Rise in home grown Cuban rock music scene

There has been a considerable rise in the quality of a number of groups over the last few years. Currently, a number of groups are producing music good enough to earn an place on the international stage, and their offerings have been acclaimed by local critics, specialised foreign publications and artists from around the world.

However, a number of notable names within this genre are still unknown to the general public. The reasons lie be in the limited marketing and distribution of their music by national labels and the lack of venues for them to appear in.

One of the fundamental attempts to solve these issues was the opening of the ‘Agencia de Rock' (The Rock Agency) in 2007, located today in what was the old Maxim cinema.

This institution resulted from advances in technology, a cosy concert room for around 400 people and a group of young people who felt the need to promote Cuban rock.

According to the director, Yuri Avila, amongst its intentions are to ‘transform the Maxim into a place that is indispensable to an artist's expression linked to culture and the young. For that reason we designed a series of concerts from Thursday to Sunday defined by quality and the power of organisation'.

The agency emerged as a business dedicated to promoting and marketing this music and its makers, and the determination of the team is on the way to making Cuba a developing place for rock music in Latin America.

In 2008 an important step was made towards the conquest of this dream with the organisation alongside the Institute of Music of a concert by the famous Brazilian band Sepultura. The Brutal Fest festival was also organised a number of times.,.

Travelling around the Island

Festivals have historically been a fantastic place to take the pulse of the rock scene.

Driven forward by the Association of the Saiz Brothers (AHS), which groups together young Cuban artists and intellectuals, its annual circuit makes stops all over the country.

There are festivals such as Rock de la Loma (Granma); Metal (Holguín) and Sonidos de mi ciudad (Camagüey), which are the three in the east of the island; Rockasol in the centre (Cienfuegos); Atenas Rock (Matanzas); Pinarock, (Pinar del Río); Caimán Rock (in the city of Havana) and the legendary Ciudad Metal, in Santa Clara, in the west.

Dioniso Arce is one of the most renowned vocalists in the local scene. His name is inextricably linked to the popular heavy metal band Zeus, which has led the Cuban metal scene for more than 20 years. Zeus of course has been the main act at many festivals. As a result its front man is well placed to describe the scene's different needs:.

‘The rock scene is very strong, but the festivals come across difficulties that are due, over all, to the fact that in the past the groups who were invited were fans. On becoming professional, they need to be paid for their acts', he pointed out.

With more than four decades defending his artistic proposal, the director of Viento Solar, Iván Fariñas puts forward his own arguments. ‘It is necessary to promote the bands and find ways of exporting their music so that they can fight a good fight with the rest of the continent'.

Heavy metal in the city and the hills

One inescapable stop for its followers is the legendary festival Metal City, which has been held in Santa Clara since 1990.

The poet Isayly Pérez, at the head of the AHS in the region, also put us on the trail of other places where rock and roll can be listened to live in the land of Blinder and Azotobacter.

The well-known Cultural Centre El Mejunje is at the top of the list. The public can simultaneously enjoy a repertoire from different bands in the circle of the AHS, in the cultural centre El Bosque, and in the Tristá and Central parks.

Elsewhere, the province of Granma is unique in that seven years ago it hosted the only event on the country which brought together promoters of rock music. It was called the ‘Rock of the hills' festival and it has continued ever since, featuring theoretical discussions, book presentations, fanzines and conferences.

Another of Granma's outstanding characteristics is the success of concerts in the heart of mountain towns such as San Pablo de Yao, Buey Arriba, and Guisa. The president of AHS in the region, the percussionist and singer Dayron Fonseca, member of the group Nubes, recognises the range of activities hosted by Granma's unique scene.

Concerts have also been held in the Casa del Joven Creador (the Young Creator House), la Unión de Escritores y Artistas (The Writers and Artists Union), and in the Cuban party. These have been held regularly for four years now and are becoming ever more popular.

Original article in Prensa Latina, and translated for The Prisma.