Since 2009, UK-based DJ and music producer Gilles Peterson has been partnering with the Havana Cultura project, “a global initiative to promote contemporary Cuban culture”. While the highly successful Buena Vista Social Club project delved into Cuba’s rich musical past to highlight forgotten Son Cubano gems, Havana Cultura looks towards the younger generations of Cuban musicians. The initiative has produced five recordings to date, showcasing the talents of over 50 musicians across a wide range of styles (hip hop, rap, Afro and Latin jazz, rock, pop or reggaeton).

One of the artists to emerge from the whole project has been the hugely talented hip hop and jazz singer Danay Suárez. A self-taught musician, Danay Suárez picked up rapping as a teenager. She is also equally at ease singing bel canto opera, R&B, traditional Cuban music and jazz and fuses all these influences into her own music.

Danay Suárez - Havana Cultura Sessions (2010)
Danay Suárez – Havana Cultura Sessions (2010)

In 2010, after overseeing five days of rehearsals with a full band for an upcoming European tour in Havana’s legendary EGREM studios, Gilles Peterson invited Danay Suárez back for an intimate acoustic session with Cuban pianist and composer Roberto Fonseca who had been involved with the Havana Cultura project as a musical director since the beginning.

With Ramses Rodrigues on drums, Vince Vella on percussions and Omar González on double bass, four tracks were recorded live in one take and the music was released as the Havana Cultura Sessions EP. The tapes were even left rolling for 23 minutes on the hypnotic “Ser O No Ser” in which the singer shifts effortlessly from soul and R&B to spiritual and wordless vocal improvisations while a quieter number like “Hay un lugar” displays Suárez’ impressive vocal range.

just recorded Danay album at Egrem studios Havana – remarkable deep spiritual Cubano jazz – one of the true highlights of my life…

— Gilles Peterson (@gillespeterson) May 7, 2010