Yeisy Rojas is a Cuban-born, Norwegian-based, classically trained, jazz violinist, singer/songwriter and composer, who played with the National Opera Orchestra in Havana before relocating to Norway back in 2016 to get her master’s degree in jazz violin.
Rojas’ work sees her blending Cuban music, Latin jazz and funk with powerful social messages — in particularly, she speaks up against racism in her homeland. Her latest single “Mama Ines,” which features Julito Padrón is an adaptation of Nicolás Guillén’s 1930 poem “Ayer Me Dijeron Negro” that pairs the poet’s words with a breezy and soulful arrangement that meshes elements of Latin soul, funk and jazz — and reminds me very fondly of the sounds of parties in the South Bronx, Lower East Side, Corona, East Elmhurst and so on.
Music is a weapon and as Rojas explains “My message is specifically for my land Cuba, where I hope there will be more equality and rights for our Afro community.”
The accompanying, gorgeously shot video for “Mama Ines” is shot in what appears to be Havana and features a collection of beautiful dancers, who are represent almost every skin complexion you’d come across in Cuba, revealing the country’s soul, heart and decency.
Deriving their name from the Nahuatl for The Mockingbirds, the Richmond, CA-based Los Cenzontles (pronounced senn-SONT-less) — is an acclaimed touring and recording band and nonprofit cultural arts academy for kids. Over their three-plus decade history, the recording and touring outfit has dug deep into cultural traditions, creating a vibrant, contemporary sound infused with the gutsy soul of Mexico’s rural roots, releasing over 30 albums.
The collective have supported those albums with tours across the US, Europe, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Mexico. And they’ve collaborated with an eclectic array of acclaimed, internationally recognized artists including The Chieftains, Los Lobos, Los Tigres del Norte, Ry Cooder, David Hidalgo, Linda Ronstadt, Taj Mahal and a lengthy list of others.
Their core members also serve as the programming staff and teachers of Los Cenzontles Academy, where they have been passing on musical traditions to new generations and inviting their students to perform with them on stage and participate in production projects since 1994.
The Richmond-based outfit’s remarkable 33rd album, Son Con Son, En el Suelo Americano was released earlier this month. The album sees the collective collaborating with son jarocho masters Grupo Mono Blanco and Cuban cuatro master Kiki Valera to create material that meshes Cuban Son cubano with Son jarocho from the Mexican state of Veracruz.
Last month, I wrote about the Mono Blanco-penned album track “Matanga,” a virtuosic and shimmering mesh of Mexican folk and Cuban folk cultures built around an arrangement that features Cuban congas; Zapeteado de tarima, a percussive drum-like instrument that you tap your feet on; quijada, a percussive instrument made from the jawbone of a donkey, cow, horse or mule that’s cleaned of tissue and dried out, so that the loose teeth rattle when struck with a fist; jarocho jarana, an eight-stringed guitar-meets-mandolin-like instrument with the strings in five courses — usually arranged in two outer strings with three double-courses in between; requinto, a smaller, higher-pitched version of a guitar, and used throughout much of Latin America; cuatro cubano, another mandolin-meets-guitar-like instrument that can be single-stringed, double coursed or tripled coursed paired with Mano Blanco’s soulful delivery singing lyrics that tackle the universal themes of love and loss.
“Matanga” was rooted in a unfussy production that captures remarkable musicianship and old-fashioned craftsmanship with the immediacy, familiarity and playfulness of a bunch of friends jamming together on the porch on a Sunday afternoon, playing the beloved old songs and finding something new every single time.
Son Con Son, En el Suelo Americano‘s latest single “Como un Perro” is a slow-burning and shimmering ballad that meshes both Cuban and Mexican folk traditions that sounds like the salsa, meringue and bachata ballads I grew up listening to in Corona, Queens, NYC — while being rooted in soulful, earnest performances and virtuosic playing.
Reivaj is an emerging Cuban artist, whose music career started in earnest when he was six years old, singing and performing in Voces del Barrio, a group based out of El Cobre, Cuba, under the tutelage of his father and uncles. Gradually, the emerging Cuban artist learned how to plays several instruments, along with further developing as a singer/songwriter and artist.
