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Interviews Zule War. Photo: Courtesy of the artist. Zule War. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Zule Guerra: the heart in the throat

The beginnings are never easy and inserting oneself into the musical universe is much less so. For the jazz vocalist Zule Guerra, her first encounters with music date back to her childhood: “as a child I always had an inclination for art in general and I spent the time humming”. The guidelines of her professional path were beginning to be felt and she was barely aware of it; meanwhile, studying the piano opened up new horizons for him that were not linear. “When I finished the elementary level of piano at the Alejandro García Caturla Conservatory, I entered the IPVCE Lenin and started another journey”. 

However, in Zule the love for singing and art did not cease. He participated in amateur competitions in high school and, during college, represented the Faculty of Biology, where he studied Biochemistry. Thus, the music accompanied the vocalist beyond the rigor of a scientific specialty. “Almost at the end of the university stage was when I decided that, once I finished my degree, I would dedicate myself to music professionally. Exactly 10 years ago I graduated from the University of Havana and many things have happened since then.” God writes straight on crooked lines, goes a popular phrase. Perhaps that is why Zule Guerra went from Biochemistry to jazz as a natural process. Unquestionably, this genre was already in its essence. 

“Many things happened, each one of which had a certain relevance for me, which brought me closer to the right path; events that occurred in perfect synchrony and quite quickly and that led to my presentation at the 2013 JoJazz Festival, in which I had the happiness of being awarded. The JoJazz award was the confirmation, the indisputable impulse and the definitive sign”. 

Until today, Zule has performed on foreign stages such as the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts from Washington and is privileged to have completed a Master of Music in Contemporary Performance and Music Production at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. So his artistic career is full of turns, transformations and experimentation, just like jazz, a genre that he defends from a very unique style. With her we talked about the music market, the Cuban jazz scene, her musical evolution as a soloist and the projects that occupy her. 

If you had to make a summary of your artistic career, what moments would you not leave out? 

“That is very difficult for me (laughs) because I feel a great attachment and gratitude towards each one of the special moments that I have lived and that have contributed to the person and the artist that I am today. But, making an effort and without spoiling the opportunities that I will not mention, I will list a small list for you: The aforementioned JoJazz 2013 award; the presentation concert of my band Blues de Habana, from which came the first album, the first record contract and my first Cubadisco award; my concert Victrola Sessions, in which I had the opportunity to honor Latin American composers of the filin, in addition to performing as arranger and musical director; my presentation at the Kennedy Center which received a favorable review in the magazine down beat; the master's degree at Berklee College of Music, where I interacted with musicians from many parts of the world; and the recording of my third album Trip

Zule Guerra does not stop working. These days and in commemoration of the year of the release of her third phonogram (the first produced in the studio), the interpreter recorded a live concert with her band Blues de Habana from the República Records studio. Currently, he presents a video every week on his YouTube channel with the songs on the album. 

“Soon I will premiere other material recorded as a trio at Egrem's Estudio 18, this time also promoting some of the songs on the album, but in a more intimate and minimalist format. I continue to focus on giving the greatest possible visibility to my most recent production, which had a great impact on my life, since it was my first studio album, made up of original works of my own, and with a well-planned communication campaign, including music videos and makeover.”

They have included the music you make within nu jazz, do you feel comfortable within that category? 

“In a certain way I was guilty of being inserted into that category because, when they asked me at the beginning what kind of music I did, that was my answer: «I am a singer of nu jazz». At the beginning of my career, there was not much reference to vocal jazz in Cuba and, with the exception of a very few groups already positioned, the Cuban jazz “market” had a strong tendency towards the so-called latin jazz, and of course there was the classic reference to traditional American jazz. 

