Story x Photos by Michael James Murray
Additonal Photos by Chantel Simpson
Cover Photo by Matt Seger
While in Cuba we were invited to Mañana, a festival in Santiago de Cuba consisting of a collaboration between both foreign and local acts, with a hope to bridge the rest of the world to the music and culture that flows through the veins of all cubans.
What I gathered from speaking with various people from Havana, to Santiago to Guantanamo is that one, the embargo certainly has played its part in restricting certain types of gear from coming over into Cuba, and two, the internet still exists in a not so instantaneous and accessible tool like most of the world knows it. While these factors alone have had their hand in both music production, sharing of Cuban music and accessibility of other worldly music so readily, Cuban’s are the type of people who’s music exists beyond the means of the immediate we’re so accustomed. It’s what makes up who they are, an ideology beyond whether they can instantly upload a track or not. As for the future of Cuba, it’s musical revolution and ultimate connection to the rest of the world, you can see that we’re certainly a tipping point.
In the process of speaking with respective folks about the state of the Cuban music scene and how it came to be, I met a Cuban artist by the name of Kumar Subleavo Beat, an MC and music producer stemming from Havana, Cuba. Kumar started his career when Havana was in the height of it's hiphop movement in the late nineties, which undoubtedly have an influence on his work. His influence grew to include that of reggae, funk and a predominent Afro-Latin jazz and traditional Afro-Cuban sound, which combined gives Kumar Sublevao Beat quite a distinct live sound. He was kind enough to play a medley of five of his songs in a single take for us in an open room above Mañana festival, accomandied by his friend and trumpeter Frank Ernesto González. We had a chance to speak with Kumar about his Cuban roots, his various influnces and the state of Cuban music.
Tell us about yourself. Who is Kumar? If you could you describe yourself and your background and tell us what should people know about your project Subleva-Beat?
My name is Kumar Dasari, my name is Sublevao musical warrior-Beat. I'm a wordsmith and something like a rapper-producer. My first years I was immersed in hiphop projects, and throughout the years with many collaborations, all of this brought me my great mutation that would give substance to what I am today," Kumar Sublevao-Beat "chameleonic artist in constant metamorphosis reflected in projects such as:" Afrikun, Mandinga Sessions, MPC Sublevao Live Sessions, ManExMaqina, Xangoa and ElectroRumbaiao among others.
To give our audience a sense of context, can you describe Cuba? What does it look like, feel like? What are the Cuban people like? If you could use your five senses to describe Cuba, how would you?
For me Cuba is a piece of magical land with a past and present full of moments of light and hope and other dark and resignation. A place with subreales nuances, bereft in economic resources but abundant creativity, and proud of our identity. "Cubans are like a Cadilac 50 with the engine of a Lada" passing through streets full of bumps and holes, which produce a movement that we understand as the dance of our life while playing on the radio ... "Do not mourn, that life is a carnival "
Your style has a mix of influence from reggae to afro cuban to hip hop, amongst others. Could you talk about how your live performance is shaped by the various cultures? Where did your influence come from as you grew up making music?
I come from the scene of Cuban hiphop late 90s where the bases of this kind in Cuba settled. By that time I confess that my greatest influence came from my contemporaries in Cuba and the scant information from USA. Then I started to connect with musicians from different genres and times and my beats took a more musical and eclectic point from what city, through folk and nurtured by the Afrojazz, funk, reggae and electronica, becoming one of the artists more restless reciprocation of Cuban music.
My versatility allowed me to collaborate with a variety of artists and nurture them. For the last 10 years I have residence in Barcelona one of the cradles of world music so I kept digging into the folklore of peoples and in my roots and part of various projects and collaborations with musicians from all over the world. So Sublevao-Beat becomes a proposal where the foundation is Afro-Cuban music, Hiphop, jazz and electronics constantly mutating by interaction with the folklore of peoples. I'm inspired by artists like Benni Moré, Irakere, Fela Kuti, Jusef Lateef, Mulatu Astake, Mos Def, Jay Dilla and Bob Marley to name a few.
While in Cuba, we explored what it meant to be a Cuban producer from various time periods - the past, present and expectations for the future. Could you talk about present day Cuba in regards to music and where it's come from with respect to limitations (i.e. internet, equipment)?
Today, as always, reflect your present moment in the socio-political, musical Cuba. On the one hand the growing taste for today's urban music such as reggaeton and electronics to the fact that Cuban music mostly has become more minimalist, repetitive, shallow, danceable and commercial, entering the global loudness of these times but appropriating these rhythms, fashion and taking them to our land. After this process is the effect on the mainstream with Cubans now leadeing the lists tops radios worldwide.
Realistically speaking, nothing is what it was, for better or worse, there is more access to technology even though we are still in diapers at the technical level, we now need a new literacy to decipher the rules of this new virtual world. On the other hand the alternative scene not stopped doing their part both inside and outside the island there is an outstanding generation of rescuing our identity taking it to contemporary language without losing the essence of what we are.
What can the world expect of Cuban rooted music in the coming future?
The future of Cuban music is as uncertain as predictable as our surreal reality. I am among those who think that if you look at this carefully, you will find a mirror of the future. The good thing is that every time we look in the mirror of this we are never the same.
As we once we have never stopped cooking our own dishes although the globalization of information makes it clear that the kitchen is wider and diners increasingly come with a faster digestion, hence the future are lighter dishes with global condiments, but without losing the flavor that characterizes us as a special spice, "our identity." Although there are always one or two chef Sublevao that unleashes their creativity in the "slow food," which needs more time, but usually more nutritious and lasting peace in our body, soul and heart!