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Interviews Osmani Espinosa. Photo: Poster Studio/ Design: MJ. Sardines. Osmani Espinosa. Photo: Poster Studio/ Design: MJ. Sardines.

Osmani Espinosa, swimming in urban waters

When the name of Osmani Espinosa is mentioned in Cuban music, there is a word that inevitably looms: success. From his own songs, in which the most romantic pop finds shelter in the voice of interpreters such as Leoni Torres, Mayco D´Alma, Laritza Bacallao, to the leadership of La Oficina Secreta, one of the main production and management centers of the urban scene on the Island; everything in Osmani smells of success.

But, what are the processes of this man who plays at being the King Midas of Cuban sound and contemporary reality? What is your backstage? What do you have to have, or know, to conquer what many yearn for and very few achieve? It seems that having things clear is the premise. At least that is what is revealed to us in this conversation with Osmani, on any given day of this pandemic year.

Although you started your career as a singer in groups like Megano and Those who came first, what makes you really known is your work as a composer. At what point did you realize that you could write songs professionally?

I always wrote songs, but not to the level of knowing that they were going to be popular. The first to be successful was The summer is here in 2000-2001. At that time I belonged to a group in which most of the time we did my songs. I tried to write for other groups because that music that we made was neither widely broadcast nor televised in those days. I really realize in 2004, that I gave a song to a soloist and that song stuck, I gave another song to that group and suddenly it became a hit. It was when I said to myself: 'wait, maybe I can dedicate myself to this completely'”.

What kind of songs did you like to write back then?

“I especially enjoyed doing pop songs, which had to do with the street. In those days, salsa music predominated a lot in the country, everything was salsa and timba, and I was the one who did the opposite: pop, hip hop, fusion, pop-rock, ballads. I was in that alternative-creative world of weird things that I liked to experiment, and many singers took various ballads that I had and brought them to salsa. Then I realized that I could also write salsa starting from romantic music. At that time I wrote anything that could be mixed and fused ”.

To what extent is the fashionable sound environment determining for you when composing?

“I am a composer who has never wanted to be left behind. I have many composer friends who if reggaeton is fashionable, they say: "I do that for nothing in the world," because they see it as something that denigrates them or lowers their level. I've never been like this. I believe that songs are songs, and that in music A + B = C. Lyrics, lyrics, chorus and it's over. I think the important thing is what you say, not the musical genre you use. ”.

"For example, The summer is here It came at a time when salsa was fashionable and I, however, did not make salsa. I wanted to find something different. When you listen to that song it's basically pop and suddenly there's a piano tumbao. when singing The summer is here you realize that the choir is syncopated, that is, that there you have a very Cuban musical trait and everything is mixed. Perhaps that was what people liked, that they took the song as something rich and different from what it sounded like then.

“It happens similarly with other topics such as Let the drums sound. At that time the country was saturated with a more retro type of reggaeton, the one we call 'early reggaeton', and I entered with a type of fusion that was a mixture of Cuban trumpets simulating the conga with syncopated rhythms and did not let to be urban for that. I put the snare drum and the reggaeton rhythm and I advance the time. When at that time the time of reggaeton was black equal to 90, 93, 95 at the most, I put it at almost a hundred and so, it doesn't go away for a miracle disco music. That caught people's attention. I have tried to capture features of fashionable foreign rhythms, because I don't like to be left behind with what is happening in the world. You have to succeed in Cuba, but you also have to look abroad because we are a very small island, we do not have a large domestic market and it is necessary to look for the international one. I am not one of those who fights with the rhythms that come out, I am not an enemy of any genre. Whoever comes is welcome, and if I can adapt, the better”.

What is your creative process like: do you think of the artist and build a theme or once you have the song, do you look for a custom artist?

“I've been through it all. In the beginning I studied the artist, his timbre, his vocal register, I saw what had worked for him and what hadn't; I was studying why he had come to me to write a song for him, what had been his greatest hitWhy did it stop being successful? All those things have to be analyzed when you write a song for a certain artist. In recent times they asked me for songs on request, with specific themes. I went through the process also of going to the studio not even knowing what we were going to do, of building a beat first and then make a song up; also for having a central idea (which is more what I use today), knowing exactly what I want to say, and on that I develop a chorus and then everything else.

