Osmani Espinosa, swimming in urban waters
When the name of Osmani Espinosa is mentioned in Cuban music, there is a word that inevitably looms: success. From his own songs, in which the most romantic pop finds shelter in the voice of interpreters such as Leoni Torres, Mayco D´Alma, Laritza Bacallao, to the leadership of La Oficina Secreta, one of the main production and management centers of the urban scene on the Island; everything in Osmani smells of success.
But, what are the processes of this man who plays to be the King Midas of the Cuban sound and contemporary reality? What is your backstage? What should you have, or know, to conquer what many desire and very few achieve? It seems that having things clear is the premise. At least that is what is revealed to us in this conversation with Osmani, on any given day of this pandemic year.
Although you started your career as a singer in groups like Megano and Those who came first, what makes you really known is your work as a composer. At what point did you realize that you could write songs professionally?
I always wrote songs, but not to the level of knowing that they were going to be popular. The first that was successful was Summer has already arrived in 2000-2001. At that time I belonged to a group in which most of the time we did my songs. I tried to write for other groups because that music that we made was neither very broadcast nor very televised in those days. I really realized in 2004, that I gave a song to a soloist and that song stuck, I gave another song to that group and suddenly it became a hit. It was when I said to myself: 'wait, maybe I can dedicate myself to this completely.'
¿Qué tipo de canciones te gustaba escribir entonces?
“I especially enjoyed doing pop songs, which had to do with the street. In those days, salsa music predominated a lot in the country, everything was salsa and timba, and I was the one who did the opposite: pop, hip hop, fusion, pop-rock, ballads. I was in that alternative-creative world of weird things that I liked to experiment, and many singers took various ballads that I had and brought them to salsa. Then I realized that I could also write salsa starting from romantic music. At that time I wrote anything that could be mixed and fused ”.
To what extent is the fashionable sound environment determining for you when composing?
“I am a composer who has never wanted to be left behind. I have many composer friends who if reggaeton is fashionable, they say: "I do that for nothing in the world," because they see it as something that denigrates them or lowers their level. I've never been like this. I believe that songs are songs, and that in music A + B = C. Lyrics, lyrics, chorus and it's over. I think the important thing is what you say, not the musical genre you use. ”.
“It happens similar with other songs like ‘’que suenen los tambores’’ . At that time the country was saturated with a more retro type of reggaeton, which we call 'reggaeton of the beginnings', and I entered with a type of fusion that was a mixture of Cuban trumpets simulating the conga with syncopated rhythms and did not leave of being urban for that. I put the box and the reggaeton rhythm and I advance the time. At that moment the reggaeton time was black equal to 90, 93, 95 at the most, I put it almost at one hundred and so much, it does not go for a miracle disco music. That attracted a lot of attention to people. I have tried to capture traits of fashionable foreign rhythms, because I do not like to be left behind with what is happening in the world. You have to succeed in Cuba, but you also have to look outside because we are a very small island, we do not have a large domestic market and it is necessary to look for the international one. I am not one of those who stick with the rhythms that come out, I am not an enemy of any genre. Whoever comes, is welcome, and if I can adapt, the better
“It is similar with other songs like Let the drums sound. At that time the country was saturated with a more retro type of reggaeton, which we call 'early reggaeton', and I entered with a type of fusion that was a mixture of Cuban trumpets simulating the conga with rhythms syncopated and was still urban for that. I put the box and the reggaeton rhythm and I advance the time. When at that time the reggaeton time was black equal to 90, 93, 95 at the most, I put it almost at one hundred and so much, it does not go for miracle disco music. That attracted a lot of attention to people. I have tried to capture traits of fashionable foreign rhythms, because I do not like to be left behind with what is happening in the world. You have to succeed in Cuba, but you also have to look outside because we are a very small island, we do not have a large internal market and it is necessary to look for the international one. I am not one of those who stick with the rhythms that come out, I am not an enemy of any genre. Whoever comes, is welcome, and if I can adapt, the better ”.
What is your creative process like: do you think of the artist and build a theme or once you have the song, do you look for a custom artist?
