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GRL PWR in 20 Cuban songs

Every March 8, many women around the world stop. They take to the streets to demand rights and justice and respect and common sense. Women with white, green and purple scarves. With posters, slogans and convictions. Because, although much progress has been made in terms of civil rights, in the deconstruction of a heteropatriarchal system towards a more egalitarian society, unfortunately, it is not enough, and there are still many reasons to demand a fairer world for women throughout the planet. .

In Havana, as in other places, music is an essential part of these meetings. With this playlist, we want to pay tribute to all women and join them on their journey. From Celia Cruz to Elena Burke passing through Eme Alfonso, this is a list that summarizes the voices of artists with a clearly feminist voice, or with a work that has built a path, expands borders and has inspired many others behind them. . The history of Cuban music and social movement can be told through the songs of this group of spectacular women who sing about life, love, whatever they want. That's what it's about.

Few songs exude more Caribbean flavor than this hymn from the Queen of Salsa. From exile, and as part of the Fania Records label, Celia Cruz rose from star to the category of living legend of Cuban music. His is one of those rare cases that transcends borders and ideologies. Her innate versatility to go through the various genres of popular dance music (salsa, guaracha, son, rumba, bolero, it didn't matter), together with her incomparable swing, made her an ambassador of Latin culture in the United States and throughout the world. Quimbara, composed by Puerto Rican Luis Ríos Cepeda, and released as a single from the album by Celia & Johnny (1974), is an example of all this, an invitation to the party like few others.

Cuban peasant music had its peak in Celina González and no one has managed to displace her from that seat. An inspired composer, short in stature but owner of a powerful and in-tune voice, her song represents the dignity, pride and ancestral strength of the inhabitants of the fields of the Caribbean island. In the song with which we present her, she identifies herself with the most popular genre of Creole peasant music, the Cuban point. I also still live in the Spanish Canary Islands, the point is considered a round trip genre, which has evolved taking elements of local folklore towards the existence of various "points" according to the region of Cuba (point from Sancti Spiritus, point from Pinar del Río, among others). ). It is still grown in the guateques and parties of Cuban peasants.

Within the powerful wave of dance groups that emerged in the nineties of the last Cuban century, Bamboleo stood out on its own merits. The band, formed by the talented pianist, composer and arranger Lázaro Valdés, was particularly distinguished by the inclusion of female voices in a leading role. Vania Borges, Haila María Mompié and Tania Pantoja are some of the names that passed through the Bamboleo lineup, a very unusual gesture in the traditionally macho timba scene. It is no longer necessary It is the tasty plea for the independence of a woman who refuses to fall into a vicious circle after a love breakup. And it is an obligatory theme in any respectable Cuban dance party.

In the contemporary panorama of Cuban rap, La Reyna y La Real (Reyna Mercedes Hernández Sandoval and Yadira Pintado Lazcano) make up a duo whose growing career spans a decade of work. Her work is distinguished by the unprejudiced incorporation of diverse sounds and rhythms to a hip hop base, as well as by an increasingly conscious and vindicating discourse of their condition as black Cuban women. It is enough to hear them defiantly and proudly sing the chorus of this song ("This is my time and who says no! / I'm going down and let the rice burn") to know where your heart is.

The duo Obsesión, made up of Alexei Rodríguez “El Tipo Este” and Magia López, are among the greatest representatives of hip hop old school in Cuba and at their birth constituted a Rare avis in the turn of the century Cuban rap scene. In the midst of a scene that was quite mimetic and bland in its lyrics, it emerged like a breath of fresh air, with a speech that was the result of observation and critical analysis of the island's reality. Topics such as racism, sexism, respect for diversity, the need to revisit history from new canons, were the flags that the duo waved with their committed and responsible musical work. Two albums left a mark: the factory (2003) where they collaborated with the guys from Doble Filo, and the black disk (2010), both independently produced. The theme we propose is a reflection on the complex meanings and causes of prostitution.

