“This moment is real and spiritual. We’re going to try to maintain that concept. We’re going to look at it collectively, take a minute to identify with it collectively and acknowledge it as a beautiful and intimate moment.”
These words came from Cuban artist, Danay Suarez as she started an hour-long set to commence Afrolatinofest last Friday night. The importance of creating a sacred space for her audience became apparent immediately as the 30-year-old singer slid into her music- a fusion of reggae and traditional Cuban beats layered with an intensely profound jazz-styled voice and a young hip hop flow. Whether singing, freestyling or moving in a trance-like state, Danay demanded an ethereal space that engulfed the audience and herself, making it hard to remember she was on a stage with a band and not alone in her room. I had the opportunity to talk to her about post-embargo Cuba, time, and what lies ahead for her in the coming months, and after speaking to her, it became clear that her esoteric and spiritual nature is beyond sonic and it’s not a performance; Danay Suarez strives to be real. (Translated and edited by Luna Olavarria Gallegos).
Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Danay. Danay Suárez Fernández. In Cuba you use both last names- the mother’s and the father’s. I was born in Havana, Cuba and I’m 30 years-old.
Your voice is very intense. Where did you learn how to sing and make music?
I always liked it. When I used to go to school when I was young and my dad would take me and I would sing on my bicycle next to him. But in reality I studied IT- I graduated with that major. And then I began to sing and started doing it in a way that was a little more professional, it was difficult at first but I tried and I did it.
From the global music scene, what would you keep and what would you take out?
Music starts with rhythm. This [claps] is music… and then there are genres. I wouldn’t change aspects of the music rather I would change aspects of the content of lyrics. For example, reggaeton, is a genre that is offensive towards the values of human beings. Also hip-hop nowadays can be incredibly offensive towards humans. I would remove the verses but not the genre.
My favorite song of yours if Flores. I want to talk about one line specifically, “resistencia ante un cambio, en mi posición no hay confundido espíritu.” This line resonated with me because of how real you are in your songs. Can you talk about your process in writing and how you choose to write about such heavy themes?
That’s my way of living. I have a need to express myself spiritually. I’m a spiritual person–with my friends, with my family, with plants, with animals. So I want to make more songs like that–that describe my inner-self and my temperament. I don’t do it to contribute to humanity, but it’s my reality, it’s who I am, it’s what I live. And I express myself through my photography and through my music.
Can you talk more about your photography?
It’s docu-grafia. The name is “documentary” / “photography”. It’s just the stuff that call my attention when I’m on the street. Human expressions. It’s documentary, not as much poses.
Is this where the projection came from, that was behind you during your set?
The screen? Yes. I did that.
So what do you think is the importance of blending music and images for you?
I always begin with a song–never a video. There are a lot of parts of art that… that feel out of character. For example, for me to do a video it’s like something unreal. It is thought out. It’s a movie. However, reality interests me much more. Because of that I always go around with my camera or I film myself in mirrors and wherever I am to record what’s happening. I’m a human being that projects reality, so I have conflicts in making videos because it’s much more acting. I have conflicts in doing the same concert every time– because at that point it’s just acting.
Obviously we’re in a point in history–a very interesting time during negotiations with the United States and Cuba and there are a lot of different opinions on it. And I wanted to know: What your hope is for Cuba and for the people of Cuba?
Fortunately, the hope that I see is that with these relations, the re-establishing of relations of United States and Cuba, it can generate more work for the workers of Cuba. For example an art historian perhaps now has more ability to go to a library that’s more current and to go to museums with this new freedom of travelling. So these professions can show up, where before people were staying at their houses or being taxi drivers or doing other things to survive. An architect can get new materials for their construction. They can make much larger projects. A lot of stuff can happen and much more work will appear that until now has been under-developed.
So I think this relationship will bring work for Cuban people as well as other benefits. But also, if Cuba turns into capitalist society, we’re going to be the same as the rest of the world, stuck in our phones, without time for anything, without time for each other. Everything has its pros and cons.
Do you think Cuba will turn into a capitalist society?
We don’t know.
Do you have any thoughts on the music of Cuba for how starting relations will affect music?
Yeah it’s favorable for the music. In Cuba they have created–it’s one of the countries where the genres have created branches and sub-genres- changüí, cha-cha-cha, danzón…tons of genres! So I think it will return to those days when there was a fluid exchange of jazz between Cuba and the United States. But also all the genres from the country-side of Cuba and from the Eastern provinces of Cuba will come out to the capital and outside the country. I’m already seeing a lot of traditional Cuban music on the Top 45 on iTunes, where before it was just Buena Vista Social Club.
Are you working on any projects?
I’m recording an album right now. These songs that I’m singing at the concert are songs from 2007 and they’re singing it here because for a lot of places it’s new music, since in Cuba we don’t have internet. So right now there’s stuff arriving all over the world because there’s not a coherency in time. We’re not in real time.
The album “Polvo de la Humedad” was re-launched and re-mastered with Universal Music. So right now I find myself singing this songs when in reality I’m beyond that in more advanced productions: I’m recording another album and after I’m going to record a jazz album.
So you’re talking about how the time is different in Cuba. How do you think this affects every-day life, music-
It’s cool from the creative point of view. You do the most authentic work when you don’t have that much information from outside. But then when you want to critique your work, control it, distribute and direct it it’s more complicated.
I’m excited to hear your new album. Do you know when it’s coming out?
In the beginning of next year. It’s an album of world music. I have collaborations from Israel with Idan Raichel and Jamaica with Stephen Marley. It’s going to be strong. It’s been a while.
If you’re in the New York area and want to see her perform you can check her out this Sunday, July 19 for free at SummerStage.