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What’s happening today in Cuban Rock Music

What’s happening today in Cuban Rock Music

by Ricardo Alberto Pérez

Some Cuban rock music connoisseurs and performers think that the genre is not going through its best times right now. But I believe that even though there might be a lot of truth to that point of view, I also think that these people are being overly influenced by the high demands which rock aficionados tend to have when it comes to their musical passion.

This having been said, the exuberance and the desire for this musical genre to continue alive and well throughout the Island have not diminished. We only have to take a look at the festivals being held in the different provinces in Cuba. They have the effect of drawing together the best groups in Cuba and on occasions bringing them in close contact with foreign rock artists. Also, these events are one of the best ways to encourage interchanges among the different tendencies and to increase the back-and-forth flow between musicians and their audiences.

On the whole, festivals have been occurring in cities that have strong traditions and backgrounds in rock, cities that have given birth to the most outstanding bands. That’s why certain cities are the ones to most frequently host the festivals: Santa Clara with its Ciudad Metal, Bayamo which organizes Rock de La Loma, Holguín with its Metal HG, Cienfuegos with their Rockasol, Matanzas giving the fans their Atenas Rock and Pinar del Río chiming in with Pinar Rock. Meanwhile in Havana, we often get the biannual gift of the Caimán Rock Festival.

The year 2016 has already seen some of those above-mentioned festivals as well as a brand new road version of the Rock Brutal Fest inaugurated on August 19th in Bayamo; it continued on to hold concerts in Holguín, Camagüey, Santa Clara and Havana and it ended up this September in Pinar del Rio. During the first two weeks of September, Cienfuegos put on Rockasol with over a dozen bands from different provinces. Just a few days ago, El Atenas Rock wound up in Matanzas, the city known as “The Athens of Cuba”: around twelve bands from Pinar del Río, Havana, Sancti Spíritus and Camagüey were taking part, joined by the local hometown bands. Needless to say, it was a cornucopia of rock styles. And of course as a logical adjunct, audiences could also enjoy tattoo shows and competitions at the same time.

Among the many rock bands keeping alive this passion for the genre here in Cuba, are the following “veterans” who have been around for years: Zeus, Akupuntura, Tesis de Menta, Agonizer, Albatross and Combat Noise. Add to the list the more recent bands such as Dana, Waiting for Nadia and Sweet Lizzy Project and the result is quite a heady mix.

It’s amazing how the bands have dispersed throughout the length and breadth of Cuba. Havana is definitely not the unchallenged capital of rock. Take a look at Rice and Beans from Matanzas, Mephisto (from Holguin, Azotobacter, Adictox and Blinder, all from Santa Clara, Limalla, and Cancerberos from Sancti Spíritus, Antagon and Sex by Manipulation from Camagüey…and these are merely a few examples.

In conclusion I’d like to take some time to mention three specific bands, Dana, Waiting for Nadia and Sweet Lizzy Project. Dana’s roots clearly burrow deep into the Death, Dom, Viking and Goth Metal springing out of the southern city of Cienfuegos. Waiting for Nadia was born in 2012 after the group known as Seven Days disbanded, fusing post-hardcore and some progressive rock trends to create a very original attraction on the rock scene.

As for the Sweet Lizzy Project, we need to emphasize the fact that the band is mainly made up of self-trained musicians. It highlights the distinctive voice of Lizet Díaz (Lizzy) who reminds us a lot of the legendary British singer, Amy Winehouse. The band’s mayor accomplishment is having been nominated at Cubadisco 2013 with their first recording “The Beginning”.

I think that if we want to see Cuban-flavored rock music developing we’ll have to set aside our historical nostalgia for this genre and focus on creations that have been enriched by the powerful sounds on our Island in order to end up with an original new sound. We’ll have to get a feel for the market and for a certain sector of fans who have gotten used to the live performances of these undisputedly talented artists who have been providing us with the covers of famous English-language rock ‘n’ roll numbers and not just their own repertoires.

The problem of finding the ideal venues for rock concerts is one of the most controversial topics today, especially because such emblematic places such as Havana’s Patio de María and Maxim Rock have been shut down. On the other hand, some groups manage to perform in new venues such as El Sauce and Fábrica de Arte Cubano. In some provinces the Hermanos Saiz Association (AHS) provides support for the search for such places. With the present and growing demand for rock music, performance venues are sadly too few and far between these days.