“I've been through everything. In the beginning he studied the artist, his timbral, his vocal register, he saw what had worked for him and what had not; he was studying why he had come to me to write a song for him, what had been his biggest hit from him, why he stopped being successful. All those things have to be analyzed when writing a song for a certain artist. In recent times they asked me for songs on request, with specific themes. I also went through the process of going to the studio without even knowing what we were going to do, of building a beat first and then making a song on top; also for having a central idea (which is more the one I use today), knowing exactly what I want to say, and about that I develop a chorus and then everything else.
“También me ha pasado que desarrollo el cuerpo del tema y cuando llego al estribillo estoy en blanco, porque puse toda la fuerza en la primera parte y me quedo sin nada que decir. Esos son los temas que más trabajo me dan. Cuando parto del estribillo y desde el primer momento tengo el coro, todo lo demás es más fácil”.
So do you think the chorus is the most important part of a song?
"Without a doubt. I come from commercial music, where everyone sings almost always the chorus. It is very difficult for people to sing a whole song up and down. Almost always, whatever the genre, people are more suited to the chorus, the choruses. For example: in salsa what the public sings the most are the final choirs, in timba the same. In pop music the chorus is almost always sung, not much attention is paid to the rest. When you put the chorus at the beginning of the song, you still have to repeat it more times. What can I tell you, I'm easy on music ”.
Do you rely on an instrument to compose?
“I‘ poundʼ the piano a little bit to get my songs out, build the chords. Although in recent times I rely on the use of technologies. You have to be fashionable! I have producers who help me a lot, to whom I say: "I want this", and they build the model for me based on what I am looking for. I have the melody or a letter in my head and I tell them: 'I don't want it to sound sad to me, but happy. Play me major chords. I want to work according to this styleʼ. They elaborate the musical base and I later work on it ”.
It became clear with this explanation that you are not the typical composer who sits accompanied by his guitar to put chords and build melodies. Does this mean that you can't do it like this or that you don't have the knowledge?
“Although I am totally empirical, life led me, especially in the early 2000s, to seek basic musical knowledge, that is, to study a little but without delving into musical techniques, because I believe that what is taught in Cuban schools music doesn't help us much. The more one gets involved in wanting to learn what is not necessary for the street, the more complicated it becomes to make a success. I prefer to know the basics and develop my ideas from there. We are in 2020 and I do not think it is time to compose leaning on a piano or a guitar. I know, admire and respect a lot of songwriters who work like this, but I honestly don't think it's time to do it that way. Today music goes very fast. Before a song was released a year, now a new song is released every two months, and you have to be in constant sound change ”.
Define sound change.
“Experimenting within the commercial world is getting more difficult every day. Suddenly today this rhythm with these chords is fashionable, but in two months it will no longer be. If you fit into the same thing, and you as a composer do not change, your proposal becomes old. Today the producers are the base of the composers. Composition camps are made in the world. And who goes? The composers with the producers. Three composers and three producers get together, they assign who each one is going to work with, and they go to a secluded place, where no one will bother them, and you compose with your producer by your side. You suggest what you want and the producer shows you to see if what he is doing is what you have in your head. Today it is composed like this. Composing using a guitar is part of the old school. It works and there are still those who do, but it is old school. Today you as a composer need one, two or three producers next to you, each with their own style”.
With this explanation, the roles of the composer and producer when creating a song may be blurred or unclear. What is the exact role that each one plays? Who is the real protagonist when it comes to building a new theme? What does each decide?
“The composer decides the lyrics and the melody. The producer can say that perhaps this chord does not go well with that melody and can suggest another. That is the function of the musical producer or the arranger, but the composer is the one who determines the general idea, what is going to be said in the theme and the melodic line that it will have based on the musical production that the producer made from what that you yourself suggested, in case you are, in the same way, a general producer. If you are simply a composer, you have to adapt to what the arranger does to you. In case that composer has production knowledge, he can suggest making changes to the beat or structuring that beat in his own way. This is the new era ”.
¿Cuáles son tus principales referentes musicales y composicionales?
“I drank from several Spanish composers, but there were a couple of them, a Cuban and a Puerto Rican named Donato Poveda and Estefano Reyes, who are great. I was nourished by their melodic style and way of saying things. I listened to your records. I also listened a lot to Juan Luis Guerra. It seemed extraordinary to me how he narrated and said things. In English I have reference to Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Bryan Adams.