“It has also happened to me that I develop the body of the song and when I get to the chorus I am blank, because I put all my strength into the first part and I am left with nothing to say. Those are the issues that give me the most work. When I start from the chorus and from the first moment I have the chorus, everything else is easier”.

So do you think the chorus is the most important part of a song?

"Without a doubt. I come from commercial music, where everyone sings almost always the chorus. It is very difficult for people to sing a whole song up and down. Almost always, whatever the genre, people are more suited to the chorus, the choruses. For example: in salsa what the public sings the most are the final choirs, in timba the same. In pop music the chorus is almost always sung, not much attention is paid to the rest. When you put the chorus at the beginning of the song, you still have to repeat it more times. What can I tell you, I'm easy on music ”.

Do you rely on an instrument to compose?

“I‘ poundʼ the piano a little bit to get my songs out, build the chords. Although in recent times I rely on the use of technologies. You have to be fashionable! I have producers who help me a lot, to whom I say: "I want this", and they build the model for me based on what I am looking for. I have the melody or a letter in my head and I tell them: 'I don't want it to sound sad to me, but happy. Play me major chords. I want to work according to this styleʼ. They elaborate the musical base and I later work on it ”.

It became clear with this explanation that you are not the typical composer who sits accompanied by his guitar to put chords and build melodies. Does this mean that you can't do it like this or that you don't have the knowledge?

“Although I am totally empirical, life led me, especially in the early 2000s, to seek basic musical knowledge, that is, to study a little but without delving into musical techniques, because I believe that what is taught in Cuban schools music doesn't help us much. The more one gets involved in wanting to learn what is not necessary for the street, the more complicated it becomes to make a success. I prefer to know the basics and develop my ideas from there. We are in 2020 and I do not think it is time to compose leaning on a piano or a guitar. I know, admire and respect a lot of songwriters who work like this, but I honestly don't think it's time to do it that way. Today music goes very fast. Before a song was released a year, now a new song is released every two months, and you have to be in constant sound change ”.

Define sound change.

“Experimenting within the commercial world is getting more difficult every day. Suddenly today this rhythm with these chords is fashionable, but in two months it will no longer be. If you fit into the same thing, and you as a composer do not change, your proposal becomes old. Today the producers are the base of the composers. Composition camps are made in the world. And who goes? The composers with the producers. Three composers and three producers get together, they assign who each one is going to work with, and they go to a secluded place, where no one will bother them, and you compose with your producer by your side. You suggest what you want and the producer shows you to see if what he is doing is what you have in your head. Today it is composed like this. Composing using a guitar is part of the old school. It works and there are still those who do, but it is old school. Today you as a composer need one, two or three producers next to you, each with their own style”.

With this explanation, the roles of the composer and producer when creating a song may be blurred or unclear. What is the exact role that each one plays? Who is the real protagonist when it comes to building a new theme? What does each decide?

“The composer decides the lyrics and the melody. The producer can say that maybe this chord doesn't go well with that melody and can suggest another one. That is the function of the musical producer or the arranger, but the composer is the one who determines the general idea, what is going to be said in the theme and the melodic line that it will have based on the musical production that the producer made from what that you yourself suggested to him, in case you are, in the same way, a general producer. If you are simply a composer, you have to adapt to what the arranger does to you. In case that composer has production knowledge, you can suggest making changes to the beat or structure that beat in their own way. This is the new age."

What are your main musical and compositional references?

“I drank from several Spanish composers, but there were a couple of them, a Cuban and a Puerto Rican named Donato Poveda and Estefano Reyes, who are great. I was nourished by their melodic style and way of saying things. I listened to your records. I also listened a lot to Juan Luis Guerra. It seemed extraordinary to me how he narrated and said things. In English I have reference to Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Bryan Adams.

“Among Cubans, if I went backwards, the one with whom I most identify is with Vicente Rojas. He had a few melodic twists and a way of telling things that, in my opinion, were way ahead of his time. And, of course, the influence of Juan Formell, which all Cubans have ”. At what point does urban music come into your life and why do you decide to direct almost all of your creation towards this sound?

