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By Kalamu ya Salaam of Kalamu.com

Saturday, December 5, 2009.

As countries go, the island of Cuba is a small nation. Politically and economically it has been dwarfed by its neighbor to the immediate north.  Decades old embargo and diplomatic hostility has damn near strangled the small island and yet Cuba survives, and in some important sectors, Cuba thrives.

Cuba produces more doctors per capita than does the United States, and many of those socially conscious physicians have served people in developing countries worldwide. But beyond what is damn near a miracle of medical development, what Cuba really excels at is music.

Jamaica is the only other island nation that comes within shouting distance of Cuba as a musical influence. So much music comes out of Cuba I believe they probably have a tunnel running under the Atlantic and the Cuban musical scene is replenished periodically by Africans resurrected from the middle passage.

About forty years ago, Cuba revolutionized folk music and produced the “new song” movement, better known on the island as “nueva trova.” The two giants of Cuba nueva trova are Pablo Milanes and Silvio Rodriguez. In the new 21st century, a second Milanes generation is emerging, especially Pablo’s daughter, Haydée.

Haydée Milanés is a member of the innovative collective known as Interactivo. Other members of Interactivo include Yusa, Telmary Diaz and Roberto Carcassés, who is the group director.

There is not much more factual information that I can share in regards to Haydée. Even in this age of the internet, obtaining hard information on Haydée has been difficult. Fortunately, once you hear her, there is no difficulty in appreciating her talent.

In one sense Haydée is anti-typical. Her music does not fit the stereotype of hot Latina singing and shouting the night away as she salsa dances with total abandon. There is a different sensibility at work in Haydée’s music.

Perhaps, it starts with her voice—she sings like a saxophone; a saxophone played by a veteran. It is not stretching to say that she has some of the lilting phrasing associated with Lester Young. The timbre and tone of her voice is never aggressive. She has a rich and pure lower and middle register, and an airy upper register that suggests a fragile beauty even though all her lines are strongly sung.

There is no over-singing for effect. She never shrieks, nor does she over-reach as a stylistic gimmick to suggest emotional involvement. To my ears she sounds like a fine wine, mellow well beyond her years. You know how it is when you take a sip of a chilled cream sherry; how you savor the taste of it lolling on your tongue, and slow suck rather than quick swallow. It’s uncanny but I think liquid is probably the best one word description of Haydée’s sound.

In 2005, Haydée released her self-titled debut. This year there is a live album that features duets with her sister Lynn and her father Pablo (he is not listed on the cover but I’m pretty certain it’s him).

This is afterglow music. Music for when everything is beautiful. When you heart is palpitating a bit: perhaps excited by some beautiful experience that caused you to hold your breath, or breathe rapidly; but now you are at peace, someone you love is skin close, or perhaps you have just done something extraordinary. There are moments when a sentimental mood descends and all one can do is cool out, all one wants to do is cool out.

Cool out, yes, that’s it. Haydée’s voice is the sound of cooling out.

Kalamu ya Salaam is a writer, musician and film-maker based in New Orleans, USA.

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