Photo: Eve North Photography.

Interview: El Individuo Brings Afro-Cuban Rap to the World

We talk to one of Cuba's most celebrated rappers about blending local and global sounds in his latest EP, 2020 Escribo.

I got sent El Individuo's ('The Individual') mobile number in Havana over WhatsApp. With 3G internet and Wi-Fi hotspots all over Cuba, everyone's using WhatsApp inside the island and to connect with the rest of the world. It is just easier to call El Individuo, whose lay name is Rafael Bou Lemus, without worrying about the cost of a call to Cuba over cellular data or a landline.

Cuba's ambivalent neoliberalism and Cuba's connection to the world define the rate at which urban Afro-Cuban music catches up with the musical flavours circulating the African diaspora. The same happens with the presence of our music in the hottest playlists in Spotify, iTunes, Tidal, Deezer, YouTube, TikTok or Bandcamp's The Hip Hop Show. Not as world music, but as a musical idiom with the prospect of global currency.

El Individuo, one of Havana's most relevant MCs, and his smart EP 2020 Escribo weather the storm.

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Image courtesy of the artist.

Interview: OKAN Are Telling the Struggles of Afro-Cuban Women

We speak to OKAN, an Afro-Cuban Latin jazz ensemble based in Canada, about their latest record Espiral.

OKAN's new album, Espiral, opens with a Yoruba language chant that invites us to dance and experience a spiritual journey of faith and musical virtuosity. The album boasts 9 tracks that fuse Antillean rhythms, flamenco, bolero, salsa, African roots, and Latin jazz. Their compositions embody instrumental solo improvisations, lyrics, and chants full of color and social commitment using double entendres to talk about Cuban women and the Latino community in Canada.

OKAN, an Afro-Cuban ensemble based in Toronto, are Grammy-nominated and violinist Elizabeth Rodriguez, and Grammy-nominated percussionist Magdelys Savigne. Following their debut record, Sombras, OKAN just released their sophomore album Espiral, a compilation of percussion-driven songs that takes you to Havana or Santiago de Cuba.

The women-led ensemble composes, arranges and plays multiple instruments fusing contemporary Cuban sounds. They feature a generation of virtuoso jazz musicians who add different flavors to this album, like the rapper Telmary Diaz or Hilario Durán, a Cuban jazz pianist. They also dig deep into less known musical genres, like pilón (a traditional Afro Cuban carnival rhythm), combining them in their own ways.

OkayAfrica talked with OKAN about their latest record that is emotional and nostalgic but energetic, and honors the richness of Afro-Cuban rhythms and the legacy of their musicians.

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