At what point does urban music come into your life and why do you decide to direct almost all of your creation towards this sound?

“It was as if I saw a tsunami. I stood in front of the boardwalk and saw a tsunami coming, and I said to myself: "this is going to wipe out everything." The people in Cuba are making force, they are becoming rebellious in the face of that tsunami called reggaeton. At that time, I was working with many artists who were very popular and I told them: ‘guys… you have to do reggaeton’ and everyone told me that I was crazy. They all went to other places, no one else wanted to enter the studio. Once again Jay Simons and I were left alone, wondering: now what do we do if nobody wants to do reggaeton? I didn't want to make other music anymore because I understood that it was a moment when if I kept doing it, I would stop being what I was.

“We were living in a bubble that would burst at any moment, when people opened their eyes this was going to be reggaeton everywhere. So I told Simons: 'We're going to look for reggaeton players. Because if the people we love don't want to do reggaeton, we have no choice but to look for reggaeton players.' I looked up and there was Jacob Forever: 'my brother, please, I need a songʼ. He was already alone, but I loved him from Gente de Zona and I started writing songs. on the disk of Until the boardwalk dries up there are five themes of mine.

“And there was Divan. Everyone knows what happened next… We became one of the most important record companies for urban music in the country. And I come back and repeat, it's not that I haven't made other types of music anymore, it's that everything simply changed.

“I have written salsas for some artists who have not been very successful, I have written other kinds of things that have not come out because maybe it was not their time. That's why maybe people only see the urban, but I'm willing to do any kind of music. What I do tell people before: ‘We’re going to get this out, but don’t expect great results because it’s not the time for pop, romantic or salsa music. That tsunami came, it passed through the boardwalk and we are in the middle of 2020 all swimming in urban waters ”.

How do you define music and the urban scene?

“I am the man in the suit. A commercial composer, fighter, warrior, who always changes his shoes when faced with stumbling and keeps walking. Who will I be and who would I like to be? The same in a few years, but changing many things. I would like people to understand that music is music, and that everyone has the right to listen to what they want, whatever their hearing allows them. I would like to change the thoughts of the people who lead us, so that they are able to understand, from the base, that in the end it is only music. But hey, if I don't get there, I'll stay as the composer who simply made songs and will continue to make commercial songs. "

How do you define music and the urban scene?

“Urban music is all the music that comes out of the neighborhoods. Any kind of genre or musical work that's done with a can and stick, with a home computer, that comes out of a person with a guitar, lying in a corner, that a guy comes with a drum and something comes out of there. That for me is urban music. Even a lot of the things that we call "alternative music" for me is urban. I know people who got together in a lot, made a duo and are famous today. That for me is urban music.

"Reggaeton is part of that urban music that began in Panama in the '90s, but that reggaeton that emerged in Panama was perhaps a result of dance hall of Jamaica, and they were nurturing each other. The one from Puerto Rico from the one from Panama, and so on. Everyone was creating their style. The famous cubatón… I think that the same reggaeton that is done today in Cuba is more foreignized than the one from the beginning. Because the Cuban urban music that began, the famous cubatón, had timba, guaguancó, it had everything. However, today he had to find other ways.

Why?

“The rich Cuban that Los 4, Eddy K, Baby Lores and El Insurrecto made - perhaps the last of that generation - did not have the necessary support, they did not have their own Cuban infrastructure to help them go further. Who supported? Those on the other side. But on the other side the cubatón was not understood much. So they had to merge and become a little more global, so that people could take it on in other places, because Cuban music costs a lot to internationalize. It's complicated.

“Today Cuban reggaeton understands that it is difficult to reach other countries that do not have such a rich and varied rhythm as ours. We are too rhythmic. How do you get to Spain (as we say, who have two left feet)? If you give them a complicated rhythm they don't understand it. The world goes very fast and needs something that is understood quickly. If there is a product that they do not understand, they will listen to the one that they do understand and they will continue. It is so ”.

What do you consider to be the main advantages and disadvantages of the urban scene in Cuba?

