Cuban electronic sound

Apolo is the youngest Cuban DJ Producer.At the age of 15 he arrived from Villa Clara province to share his music at the 2014 Proelectronic Festival, and he was exceptionally welcomed by the public and the organizers of the event. This year, for the second time, he was a tremendous success in the contest. Those 15 years don’t seem enough to learn all this young boy knows about this genre. He is foreseen as a great promise for Cuban electronic music.

The festival, dedicated to this genre, is organized by PM Records and Oficina Proposiciones, with the purpose of promoting this kind of music and recognizing DJ’s productions and their artistic work. This years’ event was attended by 49 DJs. Its general coordinator, Yoana Grass, noted that “Proelectronic is made up of a small team of barely five people who did their best for creating it. I think we are doing better now and we have better control of work processes. We are immersed in achieving more prominence, not to be limited to concerts only, but to help understand the DJs work and thus accomplish acceptance by the public and institutions”.

For some DJs this is their best opportunity to show their work or probably the only way to do it. For some others, Proelectronic is an important event even though it only lasts for three days.

DJ Wichy from Vedado pointed out “this is an excellent space for spreading our work, but it is too short. DJs have to manage to keep sharing our work the rest of the year. I, for instance, perform in night clubs and arrange small parties because large productions demand a lot of investments. Besides, I have a regular spot in places such as the Fresa y Chocolate Cinematographic Cultural Center and the restaurant Fabio”.
On the other hand, DJ Diemen Duff is of the opinion that “in Cuba there are other scenarios apart from the festival where we can share our work like night clubs and underground parties. Though each one has different requirements. In the festival you can show your own style, but in the night clubs you have to take people’s and the club’s preferences into account”.

Track 1: Following up the remix
Dj René Navarro in Proelectrónica 2014 / Image: Fernando Medina.

Nowadays, this genre is better accepted, there is a larger audience and there is more information on this genre. Electronic music is not new; there is a renowned tradition although it is not a consolidated musical genre.

“The public is better informed now, there are places where they can listen to this music and get to know artists. That’s one of the main reasons why our followers are more knowledgeable and that knowledge makes them enjoy it better.
“One of the values of the electronic music movement is precisely the fact that it isn’t just about a musical process, but an artistic process that involves all senses and not just hearing. The public doesn’t only enjoy a concert but a whole performance in which it is also a member of”, explained Laura Martin, member of the communication staff of Proelectronic 2014 organizing committee.

Furthermore, Diemen Duff stated: “to a certain extent the audience have tagged us as music players. We are seen as reproducers rather than creators due to the lack of information and knowledge on this genre. Many DJs only focus on meeting people’s demands, and for me that’s a mistake. In our case, the public must listen to our work, and that’s the opportunity Proelectronic provides us with”.

In addition to the conflict resulting from the absence of spaces for sharing their art and the audience acceptance, Cuban DJshave to deal with another obstacle: making electronic music is expensive. At least they must have a laptop, and technical equipment can only by purchased abroad.
“In Cuba there are no places where you can buy the necessary resources for this job. You have to get them through other means, but they are expensive. It is useless to have the knowledge and talent and not having the means to express that”, said Diemen Duff.

Despite this scenario, the electronic music movement in Cuba doesn’t stop. DJ producers will carry on with their work, some of them in private, some others through a “fame” earned with sounds and promotion spaces. What’s really important is to spread their work, and to keep their places in the annual festival, the only one of its kind.

As said by Apolo DJ, “most of us have been trained empirically. However, there is a contradiction given the quality of Cuban electronic music. Even though we don’t have academic training; our work is of high quality”.

IliamSuárez, in charge of creative concepts and artistic and musical direction of the event, and member of I.A, along with Alexis de la O, added: “something that caught my attention this year is the participation of DJs from other artistic branches. There is also an increase in the number of experimental music pieces, though this is not one of the most popular styles. This is a significant growth in terms of variety and quality within the festival, and the Cuban electronic music movement”.

Track 2: That remix is mine

With remixes DJs started their creations from preexisting works / Image: Fernando Medina.

In spite of the fact that many artists don’t take time to register their pieces, Proelectronic aroused for the first time debates on this subject, barely null in the Cuban electronic scenario. It is not the usual practice among DJs to protect their productions, but let’s talk about that lack of interest. There are many reasons for that but the most significant seems to be the lack of knowledge on this matter. The term “Royalties” caught the attention of more than one of them. “Many times I do some sampling but I do have original tracks”, commented Apolo, who has not found the necessary guide for registering his repertoire.

As for electronic music, the distribution of royalties has not always been peaceful in some nations due to the lack of information on repertoires of this genre used in some night clubs, festivals, radio stations, etc., noted Álvaro Díez, lawyer and president of 3K Sound Community.

In this regard, Darsi Fernández, the Cuban representative to the Spanish General Association of Authors and Editors (SGAE by its acronym in Spanish), pointed out that “DJs don’t easily fit in the musical industry in and out of Cuba. The most obvious example is that no labels produce a compilation of Cuban electronic music despite the many festivals, which are on an upward trend, with a strong participation of the youth. There is actually a divorce. DJs will have to create their own label and not wait for others”.

Iliam Suárez agrees that “Cuban labels are not interested in this genre because they don’t get it and will not get it until the current staff retires so that a different generation can walk in. If you don’t understand something it won’t catch your interest, as simple as that. Commercialization of our music is very difficult because we live on the outskirts of the industry and that’s always a disadvantage. I think electronic music will reach the mainstream because of that. Therefore, it is time for fighting in order to make people understand it here at least”.

DJs are staring a crisis of faith unleashed around the issue of royalties. Ever since remixes, DJs have used preexisting works for the creations and when they attempted to register them they found themselves an insuperable problem: they won’t be able to protect their pieces unless they rely on a permit by the original authors. About that, Darsi Fernandez explained that even though DJs movement is growing in Cuba, only two authors have been able to register their works.
That’s the general overview of Cuban electronic music, a genre on the upward trend and with some space within the musical scenario in the island. Today DJs and producers are facing a complex scenario in a struggle for validating a genre that some people don’t recognize as “national”.

In the meantime, there goes another edition of the festival betting on the promotion of Cuban electronic music, which is developing. This annual meeting doesn’t settle for three days; on the contrary, it demands to be the spokesperson of a current movement that is not absent despite being unknown for many.

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