Lazaro Casanova's New Release Is an Ode to Little Havana's Past and Future

Outside of a coffee shop on Biscayne Boulevard, over a chorus of beeping cars, Miami producer Lazaro Casanova details the process that has led him to where he is now. When we spoke a few weeks ago, he was ready and eager to drop the first single off of Made in Miami, a collaborative album that brings together some of South Florida’s premier producers of electronic music.

Casanova and his partner, Oscar G, aren't exactly rookies in this scene. “Made in Miami is the name of the label my friend Oscar G started — he’s one of the originators of house music here in Miami — and he hit me up to manage the label,” Casanova explains. 

"I went to school in New York and I would call my mom like, 'I need recipes.'"

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Knowing that he’d have to create something special for the label’s debut project, something that would encapsulate both his fluid style of production and his Miami credentials, Lazaro ultimately turned to his Cuban roots for inspiration.

"People close to me were involved in Santería, and growing up I'd go to parties and gatherings and it would be all of this live percussion, and I remember asking my mom to let me have her CDs with all of these amazing vocals. I'd sample the chants."

But, as a producer, Casanova was slow to realize his heritage could be a rich source of inspiration. His focus was on making electronic music for a broader audience. Casanova didn't channel his Cuban roots into music until he got some nudging from Oscar G.

"I had an itch to do something very Cuban, but it wasn't until I met Oscar that I felt encouraged to really go with it and pursue that sound," he says.

That sound, a pulsing fusion of Afro-Cuban rhythms and house music, provides a glimpse into Casanova's potential. The first single from Made in Miami is a track called "Calle Ocho," a song dedicated and inspired by Miami's evolving Little Havana neighborhood.  
The seven-minute track begins with a strong percussive beat and grows more in depth and layered with each passing minute. There are bells and chants, ebbs and flows, ups and downs. It's high-energy without ever selling out with a cheap ploy or going over the top. Lazaro adds subtle details along the way, nudging you along until you find yourself fully immersed in an Afro-house experience, one that's hellbent on showing you a Little Havana that pays homage to its roots while acknowledging the change on the horizon.

It should come as no surprise then that Lazaro's skills as a DJ and producer were sharpened by the streets of a Little Havana that was still some time away from "urban renewal."

"We had a weekly Wednesday party at Hoy Como Ayer called Tropicasa back before Little Havana — well, when people were afraid to go out there," Casanova explains. "And we did it for three or four years until it reached a point where it had bigger fame outside of Miami than it did here." 
It was those early years that set Casanova and the Made in Miami imprint up to make waves in the electronic world here in Florida and abroad. But maybe just as important as the influence Miami has had on the now-seasoned producer has been his time away from the city.

"I went to school in New York, and I would call my mom like, 'I need recipes,'" Casanova laughs. "How do you make picadillo, plátanos — everything I missed so much? The second time I tried to cook Cuban food in the dorm, I set off the smoke alarm for the whole building, and firefighters came and we all had to evacuate."

There, outside of a New York dormitory, fire alarms bouncing off skyscrapers, Lazaro caught an early glimpse into the lengths he'd go to feel connected to his home and culture. Now, with a network of seasoned veterans like Oscar G providing support and inspiration, the Made in Miami roster providing a collaborative space, and Murk Mondays at Coyo Taco providing the live musical element most musicians crave, Lazaro Casanova seems poised to put it all together.

The ability to create a unique blend of sound, genre, and culture shouldn't come as a surprise though. It's a part of being Cuban and a symptom of being made in Miami.

Lazaro Casanova at Olla’s Grand Opening Party. 9 p.m. Saturday, November 12, at Olla, 1233 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach. Admission is free.

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Jorge Courtade