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Eme (M) Alfonso: Up close & personal with Cuba’s most gorgeous fusion musician

Eme (M) Alfonso: Up close & personal with Cuba’s most gorgeous fusion musician

Eme comes in without fuss, looking as gorgeous (if a little more natural) as in her music videos. And there she is sitting across the table. I have to talk her into having a glass of wine rather than a beer —better for the image. And then she is off. A quiet and tranquila person she may be but she talks with a determined and appealing confidence, drawing you in with a natural charm and refreshing lack of pretension. If this is what all-pop stars in Cuba are like, I want in.

Indeed, despite being from one of the most distinguished musical families in Cuba, she does not consider herself a pop-star. While the long shadow cast from her brother, X Alfonso, may be a shame given the brilliance and beauty of her own music, it has also led her to deliberately find her own way, to rebel by choosing a quieter life, less of a locura, more control, more deliberation.

Her affection for X and her parents is apparent; anecdotes are told with charm and life. Although as a soloist she is new, her professional début was at barely 14 years old when she joined Síntesis and shared a stage not just with her famous parents and brother, but with other Cuban music royalty such as Chucho Valdés and Pablo Milanés. At the age of seven she was sent to the prestigious music conservatory named for the great Cuban composer Alejandro García Caturla, where she studied piano and singing.

Now at 25, she is making significant waves here in Havana. M has released two albums, Señales (2008) and more recently Eme (2012), a fusion of R & B, jazz, experimental pop plus son and filin styles. Havana Cultura describes her as someone who never seems to stop metamorphosing: “One moment she’s all smoke and soul like a Cuban Angie Stone, and the next she’s Macy Gray belting out Trova poetry.”

Her biggest confession is that actually she was named Madonna although the name never stuck and back she is with Eme (M):

“The idea of names with letters comes from my grandfather. Grandma was on L St. and she was in labor. My mother was almost born in the ambulance. She was assisted there and was almost born on L St. My granddad saw L St and he named my mom “Ele”. Luckily she wasn’t born on Obrapía or any other street in Old Havana… with the weird names, it would’ve been disastrous. Ele is quite a nice name. My mom continued with the tradition with X for Equis and Eme for me… I confess my name is not Eme I was named after pop star Madonna. Not even my grandma calls me that and I don’t really like the name because I have nothing to do with the singer, although I like her music.”

The afternoon progresses and although she talks about her role in a video as “a girl who’s lost in the world, trying to create a surreal world…” I am left with the feeling that this is a performer who knows both where she is going and where she is from.
March 2015 This article formed part of the March 2015 issue of What’s On Havana The definitive monthly travel & culture guide to Havana Download our current issue of What’s On Havana, your definitive travel, culture and entertainment guide for all things happening in Havana, Cuba’s bustling and enigmatic capital city. We include features from around Cuba written by the best international travel writers covering Cuba. Our monthly online digital magazine is also available in Spanish and French.

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