Havana Club and Brownswood Recordings present the latest edition of the Havana Cultura album series
In 2009, there was ‘Gilles Peterson Presents Havana Cultura’ followed by a remix album. ‘The Search Continues’ and ‘Mala in Cuba’ followed in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Now we have ‘Havana Cultura Mix: The Soundclash’, a compilation of collaborations between Cuban vocalists/musicians and unsigned artists from around the world.
All these projects have striven for exchanges between Cuba — with its illustrious yet traditional music scene — and electronic styles flourishing outside of a nation within which rhythms (salsa, rumba, cha cha cha) exist as the lifeblood of its people, but where there is limited access to new music and studio technology is rarely affordable.
Besides, cultural exchanges are the essence of electronic music. Cuban rhythms (especially Afro-Cubano) trace back to the heart of dance music — from disco through to Chicago house and beyond — and cross-pollination is what keeps it moving forward. Why not bring electronic music to a nation that, in a way, helped birth it?
This is what ‘Havana Cultura Mix: The Soundclash’ is all about. After sieving through hundreds of entries to a remix competition, ten artists from nine countries —United Kingdom, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, South Africa, Russia, Switzerland, Chile and Cuba—were selected by Gilles and his Brownswood production partner, Simbad, to travel to Havana to work in the studio with hand-picked singers, rappers, percussionists, brass, percussion and key players to put together an album.
The result is 12 tracks that not only shine a spotlight on emerging electronic artists to watch, but showcase untouched talent within a vibrant place such as Cuba; a rare window into this enchanting country with a slow economy characterised by rum, vintage cars and cigars.
From the electronic side, there’s the UK funky touch of Rukaiya Russell and footwork soul of Russia’s Raumskaya; the refined Afro-Cubano sensibility of Chillum Trio (Hungary) and rambunctious riddims of South Africa’s Seu Seppie as well as house, trip-hop, trap, minimal tech funk, distorted dubstep and more from noi5er (Chile), Teipah (Chile), Kerkstra (Netherlands), DJ MonoKey (Germany), Merlin Cornu (Switzerland) and Kike Wolf (Cuba).
Shining through from Cuba is the spine-tingling star quality of Daymé Arocena and the ferocious rap quality of Barbaro and El B. Elsewhere there are stunning diva harmonies from Sexto Sentido and the supple male vocal chords of Los Niches, while a range of ambidextrous Cuban instrumentalists, from prestigious collectives like Interactivo, can be heard spilling rhythms and spraying melodies all over each and every record.
In combining these two worlds — the preserved sound of Cuba and the innovative realm of electronic music — Gilles and Havana Cultura not only twist traditional forms to create something new, they’re giving musical evolution a little nudge forward in the process.