“Among Cubans, if I went backwards, the one with whom I most identify is with Vicente Rojas. He had a few melodic twists and a way of telling things that, in my opinion, were way ahead of his time. And, of course, the influence of Juan Formell, which all Cubans have ”. At what point does urban music come into your life and why do you decide to direct almost all of your creation towards this sound?
At what point does urban music come into your life and why do you decide to direct almost all of your creation towards this sound?
“It was as if I saw a tsunami. I stood in front of the boardwalk and saw a tsunami coming, and I said to myself: "this is going to wipe out everything." The people in Cuba are making force, they are becoming rebellious in the face of that tsunami called reggaeton. At that time, I was working with many artists who were very popular and I told them: ‘guys… you have to do reggaeton’ and everyone told me that I was crazy. They all went to other places, no one else wanted to enter the studio. Once again Jay Simons and I were left alone, wondering: now what do we do if nobody wants to do reggaeton? I didn't want to make other music anymore because I understood that it was a moment when if I kept doing it, I would stop being what I was.
“Estábamos viviendo en una burbuja que explotaría en cualquier momento, cuando la gente abriera los ojos esto iba a ser reguetón por todos lados. Entonces le dije a Simons: ‘Vamos a buscar reguetoneros. Porque si la gente que nosotros queremos no quiere hacer reguetón, no nos queda otra que buscar reguetoneros’. Levanté la vista y estaba Jacob Forever: ‘mi hermano, por favor, necesito una canciónʼ. Ya él estaba solo, pero a mí me encantaba desde Gente de Zona y empecé a escribir canciones. En el disco de Hasta que se seque el malecón hay cinco temas míos.
“Y ahí apareció Divan. Todo el mundo sabe lo que pasó después… Nos volvimos una de las casas discográficas más importantes de la música urbana en el país. Y vuelvo y repito, no es que no haya hecho más el otro tipo de música, es que sencillamente todo cambió.
“I have written salsas for some artists who have not been very successful, I have written other kinds of things that have not come out because maybe it was not their time. That's why maybe people only see the urban, but I'm willing to do any kind of music. What I do tell people before: ‘We’re going to get this out, but don’t expect great results because it’s not the time for pop, romantic or salsa music. That tsunami came, it passed through the boardwalk and we are in the middle of 2020 all swimming in urban waters ”.
How do you define music and the urban scene?
“I am the man in the suit. A commercial composer, fighter, warrior, who always changes his shoes when faced with stumbling and keeps walking. Who will I be and who would I like to be? The same in a few years, but changing many things. I would like people to understand that music is music, and that everyone has the right to listen to what they want, whatever their hearing allows them. I would like to change the thoughts of the people who lead us, so that they are able to understand, from the base, that in the end it is only music. But hey, if I don't get there, I'll stay as the composer who simply made songs and will continue to make commercial songs. "
How do you define music and the urban scene?
“Urban music is all the music that comes out of the neighborhoods. Any kind of genre or musical work that's done with a can and stick, with a home computer, that comes out of a person with a guitar, lying in a corner, that a guy comes with a drum and something comes out of there. That for me is urban music. Even a lot of the things that we call "alternative music" for me is urban. I know people who got together in a lot, made a duo and are famous today. That for me is urban music.
“Reggaeton is part of that urban music that began in Panama in the 90s, but that reggaeton that emerged in Panama was perhaps a result of the dance hall in Jamaica, and they nurtured each other. The one in Puerto Rico, the one in Panama, and so on. Everyone was creating their style. The famous cubatón ... I think that the same reggaeton that is made today in Cuba is more foreignized than that of the beginning. Because the Cuban urban music that started, the famous cubatón, was timba, guaguancó, it had everything. However, today he had to find other ways ”.
“The rich Cuban that Los 4, Eddy K, Baby Lores and El Insurrecto made - perhaps the last of that generation - did not have the necessary support, they did not have their own Cuban infrastructure to help them go further. Who supported? Those on the other side. But on the other side the cubatón was not understood much. So they had to merge and become a little more global, so that people could take it on in other places, because Cuban music costs a lot to internationalize. It's complicated.
“Today Cuban reggaeton understands that it is difficult to reach other countries that do not have such a rich and varied rhythm as ours. We are too rhythmic. How do you get to Spain (as we say, who have two left feet)? If you give them a complicated rhythm they don't understand it. The world goes very fast and needs something that is understood quickly. If there is a product that they do not understand, they will listen to the one that they do understand and they will continue. It is so ”.