When he turned 16, Reivaj decided to explore other genres, and co-founded the Afro music choir Voces del Milagro, a commercially and critically successful act that won a Cubadisco prize back in 2011. And from that point forward, his fans started to call him la voz de oro.
Changing things up, the Cuban artist decided to go into Urban music and co-founded the pop duo Yerba Buena, which performed live sessions on Talla Jovenand Cuerda Viva.
Reivaj’s ability to write, sing and perform in a variety of musical genres and styles led to him being cast in Rosi la Cubanita, a musical where he met fellow emerging artist Eli Luna.
Released earlier this year, Reivaj stepped out into the spotlight as a solo artist with his debut single “Ahí Nama,” a collaboration that features his Rosi la Cubanita castmate Eli Luna. The song is a summery bop that meshes elements of reggaeton, contemporary pop and R&B, hip-hop, classic Latin folk, and Afrobeats built around a sleek, dance floor friendly production pairing shuffling polyrhythmic percussion, deep grooves and a remarkably catchy hook. Rooted in the undeniable chemistry between the two emerging artists, “Ahí Nama” is not just a much-needed blast of breezy, flirty joie de vivre in a dire, fucked up world, it’s also a showcase for two artists, who seem — from my humble opinion — to be destined for superstardom.
Fittingly, the accompanying video is swaggering and fun joy bomb that follows the two emerging Cuban artists and a collection of gorgeous dancers and locals throughout a variety of Cuban locales that feels a bit like a musical — and a music video.
María Mónica Gutiérrez is a Bogotá-born, London-based singer/songwriter, musician, who during the course of her decade-plus long music career has established herself as one of the most unique and intense voices in the contemporary Colombian scene — as a member of bands like Suricato and Ságan and as the creative mastermind behind the acclaimed solo recording project Montañera.
Gutiérrez’s third Montañera album, the Rizomagic-produced A Flor de Piel is slated for a November 17, 2023 release through Western Vinyl. Thematically, the album is reportedly a meditative journey of self-discovery across oceans, time and the traditional confines of genre. Gutiérrez began the album as a way to explore her identity after a difficult move to London for school left her feeling untethered and alone in a strange new place. Understandably, the 5,000 mile journey across the other side of world and across a seemingly endlessly ocean imparted her with a new understanding of herself as a human and as an artist.
The album also reportedly sees the Colombian-born, British-based artist examining the immigrant — and migrant — experience through a rich soundscape inspired by and drawing from disparate sources, including traditional Colombian and Senegalese music, contemporary ambient and experimental production and whalesong from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. Pairing skillfully restrained synths and electronic textures, A Flor de Piel sees Gutiérrez re-contextualizing traditional sounds and sentiments into something fresh, urgent and vital. And for the Bogota-born, London-based artist, it’s a fitting representation of her personal struggles, while echoing universal truths, as she summons the strength and wisdom of past generations. As she describes it, “The album has accompanied me through inner journeys of finding myself in a new territory — of redefining myself, of remembering who I am — in a strange place.”
A Flor de Piel’s latest single “Santa Mar” is the only album on the track that features percussion, as well as Cankita, Bejuco’s marimba player and Tumaco, Colombia-based traditional vocal group Los Cantaadoras de Yerba Buena. Built around Cankita’s twinkling and percussive marimba, atmospheric synths and electronics serving as an ethereal and dreamy bed for Gutiérrez’s yearning vocal paired with the expressive harmonies of Las Cantadores de Yerba Buena. The result is a song that evokes a deep, mediative sense of peace and mindfulness — and at a time when we all could use it.
“It’s a song that talks about peace in Colombia, specifically with the afro pacific women,” the Bogotá-born, London-based artist explains. “The lyrics were inspired by them after investigating their musical practice for my master’s studies. Understanding their personal and collective healing processes within the peace-building process of the country. I want to portray the importance of womanhood for peace-building in their territory and the song talks about the forces of the sea to cure and the sea as a female saint, of how these women have the power of the sea in themselves. The marimbas are played by the amazing Cankita from Bejuco, who is very close with the Cantadoras de Yerba Buena, he calls them his “aunts”, his masters. It’s a true honour having the voices of these elder women in the album, they have such a strong life story and nevertheless, so much vitality, strength, and drive in life, a true inspiration for me.”
