Illustration: Mayo Bous.
Illustration: Mayo Bous.

The ecosystem of Cuban music through 20 women names

14 minutos / Magazine AM:PM

06.03.2020 / Articles

Of all the lists we have made in the Editorial Board of the magazine, this has been —by distance— the most debated. Not because there are too many women in the Cuban music ecosystem (which we already wish there were more), but because there are several playing relevant roles. 

Only in the institutional sector, we have a newly appointed president of the Cuban Institute of Music, Indira Fajardo, whose youth and desire to do is expected to leave a mark on the work of an institution whose structure is called to modernize and resize in the immediate future .

The state record companies are all but the Egrem, headed by women: Ela Ramos in Bis Music, with a team full of very active professionals; Mabel Muñiz in Abdala and Carole Fernández —who also represents Cuba in Ibermúsicas— in Colibrí. 

Women are the director (Laura Vilar) and a large percentage of the musicologists of the National Center for Music Research and Development (CIDMUC), the music director of Casa de las Américas (María Elena Vinueza) and her team, and practically all the second line of command of the team commanded by the director of the Egrem (among others, Elsida and Heydi González in Production, Adriana Pazos and Gretel Garlobo in A&R, Yolaida Duharte in the newly created division of Exports and Odalys Alberdi in Musicuba and special events).

There are many women in different roles in the Cuban music scene. But a list is ―and in this case, we are particularly sorry― an exercise (unfair) of curatorship. We believe that we have selected 20 professionals who are referents in their respective roles, either because they have brought a breath of fresh air to the panorama, or because they have been doing meritorious work for years, or because they occupy a space that previously did not have female representatives. 

Eme Alfonso

Eme Alfonso. Photo: Larisa López.

Eme Alfonso. Photo: Larisa López.

With three albums in his biography —Señales (2008), Eme (2012) and Voy (2018), the latter an album to keep in the best playlists - the singer and composer combines her Afro-Cuban roots with electronic sounds and lyrics loaded with powerful messages. As if that were not enough, her management as artistic director of the Havana World Music returns to us every year what may be the best festival of its kind in the Caribbean.

Daymé Arocena

Daymé Arocena. Photo: Gabriel Guerra Bianchini.

Daymé Arocena. Photo: Gabriel Guerra Bianchini.

Cantante, compositora, dueña de una voz excepcional y cuyo álbum debut Nueva Era (2015) captó la atención del público y la crítica especializada en Europa y Estados Unidos, donde fue considerado por la National Public Radio (NPR) como uno de los mejores 50 discos del año 2015. En el 2017 lanzó Cubafonía, su segundo fonograma, y tres años después regresó con un álbum arriesgado, pero mucho más maduro, producido por ella y sus músicos: Sonocardiograma (2019).

Cary Diez 

Cary Ten. Photo: Courtesy of the musicologist.

Cary Ten. Photo: Courtesy of the musicologist.

Musicologist and record producer, winner of a Latin Grammy in coproduction with Joaquín Betancourt for the CD La rumba soy yo (2001), she has been considered for several years a kind of protector and promoter of the rumba as an expression of our identity. She coordinated the file for the declaration of the rumba as Patrimony of the Cuban nation, which made it possible to propose and obtain the status of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity (Unesco). Her link as an artistic producer and manager of Los Muñequitos de Matanzas since 1988, has given her a valuable experience for handling and understanding these frequently stereotyped themes.

Miriam Escudero 

Miriam Escudero. Photo: Fabrizio Sansoni.

Miriam Escudero. Photo: Fabrizio Sansoni.

Musicologist, teacher, general manager of the Esteban Salas Musical Cabinet. He also directs the Master in Management of the Documentary Historical Heritage of Music and the newsletter El Sincopado Habanero. The musical and musical heritage management of the Office of the Historian of Havana owes much of its wonderful events (Festival of Ancient Music, Classical Havana Festival, Meeting of Young Pianists) and its usual programming, to the work of the teams that Miriam leads.

Darsi Fernández

Darsi Fernández. Photo: Jorge Luis Toledo.

Darsi Fernández. Photo: Jorge Luis Toledo.

Abogada y una de las principales especialistas en derecho de autor musical. La inquietud y vocación hipervinculante de Darsi la han llevado a ser una de las más esforzadas lobbyistas de la gestión cultural y de los nuevos modelos de gestión en la cultura cubana. En los últimos 20 años ha simultaneado su trabajo como delegada en Cuba de la Sociedad General de Autores y Editores de España (Sgae) con la promoción de espacios de capacitación y conexión entre los profesionales del ecosistema musical cubano, del cual esta revista es uno de sus ejemplos más recientes.

