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Danay Suarez

Taking up residence once more in Havana’s legendary EGREM studios for five days in April 2010 – Gilles Peterson, Roberto Fonseca and their handpicked Havana Cultura band came together to practice for their imminent European tour. The rehearsals were intense but fruitful, leading an excited Gilles to spontaneously book an extra day in the studio to record a handful of songs with Danay. “She’s amazing,” he kept saying all week, “A phenomenon. The most impressive singer I’ve heard and worked with over the last five years.”

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Journalist Sue Steward witnessed the session…

Danay possesses one of those rare voices which can shift – glide – through many vocal identities: as a soul and R&B singer, a cocktail jazz expressionist, a Parisian chanteuse, an instinctively skilful improviser and a scat-singer on a par with the bebop greats. Those last two qualities make her a disarmingly effortless, articulate rapper. Her words flow fast, rhythmic and unpredictable, tuned into melodies, harnessed to rhythms, and always finding or creating spaces that emphasize the emotional elements.

With lights dimmed and incense trailing, the ample studio felt like one of those small, late-night Havana cocktail bars where La Lupe performed her visceral magic, and Omara’s girl trio, Los de Aida, dispersed harmonies through the smoky air. Of course, EGREM has seen so many of Cuba’s greatest singers record their classic hits: the still unrivalled Beny Moré was there while it was owned by RCA; the Buena Vista Social Club recorded their multi-million selling hits here; and Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portuondo sang their heart-rending duet “Dos Gardenias” in that very room.

The opening “Hay Un Lugar” (There’s A Place) is a slow, romantic, pensive song which builds with passion and fire, and showcases the range of Danay’s voice. Fonseca’s piano is similarly reserved and romantic, and exploits the use of spaces well as building dense intensity. “En Lo Profundo” (In The Deep) is a fabulously textured, upbeat dance – a rumba of sorts – with Danay entering deeper territory and chanting fragments of words, soaring wordlessly like a shamanic soul singer. “Guajira” is the most conventional, familiar and lyrical song here, a country music classic form beloved of many Buena Vista songs, and now built around one of Fonseca’s trademark piano riffs. And so to the ultimate but not final track, “Ser O No Ser” (To Be Or Not To Be), the EP’s most brilliant and sophisticated song which showcases every musician in the room. Beginning like a reverie built around the repeated title phrase, this is where the pianist really lets go, and it is hypnotic – a complex, almost conceptual piece which involves intricate, lyrical solos from every instrument, choruses of piano riffs, and Danay gadding through her entire vocal repertoire.

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  • Havana Cultura Sessions Vinyl / CD / Digital