HAVANA MEETS KINGSTON QA
How long have you been working on the idea of “Havana Meets Kingston” and what influenced you to bring this concept to fruition?
I had travelled many times to Jamaica, but this was my first trip to Cuba (back in 2014). I was sitting in a cafe in Havana in Cuba, a great place called Chanchurello. They were playing a CD of rumba music (tradition Cuban music), mainly percussion based. I was daydreaming and imagining how the sounds of Nyabinghi drums from Jamaica would sound mixed with the rumba. I realised it would be very special to mix the two styles, and wondered if it had ever been done before. When I returned to Australia I did some research, and realised there had never been a project bringing Jamaican musicians into Cuba (or vice versa). So I started to think how it could be done.
What musical styles and artists have influenced the type of music that has been produced by Havana Meets Kingston, and why hasn’t it happened before?
This project is the first time a group of Jamaican musicians have flown into Cuba to record & collaborate with Cuban musicians. We had ten days at Egrem in Havana initially (the famed studio where Buena Vista Social Club was recorded), and then many more recording sessions in both Havana, Santiago de Cuba and Kingston to complete the sessions. Over two albums of material were recorded, and it’s a very unique project. Why it hasn’t happened before? Political, social, economic and language reasons. Cuba is an ex-Communist, socialist state, and the people are generally very poor in the usual sense of the word – the government wage is around $18 US a month. Nevertheless the government supplies every Cuban with free housing, free healthcare and free education to University level. That is actually incredible and every society should aim for this. Jamaica on the other hand is a capitalistic society and resource-rich, but due to corrupt governments, the IMF, gangs and US interference the people are in a way worse off than in Cuba. The daily struggle for survival is a reality for ghetto communities in Kingston. On top of this Jamaicans rarely speak spanish, and Cubans don’t speak english for the most part. It is difficult for Cubans to get Visas and travel outside Cuba. Additionally, both islands have such potent and unique music scenes that they are really captivated by their own music to a large degree, and until two years ago there were no exchange programs between the two islands. Jamaica’s music industry is it’s biggest export, and yet the government still doesn’t invest in it properly. There’s not even a museum in Jamaica dedicated to their incredible contributions to the world’s music. So these are all reasons perhaps why no Cuban or Jamaican record labels or musicians or even cultural organisations have taken the initiative to try and co-ordinate such a big project like this. Yet the time is ripe for this kind of collaboration, and after numerous trips to Jamaica since 2004 I finally visited Cuba in 2013. Of course it was there that the idea for the project was born. It was so obvious to me that it needed to happen. So i began investigating…
How do you find these styles of music compliment and work in unison with each other?
A focus was on bringing Jamaican soundsystem culture together with Afro-Cuban jazz and rhythmic influences. Think rolling basslines and virtuosic percussion, piano and horns.This is a heavy sound and works easily & beautifully. Check the first single ‘Carnival’ and the B-side ‘Carnival Horns’ for a taste! I also wanted to focus on their sublime musicianship – these guys are real masters. This album is all about the performances, and less on the post-production which I’ve kept as simple and natural as possible. You could argue that contemporary music is becoming increasingly sterile, with the focus in pretty much all genres now on postproduction and autotuned (synthesised) vocal performances, which I believe actually stifle & repress deeper human expression. For me music should be about uplifting people, not brainwashing them.
Are the songs played by Havana Meets Kingston covers or are there also original songs?
It’s 15 tracks, 10 originals and 5 covers. Performing some classics in a new style – this was an important move to anchor the musical experience for new listeners. The originals are what really excite me about the album though – incredible lyrics and musical performances from our Cuban and Jamaican artists, and overall a really new direction in music making.
What artists will be playing and appearing as part of this tour?
The band is made up of absolute legends – the rhythm section from Jamaica is Sly & Robbie, we have Barbarito Toerres (Laud) and Roldando Luna (piano) both from Buena Vista Social Club. Add a heavy percussion section of Yaroldy Abreu (Irakere), Oliver Valdes (Interactivo) and Brenda Navarette (also an amazing singer and rapper), as well as the beautiful trumpet of Julito Padron (Havana Cultura), guitar of Bopee (Inna De Yard) and vocals from Solis, Randy Valentine and Brenda…plus some dancers from Havana…trust me, this show is going to be like nothing else on Earth.
Were you surprised by the accolades and success that this music fusion has received?
We knew the album and project was really special from the start, but that’s never a guarantee of good exposure or widespread appreciation. Luckily our first video trailer for the project went viral at the beginning of the year, over 1.5 million views in a week – and without any publicity. It was incredible to witness and I think one of the reasons is that people worldwide are actually hungry to see real music played by real musicians. Also in the context of an increasingly divided & fear-mongering political climate, I think people are actually hungry to see authentic & positive collaborations between people of different backgrounds, regardless of language or race. It’s a beautiful thing to watch and hear. I love the idea of songs in multiple languages, and english & spanish work together beautifully on this album. That has helped the music reach far wider audiences than is often possible.
How are you expecting Australian audiences to respond to this style of live music?
Our last smaller tour in October 2017 was very successful (just a 4 piece), so this much bigger tour (15 musicians) is going to blow people’s minds. Anyone in Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane should not miss these dates! We have Sly & Robbie alongside members of Los Van Van and the Buena Vista Social Club, with some of my favourite vocalists from Cuba & Jamaica. It’s a unique project and live act. I think people will relish the wide range of musical styles and diversity in our show, as well as the absolutely brilliant musicianship.
What does 2018 hold for Havana Meets Kingston?
It’s a massive Australian tour in March, followed by a trip to Cuba and Japan and then a full scale Europe tour. Can’t wait! As well as the first album ‘Havana Meets Kingston’ being released later this year, we have a film planned for 2018 alongside the release of the second album. So much good music to come!
THURSDAY 8 MARCH
THE TIVOLI THEATRE QLD
With Special Guests Chukale & DJ Rudekat
SUNDAY 11 MARCH
WEDNESDAY 14 MARCH
THE ENMORE THEATRE NSW
With Special Guests Veneno & ForeignDub DJs
THURSDAY 15 MARCH
THE FORUM VIC
With Special Guests San Lazaro & DJ sets by Monkey Marc and Jesse I
SATURDAY 17 MARCH
QA BY Ainslie Mulholland