What do you consider to be the main advantages and disadvantages of the urban scene in Cuba?
“The main advantage is the people. People likes it. Now, looking at the mainstream media in the country, I would tell you that it has no advantages. On the other hand, urban music has had to live a time that is that of social networks, the weekly digital package (paquete semanal), memories, the digital age. That did not happen to live other music that in other times has also been censored such as rock, hip hop, even experimental music, which, being ‘not understandable’, was prohibited. Those people had to live a time when they had to enter through the little channel: radio, television, the Information System, all those things. They had a bad time. How do you stop urban music today?
“Te voy a poner un ejemplo muy claro. Chocolate está prohibido donde quiera. Está prohibido hasta en el Paquete. Pero cuando Chocolate saca un tema ―que para la gente que lo consume es bueno―, el tema se vuelve popular, imparable. De memoria flash en memoria flash, de redes sociales en redes sociales, sin promoción ninguna. Eso te demuestra que se está viviendo otra época, regida por el gusto popular. Porque tú dices: ‘si Chocolate se pegó así, ¿por qué no me puedo pegar yo que hago pop-rock?ʼ. Esa gente no se pega porque sencillamente el público cambió, su oído cambió.
“Hay algo dentro del fenómeno de la música que es súper interesante y es que existen momentos mágicos, tendencias. Todos estamos oyendo algo, aunque sea música mala, y la tendencia es lo que todo el mundo escuche, e inevitablemente vas a creer que eso es lo que está bien. Es lo que sucede con la música urbana buena, mala o regular, eso es lo que está sonando, lo que la gente está escuchando. Para ellos el otro tipo de música no es que sea buena o mala, es que no les interesa porque no es la que oyen. Para la gran mayoría del público de hoy esa otra música no existe. La escucharon los padres, los tíos, pero no la generación de ahora. Hoy las condiciones están dadas para que lo que guste sea la música urbana. Hasta que no se invente otra cosa, no hay manera de irle en contra, porque lo urbano muta. El rock es rock, el pop tiene sus variantes, pero…lo urbano muta.
“From the fact that the rhythmic cell of reggaeton is very easy, they are mutating according to the needs. And the great exponents are looking for variability in the rhythms to give you new material, change the sound and leave you dizzy ”.
What you tell me about that constant sound search in pursuit of change, do you think it is something thought or does it seem to you that it arises spontaneously, naturally?
“For the great urban music creators like Daddy Yankee and J Balvin, it comes naturally. Big producers like Sky, Diplo, Major Lazer and others are always innovating because whoever finds something new is the one who wins. For example, J Balvin is a creator who surprises you with each song. When you think he is going to follow one path and everyone falls behind him, he takes another. He is always alone in his league, like Daddy Yankee. The market will never saturate you, neither they nor their producers. They are going to take African music that they listened to where you least imagine it and they are going to use it in their own way. They're going to take a sample from the 1970s and modernize it. Until something totally different emerges, the phenomenon of urban music is not going to end.
“They are chameleonic. And while the record companies are generating income with this, it will not be in the interest of any of them to launch another artist of any other genre that is not going to be interesting, that is not going to represent the same amount of income
Como bien decías hace un rato, La Oficina Secreta se ha convertido en el principal centro de producción y gestión de la música urbana en Cuba ¿Qué crees que le aporta a la escena urbana del país?
“Our difference with other production companies, and perhaps the main contribution, is in the way of working with the texts. We try to make our songs have more thoughtful texts, a more elaborate sound ”.
What do you mean when you talk about more elaborate sound? What difference does your sound have with that of Célula Music, for example?
“In my opinion, Célula Music is the perfect example of urbanity in Cuba. I say they invented this here, although before them there were Nando Pro, El Jerry. Perhaps those of the Celula were not the pioneers, but when the business was centered they were the owners of everything. For me they are a paradigm and they will always be number one in urban music on the island. Therefore, I cannot do the same they do. You have to be different.