“The main advantage is the people. People likes it. Now, looking at the mainstream media in the country, I would tell you that it has no advantages. On the other hand, urban music has had to live a time that is that of social networks, the weekly digital package (paquete semanal), memories, the digital age. That did not happen to live other music that in other times has also been censored such as rock, hip hop, even experimental music, which, being ‘not understandable’, was prohibited. Those people had to live a time when they had to enter through the little channel: radio, television, the Information System, all those things. They had a bad time. How do you stop urban music today?

“I am going to give you a very clear example. Chocolate is prohibited everywhere. It is prohibited even in the Package. But when Chocolate brings up a topic -which is good for the people who consume it-, the topic becomes popular, unstoppable. from memory flash In Memory flash, from social networks to social networks, without any promotion. That shows you that another era is being lived, governed by popular taste. Because you say: 'if Chocolate got hit like that, why can't I get hit with pop-rock?ʼ. Those people don't stick because the public simply changed, their hearing changed.

“There is something within the phenomenon of music that is super interesting and that is that there are magical moments, trends. We're all listening to something, even if it's bad music, and the trend is what everyone listens to, and inevitably you're going to believe that's what's right. It's what happens with good, bad or regular urban music, that's what's playing, what people are listening to. For them the other type of music is not that it is good or bad, it is that they are not interested because it is not what they hear. For the vast majority of today's public that other music does not exist. Parents, uncles, listened to it, but not today's generation. Today the conditions are given so that what you like is urban music. Until something else is invented, there is no way to go against it, because the urban mutates. Rock is rock, pop has its variants, but... the urban mutates.

“From the fact that the rhythmic cell of reggaeton is very easy, they are mutating according to the needs. And the great exponents are looking for variability in the rhythms to give you new material, change the sound and leave you dizzy ”.

What you tell me about that constant sound search in pursuit of change, do you think it is something thought or does it seem to you that it arises spontaneously, naturally?

“For the great creators of urban music like Daddy Yankee and J Balvin, it is something natural. The big producers like Sky, Diplo, Major Lazer and others are always innovating because whoever finds something new wins. For example, J Balvin is a creator who surprises you with each song. When you think that he is going to follow a path and everyone falls behind him, he takes another. He's always alone in his league, like Daddy Yankee. The market will never saturate you, neither they nor their producers. They are going to take an African music that they heard where you least imagine it and they are going to use it in their own way. They are going to catch a sample from the 70s and they are going to modernize it. Until something completely different emerges, the phenomenon of urban music is not going to end.

Osmani Espinosa. Photo: Poster Studio.

Osmani Espinosa. Photo: Poster Studio.

"They are chameleons. And as long as the record companies are generating revenue from this, it's not going to be in any of their interest to release another artist of any other genre that isn't going to be interesting to them, that isn't going to represent the same amount of revenue."

As you said a while ago, La Oficina Secreta has become the main center for the production and management of urban music in Cuba. What do you think it contributes to the country's urban scene?

“Our difference with other production companies, and perhaps the main contribution, is in the way of working with the texts. We try to make our songs have more thoughtful texts, a more elaborate sound ”.

What do you mean when you talk about more elaborate sound? What difference does your sound have with that of Célula Music, for example?

“In my opinion, Célula Music is the perfect example of urbanity in Cuba. I say they invented this here, although before them there were Nando Pro, El Jerry. Perhaps those of the Celula were not the pioneers, but when the business was centered they were the owners of everything. For me they are a paradigm and they will always be number one in urban music on the island. Therefore, I cannot do the same they do. You have to be different.

“The difference between our product and theirs is in the type of song. We have an urban product, but perhaps with a bit more pop, with more singable lyrics for everyone. We don't go down underground deep. We have a more refined product, even in terms of sound. We studied a little the international sonority. For example: when mixing and mastering, Cubans like to feel taller than Americans. We do not. Here we try to have the levels that should be, so that the loudspeaker does not saturate, so that it does not disturb the people who listen to the songs. The sound concept is studied more. We think more about the texts. We try not to make songs that are totally objectionable, they may have little objectionable things because there are all kinds of audiences, but in general, we try to make it a censorship-free product.

“When you are looking for an urban music studio underground They [Célula Music] are the perfect ones, but when you go there, you know that your priority or objective cannot be to appear on the radio or on television. I maintain that romanticism of thinking that television is still important. On that basis, we look for the difference. We created a more global product because we think that people in their 30s and 40s also have the right to urban songs that reach their ears and are enjoyable for them”.