The strong presence of Yissy García on drums is an act of empowerment in itself, in a country where many more women graduate from music academies than men, but that proportion is absolutely reversed in the labor market for instrumentalists. After her fleeting stint in female salsa groups (being almost a teenager, she played the timpani for a time in the Anacaona orchestra, the dean of all-female orchestras in Cuba) and her training as a drummer in that all star which is Interactive, Yissy put together the Bandancha group in 2012, to take a few steps further in his artistic career, compose and direct his own project. In 2016 he released his debut album Latest NewsUniverse is a single from 2018, with a beautiful video that you shouldn't miss.

"Neither master, nor state, nor party, nor husband", say the Krudas Cubensi in this song in which they return, in their own words, to “represent the choices of women and people queer”. The project by Odaymara Cuesta (Pasa Kruda) and Olivia Prendes (Pelusa Kruda) has been marking the pace of Latinx sexual dissidence discourse for more than two decades, with a coherence and lucidity ahead of its time. This song, belonging to the album powerful (2014), is a powerful testimony of their diverse mixed conditions (migrants, Caribbean, queers, poor), not as a lament, but as a joyful recognition of themselves.

The career of no other Cuban rapper has gone further and higher than that of Danay Suárez. His songs have been included in the soundtrack of the video game FIFA and this, his most famous composition, has even been covered by one of the spoiled girls of the current urban genre, the Colombian Karol G. With her melodic voice and her ability to encapsulate in rhyming popular wisdom, Danay has gained followers throughout the Latin American continent. Yo aprendí is he summum of all that this talented artist can give.

For a long time this immortal bolero by Villareño composer Luis Cárdenas was attributed to María Teresa Vera herself. Perhaps as part of the legend around the enigmatic and discreet sexual life of the legendary singer, and for the added morbidity that the gender of the recipient of the composition does not change. Whatever her sexual preferences, María Teresa Vera's career is one of the most remarkable and innovative in Cuban popular music. Her legendary duos with Rafael Zequeira and Lorenzo Hierrezuelo, as well as her brief but defining period at the head of Sexteto Occidente, make her a key figure in shaping a typically Cuban sound of song at the beginning of the 20th century.

The resounding work of Marta Valdés (composed of songs, boleros and sones) has marked the repertoires of several generations of Cuban performers (from Vicentico Valdés and Bola de Nieve in the 1950s to the contemporary Gema Corredera and Telmary, through Elena Burke, Pablo Milanés, Omara Portuondo and Miriam Ramos). Outside of Cuba, many have become standards (Chano Domínguez, Charlie Haden, Chucho Valdés, Silvia Pérez Cruz, among others, have covered them). On this occasion, Haydée Milanés, one of his most faithful interpreters and who dedicated an entire album to him, sings his version of Words, the first composition of a very young Marta Valdés, in 1955. All the strength, pride and determination that a woman is capable of live in this text and this melody. 

In a colloquial tone, questioning an interlocutor -probably male- who seems skeptical, Sara González, the main female representative of the Nueva Trova Movement, claimed for women in the 70s of the last century, the same roles in society and the same treatment that men had then. For some, today may sound naif this hymn to equality, but in a profoundly macho environment like the Cuban one, still seems to make sense. The Cuban government has just approved a General Program for the Advancement of Women, which shows, together with the enormous efforts of feminist groups and civil society initiatives, what Cuba still has to do in these matters. 

This is one of the few songs that –even wrapped in a veil of fiction or mystery– can be identified as openly lesbian in the repertoire of Cuban music. As a photograph or audiovisual short (hence the name), Yusa, Cuban composer, singer and multi-instrumentalist now based in the United States, presents us with a couple of girls who, accomplices, get out of a car together and are followed by the looks of an entire neighborhood, which, in silence, disapproves –or envies– their relationship. A kind of musical haiku, bass and voice. It is included in their second album (Breathe, 2005).