“When you are looking for an underground urban music studio they [Célula Music] are the perfect ones, but when you go there, you know that your priority or objective cannot be to appear on radio or television. I maintain that romanticism of thinking that television is still important. On that basis, we look for the difference. We created a more global product because we think that people in their 30s and 40s also have the right to urban songs that enter their ears and find them enjoyable. "
“When you are looking for an underground urban music studio they [Célula Music] are the perfect ones, but when you go there, you know that your priority or objective cannot be to appear on radio or television. I maintain that romanticism of thinking that television is still important. On that basis, we look for the difference. We create a more global product because we think that people in their 30s and 40s also have the right to urban songs that enter their ears and are pleasant to them. "
Can we speak then of a stylistic-musical stamp of the Secret Office?
"Totally. Aspects in the mix, careful texts, more elaborate than in other urban products. Also, I am looking for producers who know a little about music. That is not just instinctive chords. I try to reach the middle ground, I don't pretend they have a lot of knowledge, but I do need them to know something ”.
Why don't you want them to have all possible musical knowledge? Is it a barrier when creating your product?
"Yes. Because then it would stop being urban music, and it would become elitist and stylized music, and that doesn't work. To achieve a good, successful urban product, there has to be a limit to that musical knowledge that the producer possesses. If you have the knowledge then you are going to tell me: 'here we are going to put a 13th and 7th chord. Look at this 9th how beautiful she feelsʼ. And that cannot be, because the public that consumes this music does not understand. He does not understand it because he is not a musical audience. It is a public more interested in rhythm, and with a way of listening that is not prepared for that information ”.
I understand that over time the social context varies and with it, the public and their way of understanding music or any artistic process. But, for example: in movements like the filin, composers like César Portillo de la Luz or José A. Méndez, with their 9th, 11th, 13th, were very listened to and admired, and their music was consumed without problems. Why do you think that a product like this is not marketable now?
"Very easy. You can tell me about Silvio, Pablo, César Portillo, but the new generation doesn't know who any of them are. They have no idea of anything. "
Yes, but the public that consumed those songs and those composers did not know who they were until they became popular, precisely because their work was liked.
“It was an audience that consumed what you gave it. The radio gave you that, the television gave you that. Therefore, his ear was prepared to listen to that music, he understood it perfectly. And you would ask someone from that time and they would tell you: "If they put that on the radio and television, it's because it's good." Today's audience has the ability to choose what they want to hear. Today people connect and listen to what they want to hear. The public today is not musical. Today they tell you "this is what I want to hear, period." Very easy. Also, the world is going very fast. I can assure you that the majority of that public that consumes the most music, which is the generation between 15 and 21 years old, that stops to discover music, new artists, that public do not know who the composers you were telling me are, including Pablo and Silvio ”.
You mentioned it a while ago and now I ask you: what do you think Jay Simons brings to The Secret Office?
“Jay Simons is‘ the chief producer ’of The Secret Office. It is he who gives the sound, the timbral nuances that distinguish La Oficina's product. Each producer must have the ability to know what timbre fits each song he makes. That's Jay Simons, who allows the finished product to be just right. During the last years we have also worked with other people, seeking to open the sound landscape. We believe that you have to have an exclusive producer to rectify all things, to give the final touch or finish, but you still have to nourish yourself with others. You cannot close yourself, you have to explore ”.
How do you choose the artists that make up your catalog?
“The first is a sad look. For me artists have to have something in their eyes, a special aura. The sad look means that you have a good heart and that everything can work out. I don't like people with very high egos. The artist has to be a fighter, he has to have shown himself that he is worth it. Those people who sit and wait for you to do everything, I don't like that. One has to fight and to fight. The Secret Office was not created because someone came to me and said "here you have everything to do it." I was enduring the blows of life and coming forward. The artist in La Oficina has to have a warrior spirit, and then I have to like him.
“It is important that the singers are in tune, although they still criticize me for that. There are people who are successful and are not tuned. From a business point of view it is good to work with them because they give you something else. But I like that they tune, with natural talent and that they are noble, because nobility works with the public. ’
“I don't have physical prototypes established. I can work with any physicist. I am not one of those who look for them pretty. I just need you not to look like what I already have, especially timbrally. If I already have a Divan, why do I want another one like him? I like to work on any type of style, as long as you show yourself different ”.
Do you have legal or financial restrictions to be able to manage The Secret Office?
“Economic none. We do things the way we can. If a product is of interest and I want to do it, the way is sought and done. Now, legal ... Maybe you have promotional issues. The country does not support you ”.
