Beyond 'Bailando': Getting to Know Cuba's Gente De Zona
After collaborations with Enrique Iglesias, Marc Anthony and Pitbull, the Cuban duo prepares their solo entry into the Latin music market.
Gente de Zona's energetic and irresistible sound first became known in Cuba, where the group was formed about 15 years ago. After an evolution in personnel, GDZ, which currently gives name to the duo of founder Alexander Delgado and Randy Malcolm, seemed to suddenly storm the Latin charts. As featured performers on Enrique Iglesias’ 2014 song of the year “Bailando,” GDZ's appeal was clear from the track's catchy rhythm as well as from the video, which is approaching a billion views on YouTube. After collabs with Pitbull and Juan Magan, they’ve sealed their chart success with “La Gozadera,” featuring Marc Anthony, who’s signed them to his new Magnus Media entertainment company.
Billboard talked to Delgado about the group’s upcoming solo album, the definition of Cuban reggaeton, and “breaking the myth that an artist who lives in Cuba can’t get to the top of the charts.”
Most people associate the name Gente de Zona with the song “Bailando.” Now, “La Gozadera,” your collaboration with Marc Anthony, is climbing toward the top of the Hot Latin Songs chart. But you’re hardly an overnight success…
Alexander Delgado: Gente de Zona is a group that we formed about 15 years ago in Cuba. We were known in Cuba and in Europe; most of our fans were Cuban. There came a point when we were anxious to establish ourselves on an international level. We knew we had to do something that the rest of the Latin world would be interested in.
We used to do a kind of music that was very local as far as the lyrics of the songs were concerned, lyrics that Cubans can understand…When I came to the U.S. I discovered that we had a way of saying things that was very closed, that in a lot of Latin American countries they couldn’t understand what we were saying. It’s like a dialect. But since we’ve been using a different kind of language we’ve been having success around the world.
Gente de Zona is constantly referred to as a reggaetón group, do you agree with that description?
We really don’t do reggaeton as most people know it. I think reggaeton is different depending on where it comes from. It was created in Panama and then popularized in Puerto Rico. In Cuba, there are a lot of currents of urban music. A lot of people in Cuba call it urban music, or they call it Cubaton. I call the music that we are doing Cuban reggaeton. We’re mixing Cuban rhythms – son, guaracha, timba – into the reggeton base. Our music is a fusión of Cuban reggaetón, of reggaetón and of Cuban music.
“Bailando” was a phenomenon. How did it happen for you?
We were in Cuba, and we got a proposal from Descemer Bueno, who is a Cuban who has worked for years with Enriue Iglesias and who had a lot of hits.
When he gave us the song, it was in part written by Descemer and Enrique Iglesias, and we completed the song, we created what the song needed, and we did the video with Descemer, but Enrique Iglesias was not involved at that point. And he heard the song and saw the video, and we were called to do another video with Enrique Iglesias, and we’ve since gone everywhere with that song. We always knew it was a good song, but we never imagined it was going to be so successful.
We were in contact with Pitbull, and we decided to do a song together ["Piensa (Dile la Verdad)], and from there we started to get to know the American market. Then we did “La Gozadera” with Marc Anthony.
Artists who were born into a Cuba ruled by Fidel Castro have been playing in the United States for about 20 years, whether traveling here on tour, or relocating to Miami and other cities. But they’ve had a lot of trouble breaking into the U.S. market. Do you think that it really took having a person like Enrique Iglesias to say, 'They are Cuban but I don’t care, we’re going to do a song together?'
I think that the political situation between the United States and Cuba [has had an impact on music] because there have been so many people exiled from Cuba in the United States. I don’t know a lot about that, because I was born into a generation that always had that barrier up between Cuba and the U.S. And I think it’s something that always kept Cuban music out of the global music circuit.
It´s well known that in Cuba there are great musicians who have come to the U.S. to play, and they’ve played in Europe, but no one has ever broken that myth before that an artist who lives in Cuba can´t get to the top of the charts or have the opportunity to collaborate with an artist on the level of Enrique Iglesias, Marc Anthony or Pitbull.
We´ve shown that it is possible to walk the red carpet, to perform on the most important awards shows, and that it doesn’t have to be seen as some kind of political statement. We´re happy to be taking Cuban music to places where it always existed, but it wasn´t recognized by people who weren´t able to see that we are quality musicians from Cuba and we are capable of achieving all of this.
So does everyone want to work with Gente de Zona now?
Well, it’s not that exactly, but I do receive proposals daily from a lot of artists who want to work with us.
I’m not going to stop doing collaborations. [But] I want people to get to know Gente de Zona solo. That’s what we are going to do with this album.
Are you already working on the album?
We’re starting to work on the album this month. We have everything laid out, what we are going to do, and how we are going to do it. The idea is for people to hear what Gente de Zona is capable of on our own.
You’re the first artists signed to Marc Anthony’s new entertainment company, Magnus. What does that mean in terms of production. Who will be playing on the album?
Marc will be overseeing the album. I always play with my band, we’ve been working together for 15 years. They’re the musicians who come with me from Cuba, and they are the ones who always record with me and play with me live.
Do you still live in Cuba?
I live in Havana. Well, I’m practically never in my house in Havana these days. Lately I’m going Havana-Miami, Miami-Havana. Maintaining those connections.
How has your life changed in the last year?
My life has changed incredibly – but what doesn’t change is my humility, my personality, I still have the same friends in my neighborhood, the same relationship with my family.
Have you bought anything big?
No! I’ m just keeping a low profile, it’s chill. I’ve just improved things for my family a bit and for my friends,
I just want to represent the Cuban people, and give the best of me.
Marc Anthony is known to be a big Cuban music fan, but his scenes for “La Gozadera” video were show in the Dominican Republic. He still hasn’t gone to Cuba?
Marc Anthony hasn’t gone to Cuba yet, but he will. Everyone will.