“At that time I felt that my music could not be defined within any of those categories because it is strongly marked by the fusion of various genres such as funk, R&B, Brazilian music; but he also had a penchant for filin, as well as constantly collaborating with hip hop and electronic music artists. All that mix made me question what place it could occupy in the Cuban jazz scene and I think that, in part, seeking to retain an audience and, on the other hand, as a positioning strategy, I suddenly found myself mentioning it countless times and explaining what it consisted of. the “novel” genre in interviews, radio and TV programs, until it was recorded: ʽZule Guerra, the voice of nu jazz in Cuba '"  

And if I were to ask you now, how would you classify your music within the jazz scene and music in general? 

“After delving into jazz, its history, its evolution over the years and its multi-stylistic and integrating capacity, I no longer worry about defining myself within a specific category in this genre whose essence is, in my opinion, very inclusive. . For me it is more important to evolve, to explore, to enjoy the journey of growth and learning, and jazz in its broad concept allows me that freedom”. 

Also readArtwork: Marla Cruz.

The Journey / Zule War

Carla Mesa15.05.2020

But don't you think that for the commercialization of the musical product, segmentation by genre helps?

“When it comes to marketing a job, musical genres help in a certain way to find that ʽaudience segment' that you probably enjoy one work or another. However, currently, in the way music is heard and marketed, through singles and play list, defining oneself within pure musical genres is increasingly complex. There is so much creation, variety, and competition in the musical world that the barriers between the different styles are dissipating more and more. Music platforms have understood it very well and today you can go to Spotify and find your ʽsingles' favorites in lists with names like music to relax, empowering music, Music for romantic dinners, etc. We can agree with it or not, but it is what is happening. And if we go back to basics, the beauty of music is its ability to connect through feelings with the receiver and it arrives in such a similar way, but at the same time so different and unique, that they simply end up liking it or not”. 

Zule Guerra is one of the few jazz vocalists we have had in Cuba. It is striking that, in the history of the genre, this type of interpreter is not frequent among us. 

“If you look at who are the musicians who are inclined towards jazz in Cuba, you will realize that most of them come from music schools, even though in Cuban schools jazz is not studied as a subject, nor as a specialty, because the main objective of his teaching is classical training. On the other hand, we have that the Cuban singers who defend popular genres, for the most part are not graduates of Isa, which is where the only (lyrical) singing career is studied. Many are self-taught with basic knowledge of music or instrumentalists coming from the academy. 

“Despite the fact that jazz is considered a popular genre, self-taught virtuosity and high academic complexity are intertwined in its codes. Although we know that for many iconic jazz singers throughout history it was enough to put their hearts in their throats, today there are international schools where jazz singing is studied in depth, and the voice is treated like any other instrument. Personally, I believe that spirituality, creativity and feeling are still essential, but having knowledge of harmony, mastering the scales and learning the different styles of improvisation that have influenced the evolution of the genre are tools that help to break through with success and originality.  

The career of this artist has many of those perfectly combined tools. She is able to transform her voice into different musical instruments. But this potentiality is not accidental.

"The scat singing I discovered it listening of course to the wonderful Ella Fitzgerald and the incredible Luis Armstrong. When I told maestro Bobby Carcassés that I wanted to perform at JoJazz, he immediately opened the doors of his house to me. It was in those classes with Bobby that I really started to get deeply involved with vocal improvisation and over the years I've been personalizing my style. Many times I am told about how I transform my voice into other instruments, but that is not really my intention. I believe that the voice has its own resources and was the first instrument from which the others were created. For this reason I have learned to incorporate different styles of improvisation from flamenco, Arabic music, guaguancó and, of course, defend my own language. Meanwhile, I keep studying and composing new music. This stage of the pandemic has undoubtedly experimented with our emotions and that is a mark that will definitely leave its mark.” 

Isely Isely Ravelo Rojas My favorite verbs write, read, travel and love. Social communicator, cinephile and journalist in developing countries. I collaborate in the Journal of the International Jazz Plaza Festival, in the Lucas project website and magazine, in the live Qva project and in the news site of the International Press Service (IPS). More posts

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