Suylén Milanés arrives at the PM Records room dressed in white and holding a small cigar between her fingers. After the usual introductions between journalist and interviewee, she starts letting out smoke all over the place.
We spoke about Eyeife, the Electronic Music International Festival (with an Afro-Cuban accent) to be held in Havana from September 26 to October 1.
At the stroke of keyboards, guitars and batá drums, combined with visual arts and dance, Fábrica de Arte Cubano (FAC) and the Higher Institute of Art (ISA) will be the scenario for the performance of Iván Lejardi, Djoy de Cuba, Greench, Wichy del Vedado, David Casas, D’ VazzBrother’s, Dj Reitt, Dj Pauza, and Dj Ryan, among other musicians.
For the musical fusion, Eyeife has a poster of well-known figures and others from the more underground stage. Yasek Manzano, Rolando Luna, Eduardo Sandoval, Brenda Navarrete, Zule Guerra, Athanay, Mary Paz, Telmary and the Tesis de Menta group are some of the most well-known names on the Cuban scene. From abroad will come The Dirty Playerz (Spain), Alex Raouf (NY, United States), Tuff London (United Kingdom), Bishop (Mexico), among others.
An heir to the Varadero Festival, where Pablo Milanés was able to bring together, as producer and director, artists from more than 15 countries, Eyeife also owes to Proelectrónica, organized for several years by Suylén, Alexis de la O and Iliam Suárez, says Suylén.
“When you’ve been working for so long in favor of music, people start knowing you and that creates trust because there’s a history and a figure like Pablo Milanés behind all this,” says his daughter, in charge of the festival as the executive director of PM Records.
“My father is the president of this institution created in 1998. What today is a recording company at that time was a foundation. But his aim was always to strengthen Cuban music. All our events have a social profile, and we organize projects for diverse genres. The Proelectrónica festival was born from that. I have continued the work begun by my father in that sense,” she adds.
Why have you connected with electronic music instead of the trova?
I have an influence, because my father was an initiator of the New Song Movement. But I’m more temperamental and I like more the music that has to do with my personality. I was a member of the Montespuma Group, which was directed by Mario Daly, a great leader of alternative music in Cuba whom I owe a lot of what I know as an artist. There I learned to project my voice as a rock singer, and it was a great influence. But I believe I am more eclectic and I also sing electronic music.
In Cuba that music has been present in the last 15 years, but it was recognized little by little and it started being institutionalized barely three years ago. But I believe that what’s most important is that the DJs are recognized today, they have an enterprise, and the recording companies and official institutions like the Ministry of Culture have institutionalized electronic music.
How has the panorama of electronic music been reshaped on the island?
I’ve been “dragging” with me electronic music in Cuba since its beginnings. I always worked, directly or indirectly, with the genre. I organized underground parties and invited DJs. I wasn’t the leader, but I did work with them and I learned a lot about production and started forming part of that world.
Producer Yoana Grass proposed that I do a project with the DJs, to give them a space, and starting then Iliam Suárez and Alexis de la Oz (IA) were the initiators of Proelectrónica. I was a sort of protector; as an institution I joined forces with them and we achieved an electronic festival that has lasted. It was a push the DJs needed to perform, to promote their work, to make known what they were doing and for the young ones it also served as an opportunity, since there were no spaces for that music.
We spent five years building a scenario for the DJs, creators of their own music, because it’s not the same a DJ that takes Cuban or American music and works on that music. It doesn’t give you an identity, it’s not original. That’s why we created a festival where the DJs could make their music. It was an excellent idea of Iliam in order to avoid imitation. What are we doing imitating others who have nothing to do with us, if we have the talent, if we have artists? That’s why Proelectrónica was born; it strengthened the creation of their music.
How does the idea come up of the fusion of electronic music with Afro-Cuban rhythms in a festival?
We’ve already done festivals like Proposiciones, in 2010, in which more than 200 artists from several provinces participated and the best of Cuban music, from salsa, rumba to rock and electronic music, was there. Its slogan was “For a living planet” and it was marvelous, I believe it was one of the best festivals I have organized. We were able to bring together many artists, from diverse manifestations, and we gave unknown talents visibility. It was a perfect occasion to discover talents and to launch them, for making known what there is in the underground, in contemporary art. I have great faith in this festival because it follows the same line.
What does Eyeife say?
That we have to do more, that we have to open up to more projects and manifestations, not just DJs playing their music, but rather battling with artists, merging with the rumba and the Cuban roots. And we’re going to call jazz musicians, the Acosta Danza Company which will be in charge of the opening, we’re going to beat the drums for Elegguá. The name Eyeife comes from that, an Afro-Cuban word.
It occurred 10 years ago to my husband, a producer who unfortunately passed away. I wanted to retake the idea, now that the Cuban DJs have reached a certain mature age, to take one more step: that they dare to work, to create over Cuban music. In relation to this I have told the artists that if they need a batá drum, a piano, if they need something from any manifestation, we give it to them. But they have to create, without excuses. They have to build over Cuban music because it is our identity and we have to be part of the international panorama. We can achieve this. Between the electronic music lab and us we have been able to encourage the musicians. It’s incredible that artists like Rolandito Luna have gotten involved.
The career of Suylén Milanés, the legendary Pablo’s oldest daughter, has two decades of national and international tours where she has defended pop rock.
“I like the alternative genres. My sisters are more into ballads, the trova, but I was always more alternative,” comments the interpreter of “Las Caracolas.”
She has not completely given up personal creation, but in recent years she has devoted herself to collective creation.
“I spent five years with Montespuma, afterwards another five singing solo. So I’ve been focused on PM Records for a decade, on everything we can do and on what we will do in the future, with a goal: maintaining culture high, in and outside Cuba; and recovering the roots through dissimilar artistic genres and manifestations. It doesn’t have to be only music, visual arts and dance can also be incorporated.”
“Are you religious?”
Yoruba? I ask
“Is it so obvious? I am the daughter of Ochún.”
I ask her what “eyeife” means in the Yoruba religion.
“It represents positiveness, the absolute ‘Yes’, the energy we need to give our best version.”