AM:PM playlist - Songs that marked the last 20 years of Cuban music
Because the 2022 edition of Music Meeting Festival is partly devoted to Cuban music and culture, Music Meeting All Ears has entered into an exclusive co-production with digital Cuban music magazine AM:PM. This playlist is one of the results of this collaboration.
Songs that marked the last 20 years of Cuban music
To cover the musical production of a nation with such artistic wealth as Cuba in a list of songs that marked the last 20 years sounds like an impossible task. After much thought, we decided that it would have to be works that have left a mark on the way music is made or understood. These records are part of Cuba's sound memory.
1. A lo cubano - Orishas (2000)
Orishas is the result of the encounter of four young Cubans, who came from hip hop and traditional Cuban music. On their first album, they released this ‘hymn’ of the Cuban people, full of commonplaces (rum, coffee, cigars, mulatas as well as the machismo evident in the singles’ video clip). The history of Cuban rap and hip-hop cannot be told without this song.
2. No juegues con mi soledad - Buena Fe (2001)
Nobody would have bet two bucks on two boys coming from the nueva trova movement in Cuba's Guantanamo (where the ‘guajiras guantanameras’ are from and the controversial U.S. military base is located). But, Buena Fe became a true mass phenomenon, recording multiple albums with state-owned record company EGREM and filling the 5000 seats of the Karl Marx Theater with their signature pop. This hymn of youthful love entered all Cuban homes.
3. Quién tiró la tiza - Molano ft. Clan 537 (2002)
‘Who threw the chalk? That nigger, who threw the chalk? It wasn't the doctor's son, was it?’
For a while, the musician behind this single was unknown. Still, nothing else was heard on the speakers in the Cuban underground scene. El Mola MC was inspired by his own experience of racism in the classrooms of the National School of Art in Havana and his vocation to rap about the social issues that surrounded him, but with humor. The song triggered Cuban society to wake up from the dream that racism and other evils had disappeared.
4. Un montón de estrellas - Polo Montañez (2004)
Fernando Borrego (aka Polo Montañez) son of a charcoal maker and completely self-taught, had a short but intense musical career, which gave him legendary status. His natural talent made him a prolific composer, that used self-made instruments. When his native province, Pinar del Río, became a tourist pole in Cuba, Montañez put together his own group to get jobs in touristic spots in the area. From that moment on, his popularity raised. Still, neither record contracts, nor platinum records robbed him of his authenticity.
5. Havana Blues - X Alfonso (2005)
Born in one of the most prestigious musical families in the country (his parents are the founders of Afro-Rock band Síntesis) X Alfonso has practically played every possible role in music: composer, music producer, bassist, singer, keyboardist, videomaker, entrepreneur, and cultural manager. In addition, he founded cultural center Fábrica de Arte Cubano. Havana Blues, composed for the soundtrack of a film with the same name (dir. Benito Zambrano), expresses the pain of broken relationships through emigration. It has been an anthem for many Cuban generations.
6. Añoranza por la conga - Sur Caribe (2005)
Emigration has marked the first years of Cuba's 21st century. This song, although sounding cheerful, speaks of the nostalgia that Micaela, who has emigrated from Santiago de Cuba, feels for the conga. This popular Cuban dance of African origin is characterized by drums and its syncopated rhythm. It serves as accompaniment for the carnival comparsas: it is extremely cheerful and festive. There is no self-respecting Cuban who does not ‘roll’ when he feels the conga.
7. No money - Interactivo (2005)
Interactivo has served as a springboard for an impressive group of Cuban performers, vocalists and instrumentalists. All of them are extremely difficult to pigeonhole into common musical genres. Name Yusa, Telmary, Cimafunk and Brenda Navarrete, who have been with the band for a long time. No Money was one of the first songs recorded by Interactivo and it became immediately popular. Not only for its swing and excellent musical arrangement, but also for its theme: being able to live with a relaxed and festive attitude, in spite of the ills that afflict you, such as having no money.
8. La tuba - Elvis Manuel (2007)
Before he drowned at the age of only 18, Elvis Manuel García Nodarse managed to produce a handful of songs that laid the foundations of the reparto: the fiercest and youngest amongst Cuban dance rhythms, based on reggaeton. His songs are the carefree celebration of lives full of scarcity, filled with dreams of a better future. La tuba, which does not refer to the instrument, but is a play on words to refer to the male reproductive instrument, can be regarded as the perfect proto-expression of reparto.
9. La estafa del babalawo - Kola Loka (2009)
Without exaggeration, it could be said that Kola Loca is the funniest group that Cuban music has produced in recent years. With its urban aesthetics, the group has been able to capture several dilemmas and aspirations of contemporary Cuban society in humorous ways. This song, for example, which addresses with great humor the little treated issue of trivialization and commercialization that the Yoruba religion has suffered.