Mexican outfit CÓDICE — Carlos Torres (bajo quinto, backing vocals), Javier Cuen (vocals), Odandy Cuen (electric bass), Arturo García (accordion), Cristian Gutiérrez (drums) and Diego Gonzales (tuba) — features members, who have been performing and playing music at private events since they were all young boys. Since the band’s formation over a decade ago, they have recorded and released two live albums, a live album with a backing band, a studio album and two chirrin-style albums that have seen them establish their own take in Norteńo, a regional Mexican genre, most popular in Northern Mexico, that meshes local Mexican folk music with Austrian-Czech folk music that traces it origins back to the days of brief reign of Emperor Maximillian I and the Second Mexican Empire.
Based on the use of double and triple meter, the genre’s lyrics generally deal with socially conscious and relevant topics — although there are many beloved norteño love songs. Typically, the genre has arrangements featuring accordion and bajo sexto or bajo quinto. (I had to look this up but a bajo sexto is an acoustic guitar with 12 strings in six double courses. A bajo quinto is an acoustic guitar with 10 strings in five double courses. They sound a little different and are tuned a bit differently, but they’re open played kind of like a bass guitar.)
During CÒDICE’s decade-long career, they’ve been busy: They’ve recorded and released two live albums, a live album with a band, a studio album and two chirrin-style albums, all of which feature some of their most popular songs including “Me Gustas Mucho,” “Te Amare Más” and “Humilde de Abolengo.”
The Mexican norteño outfit recently signed to Fonovisa Records, an imprint of Universal Music Latin Entertainment/Universal Music Latino, who will be releasing their forthcoming album, which will feature “Las hazañas del güerito,” and their latest single “Don Alfredo.” “Don Alfredo” is a corrido, a narrative ballad — in this case, telling the tale of Don Alfredo, a local criminal boss, who gets double-crossed and ends up in jail. (Yes, it does sound a bit like a hip-hop song doesn’t it?) The song is built around the genre’s easy-going Austrian-Czech/German oompah groove paired with gorgeous vocals.
The accompanying video follows the tale of Don Alfredo, with the band acting as the omnipotent narrator of the tale.
BuenaOnda is an emerging — and somewhat mysterious — Spanish outfit. Released earlier this year, “Barrio Canela” is a slickly produced, hook-driven bit of reggaeton with some subtle nods to Latin pop paired with sultry, pop star-like vocals. The result is a song that’s simultaneously club, radio and lounge friendly.
Blessmon is a somewhat mysterious and emerging Spanish artist. “Ariana,” his latest single is a sleek, slickly produced, summery reggaeton-meets-R&B bop built around atmospheric synths and electronics and skittering beats paired with the Spanish artist’s yearning subtly Autotuned vocal. The result is a song that’s simultaneously lounge and club friendly.
Bea Mar is a Peruvian-born, Parisian singer/songwriter, who emerged into the international scene with last year’s full-length debut, Alas Bajo la Piel. The Peruvian-French artist’s latest single, the Micheal Go and Mar-co-produced “Comment as tu fait” is a pop jazz-tinged, bossa nova built around a breezy arrangement of strummed acoustic guitar, shuffling rhythms, a soulful solo from saxophonist Alex Terrier.
“Comment as-tu fait” is Mar’s first bilingual song with lyrics sung in Spanish and French with Mar singing lyrics in Spanish and Carla Verde singing lyrics in French. Of course much like countless other bossa nova tunes “Comment as-tu fait” is rooted in a familiar and timeless romantic yearning. “‘Comment as tu fait'”, as Mar explains “is a song about believing in love again in an unexpected way and accepting someone completely as they are.”
With the release of her debut EP, Mami Spicy, the emerging and rapidly rising Puerto Rican artist Niseff quickly established a sound that that blends elements of reggaeton and contemporary pop and pairs it with her sultry delivery and empowering lyrics.
Earlier this year, I wrote about “Ta To Cool,” a song built around skittering reggaeton beats and glistening synth arpeggios paired with a series of razor sharp, infectious and well-placed hooks and Niseff’s sultry-self assured delivery.
The Puerto Rican artist’s latest single “La Nota” is a slick synthesis of skittering reggaton beats and cumbia paired with Niseff’s sultry delivery. “La Nota” continues a remarkable run of dance floor friendly bangers – – but while arguably being the most summery she has released to date.