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Review: Telmary Diaz's “Que Equivoca’o”


Friday, November 9, 2007.


By Kalamu ya Salaam of Kalamu.com


For me, what’s happening in my music is what’s happening in the head of the young Cuban generations. We have a mix of many musics now, where for many years before, the focus was on Cuban music like timba and salsa.


Now we are so open. What I do is mix the music of my ancestors with different styles that are new for me, like reggae or drum ‘n’ bass. Also, I don’t just talk about Cuba or what’s happening there, I try to talk about universal issues.
—Telmary Diaz


Black music is international music. Hip Hop heads love to pontificate about how the influence of Hip Hop is worldwide. Well, what goes around comes around. 

Telmary Diaz who now lives in Toronto, Canada, is an example of the international face of Black music.

Born in
Havana on March 10, 1977
, her mother is a journalist and her father a sociologist. Telmary studied literature, theatre and screenwriting. She is a writer. Not merely because she writes her raps in a notebook but because she has studied the writing of others, studied how to write, and has worked at developing both her craft and her skill at observing and analyzing.

But then she is also a musician who has been a member of two important young Cuban musical groups - Free Hole Negro and Interactivo. Telmary has appeared on more than 15 albums as a guest artist.

She has appeared or contributed to the soundtrack for  four major films (Todas Las Noches Terminan En El Malecon – 2001; MalaHabana – 2002; Musica Cubana – 2004; Habana Blues – 2005; and is currently working on a fifth, Alborada Carmes. You could say sister love is busy.

* * *

I hope to make people think, and to communicate that we have the opportunity to change things to make this world better. Even if people don’t understand me, I think that they can feel.

Telmary’s debut album, A Diario is a gumbo—yeah, I know gumbo is a New Orleans dish and not Cuban cuisine but it’s an appropriate description for an album that stylistically cuts across a multitude of Cuban (and non-Cuban) musical styles.

The album was co-produced by Interactivo bandleader and pianist - Roberto Carcasses and bassist Yusa. Over 50 musicians contributed to the aural mural, including
Spain’s Ojos de Brujo and the band Los Van Van, one of the all time leaders of contemporary Cuban music.


And at the same time the album won the Cuba Disco 2007 Best Hip-Hop Album award. I am impressed not just by the breadth of A Dario’s music, but also by it’s depth. The depth of A Dario is amazing. You never get the feeling that she is dabbling. The results are clearly the work of people who know what they are doing.


Telmary is more than a competent composer. Whether doing straight up raps or writing changes for songs, her music sounds both fresh and familiar; that is, you are delighted by how it turns out. Although it is different from other popular music, at the same time, there is enough there that seems familiar so that we are not put off.


It’s not just the beat, it’s also the layering of harmonies, the sing-along enticement of the melodies. I particularly like the multiple layers of sounds: rhythm on rhythm, melodies and counterpoint, the familiar strains of Afro-Cuban tropes and the experimental mixing of styles.

One minute she is flowing faster than Twista and the next she is sultrily slow-dripping honey off the tropicalness of her tongue.

And then there are the multiple shifts, like she is double-clutching through a musical slalom.

It is hard for me to pick one song to focus on. The album is so diverse, you need at least four selections to get the flavor.

Ultimately, the main point is that there is a clear and ever present aura of optimism rising off these grooves. The music makes me feel that it is possible that something sweet is on the way and that this music is an RSVP invitation to a better and more beautiful future. Also, there is a healthy awareness of the past and traditions informing the forwardness of this new music. Ultimately, Telmary’s strength is in her diversity.


* * *

There are many Telmarys inside of me. One part wants to sing, another do poetry, another write and of course rap, but in the end, everything comes together when I’m on the stage.


One final note, I’ve included two live versions of cuts from the album, both were from a 2007 Global Divas performance in Toronto. The backing band is led by saxophonist/flautist Jane Burnet.


When I heard these tracks I said, OK, Telmary is really, really the real thing. Check it, her album is undoubtedly the result of deep studio production but the live recordings (with unfamiliar musicians performing her music) by necessity rise (or fall) on the basis of getting it right in the moment—no second takes, no overdubs, no special effects. Just doing it on the spot.


In this setting, it is clear that Telmary’s music is more than catchy lyrics over a catchy beat. There are interesting elements for the horns and the keyboards to explore, for the bass player and the guitarist to weave variations on. Solos can be built on the changes. The overall effect is a journey across and through contemporary Cuban sounds.


What is also clear is that Telmary can perform under a wide variety of conditions without losing her potency. She doesn’t need special effects or fifteen takes to get a verse right. Indeed, if anything, she is stronger live than in the studio.


On "Q’ Esquivocao" her first chorus is an eruption of words whose lightspeed flow is far warmer than simply a cold exercise in technical tongue trickery. She sounds almost like a saxophone.


Actually, let me correct myself; she sounds like a high-octane, post-bop, Coltrane-influenced trombonist who articulates each note distinctly rather than slurring her way through an intricate staccato run that extends over four bars long and also evidences fantastic breath control—whew!!! Man, that’s some hell-of-a blowing she done, yeah!
On “Pa’ Q’ Vuelva” Telmary achieves the near impossible, she does an intimate love song at a street festival and makes the outdoor performance seem more personal than the studio version. It’s an incredible reading (and Jane’s flute solo is fantastic).

I can’t recommend this music enough. Come on comrades,  get to this.


Kalamu ya Salaam is a New Orleans-based writer and filmmaker. He is also the founder of Nommo Literary Society - a Black writers workshop. 


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