A Cuban named Alexander Abreu

He carries the island tattooed on one arm, in his voice and in his heart; they call him Cuba because among so many well-earned titles: trumpeter, singer, composer, arranger, director, producer ... he prefers to be defined, simple and deeply, as “a Cuban”.

What a luxury to have in the newsroom of CubaSi, the leader of Habana D' Primera band and one of the most important creators of popular dance music in Cuba.

 Alexander Abreu

Habana D' Primera, ten years later, how much has it evolved, how much remains?

"It started as a children’s game –I would say–, "with the idea of
​​accompanying artists who left the studios with important records and did not have a band to defend these productions, and we had the need to create a repertoire of our own in order to be able to live, to be able to keep the band, never with the idea of ​​belonging to the lines of first-level bands, and the result has really been a surprise for everyone”.

“First, because I am a trumpeter, I do not have vocal training, like the singers who study this profession, and second, because, as our times go by, urban music trends and all those things that too reach the island, as they reach everywhere, then, making Cuban music in these times and being able to collude with the youth is a bit difficult, anyway, it seems that the work has been achieved”.

What do you think have been the keys for that success?

“I think the background that I have had through my years of work as a trumpeter helps me. I had the opportunity to work a lot, a lot, a lot ... Seven and a half years that I worked in Paulo FG’s orchestra, when this orchestra was composed of very important musicians –the best musicians of Cuba of that time for me–, honestly, in a time, where there were so many musicians it's a bit strong to say that they were the best, but for me it was an ensemble of very important musicians such as Juan Manuel Ceruto, Emilio Morales, maestro Julio Montalvo with the trombone, Frank Rubio at the bass, Carmelo Adre, my trumpet teacher, anyway ...

“This background, this possibility to work with these music greats and, at the same time, respect for Cuban music, and I say that because I think that Habana D' Primera has ingredients from all the ensembles that preceded us: it has a little from Irakere, from Afrocuba, from NG La Banda, and a lot from Van Van”.

The train of Cuban music, also a locomotive for Habana D' Primera?

“Van Van, Juan Formell, the most important pattern of Alexander Abreu, because he has been a person who has transcended over many generations. I was seven years old and was dancing in Cienfuegos with Van Van; today I am 42 and Van Van remains with an amazing force setting the standard of the music we make. It is no secret that Juan Formell is Alexander Abreu’s main pattern to follow, and I believe that a bit of all these ingredients is the system to be able to have an own stamp, an identity, looking for the way to have an urban poetry that everyone can understand, with lyrics and themes that can reach people, and can be identified, and actually the result has been, until today, outstanding, not only in Cuba, but all over the world as well”.

 Alexander Abreu

How important are the lyrics within popular dance music to you?

“It's everything, it's the message. You can have a very strong musical system, you can be a musical genius, but if you do not have a message within what you are displaying, you have nothing, and in Habana D' Primera we have a fairly rigorous work with these things, looking for a way to interact with the popular slang, phrases, although, we know they are not within the system of Spanish as such, but Cubans tell them and, at the same time, making it work in the whole world for those who speak Spanish so, they can understand us, but it has been achieved. We also seek a way for a 14-year-old girl to say "how beautiful that song is", and that a tough guy likes it too; building this bridge is very difficult, anyway, we have achieved it”.

How do you define Habana D' Primera?

«Modesty aside, it is no secret that when Habana D' Primera came out, Cuban music was in a dream stage; I say dream because we never lost these great creators who have done a lot for Cuban music throughout all these years, such as Manolito Simonet, José Luis Cortés, many creators who have made history and continue to make history; but there was a dream stage, because even what I was recording inside the studios as an instrumentalist had low pressure, even, the boys who were studying in the art schools had different leanings, and I think Habana D' Primera has been an engine that has driven this work in a huge way.
Today, there are several new ensembles displaying Cuban music strongly, youth that is defending that music, and I believe that Habana D’ Primera has a bit to do with that. I see Habana D’ Primera like an engine that has driven new generations, even great musicians who were living outside Cuba, to return to the island and display their work too, why not”.

And who is Alexander Abreu?

“A Cuban. Alexander Abreu is a fruit of this country, with all the energy that can be described”.

Translated by Jorge Mesa Benjamin / CubaSi Translation Staff

 

Symphonic Concert Opens Arts Festival in Cuba

A concert by the Philharmonic Orchestra of the University of the Arts of Cuba will inaugurate the 9th Arts Festival, an event by the high studies house to take place from June 11 to 17, according to the organizers.

The performance will be held at 21:00 local time and will be hosted by the capital's Mella Theater, where the Brazilian singer Fabiana Cozza will appear on stage as a special guest.