Can we speak then of a stylistic-musical stamp of the Secret Office?

"Totally. Aspects in the mix, careful texts, more elaborate than in other urban products. Also, I am looking for producers who know a little about music. That is not just instinctive chords. I try to reach the middle ground, I don't pretend they have a lot of knowledge, but I do need them to know something ”.

Why don't you want them to have all possible musical knowledge? Is it a barrier when creating your product?

"Yes. Because then it would stop being urban music, and it would become elitist and stylized music, and that doesn't work. To achieve a good, successful urban product, there has to be a limit to that musical knowledge that the producer possesses. If you have the knowledge then you are going to tell me: 'here we are going to put a 13th and 7th chord. Look at this 9th how beautiful she feelsʼ. And that cannot be, because the public that consumes this music does not understand. He does not understand it because he is not a musical audience. It is a public more interested in rhythm, and with a way of listening that is not prepared for that information ”.

I understand that over time the social context varies and with it, the public and their way of understanding music or any artistic process. But, for example: in movements like the filin, composers like César Portillo de la Luz or José A. Méndez, with their 9th, 11th, 13th, were very listened to and admired, and their music was consumed without problems. Why do you think that a product like this is not marketable now?

"Very easy. You can tell me about Silvio, Pablo, César Portillo, but the new generation doesn't know who any of them are. They have no idea of anything. "

Yes, but the public that consumed those songs and those composers did not know who they were until they became popular, precisely because their work was liked.

“It was an audience that consumed what you gave it. The radio gave you that, the television gave you that. Therefore, his ear was prepared to listen to that music, he understood it perfectly. And you would ask someone from that time and they would tell you: "If they put that on the radio and television, it's because it's good." Today's audience has the ability to choose what they want to hear. Today people connect and listen to what they want to hear. The public today is not musical. Today they tell you "this is what I want to hear, period." Very easy. Also, the world is going very fast. I can assure you that the majority of that public that consumes the most music, which is the generation between 15 and 21 years old, that stops to discover music, new artists, that public do not know who the composers you were telling me are, including Pablo and Silvio ”.

You mentioned it a while ago and now I ask you: what do you think Jay Simons brings to The Secret Office?

“Jay Simons is‘ the chief producer ’of The Secret Office. It is he who gives the sound, the timbral nuances that distinguish La Oficina's product. Each producer must have the ability to know what timbre fits each song he makes. That's Jay Simons, who allows the finished product to be just right. During the last years we have also worked with other people, seeking to open the sound landscape. We believe that you have to have an exclusive producer to rectify all things, to give the final touch or finish, but you still have to nourish yourself with others. You cannot close yourself, you have to explore ”.

How do you choose the artists that make up your catalog?

“The first is a sad look. For me artists have to have something in their eyes, a special aura. The sad look means that you have a good heart and that everything can work out. I don't like people with very high egos. The artist has to be a fighter, he has to have shown himself that he is worth it. Those people who sit and wait for you to do everything, I don't like that. One has to fight and to fight. The Secret Office was not created because someone came to me and said "here you have everything to do it." I was enduring the blows of life and coming forward. The artist in La Oficina has to have a warrior spirit, and then I have to like him.

“It is important that the singers are in tune, although they still criticize me for that. There are people who are successful and are not tuned. From a business point of view it is good to work with them because they give you something else. But I like that they tune, with natural talent and that they are noble, because nobility works with the public. ’

“I don't have physical prototypes established. I can work with any physicist. I am not one of those who look for them pretty. I just need you not to look like what I already have, especially timbrally. If I already have a Divan, why do I want another one like him? I like to work on any type of style, as long as you show yourself different ”.

Do you have legal or financial restrictions to be able to manage The Secret Office?

“Economic none. We do things the way we can. If a product is of interest and I want to do it, the way is sought and done. Now, legal ... Maybe you have promotional issues. The country does not support you ”.

Doesn't it support you for being an independent space, or for being a defender of urban music?