10. El Atropello - Los Aldeanos (2009)
El Atropello was recorded in the mythical Real 70 studio, from where the most contentious rap of the first decade of the 20th century in Cuba derived. In a country without internet connectivity, historic duo Los Aldeanos turned song after song into national and Latin American hits, without being allowed to use official media (radio, television etc.). Los Aldeanos are the first great exponent of the Cuban underground. Once its members emigrated to the United States the duo went solo, as Al2 El Aldeano and El Bi.
11. Gozando en La Habana - Charanga Habanera ft. Chacal (2009)
The end of the 2000s in Cuba was marked by a marriage between salsa and reggaeton. La Charanga Habanera, a popular timba group with several years of experience, joined forces with the then debutant soloist Chacal, giving birth to a song that enjoyed incomparable success in Cuba. This is not only due to its catchy rhythm and melody, but also to its narrative that vindicates the pleasure of people who chose to stay in Cuba, instead of emigrating and pursuing economic improvements at the cost of their happiness.
12. Si se va a formar que se forme - Los 4 (2010)
If there is a group that popularized the fusion between salsa, reggaetón and Cuban rhythms, it is Los 4. Led by Jorge Junior the group pioneered in incorporating sounds based on instruments, instead of samples. Through the re-appropriation of popular melodies, the group turned cubatón or timbatón (reggaetón with a rumba key) into a trademark. This song, based on the riff of a Van Van song, was one of their hits that was played in all the neighborhoods of Havana.
13. Un año después (La costurera) - Juan Formell y Los Van Van (2011)
It is amazing how Los Van Van, the most popular Cuban orchestra of the last 50 years, manages to string together anthems after anthem. As this song proves, forty years after Los Van Van was created, they could still do it. Performed by Yeni Valdés (causing a schism in the band's sound a decade before) Un año después is a successful social chronical in which Juan Formell's group sings about love.
14. Cerro Cerrao - Insurrecto (2011)
Few songs have captured the atmosphere of Havana's neighborhoods as well as this composition by Leandro Medina Fellové, better known as Insurrecto. The rapper-turned-reggaetón artist without lamentations narrates with crudeness the hard and simple life of Havana’s citizens. It became a song that represented the underprivileged communities of a country that refuses to talk about the extreme poverty of many of its inhabitants.
15. Pasaporte - Havana D’ Primera (2013)
Although dance music group Havana D’Primera had shown in their debut album (Haciendo historia) what they were made of, with this song they put themselves in the hearts of every Cuban and on the list of every salsa lover around the world. A complex and attractive timba arrangement surrounds the story of a girl who takes refuge in a ‘passport,’ as a door to a possible better world. Pasaporte resonates especially in these times of new crises and migration waves.
16. Bailando, Descemer Bueno ft. Gente de Zona ft. Enrique Iglesias (2013)
In the midst of a pandemic and a war it seems unbelievable that that only 10 years ago we were dancing to Bailando. Its first version was created by reggaetón duo Gente de Zona. Then it was commercially dressed up by Descember Bueno and Enrique Iglesias. There was no discotheque or shopping mall, where they did not play this lively song over again. Before Luis Fonsi's Despacito, Bailando predicted that the musical universe had moved in favor of Latin music.
17. La Gozadera (Ponte pa lo Tuyo) - Yoruba Andabo (2015)
In the port of Havana, in the early sixties, a rumba group was born. Faithful to the spirit of the guarapachangeo style, of which founder Pancho Quinto was one of its exponents, Yoruba Andabo continues to capture the spirit of the times. Their songs encapsulate popular wisdom, while inviting the listener's body to enjoy the collective musical experience that is rumba. La gozadera, is a perfect example of this.
18. Hasta que se seque el Malecón, Jacob Forever (2015)
The Malecón is an 8 km long wall, separating the city from the sea, where Cubans go alone, in couples or in groups, to cool down, sunbathe or fall in love. This song was inspired by, Jacob's separation from Gente de Zona (which later became popular with another hit) and tells how he is determined to move on with his solo work: HASTA QUE SEQUE QUE SEQUE EL MALECÓN (UNTIL THE SEAWALL DRIES OUT). Cubans adopted this hyperbole to signify that what will never happen.
19. Me voy - Cimafunk (2017)
No one saw Erick Alejandro Iglesias Rodríguez, better known as Cimafunk, coming. In 2017, he was a talented musician who played in bands like Los Boys and Interactivo. Then came Terapia, a self-produced album that quickly turned him into a mass phenomenon. Fusing funk with Afro-Cuban music, Cimafunk went from a cult artist of the Havana alternative scene, to tour cities in the United States, Europe, and Latin America. His hit Me voy is an instant Cuban classic today.
20. Bajanda - Chocolate MC (2018)
Yosvani Arismin Sierra (aka Chocolate MC) is the most disruptive musician of the Cuban scene of the last decade. With a talent that surpasses him, a controversial life and media exposure, Chocolate has built a myth as King of the reparto: a genre that he has helped define. With its lo-fi arrangements, infectious melody, and playfully lucid lyrics, Bajanda is a delirious passage into the worlds of the reparto and the struggle to hold its crown.