The festival, considered one of the most important events organized by this artistic school, will gather more than 600 local and foreign participants, said in a press conference the rector of the center, Alexis Seijo.

Aimed at establishing a permanent dialogue between the artistic expressions and promoting the work of young creators, the festival proposes an intense program for this edition that includes all art expressions placed in different parts of the city.

Students from universities in Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina and the United States will be present at the event, which includes stage presentations, exhibitions, audiovisual projections, competitions, lectures, master classes, work demonstrations and workshops.

The Bertolt Brecht Cultural Center, the Hubert de Blanck Theater, the Villena Hall of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba, Plaza 31 and 2, and the Cuba Pavilion are among the main venues of the festival.

  • Published in Culture

Omara Portuondo Showcases Cuba's Talent in New Album

Renowned Cuban singer Omara Portuondo released her latest album, "Omara Siempre," which showcases a collection of songs with fellow Cuban artists, in Havana Thursday.

The 87-year-old, best known for her work as a singer in the "Buena Vista Social Club," her powerful voice and her magnetic charisma is widely regarded as the grande dame of Cuban music.

Portuondo told Reuters, she hopes that the international recognition she receives for the album, which features local talents such as  Aymee Nuviola, Isaac Delgado, and Alain Perez, would give other Cuban artists a chance to shine.

Portuondo, who won a Grammy Award for her album "Gracias," told Reuters her new collection of songs also has a strong sense of Cuba, and she was happy to add it to her catalog of work.

"This doesn't mean that this is the last thing I do, but I feel very satisfied that people accept my way of saying things, of singing, and all that is a great satisfaction because I represent the culture of my country. And so I am Cuban, and I will die being Cuban," she said.

Nearing 90 and still working, Portuondo shows no signs of slowing down with international showcase performances in support of her album scheduled.

"It's a gift from the very large legacy Omara leave us every day. It's something that exists. It's true. Omara is peerless, her feelings, her way of speaking, interpreting."

  • Published in Culture

Pure Feeling!

Past February 28th, Elena Burke would turn 90 years old. She was (is) one of the greatest Cuban singers of all times, key character of feeling. We approach that huge career…

Those were the years of splendor of feeling, that expression that fed from our deepest musical traditions and also (to a certain degree) of jazz, the music of blacks. The feeling was not just a genre; it was an attitude towards life, a feeling. Among all the singers who defended this genre (who really felt it), a group of stars, creatures of Havana nights, among all those singers who sang and told as if singing were saying and vice versa, among all of them one shone above the rest: Elena Burke.

Many people consider Elena to be the most complete and autochthonous singers of the Cuban song. There is no way of deciding those hierarchies in art; it’s not healthy to do so either. The truth is that Elena was unique. A warm voice, of deep resonances, a singular scenic presence (she went on stage—says a friend of mine who saw her sing in night clubs in the 60’s—and everything else ceased to exist, you could not help but look at her), a very eloquent sensuality when saying…

Elena discovered unsuspected twists to the songs she performed, and not just from the musical point of view (her variations were delicious, she gave them interesting melodic lines, always coherent with the spirit of the song); also in the intentions, in the interpretation. She multiplied the senses, she went beyond the lyrics, she suggested without the need of being explicit.

Good taste, natural good taste that was not attached to the Cuban spice. Funny, she was indeed, vulgar never—I heard her say once in a radio show. It had to do, of course, with her training, by the hand of rigorous teachers; but mainly, with the respect to the public.

She could be hilarious, but also harrowingly dramatic. Her transitions could be sudden and overwhelming. With a unique economy of expressions, moving just the necessary, she was able to recreate an atmosphere.

Mrs. Feeling, no better nickname for her. She sang songs written by the greatest authors in our panorama. Everyone admired her. She had tons of followers; she still has them, 15 years after her death. That voice is saved.

Cubasi Translation Staff / Amilkal Labañino Valdés

Hollywood Announces Nominees to Oscars in Music Categories

Los Angeles, Jan 24 (Prensa Latina) After the announcement in Hollywood of the candidates or nominees in the different categories of actors and movie pictures, the US Recording Academy (formerly the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences or NARAS) mentioned the names of the aspirants to win the Oscar Awards in the musical aspects.

Among the aspirants, one of the names is the one of US female rhythm and blues (R&B), soul and hip-hop performer Mary J. Blige, for the Oscar for Best Original Song, nominated here Tuesday with the song called 'Mighty River', for the film called 'Mudbound'.

Mary J. Blige is accompanied in the competition for the Oscar by US songwriter Sufjan Stevens, with a song called 'Call Me by Your Name' for the movie soundtarck for the film with the same name, and rap singer Common, singing together with Diane Warren with a song called 'Stand Up for Something' composed for the film 'Marshall'.