As a catharsis, in this song Eme Alfonso subtly portrays the little drama of relationships. Must love be possessive? Eme asks herself without asking when she says “Your eyes demand me / Your fear is thirsty / Shake off your sad pride / Despair of power”. We know your answer from the title. Eme's work confirms that if there is a family in Cuba to which the proverb "De caste comes to the greyhound" fits like a glove, it is the Alfonso Valdés (she is the daughter of Carlos Alfonso and Ele Valdés, founders of the mythical Síntesis group, and sister of the unclassifiable artist Equis Alfonso). The beautiful video clip of the song, created by the designers Raupa, Mola and Nelson Ponce, is a perfect audiovisual complement for the composition.

The future of Cuban jazz arrived a few years ago, and his name is Daymé Arocena. The young singer made her solo debut in 2015, through the English label Brownswood Records, and since then she has only grown. An impeccable work based on her extraordinary vocal skills, her imagination and voracity as a composer, and an accompanying band that lined up some of the best musicians of her generation have made Daymé one of the favorites of the specialized media and the public that follows the jazz. that party called The rumba is my name It is an unbeatable cover letter from an artist who still has a lot to give.

Brenda Navarrete emerged like a cyclone, a few years ago, in the panorama of Cuban popular music. Trained in the demanding Havana conservatories, she finished her tanning in the female rumbero group Obini Batá and in the choirs of the Interactivo band. Her stage presence together with her inseparable drum, her strength and charisma make her a phenomenon that does not go unnoticed by anyone. In this song he pays homage to the rumberos who have preceded him, even though this genre has been one of the most macho of all times. Brenda is part of a generation that is challenging the traditions of Cuban popular music.

The world fell at Lizzo's feet, but here in Cuba we already had our own flutist with catchy sounds. From Paris, Yaite Ramos Rodríguez has forged an explosive career characterized by a mixture of playful lyrics with sounds of urban music and African rhythms. Listen to her, for example, sing ironically "Your words don't hurt / Your insults almost flatter me / Let me go, you don't need me / Your mind mistreats her". Adored by the circuit of the world music and barely known by the Cuban public, the work of La Dame Blanche is waiting to be discovered by her countrymen. We hope that sooner rather than later justice will be done.

Telmary is one of the best things that has happened to Cuban music so far this century. He studied English language and literature, but had a vocation as a journalist. He began to gain experience as an MC animating the parties of Djoy de Cuba, a local electronics guru, until he turned to rap and jazz-poet, finding over time a very personal style. After passing through the bands Free Hole Negro and Interactive, his first album Daily, and a few years living in Canada (where his musical proposal was hardened in hard battles), he formed his band Habana Sana. This song in which she puts her man dots on the i's, is already a classic of her repertoire, to the point that she has recorded a new version for her recent album inside.

The Franco-Cuban girl duo Ibeyi, daughters of the important and prematurely deceased percussionist Angá, use ambiguity and poetry here to leave us, always, sure of their safety. The song, in which they have the luxury of inviting the great Spanish rapper La Mala Rodríguez, is built on a simple electronic dembow base and a hypnotic bass, on top of which they perform a precise and accomplished three-voice vocal work. … “And I'm not cold anymore / And I'm not afraid anymore / Although I have nothing / The sky rocks me… Remember it…"

It is noticeable in Sigrid, one of the newest voices of Cuban song, the intention of finding her own path, her space, her musical and vital discourse. Silence, she asks on this track, as if to allow herself the necessary introspection that leads her towards her identity as an artist and a woman. “How good it is to hear my own voice”… he says. We will have to closely follow this girl, who released her first album with EGREM a couple of years ago, Confluencias.

Representative of the new Cuban generations, Malaka is a perfect example of this cross-border and virtual culture in which we live today. With an aesthetic closer to the underground than to urban music, Jennifer González aka Malaka has developed a short but intense career that has made her a benchmark for contemporary sound on the Island. Songs like Lengua (Tongue) are a fun game with sexual stereotypes by this young artist who flees from classifications and who is determined to bring Cuban popular music into the 21st century.

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