It's not easy being a metalero in Havana. You have to stay out of the sun, wear black instead of tropical prints, metal-studded boots instead of sandals, tight black jeans or tartan skirts but almost never shorts, and your hair has to be very, very long. And then there's the headbanging windmilling your head round and round when you're not staring demonically and/or thrusting your hand in the air with the devil-horns salute. Still, it's a lot easier today than it was in the 1980s when Fanny Tachín Orizondo was a kid with metal dreams. "Back then none of us had CDs," Fanny recalls, "so you had to find someone with vinyl records or cassettes of foreign bands like Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, Overkill. It was hard work. If someone had one of those records in Santa Clara [about 260 km from Havana] you had to go all the way there to listen to it."
Fanny hung out at a house in Vedado everyone called "El Patio de María" because it belonged to a metal fan named María Gattorno. It was a place for underground concerts by early Cuban metal bands like Venus who had little access to the usual music channels. As far as Fanny's dream of starting her own metal band, "It was just absurd," she says. "If you didn't play traditional Cuban music, if you didn't play salsa, you were a big freak or like a ghost nobody wanted to know you. It was hard to find places to practice, there was no support. Bands that were just starting out practically had to make their own instruments."
But Fanny wasn't discouraged. She took private music lessons, spent a lot of time skateboarding, she became a karate champion, and in 2001 she founded Hipnosis, one of the most enduring and talented metal bands working in Havana today. Fanny is the group's bass player and back-up vocalist. Giovany Milhet Valera, whom everyone calls Zeppelin, plays guitar and does a good job hitting those high notes up in Rob Halford vocal territory. "Zeppelin has a very pretty voice," says Fanny. "In the beginning he didn't want to sing but the rest of the group convinced him we needed a singer more than a guitarist so he ended up doing both."
When a song in the Hipnosis repertoire calls for more guttural vocal stylings, the job falls not to Fanny whose speaking voice sounds deceptively as if it were tempered by many hours of "death growls" but to a 23-year-old former fashion model named Maylín Ruíz Yip. Alain Candia González (drums, vocals) joined Hipnosis in 2005 and Katia Fernández González (vocals) joined in 2008. The two newest members of the band, having joined in 2010, are a lead guitarist called Raymond (Ramón Daniel Rodríguez Rodríguez) and a keyboardist called Indi (Indira de las Mercedes Labañino León).
Although the band's lineup has changed considerably over the years, Hipnosis has never wavered from the metal path. The band first gained nationwide attention in 2003 when it was selected as Best New Group in a poll by Cuerda Viva, Cuban television's most popular music show. By the following year, when the EGREM label released the band's first album, nearly everyone with access to a television in Cuba was watching the video for The Chosen One, the album's title song. Hipnosis was invited to play all the big music festivals around the island and the bandmembers found themselves sharing a stage with visiting heavyweights like Sepultura and Audioslave.
"Hipnosis is and has always been a hard rock band," Fanny explains. "In the beginning I wanted to show that women could play this kind of music without it becoming, I don't know, softer, more pop rock. Especially because in the hard rock scene there have been very few women over the years."
Today, in addition to Hipnosis, there are more than 100 active metal bands in Cuba. With names like Zeus, Escape, Combat Noise, Ancestor, Aganizor, Konflict, Mortuory, Chlover and Narbeleth, they run the gamut from grindcore to thrash metal to just about every other metal sub-genre you can name. Since 2007, Cuba has its very own metal festival, Brutal Fest, organised by French label Brutal Beatdown Records and supported by Cuba's Ministry of Culture and the government-run Agencia Cubana de Rock. Most of the aforementioned bands have played at one time or another at Maxim Rock, a dedicated rock venue that opened in Centro Havana in 2008. At the time of their interview with Havana Cultura, Hipnosis was playing at Maxim Rock once or twice a month.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the Hipnosis concert filmed by Havana Cultura was how much the band looks and sounds like a band from...anywhere but Havana. Their songs, nearly all of them composed by Giovany, have English lyrics. It's hard to imagine that no member of this band has ever travelled beyond Cuba. "People always ask why we don't play `Cuban music' and I always give the same answer," Fanny says. "If I am Cuban and this band is Cuban and we're playing this music, then this must be Cuban music. Even if this music has its roots somewhere else, there will always be some part, even a small part, of our music that makes it Cuban."