In the same category as Best Original Song, Kristen Anderson López and Robert López were nominated for their song 'Remember Me', for the animated film 'Coco'; as well as Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who aspire to the win with 'This Is Me', from the feature film 'The Greatest Showman'.

In the category of Best Soundtrack, there is the guitarist of the group Radiohead, Jonny Greenwood, for his orchestrated work for the film 'The Invisible Thread'.

Greeenwood competes against very famous international musicians in this category, such as Hans Zimmer, Alexandre Desplat, John Williams and Carter Burwell.

The 90th edition of the Oscars will be at March 4, at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.

  • Published in Culture

How Taylor Swift almost had 2017's biggest album

When is the year's best-selling album not the year's best-selling album? When it's by Taylor Swift.

The star outsold every other artist in the US last year - shifting 1.9 million copies of her fifth record, Reputation, in just seven weeks.

But her decision to withhold it from streaming services until December damaged its chances in the chart of 2017's most popular albums.

That's because 1,500 streams now count as the equivalent of one album sale.

Swift accumulated 280,000 "streaming equivalent albums" in the four weeks Reputation was available on Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and other services. But that wasn't enough to put her ahead of Kendrick Lamar and Ed Sheeran.

Sheeran's chart behemoth ÷ (Divide) was the year's most popular album overall, according to Nielsen Music, which compiles the US charts for Billboard magazine.

The star accumulated 2,764,000 "equivalent album units" - a measure which combines pure sales, streaming equivalent albums and track equivalent albums (where 10 individual downloads count as one album).

Compton-born rapper Lamar took third place, with his fiery, multi-Grammy-nominated album, DAMN.

TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2017 (US)

Artist / TitleTotal unitsAlbum salesTEA unitsSEA units
1) Ed Sheeran, ÷ 2,764,000 1,102,000 581,000 1,081,000
2) Kendrick Lamar, DAMN 2,747,000 910,000 217,000 1,620,000
3) Taylor Swift, Reputation 2,336,000 1,903,000 153,000 280,000
4) Drake, More Life 2,227,000 363,000 149,000 1,715,000
5) Bruno Mars, 24K Magic 1,626,000 710,000 320,000 597,000
6) Post Malone, Stoney 1,564,000 128,000 174,000 1,262,000
7) Migos, Culture 1,438,000 134,000 156,000 1,149,000
8) The Weeknd, Starboy 1,408,000 275,000 189,000 945,000
9) Various, Moana Soundtrack 1,254,000 709,000 197,000 348,000
10) Khalid, American Teen 1,220,000 147,000 124,000 950,000

Divide, which was released in March, has spent 43 consecutive weeks in the US top 20, and was also the UK's most popular album on every available format - CD, vinyl, downloads and streaming.

Here are some of the other headlines from the US music industry's year-end report.

ALBUM SALES KEPT FALLING

A total of 169.15 million albums were sold in the US last year - down from 205.54 million in 2016.

But some formats bucked the trend. Vinyl sales rose for the 12th consecutive year, as fans bought 14.32 million LPs.

The most popular album on vinyl was the Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1 with 64,175 sales.

Surprisingly, cassette sales also shot up - from 42,098 in 2016 to 99,393 in 2017, according to BuzzAngle music.

STREAMING CONTINUED TO SPARKLE

People streamed twice as many songs every day (1.67 billion on average) as they downloaded across the entire year (563.7 million).

Despacito became the first ever song to break the one billion-stream mark in the US - racking up 1.1 billion streams on video and audio platforms.

But Kendrick Lamar's Humble beat the Spanish-language hit on audio-streaming services, with 555.2 million streams over the year.

Almost one in five US adults (19%) now pay for a streaming subscription, according to BuzzAngle Music.

PEOPLE REALLY LOVED DRAKE

He might not have released a proper album in 2017 (More Life was billed as a "playlist") but Drake was the most-streamed artist for a second year in a row.

The Canadian star achieved more than 6 billion streams - putting him far ahead of his closest competitor, Future, who had 4.2 billion streams.

WE LISTENED TO THE SAME SONGS OVER AND OVER AGAIN

According to BuzzAngle, the top 10% of songs on streaming services accounted for 99.2% of all listening.

Or, in other words, 90% of all the songs on Spotify and Apple Music were hardly ever played.

ROCK WAS THE MOST POPULAR GENRE

Rock music represented the largest share of album purchases in the US last year: an impressive 34.6% across all formats, and 54% of vinyl sales.

Once streaming was taken into account, however, rock's market share dropped to 22%.

The younger audience who dominate streaming tend to choose urban and pop music over rock. Of the top 1,000 most-streamed songs of 2017, 50% were classified as urban music.