“It does not support urban people in general. In my case it has not hit me so much because we do everything the right way. My artists have companies, they work in public, the lyrics of their songs are usually not objectionable, so they are allowed to have some space on radio and television. But then I see other artists who do the same and who don't get any kind of support, I honestly don't know why. And it is no mystery to anyone that urban music in this country has thousands of restrictions.

“I think they got used to it and live their happy life. And I understand that Cuban television cannot put certain things that are not within the limits of censorship, because it is like that in all parts of the world. But there are times when you hear wonderful things that are not put on you and you don't understand why. That is the only real obstacle ”.

When we look at the musical and audiovisual product of La Oficina, we do not really notice great differences in style or quality with many proposals by artists that today top the charts of international success. Why has no artist from La Oficina entered the international market?

“It's all about record companies. Note that the Cuban artists with the greatest insertion in the international market are Gente de Zona, and everything was through record companies. Many times those artists who are with the famous majors that they are nothing more than the big production companies like Sony, Universal, Warner, and some independent that escapes, that suddenly makes a blow, which is due to the fact that almost always the majors they did not want the product or it slips out of their hands and they make a career in that circuit. Although then there are always those majors to buy the product.

“Cuban artists, perhaps because they are inside Cuba in a closed market, almost none are with the big companies. There have been some who at a certain moment have struck a blow with a theme like Until the boardwalk dries up, of Jacob, and suddenly they sign them. But that is a very complicated task. We are here alone fighting among all and it is very difficult to enter that circuit. Notice how Gente de Zona, despite so many years of success in Cuba, does not enter the big circuit until it merges with Enrique Iglesias, who belongs to one of these majors, later with Marc Anthony, also from one of these companies. Then you can see the gear that leads you to be in that soup. If you are not there, it is very complicated, unless your product by chance shoots up and goes viral. There have been cases like that of Osmani García with The taxi, that suddenly something happened and the topic went viral, people liked it, the topic shot up and slipped in.

“Perhaps with a different Cuba… The best moment for Cuba came with the reestablishment of relations with the United States. When Obama visited the island, the numbers of Cuban music (we monitored the sales numbers of the artists, YouTube visits, sales in digital stores) soared in an impressive way. And suddenly another calm came, and all the figures began to drop suddenly after the cooling of these relations. In other words, it would be necessary to analyze other factors that go beyond the musical to see why La Oficina, or why no Cuban music, urban or non-urban, reaches the international levels that you mention. The few Cuban artists who have this type of visibility is because they are linked to that circuit, otherwise nothing would happen ”.

What do you think urban music brings to Cuban music in general? Would Cuban music lose something if urban music disappears in the country?

“Cuban music has always been very rich, with international recognition. We have been a guide in different musical genres, salsa, mambo, son. But urban music arrived, which not only appears in Cuba, but in the rest of the world. It is not only Cuban but global. What happens to the world if urban music suddenly disappears? That is what you have to ask yourself, not what is happening to Cuba.

“Another problem is social networks, which do not help. Famous haters make it harder. Everything you get is criticized, attacked, mixed with politics. They have taken the urban genre as the flag of a certain political position. If you are urban, you have to express your political position through your music. They do not realize that music is art, and art does not have sides, it does not take positions in that sense. For me that is the worst thing that has happened to urban music. You have the support of one or the other depending on what you say. Not everyone has been lucky enough to be Leoni Torres who does not get into anything and everyone likes him. This type of controversy is marking the genre, it is the point of attention and unfortunately we are forgetting about music. I think that is the main problem that Cuban music has today. If you don't get into that kind of debate, they criticize you because they say you don't show up. This is about making music, not political manifestos ”.

“Today music translates into numbers. You see distinguished orchestras in this country that simply had to live in the digital age but did not adapt and are not doing well. Any urban singer, even if unknown, today uploads his product to a digital platform and has more listeners, more visits on YouTube, followers on Instagram, Spotify, Facebook, than the great bastions of Cuban music. Why? Because those people did not adapt to today's model, most of them were not interested.

“You see that all urban artists have fights with each other and live fighting. The real difference with the exponents of other genres is that these people do not make their problems public and the urban one does. But I can assure you that there are problems and differences in all the scenes. If you look closely, most of these people do not collaborate, for them collaborating professionally is not a common practice, the ego that lives in those scenes is still higher than that of urban artists, who, at least, understand that making music is a business, and they come together because they know it's good for it.

