«Morfa song makes famous by itself»
Cuando se habla de trap en Cuba, desde hace algunos años el nombre de Recvoluxion Boyz va abriendo camino con bastante fuerza. Este estudio de grabación se inauguró en el año 2013 y siete años más tarde tengo la oportunidad de charlar con Ahmed González Sayú (Mechu Recvoluxion) y Michel Castro García (Michel K-zual), sus fundadores y cerebros de la realización audiovisual y musical, quienes me abrieron las puertas en pleno proceso creativo de un tema de morfa —también llamado reparto—, vertiente del reguetón que tanto dilema genera en la sociedad cubana actual. Así que, por supuesto, no perdí oportunidad y hablamos de las experiencias como líderes de su propio estudio de grabación, sus retos y proyectos, además de las dinámicas de creación y gestión de esta disquera de producción independiente.
How would you describe the early years of the study?
Michel K-zual : The first years are always the hardest, it is when you have to work the most because this is a world where there were already producers and known studies. The reality is that, in order for you to get to know them and know who you are, you are required to always have almost four or five monthly songs and videos.
“Fueron años de trabajo intenso. Trabajamos con muchos artistas, llamamos a casi todos de primer nivel en Cuba: por aquí pasó Insurrecto, Yomil cuando estaba en Los 4, Damián de Los Desiguales, Yulién Oviedo, Yuly y Habana C, El Micha, Los Metálicos… Así empezamos.
“The advantage we have in the studio is that the Mechu makes the videos. As one thing always goes with the other, it is easy for us. We do the song, the video clip is done quickly and it's already on the street, for YouTube and everywhere else ”.
Given the name of the study, what do you think your work is revolutionary and transgressive in urban music?
Mechu Recvoluxion : Our study was one of the first to make a difference in what urban music is. Gender goes one way and we do that, but we still make trap. We are practically the pioneers of trap in Cuba. We still do morfa, dancehall, reggaeton, and all kinds of musical genres."
Michel : We always try to be good at everything. The fact that we make trap —which is what we like the most— does not make us go against trends. When we make morfa we always put the Recvoluxion stamp on it. Morfa with slightly more international timbre, of trap and reggaeton from Puerto Rico. That is the hallmark of the studio, a trap and a reggaeton with more foreign sounds. When we make something from Cuba —timba or whatever— we put that Recvoluxion stamp on it to show that it is done here.
What reggaeton artists and filmmakers have as references?
Mechu : As a reference for filmmaking I have the American Colin Tilley. I also study North American filmmakers and Nuno Gómez who is the one who makes Ozuna's videos. Although, well, I always go more for music in English. We make reggaeton but I have my style more than freaky, as I say. That is my guide.
Michel : My references are mostly from Latin music and artists like Dalex, Sech, Bad Bunny, Karol G. and J Balvin. But I also like Freddy Mercury, for example. All that works for me because sometimes I do things with similar effects. On the other hand, when I study sound engineering myself I am guided by tutorials from those who do rock and R&B, because that helps me see the music and the mixing concepts they have. "
What did you study?
Mechu : In Cuba I started studying computer science but I didn't finish it. I had the opportunity to go to Spain and study at the Madrid Film Institute.
Michel : I am an accounting graduate. Music was my hobby, so I started with 15 years in production —but nothing serious, at home with a computer, a microphone and the local friends who sang. I started practicing with them. Later, I worked in a company for about two years and at that time I got a job proposal from the studio of Ernesto Maestro, of the Formula Production, in whose catalog the Insurrecto was. I wanted to take the risk and started working there. Later I met Mechu, and I came here.
How is the design work for your projects?
Mechu : We have always done it between the three of us: Michel, Ksa and myself — although Ksa [Casanova] left for Switzerland two months ago. We always sit down and brainstorm. Michel is the one who names the records and makes the stamps, for example.
Michel : Scouting artists is a process that always comes alone in the end. At first we say that we are going to look for five or six artists and when you realize it the gang has already formed.
Mechu : Another thing we should point out is that this study has always helped the new generations, the new boys who are arriving. Because those who come from below must be given the opportunity.
What would you say are the keys to having a hit in urban music?
Mechu : To make a hit here it has to be a morfa song. Morfa song make famous by itself. Although we are trying not to do that genre only. In general, to make a hit with a reggaeton song you have to do a strong promotional campaign and videos. It also happens that a song does not became a hit overnight, it can take a year, eight months or six months. It is complicated.
“Now we have Lobo King Dowa who is in there in the studio and is a first-rate artist in the morfa. He can bring up a song and it's a hit in three weeks. A new artist can spend years making good music and success comes when you least expect it. ”
Michel : There is also no guide to make a hit. Sometimes you make 10 songs and the one you least expect can be the hit. If you want a reference, I would say that the most successful songs are the simplest. They don't have great lyrics, but they do have a basic rhythm that is catchy, an easy, simple chorus ... This way it meets the requirements for a hit, although it is the audience who decided in the end.
“In any case this takes your investment. In any country, the campaigns of a song put it on television and radio, so that, even if the song is bad, after listening to it you end up liking it. In Cuba it is unfortunate, but urban music is not so played on radio and television. For you to be put something by the media it has to be well elaborated and sometimes that is not what gets popular.