SHAPE OF YOU WAS THE YEAR'S BIGGEST RADIO HIT

Ed Sheeran's Shape of You dominated the US airwaves - spending 12 weeks as the most-played song on the airwaves, the longest run at number one since Uptown Funk.

According to Nielsen, the song collected 5.8 billion audience impressions, ahead of the second most-heard track of the year, Bruno Mars's That's What I Like, with 4.5 billion impressions.

  • Published in Culture

Francis del Río: Cuba defines me

I met him at PM Record recently and without further ado, with his entire spontaneity he agreed to talk with Cubasi about his projects.  

But music was not his first issue: “I’ve just had a baby, it’s my most important project now, he’s called Orun del Río and nicknamed Maceo, and then I am so happy, focused on that”.

After confessing he was a happy father, he commented: “I remain with Interactivo (band), everyone knows it, I’ve just made nine themes very enthusiastic and with much love, really, as if it were a disc of mine for Clave Channel. Recently, I made a job for Eyeife Festival with Suylen Milanés, they are a sort of prayers we use in Ifa, sung on electronic music, they’re sixteen magical prayers.

Also about “Ifa”, the material in which he works with Suylen, he added: “the mere fact of praying them, wherever that vibration reaches, is like blessing that place, I think it is a way of harmonizing any place, based on our African roots and the roots of the world as well, because in the end, life began in Africa.

In his versatility, Francis is not afraid to get involved in any project, as long as it fulfills a truth proven for him: “We are Cubans, whatever the genre we use and our bases are African and we should not forget that at all, if the basis of that is not in a place, we cannot be there either, I, at least, won’t be….”

There are no limits of genres for this creator, it’s just music: “I love music, I think you can name music anyway, but I do that inherently, I cannot stop doing that, I do not know how to stop doing it…

And in such diversity, what is the connecting thread: “Cuba, it seems a short answer, but that’s it".

Translated by Jorge Mesa Benjamin / Cubasi Translation Staff

  • Published in Specials

Septeto Santiaguero happy for 2017 Latin Grammys nomination

Septeto Santiaguero's nomination for the 2017 Latin Grammy Awards is the one that has the most merit because it is due to the first phonogram of the group produced entirely by a Cuban record label, said today Alden González, the group´s manager.

A few hours after receiving the news, Gonzalez, also producer of the album, told ACN his satisfaction with the nomination to the international contest with the plate Raiz (Root), under the seal of the Company of Recordings and Music Editions, which will compete in the category Best Tropical and Traditional Album.

This has been very significant, as it is the fourth consecutive nomination, which is already a prize for the group, said González, who thanked the support of the oldest of Cuban record companies, as well as the Canarios Music, which distribute the album in the United States.

According to González, next October the Septeto Santiaguero will perform in Santiago de Cuba, in tribute to the Oriente University, for the 70th anniversary of its founding, on the 10th, while on the 19th and 20th they will perform at the Festival of Cubanism in Bayamo, Granma.

He also highlighted the excellent reception of the group at Medejazz last September in Medellín, Colombia, where the presence of traditional Cuban music in the popular taste of the Latin American nation was once again demonstrated.

Produced in addition by the director of the septet, Fernando Dewar, and the musician Geovanis Alcántara, the laudable quality of the album Raíz had the contributions of other artists of this eastern territory like Franklin Reytor, Rubén Leliebre, and Marcos Fernández, who made arrangements to several themes.

In this CD stands out the participation for the first time of great figures of universal music beyond the Latin sphere, of jazz players who are stars of their instruments worldwide, like Nicholas Payton on trumpet and Arturo O'Farrill on piano.

It is also the first time that the Septeto Santiaguero collaborates in a phonogram with an artist of the urban genre, in this case with El Médico.

Among other added values ​​of the album is the presence of international icons of salsa such as Rubén Blades, Charlie Aponte and Alfredo de la Fe, and the last recording made by Maestro Reinaldo Creagh, lead singer of Santiaguera Old Trova and Estudiantina Invasora for many years.

The disc also counts on the collaboration of Elito Revé and his group, and talents from this eastern province such as Orfeón Santiago, the strings section of the Oriente Symphonic Orchestra, and musicians from the Estudiantina Invasora, Changüí Santiago, and the orchestras of Cándido Fabré and Eliades Ochoa.

Founded in 1995, the Septeto Santiaguero had its first nomination to the Latin Grammy Awards in 2011, with the album Oye mi son santiaguero; and in 2015 won the award with the Tribute to Los Compadres: No Quiero Llanto, next to the Dominican Jose Alberto El Canario.

Praised by international critics, especially by American media such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, the septet is one of the leading groups of traditional Cuban music, and is admired by music lovers and dancers of different generations .

  • Published in Culture
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