Daiana García

Daiana García. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Daiana García. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Directora coral, profesora de la especialidad de Dirección de Orquesta en la Universidad de las Artes y directora de la Orquesta de Cámara de La Habana desde el año 2011. Sus 13 años dirigiendo la Orquesta Sinfónica Juvenil Amadeo Roldán, así como invitada en todas las sinfónicas del país desde 2003, pudieran ser aval suficiente para esta lista. Sin embargo, hay más: junto a la Orquesta de Cámara de La Habana, ha tocado en el Lincoln Center con el violinista norteamericano Joshua Bell; y ha acompañado a otros grandes artistas en el escenario como Fito Páez, Carlos Varela, Sheku Kanneh-Mason y Víctor Goines. 

Yissy García

Yissy García. Photo: Giselle Gallego.

Yissy García. Photo: Giselle Gallego.

At the forefront of contemporary Cuban jazz, Yissy García debuted with Bandancha with the album Última noticia in 2015. With just over 30 years, this artist born in Cayo Hueso not only tops the tiny list of the female percussionist in Cuba but is among the best on the Island, in general. Composer of most of the songs on her albums, she has traveled the world impacting with the music she creates with her band and other projects such as Maqueque, with which she won a Juno Prize in 2015 —a contest where she repeats this year with a nomination—, and received in 2017 a Grammy nomination.

María del Rosario Hernández Iznaga

María del Rosario Hernández Iznaga.

María del Rosario Hernández Iznaga.

Mary Rosa, como la conoce la mayoría, es una musicóloga graduada en la extinta Unión Soviética. Desde 2014 es la decana de la Facultad de Música de la Universidad de las Artes. Con su persistencia y pasión ha conseguido impulsar la actualización de los planes de estudio de las especialidades de música y alcanzar un espacio para la música popular en la universidad. Lucha por integrar la gestión, la promoción y el manejo de las herramientas digitales dentro de los planes de estudio y los saberes de los estudiantes de música.

Rosa Marquetti

Rosa Marquetti Photo: Courtesy of the researcher.

Rosa Marquetti Photo: Courtesy of the researcher.

Training philologist with a long and prestigious career in different areas of music management (Pablo Milanés Foundation, Artex, Magic Music, Sgae), it is her take-off as a researcher, musicologist and writer who finishes placing her in her own right in this list. Author of dozens of rich articles published in her blog Desmemoriados. Stories of Cuban Music , she has published in the last three years a homonym anthology, plus the acclaimed Chano Pozo. La vida(1915-1948) and El Niño con su tres: Andrés Echevarría Callava, Niño Rivera .

Edith Massola

Edith Massola Photo: Taken from the artist's Facebook page.

Edith Massola Photo: Taken from the artist's Facebook page.

In addition to acting —with a memorable film debut with the film Una novia para David — she has developed an extensive career as host of the TV show 23 y M, which she has been running for several years. Since the 10 Studio of Cuban Television and more than two decades ago, a charismatic Edith interviews, unfolds and gives an account of what is happening in the ecosystem of more contemporary Cuban music, turning her show in a large door for artists to show their work.

Haydée Milanés

Haydée Milanés. Photo: Claudio Peláez.

Haydée Milanés. Photo: Claudio Peláez.

One of the most constant performers of recent years, to whom we owe several luxury phonograms of Cuban music such as Palabras, Haydée Milanés canta a Marta Valdés (2014) and the album double Amor Edición Deluxe (2019), the latter together with great voices of the Latin American song. Haydée, besides being a singer, is a composer, arranger, and has revealed herself in recent times as an activist with a speech devoted to sexual, reproductive and animal care rights.

Aymée Nuviola

Aymée Nuviola. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Aymée Nuviola. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

She is one of the Cuban singers with the greatest international projection in the field of salsa and traditional music. Trained musician with facilities for improvisation in these styles (something that, unfortunately, has not manifested frequently in female performers) she has been awarded for her albums until she won this 2020 the Grammy Award for A Journey Through Cuban Music (2019). Her career is on the rise since her recent project Tiempo y viento —with Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba— is putting her on new and unprecedented international jazz stages.

Daelsis Pena Padilla

Daelsis Pena Padilla. Photo: Courtesy of the sound engineer.

Daelsis Pena Padilla. Photo: Courtesy of the sound engineer.

