2004, they formed the project that is now N.E.
At first their songwriting was closer to rock–pop styles. But now, although those influences are still present, N.E. describe their music as being more related to the so–called industrial electronic music scene of the 70´s, and then to strands of minimalist techno, ambient experimental pop and the European–style hip hop of the late 90´s. In exploring and experimenting with new mixes and formulas, sounds, rhythms, structures and progressions, they hope to open up the experimental electrónica scene in Cuba.
Living and working in Cuba, a developing country, begs the question as to how they are able to work so enthusiastically with something that, of its nature, has to do with advanced technology. The result for N.E. has been what they call “a rough music, elemental, full of sound, dirty, domestic” related to what they have at their disposal and used to their maximum advantage. They are presently overburdened with work that hardly pays the bills—from developing their own compositions, commissioned pieces for TV spots, documentary and video, to a recent installation proposal for a Spanish Art Biennial and a collaborative effort with Cuba´s most prestigious contemporary dance group, Danza Contemporánea.
So where can you find them? They live in a country which actually has a strong tradition, albeit small, of electro–acoustic experimentation so you might imagine that concerts might be regular occurances. The late Cuban composer, Juan Blanco, led this movement from the 1960´s onwards and there is still a thriving centre and annual festival in Havana to this day. The problem for N.E. is that this movement is quite specialised and has not really embraced the more popular music–based style which N.E. favour. Then there´s the problem that many young people, who have an interest, are now moving more towards the high profile Dj dance scene for their shot of Electrónica. But, of course, it´s not the same thing. However, from time to time, they are offered a small, informal space to show their work even though their audience, though loyal, is always very small. Go online and you can find various N.E. tracks up there, plus the odd interview. Visit Cuba and we can put you in touch with them.
My feeling is that if they were working outside of Cuba they would probably start to fly. They would, of course, find themselves in a very big sea rather than a small pond, but their talent and innovation is obvious and their serious and inspired work deserves a much wider audience. December 2009