Cuban Musicians Are Freeing Themselves
Cuban Musicians Are Freeing Themselves / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz
Posted on January 31, 2016
14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 12 January 2016 – In an apartment
located in a dingy, rundown concrete building of Havana’s Plaza
district, dozens of musicians have made the dream of recording their
songs come true. Here we find one of those “home studios” that are
becoming essential for the Cuban music scene, and especially for the
A couple of years ago, nineteen year-old Claudia Pérez chose a new more
“intriguing” name befitting a “grand diva,” Nina. However, her vocal and
performance talents will not get her very far without the backing of a
musical expert and an independent producer.
JouMP, a music producer and editor, owns the studio where Nina recorded
her first singles. It is composed of a single room with wood paneling,
pompously advertising itself as “Espacio Latino Records.” JouMP spends
hours in his studio, insulated from street noise, mixing musical effects
and composing songs.
“The only thing I need to do is find the right musical thread, and then
the right instrument that defines the piece’s esthetic,” remarked JouMP.
He added, “Right from the start I know how to identify songs that are
sure to be hits.” This is why he is so respected, and why so many
entrust him with recording their albums, songs, or creating background
melodies for them.
JouMP has been involved in the world of independent creativity for more
than a decade, and considers himself “a sound artisan.” His most prized
possession is an external hard drive storing more than four thousand
musical pieces encompassing several genres, all created by him.
Stored together with his compositions are sound editing programs such as
Fruity Loops, Wavelab, and Logic Pro, as well as dozens of recording
tools. The majority of these programs are pirated versions, purchased on
the black market.
The apple of JouMP’s eyes is his digital console, which along with his
monitors, his computer with a powerful soundcard, and his microphones,
gives the studio a professional look. This equipment was also acquired
outside of official State channels, purchased second-hand, or from those
travelling abroad who are asked to bring it back to Cuba with them.
The lack of copyright laws and official authorization give a clandestine
feeling to these ventures. Still, this does not discourage those who
jump at the opportunity of turning their bedrooms into “sound
factories.” For the most part, the reggaetón played in shared taxis and
on teenagers’ earphones are recorded in these types of alternative
studios. The most common way of promoting this music on the Cuban market
is by way of the “weekly packet.”
JouMP bragged about creating an arrangement for rapper Wilder 01 by
mixing cha-cha with an electric guitar, thus giving it a “crunch” sound.
He called the piece “Estar contigo” (“Being With You”), and offered it
to EGREM. This State-run music label hailed the song’s originality, and
recognized that it did contain “some traces of Cuban music.”
Nonetheless, it was “too foreign.”
Those times when membership in a (government-run/official/State)
organization was a prerequisite for recording an album are now in the
past. “Privately owned studios give you more freedom,” commented Dj Xon,
an eighteen year-old who performs at parties, and who also dreams of
compiling all his work and uploading it to iTunes.
Until now, the only option available for the majority of Cuban musicians
who wanted to post their music online was Bis Musica, a label owned by
the State-owned corporation Artex. Bis Musica is in charge of uploading
music to platforms such as Spotify, iTunes, and Amazon. It often also
acts as an agent, retaining up to fifty percent of a song’s royalties.
Some artists manage to upload their songs onto the Internet thanks to a
friend or relative abroad who also helps them secure their royalties.
Despite the difficulty of accessing the Internet or collecting royalties
in Cuba, iTunes offers a wide variety of music produced by Cubans living
on the island.
In their short years, JouMP, Nina, and Wilder 01 have witnessed a giant
technological and social leap forward. They have seen the industry go
from old vinyl records, whose production was under total State control,
to the new wave of independent studios where songs are not even burned
to CD’s anymore, but instead are being produced for online streaming.
“They’ll be able to hear me anywhere in the world, because I’ll be up
there,” commented Nina. While singing in that narrow studio with wood
paneling, she daydreams about “the cloud,” and the enormous potential
her voice could have online.
Translated by José Badué
Source: Cuban Musicians Are Freeing Themselves / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz
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