Sony Enters Historic Agreement to License Egrem's Catalog of Cuban Music: Exclusive

Omara performs at the Portuondo Orquesta Buenavista Social Club Adios Tour Concert
Rex Features via AP Images

Omara performs at the Portuondo Orquesta Buenavista Social Club Adios Tour Concert, Teatro Circo Price, Madrid, Spain on July 21, 2015. 

The most extensive catalog of Cuban music in the world will now have global reach.

More than 20,000 recorded tracks by the likes of Irakere, Los Van Van, Bola de Nieve, Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portuondo, among many others, will get new life thanks to a global licensing agreement struck Tuesday (Sept. 15) between Sony Music Entertainment and the Havana-based Egrem (Empresa de Grabaciones y Ediciones Musicales, or Enterprise of Recordings and Musical Editions in English).

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Egrem’s catalog, the most extensive catalog of Cuban music in the world, encompasses audio and audiovisual recordings produced since the 1960s.

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana
Cuban "son" star Ruben Gonzalez, waves to the crowd as he  performs traditional Cuban ballads at Salon 21 Sunday, March 7, 1999, in Mexico City.  Gonzalez and Ibrahim Ferrer (not seen) leaped to international attention last year with release of the "Buena Vista Social Club" album that rescued from obscurity a whole generation of elderly Cuban "son" musicians. 

Although portions of the catalog have been licensed before by various labels in different parts of the world, this marks the first time a multinational has access to the entire stable of recordings for the whole world as part of a multi-year agreement.

 “We are delighted to be partnering with EGREM to share for the first time one of the largest and most acclaimed catalogs of Cuban music with fans across the globe,” Sony Music Entertainment CEO Doug Morris said in a statement. “This landmark agreement will help expand international awareness and appreciation of Cuban culture, Cuba’s rich musical heritage and its many wonderful artists.”

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Although the deal between Egrem and Sony had been in the works for over two years, it was only signed Sept. 15 in Havana by Afo Verde, Sony’s chairman and CEO for Latin America, Spain and Portugal, and Egrem managing director Mario Angel Escalona Serrano. Edgar Berger, Sony’s chairman and CEO, International, was also at the signing, which took place at Areíto studio 101, the fabled Havana studio where legendary Cuban and international artists have recorded since the 1940s.

“We see these agreements as an opportunity for the joint management of our catalog over the coming years,” said Escalona Serrano.

 “We are working on the release of this treasure of Cuban music so it will be available on all possible music and video platforms for music lovers to enjoy as soon as possible,” said Verde.

Although the U.S. and Cuba have been in a process of normalizing their relationship since December 2014, and the two countries restored diplomatic relations this past July, the Sony-Egrem deal was subject to many required steps.

Sony entered into the transaction pursuant to the “informational materials” exemption under U.S. sanction rules for Cuba administered by the Office? of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). This exemption applies to music and other works of art, and is intended to promote the free movement of information and artistic expression by the Cuban people.

For Sony, the Egrem license, at a time when relationships between Cuba and the U.S. have finally opened up, is a major coup.

“Sony Music is honored to bring this iconic music -- representing over five decades of Cuban culture -- to all corners of the world,” said Berger. “We are thrilled to introduce these extremely talented artists to the global audience they so richly deserve.”