Interactivo's Roberto Carcasses on Democracy in Cuba: "Liberty Is Something Very Personal"

Cuban poet and political figure José Martí once wrote, "Perhaps the enemies of liberty are such only because they judge it by its loud voice."

That was about 60 years before communism would begin its reign over the island, depriving the Cuban people of so many basic rights, including that of free expression.

Ever since the Castro regime took power in 1959, Fidel and his brother Raúl have attempted to silenced citizens through fear, the threat of imprisonment, and worse. One weapon, however, that's continually been used by the people to challenged the government is the "loud voice" of music.

"I feel that the culture of a country opens many doors for people, and I think the Cuban government understood that," says Roberto Carcassés, director and pianist of the musical collective, Interactivo.

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Those "doors" have led the way for Carcassés' musical career. Through them, he's explored Turkey, Spain, Norway, Ireland, Japan, and even taught a jazz workshop at Stanford University.

But the next stop is la yuma, where he and his crew will be bringing a fusion of "timba funk," as Carcassés describes it, to the Miami-Dade County Auditorium on March 8.

"Everyone recognizes funk," he explains. "It came from R&B and has African roots. Timba is very similar to funk in the U.S., but in Cuba, it comes from la rumba and the urban sounds of the island."

Creating music is how Carcassés makes a living, but music is something he's been in tune with for as long as he can remember.

"I wouldn't know what to tell you," he says in regards to his first musical memories. "But there's always been music in my house."

The artist is referring to his father, Bobby Carcassés, a well-known jazz player, singer, and actor who's worked with legends like Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri.

"I remember hearing my dad play different instruments, the trumpet, double bass, and seeing his friends perform. It's something that's always been in my memory."

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After graduating from the National School of Arts in Havana in 1991, the younger Carcassés toured the Americas, Spain, and the U.S. with el Grupo de Santiago Feliú between 1992 and 1995, and later Columna B from 1998 through 1999. The thought of Interactivo didn't come around till 2001.

"It started with the idea to unite talent from different backgrounds with music from all genres: jazz, hip-hop, rock, traditional Cuban," he says. "That was the artistic formation I had, and I wanted to create a group where everyone can come and go as they wish, and also have their own careers."

Along with Carcassés, there are only four core members. The rest are temporary. That element of change is what keeps Interactivo's music fresh.

"The fact that we're always learning from other people," the band leader adds. "It's like a school of music and life."

When it came to naming the band, Carcassés thought it would be fitting to give it a moniker that described its essence.

"I feel that it represents what we do on stage. It's danceable music, but you can also listen to it because it has lots of jazz elements. It is always evolving. I felt the name Interactivo perfectly summarized that."

But unlike Interactivo's music, Cuba's political landscape hasn't changed much since 2008, when Fidel stepped down and passed power to his brother.

However, Carcassés claims that "there's less absurdity" on the island. He acknowledges that "liberty is something very personal," but he also admits any "change" that he's seen in Cuba is "still not the democracy we [Cubans] want yet."

Regardless, though, of the reality facing la Perla del Caribe, Carcassés continues to believe in the power of music.

"Without it, the world wouldn't make much sense."

Interactivo. Saturday, March 8. Miami-Dade County Auditorium, 2901 W. Flagler St., Miami. The show starts at 9 p.m. Tickets cost $27-$37 plus fees via ticketmaster.com. Call 305-547-5414, or visit fundarte.us.

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