Doesn't it support you for being an independent space, or for being a defender of urban music?
“It does not support urban people in general. In my case it has not hit me so much because we do everything the right way. My artists have companies, they work in public, the lyrics of their songs are usually not objectionable, so they are allowed to have some space on radio and television. But then I see other artists who do the same and who don't get any kind of support, I honestly don't know why. And it is no mystery to anyone that urban music in this country has thousands of restrictions.
“I think they got used to it and live their happy life. And I understand that Cuban television cannot put certain things that are not within the limits of censorship, because it is like that in all parts of the world. But there are times when you hear wonderful things that are not put on you and you don't understand why. That is the only real obstacle ”.
When we look at the musical and audiovisual product of La Oficina, we do not really notice great differences in style or quality with many proposals by artists that today top the charts of international success. Why has no artist from La Oficina entered the international market?
“It's all about record labels. Notice that the Cuban artists with the greatest insertion in the international market are Gente de Zona, and it was all through record labels. Many times those artists who are with the famous majors that are nothing more than the big production companies like Sony, Universal, Warner, and some independent who escapes, who suddenly hits a blow, are inserted into that circuit, which is because almost always the majors have not wanted the product or it escapes from their hands and they have a race at that circuit. Although then those majors always go to buy the product.
“Cuban artists, perhaps because they are inside Cuba in a closed market, almost none are with the big companies. There have been some who at a certain moment have taken a hit with a song like Until the Malecón dries up, by Jacob, and suddenly they sign them. But that is a very complicated task. Here we are alone fighting among all and it is very difficult to enter that circuit. Look at how Gente de Zona, despite so many years of success in Cuba, does not enter the great circuit until it merges with Enrique Iglesias, who belongs to one of these majors, later with Marc Anthony, also from one of these companies. Then you can see the gear that drives you to be in that soup. If you are not there it is very complicated, unless your product by chance is triggered and goes viral. There have been cases like that of Osmani García with El taxi, that suddenly something happened and the issue went viral, people liked it, the issue soared and slipped.
“Perhaps with a different Cuba… The best moment for Cuba came with the reestablishment of relations with the United States. When Obama visited the island, the numbers of Cuban music (we monitored the sales numbers of the artists, YouTube visits, sales in digital stores) soared in an impressive way. And suddenly another calm came, and all the figures began to drop suddenly after the cooling of these relations. In other words, it would be necessary to analyze other factors that go beyond the musical to see why La Oficina, or why no Cuban music, urban or non-urban, reaches the international levels that you mention. The few Cuban artists who have this type of visibility is because they are linked to that circuit, otherwise nothing would happen ”.
What do you think urban music brings to Cuban music in general? Would Cuban music lose something if urban music disappears in the country?
“Cuban music has always been very rich, with international recognition. We have been a guide in different musical genres, salsa, mambo, son. But urban music arrived, which not only appears in Cuba, but in the rest of the world. It is not only Cuban but global. What happens to the world if urban music suddenly disappears? That is what you have to ask yourself, not what is happening to Cuba.
“Another problem is social networks, which do not help. Famous haters make it harder. Everything you get is criticized, attacked, mixed with politics. They have taken the urban genre as the flag of a certain political position. If you are urban, you have to express your political position through your music. They do not realize that music is art, and art does not have sides, it does not take positions in that sense. For me that is the worst thing that has happened to urban music. You have the support of one or the other depending on what you say. Not everyone has been lucky enough to be Leoni Torres who does not get into anything and everyone likes him. This type of controversy is marking the genre, it is the point of attention and unfortunately we are forgetting about music. I think that is the main problem that Cuban music has today. If you don't get into that kind of debate, they criticize you because they say you don't show up. This is about making music, not political manifestos ”.
“Hoy la música se traduce en números. Tú ves orquestas insignes de este país a las que sencillamente les tocó vivir la era digital pero no se adaptaron y no les va bien. Cualquier cantante urbano, aunque sea desconocido sube hoy su producto a una plataforma digital y tiene más escuchas, más visitas en YouTube, seguidores en Instagram, Spotify, Facebook, que los grandes baluartes de la música cubana. ¿Por qué? Porque esa gente no se adaptó al modelo de hoy, a la mayoría de ellos no les interesó.