“Nor is the way to make music with unnecessary crap. What happens here, and I see that it is wrong, is that they usually use obscene words unnecessarily. There are lyrics in which street resources can be used and others cannot.
“For promotion what we have is The Weekly Package and social networks. It has happened to us that in Europe we have a hit and here in Cuba they listen to you on a bus, over there ”.
How do you see the popularity of trap on the Island?
Michel : You cannot do an entire concert singing trap to the Cuban public, because they want to move: morfa or timba. They do not want a trap because it is slower. There is a sector that does get it, but is not the majority.
“Even those who do reggaeton when they sing live what they do is almost timba, because they play a pianist, drums, etc. The Cuban is different from the Puerto Ricans who perhaps feel more identified with the trap.
“Also, making trap takes expensive videos, a wardrobe that is normally difficult to get when you are starting. A successful artist has the possibility of traveling and can make a trap as it is because he has a budget to defend it.
What concept is it that you promote in social media?
Michel : Here the backgrounds that are in process are always uploaded. If the Mechu is making a video, he uploads from the computer how it looks.
Mechu : I usually film Michel while he's mixing. Our social networks are to cover everything. The purpose is to promote. The YouTube channel is for our videos but social media are to show the process.
Are you aware of the reach you have in the Internet? What countries do you reach more?
Mechu : We recently discovered that. I was reviewing on YouTube and 70% of the people who consume us are in the United States, like 6.8% in Cuba and the rest in Spain, Peru, Switzerland, Namibia…. But most are from the United States.
Michel : Most of it is in the United States because that is the line we make here in the studio. When the artist comes here he wants to do something more international and that is when they contact us. We do everything, even bachata.
Why do you think it is important to defend the urban movement in Cuba?
Mechu : So that at some point in life would be seen this for what it is: music. I think they should give us more liberties and not tighten the nut so much.
Michel : We defend the real music of Cuba. If you go to history, for example, the rumba started from the street. Today the rumba is like the seal of Cuba. It is the same thing that I think will happen with urban music, whether they censor us or not. We are in 2020, a more digital era and the world is guided by how large industries move around the world.
“Those who know say that the morfa is not music, and the morfa starts from the same timba. As they are holding it back they do not allow the genre to evolve. The same happened in Puerto Rico with reggaeton; if you compare the one of now with the one of the beginnings, that is not even the flip flop that we have today. But what happened there? They opened up the market, and the artists themselves were looking for better sound engineers and stuff.
“I know that street music is what identifies a country. Culture comes from the street. The reggaeton is Cuban. This was the case in Colombia, which is the main reggaeton-producing country right now. It is the same, but they put things in his music that is what we do in our country. Here you produce a reggaeton and the Cuban always adds our stuff: they speed up the time a little more, they do some brakes that are different from those of Puerto Rico, they put a piano in it... that's from Cuba.
“But we always return to the morfa, which is, as such, the genre of the street, of Cuba. That must be defended, it is not something that we copied, it was born here ”.
What is El Concepto del Trap ?
Mechu : The album The Trap Concept is quite old. We did it because we thought we had the concept of genre. That was about three years ago. In the urban genre there is always competition, something normal, and back then several artists made trap but did not have the real concept.
“To make trap you have to have the concepts of the street and speak real things. Michel came up with the name and we decided we were going to make a record."
What project are you on now?
Michel : Now we made an album called Karma , which came out a few weeks ago on digital platforms and YouTube. We learned from past experiences. We are going to do it well, with all platforms, with a cover and everything. Unlike El Concepto del Trap, it is no longer just trap: it is a record with the music that is being used now in the world. There is also reggaeton, Colombian reggaeton and dancehall. We have taken a bit off the trap, but this happens not only in Cuba, and is that the strength it had two years ago is no longer the same.
"What we are doing is trapetón (the mixing of dembow with the bass drum and snare of the trap), which is what J Balvin and Bad Bunny do, merging reggaeton percussion with the sounds of trap, and the chords are from R&B. ”
Trap as a subgenre of reggaeton is associated with the urban music scene in Latin and Caribbean countries, especially in Colombia and Puerto Rico. The mention of Cuba as a powerful exponent of it is not usual, which indicates that there is still a way to go.
Still, the professional experience of management and production of Michel K-zual and Mechu Recvoluxion in the trap scene on the Island has been one of the first efforts in this line of urban creation. Currently they open their spectrum to morfa because the defense of Cuban identity and identity in urban music seems to be one of their premises for daily action.
Recvoluxion Boyz bequeaths and safeguards for the history of reggaeton in Cuba a record and audiovisual testimony. In a few years El Conceptop del Trap and Karma will be one of those phonograms that discover the language and soundscape of a Havana that sounds to trap and morfa.
Lalau Yllarramendiz Alfonso
Musicóloga y especialista en temas como el reguetón cubano. Egresada de la Universidad de las Artes (Isa). Miembro de la Rama Latinoamericana de la Asociación Internacional para el Estudio de la Música Popular y de MyGLA Músicas y género. Grupo de estudios latinoamericanos. Las nuevas tecnologías son la casa de sus proyectos investigativos.More posts