“When you say Cuba to the world, Cubans will always think of Los Van Van, Celia Cruz, Compay Segundo, but not the rest. When the world thinks of Cuba they will tell you Celia Cruz and Gente de Zona. Although it hurts, it is so. Young audiences have another perspective. If urban music disappears I don't think that musically Cuba will suffer a loss, because here there is a lot of good music to give to the world. The problem is that today we only know that good music and it interests us who are here, because it is not exported to the world, it is not viral ”.

Why do you think there is such a great rejection by the institutions towards urban music?

“In my opinion, this great rejection is solely and exclusively because you have to reject something. As in other times rock and hip hop were rejected, today reggaeton is rejected. So what happens is that in Cuba you have to reject something. Lately, what is fashionable, what people want to hear, is rejected. If it sounds somewhat foreign or sounds strange, it is rejected. Tomorrow a new genre is coming and it will be rejected. I once saw an interview with Formell in which he explained that when he changed the format in Los Van Van and did not follow the conventional instrumental training of the orchestras of that time, it was difficult for him to be accepted. In Cuba, the rejection of the new has become normal. Urban people say: "they miss it", because urban music today is one of the most commercialized in the world. I hope that one day that will change. "

Just these days I was watching a documentary dedicated to NG La Banda and the timba phenomenon, and when I saw the images of people dancing in La Tropical, I couldn't help but find certain points in common with the delivery reggaeton: elements in the way of dancing of the people, the stage projection of the singers, the way some choirs sing. Do you consider that the cast can be a kind of mutation of a genre as Cuban and as valuable to our musical culture as timba? Can the cast be understood as a purely Cuban reggaeton product?

"What is the cast? The guaguancó clef with rhythm and electronic base, melody and lyrics. I think that the cast has come to replace the timba. The need of the Cuban people to experience timba was lost in recent years and the cast came to say "I have mine too." The nexus is in the way of singing it, in the guapería, in which they leave the street, in the use of the harpsichord.

“The exponents of this genre are normally very street artists, with a very low cultural level, practically without studies, and that is not convenient for the institutions that represent the cultural interests of the country; therefore, reparteros exponents do not have the support they should. What happens is that those who direct us not see that that reggaeton that they rejected so much, today is the salvation for not hearing this other product that is more aggressive and that they want even less, which is the distribution. The reggaeton that they rejected today is super cute, with beautiful lyrics, and those who are doing the cast are bringing marginality to the surface. Then a new enemy arises.

“Within the urban world, the cast and reggaeton don't come together, they don't get along. Reggaeton players with more experience say: "I don't sing that," like, "I don't go down there." The fine reggaeton player sees this as something denigrating, but the delivery man says when he thinks of reggaeton: "I can't get there." There is a kind of hierarchy that does not allow them to mix at all. Sometimes they merge, they pull each other, they reconcile… But almost always what happens is that the one on top is the one who comes down to make the delivery, but the delivery man almost never goes up to do the other reggaeton. Those who are at a higher level say: "I'm going to go down to make a distribution to continue hitting, but I'm not going to give that one a chance to come to my territory."

“There is an interview of me from a few years ago where I envisioned: 'the institutions are worried about reggaeton, and they don't know what's coming up, something there called cast, a Cuban version of reggaeton, which is why what they should be concerned about. So I saw this phenomenon coming that is happening and that nobody is going to stop it ”.

So, at a conceptual level, can reggaeton be considered as the “mother genre” and the rest of the reggaeton expressions as generic variants?

"Totally. The actual origin of the cast is not known. Many say that it is a variant that comes from Santiago de Cuba. Chocolate says he made it up. Everyone wants to take credit for their creation. For me it is something that comes from further afield, from Africa and is sung by Africans. Here they incorporated the key, made their mix of elements and what we have today came out. For me it is a very rich genre, where there are very good songs ”.

How do you assess the current health of urban music in Cuba? What do you think will happen in five, 10, 20 years?

