Sierra Maestra - The Soul of the Cuban Nation
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“Pero mi gente- ¿Por que no estan bailando?” (But people, why aren’t you dancing?) shouted Sierra Maestra’s José Antonio Rodríguez to the adoring crowd at South London’s Salsa Republic. Perhaps they were distracted by the amazing music that was coming from these extraordinary nine men.
Perhaps they were overwhelmed by the energy that radiated from the stage. Or most likely, they were in awe of the way their hips uncontrollably started to shake in tune to the music. With their latest album, Son:Soul of a Nation, Sierra Maestra has once again inspired the masses to move. Cuban Style.
Sierra Maestra are the ambassadors of Cuban son. This music genre is the backbone of all Cuban music, combining Spanish and African influences
The music swept through the eager crowd in the way only Cuban music can: as a force unparalleled. The citizens of the Caribbean island nation are world renowned for their passion and energy, and its musicians are no exception. The audience at Salsa Republic were die-hard salseros, and passionate admirers of all things Cuban. A spontaneous conga snaked its way through the adoring crowd as fierce trumpet playing shaped the intensity of every song performed by the group.
Sierra Maestra are the ambassadors of Cuban son. This music genre is the backbone of all Cuban music, combining Spanish and African influences. The nine-piece band combines the maracas, guiro, trumpet, bass, guitar, clave, congas and bongos to create their sultry flavour.
“We have been playing music for the past thirty years but in this album we reclaim the classic form of the genre from the early 20th century.”
The group met in 1976 with the intentions of becoming the islands most successful samba outfit. “We all met in university, a little younger than we are now,” jokes Eduardo Himely, the bands’ magnetic bass and guitar player. “Each of us played in different groups before we came together to create a samba band. We couldn’t find instruments to play samba, so we decided to play son.” The lack of equipment nudged the group to revive the traditional son music in a new way.
“Sierra Maestra creates traditional Cuban music influenced by jazz, rock, and contemporary Cuban music,” Himely explains, “But, we always ensure that the traditional timba beats prevail.”
“Cuban music is popular because we play with heart, the most important part of son is that it reaches the people…it’s very charismatic.”
“We have been playing music for the past thirty years but in this album we reclaim the classic form of the genre from the early 20th century.” Their latest album was produced in an old Havana recording studio. On the disc they pay homage to the greats of Cuban music, including Compay Segundo, Manuel Corona, Lázaro Herrera and countless others. Himely continues, “The composers of the songs on this album are the life of Cuban music. After thirty years, we are finally able to pay homage to the great composers, interpreters, and singers of the Cuban sound.”
Since their start the band has toured internationally, from Nicaragua, Angola, Japan and France to name a few. With dedicated fan bases in each country, it’s hard to tell who appreciates son the most. “It is hard to say which country has the most dedicated fans because in all nations we find amigos, people that like Cuban music and especially Sierra Maestra. In Japan, the fans dedicate a lot of their time not just to listening to the music, but analyzing and interpreting every song.”
According to Himely, the band is pleased with their stronghold in global music. “There’s a lot of satisfaction in knowing that the music of your country is loved around the world,” he explains. “Cuban music is popular because we play with heart, the most important part of son is that it reaches the people…it’s very charismatic.”
After 14 albums, the band only hopes that their latest release will be “more successful than all the rest.” If the crowd at their live performance was any indication, Sierra Maestra has another hit on its hands.
This piece is dedicated to the memory of José Antonio Rodríguez
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