In the Cuban music industry, we have seen with joy that in recent years the number of women in charge of recording machines has increased. Daelsis Pena is one of the most relevant figures in this new batch of sound engineers in the courtyard, specialized in audio recording, mixing, mastering and restoration, and from the Abdala and Egrem studios she has generated a growing curriculum associated with numerous and outstanding productions of the most diverse musical genres. 

Omara Portuondo

Omara Portuondo. Photo: Taken from the artist's Facebook page.

Omara Portuondo. Photo: Taken from the artist's Facebook page.

The filin's girlfriend, who turns 90 this October, is more active than ever. So much so that in 2019 she undertook his world tour Último beso —accompanied by Roberto Fonseca, among other musicians—, deserved the Latin Grammy Award for Musical Excellence, while in recent years many artists call her to share a song, including Natalia Lafourcade, Cimafunk, Alex Cuba, Yomil and El Dany and many more.

Ana Rabasa

Ana Rabasa. Photo: taken from her Facebook profile.

Ana Rabasa. Photo: taken from her Facebook profile.

Director for TV, she is mainly known for the show she has been leading for 17 years on the small screen: Cuerda Viva. She has been one of the main figures in the Cuban musical ecosystem of the last two decades, responsible for making visible musicians, performers of genres and styles disadvantaged by the media or who simply have not been able to fit into the usual programming of Cuban Television. Cuerda Viva and the annual festival that bears its name continue to be spaces for the necessary display of alternative and variety in the musical work of the Island.

Amalia Rojas

Amalia Rojas. Photo: Gabriel Guerra Bianchini.

Amalia Rojas. Photo: Gabriel Guerra Bianchini.

In the complex - and usually dominated by men - field of event production, Amalia Rojas stands out for the professionalism and the excellent results that both the public and the artists who participate in them have been able to verify. Currently, many of the biggest music festivals in Cuba bear her mark in the area of music production: Varadero Josone, Havana World Music, Jazz Plaza, Eyeife, or the Gibara International Film Festival, just to name a few, make her an essential piece in the island's music industry almost a decade ago. 

Susú Salim Zaldívar

Susú Salim Zaldívar. Photo: Courtesy of the producer.

Susú Salim Zaldívar. Photo: Courtesy of the producer.

Graduated in audiovisual production from the Faculty of Arts of Audiovisual Media (Famca), she has been manager of several artists such as Alain Pérez, Jacob Forever, and Alex Duvall. Of his 28 years, Susú has 11 in music producing concerts, albums, tours, and audiovisuals. She is part of the Puntilla team and the Arce project, for which she has held live music venues such as Don Cangrejo, a place coveted by many of the popular musicians of the moment. In September 2019, together with PMM, she produced one of the most popular concerts of Gente de Zona, on the Cuban Malecon.

Danay Suárez

Danay Suárez. Photo: Evelyn Sosa.

Danay Suárez. Photo: Evelyn Sosa.

Born from rap quarries on the Island, the Cuban singer and songwriter has had great international recognition after projects such as Havana Cultura catapult her out of Cuba, and she was nominated in 2017 for Latin Grammy in different categories, including Best New Artist and Best Album of the Year. Danay is currently collaborating with artists such as Bad Bunny and Ricky Martin, and in the album of the latter participates as a composer in several themes. As headliner will be the one who closes the seventh edition of Havana World Music.

Telmary

Telmary. Photo: Jaime Martin.

Telmary. Photo: Jaime Martin.

With a very well thought out show that works from top to bottom — from the sound design to the costumes or the initial ritual— the Telma's return to the Cuban stages has been spectacular. Her album Fuerza Aará (2018) marked this new stage of his career in style (Latin Grammy nomination included), and he returned it to a privileged place: few alternative bands sound like Habana Sana today, and luck is ours.

Marta Valdés

Marta Valdés. Foto: Gabriel Guerra Bianchini.

Marta Valdés. Foto: Gabriel Guerra Bianchini.

At 85, Marta Valdés is the most important active Cuban composer of the twentieth century and what goes of XXI. Her work has been visited —and revisited— by several of the greatest Cuban and international interpreters, from Vicentico Valdés, Bola de Nieve, Gema Corredera, who will dedicate the album Feeling Marta (2015), in Beautiful tribute, to Haydée Milanés with the album Palabras, Haydée Milanés canta a Marta Valdés (2014). With her texts for various Cuban media and blogs, she is also a living memory of Cuban music.

Magazine AM:PM

Magazine AM:PM

Cuban music magazine, without distinctions of genres or geographies.

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