Brenda Navarrete, virtues of grace, beauty and hard work
By Dominic Soave
If talent and beauty alone doesn’t cut it, Brenda Navarrete has enough fuel in reserve to fire her rocket all the way to the moon. Despite a radiant smile that has become the signature calling card of one of Cuba’s fastest rising young stars, it’s the feisty bundle of energy, hard work and determination behind the smile that really stokes the fire.
Inspired by the musical accomplishments of her older sister, singer Melvis Santa, the Havana native decided to embark on her own musical journey at age 9, announcing to the world that she would blaze a trail of her own…in percussion. “My sister ran home and told my mom what I had said,” recalls the 24-year old singer, percussionist, composer and arranger. “After that, they kept asking me if I was sure that I didn’t want to try playing the flute or clarinet instead”.
Unfazed by the challenge and more determined than ever, Navarrete stuck to her guns and would go on to study percussion at the prestigious Amadeo Roldán Conservatory in Havana. In 2007, she caught the eye of renowned musician Joaquin Betancourt, who recruited her for his Jazz Band project. After graduating in 2009, the skies opened up for the young musician who embarked on numerous projects simultaneously, including a stint with the Afro-Cuban percussion troupe Obini Bata. While also commuting to and from contemporary dance studies in Matanzas, Navarrete somehow found time to follow her sister’s footsteps into the ranks of Interactivo as a singer with the internationally acclaimed band led by Roberto Carcasses.
“It was exhausting and a little bit overwhelming at times, but it exposed me to a multitude of musical styles that really broadened my horizons,” she explains. “That year paved the way to where I am today and helped shape the work ethic that I apply to my projects now.”
Navarrete’s career took a big leap forward in 2010 after capturing top prize in the Bata drum competition at the prestigious Fiesta del Tambor in Havana. She would perform as one of the festival’s invited artists in 2012 and subsequently earned an endorsement from Canadian cymbal-maker, Sabian. In 2014, Brenda Navarrete became the first Sabian artist in Cuba to start using top-of-the-line congas from Gon Bops, a percussion company acquired by Sabian.
“I’ve been working hard on my percussion skills lately, and my neighbors can attest to that,” says Navarrete with an impish grin. “Everyone around me has been really supportive, but I must drive them crazy sometimes.”
Some 15 years after refusing to give in, the determined little girl has blossomed into a consummate professional, with the captivating stage presence of a seasoned veteran. Five years after joining Interactivo, her vocal talents continue to draw crowds to weekly shows at Café Teatro Bertolt Brecht and Café Jazz Miramar. She is also spearheading several projects with her own band as an emerging solo artist, appearing in clubs and on television broadcasts across the country. She toured with Interactivo in the U.S. and Canada in 2014, while a live performance on Cuba’s Radio Taino in July extended her reach to the entire world via the Internet.
And if that isn’t enough to fill an average work week, Brenda Navarrete can also be found rehearsing daily in Havana for her role as a singer, percussionist and dancer in a large international production set to start touring the U.S., Canada and Europe in early 2015. Salsa, Mambo y Cha Cha Cha places the young artist alongside prominent Cuban musicians including Isaac Delgado, Germán Velazco and Haila Maria Mompie, with arrangements from Joaquin Betancourt, as well as Juan Manuel Ceruto.
“I’m young now and I want to tap into as much energy from youthful exuberance as I possibly can,” says Navarrete. “But youth and beauty don’t last, so my goal is always to be recognized as an intelligent artist who continues to evolve”. Despite her youth, Navarrete is the first to admit that her passion for jazz, Afro-Cuban and traditional Cuban music tends to strike a stronger chord in audiences aged 35 and over. However, the versatile artist has been increasingly dabbling in younger genres, including electronic, hip-hop, soul and R&B. Despite a lengthy resume that includes several demo recordings (available on iTunes) and vocal and percussion credits on recordings of other Cuban and international artists, a debut Brenda Navarrete CD remains an artistic vision in progress.
“I’m focussing on finding the right mix of songs for my CD, which will include both traditional and contemporary styles,” she explains. “I want to blend my musical experiences together in order to find a recipe that people can’t get enough of”.