All of these artists, like many other musicians from Cuba, have already performed in the United States, and their albums are available through all of the U.S. digital music services. President Obama’s announced changes in current Cuba policy may increase Cuban artists’ presence on U.S. stages, or maybe even, eventually, on the charts. Or they may not What is clear is that if you don’t know these artists from Cuba, the time is now.
X Alfonso is a singer, rapper, musician, video director, and possibly, one of the coolest people in the world. He’s the founder of the Fabrica de Arte Cubano (the Cuban Art Factory), a cultural center recently opened in an old cooking oil factory that’s a recommended first stop for anyone heading to Havana to check out the local music scene. Alfonso’s parents founded the progressive Cuban jazz-rock group Sintesis, and his own music typifies a contemporary style of Cuban fusion with global appeal. He played with Audioslave at the group’s 2005 groundbreaking concert in Havana.
Those who had never heard of hip-hop Los Aldeanos may now know them as protagonists of a recent Associated Press report of USAID infiltration into the Havana rap scene. But plot or no plot, their leading role as models for young Cubans resulted from their music, which in the past has focused on distinctly Cuban themes. At the time the AP report was published on dec. 11, Los Aldeanos were preparing a new álbum. The publicity, wanted or not, will surely have people listening.
Carlos Varela is simply one of the greatest singer/songwriters in the Spanish language. His lyrics can be recited by a generation of Cubans who, like Varela, began to question the society they lived in the 1980s. More than a protest singer, the artist who’s been called the Cuban Bob Dylan is the embodiment of Cuban soul. He’s a pathfinder who’s performed periodically in the States over the last twenty years, lately appearing with Jackson Browne.
Alexey Rodriguez and Magia Lopez began perfoming as Obsesion in 1996, creating streetwise hip hop on an Afro-Cuban musical framework. The duo have maintained there popularity, and were recruited by producer Gilles Peterson for his recent Havana Cultura project.
Haydee Milanes has a voice that’s impossible to ignore; and try to take your eyes off her while you’re watching her sing. She’s the daughter of Cuban music royalty – her father is the famed romantically-inclined folk singer Pablo Milanes – and her timeless glamor and sophisticated Cuban lounge vocal style instantly put her into the diva category. Her 2005 album “Haydee,” with songs by Descemer Bueno of “Bailando” fame, arrived in the U.S. via EMI. It did not get the attention it should have. Her latest production, “Haydee Milanes Canta a Marta Valdes” is not yet available here. Look out for it.