“You see that all urban artists have fights with each other and live fighting. The real difference with the exponents of other genres is that these people do not make their problems public and the urban one does. But I can assure you that there are problems and differences in all the scenes. If you look closely, most of these people do not collaborate, for them collaborating professionally is not a common practice, the ego that lives in those scenes is still higher than that of urban artists, who, at least, understand that making music is a business, and they come together because they know it's good for it.
“When you say Cuba to the world, Cubans will always think of Los Van Van, Celia Cruz, Compay Segundo, but not the rest. When the world thinks of Cuba they will tell you Celia Cruz and Gente de Zona. Although it hurts, it is so. Young audiences have another perspective. If urban music disappears I don't think that musically Cuba will suffer a loss, because here there is a lot of good music to give to the world. The problem is that today we only know that good music and it interests us who are here, because it is not exported to the world, it is not viral ”.
Why do you think there is such a great rejection by the institutions towards urban music?
“In my opinion, this great rejection is solely and exclusively because you have to reject something. As in other times rock and hip hop were rejected, today reggaeton is rejected. So what happens is that in Cuba you have to reject something. Lately, what is fashionable, what people want to hear, is rejected. If it sounds somewhat foreign or sounds strange, it is rejected. Tomorrow a new genre is coming and it will be rejected. I once saw an interview with Formell in which he explained that when he changed the format in Los Van Van and did not follow the conventional instrumental training of the orchestras of that time, it was difficult for him to be accepted. In Cuba, the rejection of the new has become normal. Urban people say: "they miss it", because urban music today is one of the most commercialized in the world. I hope that one day that will change. "
Just these days I was watching a documentary dedicated to NG La Banda and the timba phenomenon, and when I saw the images of people dancing in La Tropical, I couldn't help but find certain points in common with the delivery reggaeton: elements in the way of dancing of the people, the stage projection of the singers, the way some choirs sing. Do you consider that the cast can be a kind of mutation of a genre as Cuban and as valuable to our musical culture as timba? Can the cast be understood as a purely Cuban reggaeton product?
"What is the cast? The guaguancó clef with rhythm and electronic base, melody and lyrics. I think that the cast has come to replace the timba. The need of the Cuban people to experience timba was lost in recent years and the cast came to say "I have mine too." The nexus is in the way of singing it, in the guapería, in which they leave the street, in the use of the harpsichord.
“The exponents of this genre are normally very street artists, with a very low cultural level, practically without studies, and that is not convenient for the institutions that represent the cultural interests of the country; therefore, reparteros exponents do not have the support they should. What happens is that those who direct us not see that that reggaeton that they rejected so much, today is the salvation for not hearing this other product that is more aggressive and that they want even less, which is the distribution. The reggaeton that they rejected today is super cute, with beautiful lyrics, and those who are doing the cast are bringing marginality to the surface. Then a new enemy arises.
“Within the urban world, the cast and reggaeton don't come together, they don't get along. Reggaeton players with more experience say: "I don't sing that," like, "I don't go down there." The fine reggaeton player sees this as something denigrating, but the delivery man says when he thinks of reggaeton: "I can't get there." There is a kind of hierarchy that does not allow them to mix at all. Sometimes they merge, they pull each other, they reconcile… But almost always what happens is that the one on top is the one who comes down to make the delivery, but the delivery man almost never goes up to do the other reggaeton. Those who are at a higher level say: "I'm going to go down to make a distribution to continue hitting, but I'm not going to give that one a chance to come to my territory."
“There is an interview of me from a few years ago where I envisioned: 'the institutions are worried about reggaeton, and they don't know what's coming up, something there called cast, a Cuban version of reggaeton, which is why what they should be concerned about. So I saw this phenomenon coming that is happening and that nobody is going to stop it ”.
So, at a conceptual level, can reggaeton be considered as the “mother genre” and the rest of the reggaeton expressions as generic variants?
"Totally. The actual origin of the cast is not known. Many say that it is a variant that comes from Santiago de Cuba. Chocolate says he made it up. Everyone wants to take credit for their creation. For me it is something that comes from further afield, from Africa and is sung by Africans. Here they incorporated the key, made their mix of elements and what we have today came out. For me it is a very rich genre, where there are very good songs ”.
How do you assess the current health of urban music in Cuba? What do you think will happen in five, 10, 20 years?
