Redefining Caribbean

Siete Rayo, a simply sophisticated example of Afro-Cuban fusion

It is a wacky, in-your-face approach that includes but is not limited to the docile sound of bolero and son. It represents an awakening, a call from young Cubans ready to publicly define themselves. The movement evolved simultaneously in certain Latin music hot spots around the globe. While Yerba Buena and Cuban hip-hop band Orishas were moving out of New York clubs and into the professional recording studios, their long-lost cronies in Habana Abierta, a Cuban alt-rock group, were packing music halls in Madrid and performing for a self-titled documentary about their lives.

On the heels of Yerba Buena's success in 2004 for songs like "Guajira," which was featured in the movies Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, Honey, and Cheaper by the Dozen, Bueno decided it was time to break out on his own, so he moved to Miami to form Siete Rayo. In his free time, he collaborated with his old colleagues in the diaspora.

The payoff for those professional risks didn't end with the Universal contract. On January 29, Bueno and Habana Abierta singer Kelvis Ochoa won Spain's prestigious Goya award for Best Original Music in Havana Blues, a movie that chronicles two Cuban musicians faced with the dilemma of leaving the island to follow their music careers.

Descemer Bueno, the breakout star of Yerba Buena, now fronts Siete Rayo
Descemer Bueno, the breakout star of Yerba Buena, now fronts Siete Rayo


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"We are all free thinkers that represent a new type of human being. We're authentic and we have a voice," affirmed Bueno.

Bueno said another defining trait of his generation of artists is that while they want to be heard, they don't want to impose any particular idea. That means breaking with the mindset of the Cuban revolution's most revered troubadours such as Silvio Rodríguez and Pablo Milanés.

"There have been artists in revolutions around the world, but we aren't political. We're a little disillusioned," Bueno explained.

It's logical. Cats like Rodríguez and Milanés are still living on the island, and their lyrical discourse has maintained a certain level of reverence for the revolution, even though at times they offered subtle critiques. Positions like those weren't as easy for artists who had yet to gain success when the Soviet Union came tumbling down; the U.S. tightened the embargo, and finding a roll of toilet paper in one's own neighborhood became difficult.

"I never wanted to write lyrics that could put me in a political situation in which I wouldn't be allowed to go back and visit my family," Bueno noted. "It's very delicate."

And yet social consciousness escapes through his candid vocals and rhythms in a myriad of forms.

"I would like to chronicle all of this. I want to see people dancing and having fun so that they can forget about their problems for a little while," he said. "But not too much, you know? Dance, have fun, but don't forget that there's children in Haiti without enough to eat."

Maybe quintessential next-generation Cuban artists like Bueno will change the simple stereotypes of their compatriots, so often boiled down to angry Miami exiles, staunch Fidelistas, and cute old codgers ripe for big-screen documentaries.

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