Gilles Peterson presents Havana Cultura
Back in the days before YouTube and iTunes, our ancestors roamed the Earth in search of a music-sharing community, huddling together for warmth in underground clubs, listening to pirate radio stations. Gilles Peterson was their high priest, leading them out of the primeval darkness to "the perfect beat". If you were one of those early hominids dancing to "acid jazz" in a London club in the late-1980s, you probably nodded your approval to Gilles Peterson in the DJ booth. If you spent the '90s attending raves in Ibiza (or listening to them from a safe distance on BBC Radio 1), there was Gilles again dishing up his soul-funk-hiphop-disco-jazz-electro-stew, prepared with choice ingredients from his own record collection which, like the universe, is understood to be constantly expanding.
Today you might call him a DJ, but you might also call Usain Bolt a jogger. Gilles Peterson is a world-renowned tastemaker who has helped launch careers (Jamiroquai, Erykah Badu) and who entertains millions. Entertains may be the best word for what he does, because while he still plays the role of musical priest, he never gets preachy; that's one reason why radio listeners and clubgoers have never tired of hearing him. And he champions the cause of good music wherever it may be found, with his own record label (Brownswood Recordings), and a syndicated radio show called, appropriately, Gilles Peterson Worldwide. Not to mention his blogs, podcasts, tweets and every other means he can use to spread the gospel.
His never-ending quest for the perfect beat led him recently to Havana or rather, Havana Cultura led him to Havana. It was an experiment. We wanted to witness the effect new Cuban sounds would have on Gilles Peterson and vice-versa. Not surprisingly he wound up "discovering so many great up-andcoming musicians who can have a big effect on world music over the many years to come." The obvious next step was to gather those musicians in Havana's EGREM studio yes, where the Buena Vista Social Club album happened and make a record. Gilles saw it as a "great opportunity to do something that was really a musical melange something new, something fresh, something not just Buena Vista Social Club . Bringing together the street, the urban and the more traditional."
The resulting Havana Cultura CD is actually two CDs. The first disc contains the 12 original tracks Gilles recorded with his hand-picked "Havana Cultura Band," led by pianist Roberto Fonseca. The CD features some outstanding guest appearances from Mayra Caridad Valdés, Ogguere, Danay, Francis Del Rio and Obsesión.
The second disc is a compilation of 16 previously released and unreleased tracks, drawing from more top Cuban talent: Los Aldéanos, Telmary, Yusa, Kelvis Ochoa, Doble Filo, Descemer Bueno, Gente de Zona, Harold Lopez Nussa, Kumar, Free Hole Negro, Cubanito 20.02, Wichy de Vedado and Tony Rodriguez. The CD packaging was designed by Alexandre Arrechea, one of Cuba's brightest art stars.
"In a way this is just the beginning for me," Gilles says. "This is a new starting point for new Cuban music. I think this is something we need to take around the world."
The heartbeat of the Havana Cultura project, Gilles Peterson and Roberto Fonseca brought together a handful of Cuba's finest musicians and voices to bring their vision to life. Flourishing under the direction of Fonseca, Peterson and Vince Vella, they captured the essence of the Havana Cultura groove.
The first time Gilles Peterson came to Cuba he "was only there for a few days, not even the weekend," he recalls in the CD booklet. But that was enough time for him to hear just about all the tracks he wound up selecting for this survey of new Cuban sounds, some of them never before released.
The Artwork - Alexandre Arrechea & Youri Lenquette
The graphic design for Gilles Peterson's Havana Cultura CD was entrusted to Alexandre Arrechea a surprising choice, considering that Arrechea is not known as a graphic designer; he's a Cuban painter, sculptor and conceptual artist who regularly shows his work in galleries and museums around the world. So Arrechea wound up doing what he does best. He created a piece of art.
His black-and-red CD sleeve is a homage to Havana, evoking walls layered with life and soul, a city boiling over with creativity a perfect metaphor for the monumental, multi-layered musical offering within. Arrachea's inside photo of a man carrying a load of bricks might be a wink in the direction of Peterson, who has, at times, staggered under the weight of his enormous record collection in London. For the cover of the CD package, Arrechea chose a lively photo of Peterson watching the world go by on a Havana street corner.
The photo was shot by Youri Lenquette, a world-renowned French music photographer who has spent many months of his life in Havana photographing Cuban musicians. While he may be best known for his work with rock stars, Lenquette has returned again and again to Cuba since 1995 when he discovered the country and its music. When an interviewer once asked him to think of any musician from any time in history he might have wished to photograph, Lenquette replied with the name of the legendary Cuban singer and bandleader, Benny Moré.