“The health of urban music in Cuba is very bad. We did not manage to transcend, we did not reach another level. Every day it is more difficult to make a success outside of the Cuban musical environment. All groups have lowered their numbers in sales, in visualizations, and I'm talking to you before COVID-19. We are going to have to work hard to raise the genre again. We are hearing tired. Salvation is in finding new exponents, new representatives. You have to fall in love with the public again with other types of artists, in addition to continuing with those of a lifetime.
“Otro problema son las redes sociales, que no ayudan. Los famosos haters lo hacen más difícil. Todo lo que tú sacas lo critican, te atacan, lo mezclan con política. Han cogido al género urbano como bandera de una posición política determinada. Si tú eres urbano tienes que manifestar tu postura política a través de tu música. No se dan cuenta de que la música es arte, y el arte no tiene bandos, no asume posturas en ese sentido. Para mí eso es lo peor que le ha pasado a la música urbana. Tienes el apoyo de unos o de otros en dependencia de lo que digas. No todo el mundo ha tenido la suerte de ser Leoni Torres que no se mete en nada y a todo el mundo le gusta. Este tipo de polémica está marcando al género, es el punto de atención y lamentablemente nos estamos olvidando de la música. Ese creo que es el principal problema que tiene hoy la música cubana. Si no entras en ese tipo de debates te critican porque dicen que no te manifiestas. Esto va de hacer música, no manifiestos políticos”.
I am struck by how comfortable you feel with the term "commercial". What does the “commercial” concept contain for Osmani Espinosa?
“Adoro ser comercial, esa es mi bandera. Yo vengo del pop y eso es ser popular. Dependiendo de cómo lo mires comercial es: en lo musical letras interesantes, no facilistas. Canciones que tengan una temática agradable, que no mucha gente haya tocado el texto, pero que melódicamente sean muy fáciles de memorizar y cantar, con acordes muy sencillos y repetitivos. No me interesan los poemas ni las metáforas en las canciones. Un asiento no es la combinación de la madera disfrazada… no, eso es un asiento y punto, no hay que darle más vueltas.
“Te voy a poner el ejemplo de Bad Bunny. Él triunfa porque dice las cosas como son. Hace 50 años atrás a nadie se le ocurriría decir las cosas que él dice, y mucho menos como las dice. Pero este era el momento para decirlas de forma directa, y así lo hizo. Dijo lo que le daba la gana y no le importó. Y como dijo algo que nadie se atrevía a decir, a la gente le pareció interesante. Y ya tú ves… se comió al mundo. El primero en su género que lo hace de esa forma. He ahí la gracia, y es que hoy, lo diferente es lo que triunfa.
“In the end, today everything is commercial, because everything is commercialized. There are people who think: "I make my songs for myself, to listen to myself." And then someone comes in and says, 'Compadre, I like that. I have a record label and I am interested in buying it. I'm going to give you $ 5,000ʼ, and forget it, he's going to sell the song without hesitation. At that precise moment it was commercialized, it became commercial. So all music is commercial.
“As for aesthetics, it is the same. If you, when you go to sing at the King Bar or at Mío & Tuyo, you dress the same as when you are at home, you know that you will not have the same acceptance. Each place has its aesthetics. Each artist has their own visuality. We cannot all look the same. Cuba lost the aesthetic concept among all artists. The artist cannot censor himself. If a singer has to put a unicorn horn on his forehead and go out on stage like that, it is most likely that all over the world people will download him for the differentness of the proposal; here in Cuba they will ridicule and criticize him. That happens because we have censored ourselves for years. We lost track of aesthetics and what we really want to sell. If you are fat, why does that have to be a problem, if in the end you sing beautifully, you will make everyone fall in love with your voice. It doesn't matter how you are. Maybe what catches your attention is that you are the only fat man who sings. We have so much to study ”.
What does Osmani Espinosa want to sell as a composer? What does The Secret Office want to sell?
“Any type of art, but that is commercial. Sell records, songs and make that product go viral. I want the public to sing the songs, that they be hymns, that wherever you are, people talk about The Secret Office’’
Leannelis Cárdenas Díaz
Always singing and smiling. There is no better way to face life! Musician and musicologist seven days a week. Cuban from head to toe, inside and out. Keywords: music, family, light, friends, wind, free, sunflower, smile, honey, Cuba.