“The health of urban music in Cuba is very bad. We did not manage to transcend, we did not reach another level. Every day it is more difficult to make a success outside of the Cuban musical environment. All groups have lowered their numbers in sales, in visualizations, and I'm talking to you before COVID-19. We are going to have to work hard to raise the genre again. We are hearing tired. Salvation is in finding new exponents, new representatives. You have to fall in love with the public again with other types of artists, in addition to continuing with those of a lifetime.

“Another problem is social networks, which do not help. The famous haters they make it more difficult. Everything you put out is criticized, they attack you, they mix it with politics. They have taken the urban genre as the banner of a certain political position. If you are urban you have to express your political position through your music. They don't realize that music is art, and art has no sides, it doesn't take positions in that sense. For me that is the worst thing that has happened to urban music. You have the support of one or the other depending on what you say. Not everyone has been lucky enough to be Leoni Torres who doesn't get into anything and everyone likes her. This type of controversy is marking the genre, it is the point of attention and unfortunately we are forgetting the music. I think that is the main problem that Cuban music has today. If you don't get into those kinds of debates, they criticize you because they say you don't show up. This is about making music, not political manifestos”.

I am struck by how comfortable you feel with the term "commercial". What does the “commercial” concept contain for Osmani Espinosa?

“I love being commercial, that is my flag. I come from pop and that is being popular. Depending on how you look at it, it's commercial: musically, interesting lyrics, not easy ones. Songs that have a nice theme, that not many people have played the text, but that are melodically very easy to memorize and sing, with very simple and repetitive chords. I'm not interested in poems or metaphors in songs. A seat is not the combination of wood disguised… no, that is a seat and period, there is no need to think about it any more.

"I'm going to give you the example of Bad Bunny. He succeeds because he tells it like it is. Fifty years ago no one would think of saying the things he says, much less the way he says them. But this was the time to say them directly, and so he did. He said whatever he wanted and he didn't care. And since he said something that no one dared to say, people found it interesting. And you see… he ate the world. The first of its kind to do it that way. That is the grace, and it is that today, what is different is what triumphs.

“In the end, today everything is commercial, because everything is commercialized. There are people who think: "I make my songs for myself, to listen to myself." And then someone comes in and says, 'Compadre, I like that. I have a record label and I am interested in buying it. I'm going to give you $ 5,000ʼ, and forget it, he's going to sell the song without hesitation. At that precise moment it was commercialized, it became commercial. So all music is commercial.

“As for aesthetics, it is the same. If you, when you go to sing at the King Bar or at Mío & Tuyo, you dress the same as when you are at home, you know that you will not have the same acceptance. Each place has its aesthetics. Each artist has their own visuality. We cannot all look the same. Cuba lost the aesthetic concept among all artists. The artist cannot censor himself. If a singer has to put a unicorn horn on his forehead and go out on stage like that, it is most likely that all over the world people will download him for the differentness of the proposal; here in Cuba they will ridicule and criticize him. That happens because we have censored ourselves for years. We lost track of aesthetics and what we really want to sell. If you are fat, why does that have to be a problem, if in the end you sing beautifully, you will make everyone fall in love with your voice. It doesn't matter how you are. Maybe what catches your attention is that you are the only fat man who sings. We have so much to study ”.

What does Osmani Espinosa want to sell as a composer? What does The Secret Office want to sell?

“Any type of art, but that is commercial. Sell records, songs and make that product go viral. I want the public to sing the songs, that they be hymns, that wherever you are, people talk about The Secret Office’’

Leannelis Cárdenas Díaz Always singing and smiling. There is no better way to face life! Musician and musicologist seven days a week. Cuban from head to toe, inside and out. Keywords: music, family, light, friends, wind, free, sunflower, smile, honey, Cuba. More posts

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  1. Caridad Landas almenares says:

    Osmani Espinosa, I saw your interview. How can my 23-year-old son, a great talent, a singer and songwriter, reach you? It's very difficult? Help me

  2. Caridad Landas almenares says:

    Greetings, I am writing to you because my son is a singer and composer, he has several songs, all recorded, even an album, he has great talent, and I would like you to advise me.

  3. Caridad Landas almenares says:

    Greetings, my son is called Luis Rolando Fernández Landa

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