Qva Libre: a Cuban music laboratory
By Yelena Rodríguez Velázquez
Qva Libre (pronounced Cuba Libre) is a well known group, most famous for the trademark alternative vibe that sets them apart among makers of Cuban music.
Although the band has been around for eighteen years, they reached new heights in 2012 with their third disc La psicodélica estelar, which to the rhythm of the tracks La tremendonga and Sentimiento y palitroque put them firmly on every stereo and jacked up their media presence.
That phase marked a boom for a young group who were bringing a new proposal to the table, mixing the tones of popular Cuban music with a good dose of funk, rock and hip hop.
Today, having notched up a good few years of experience, Qva Libre are taking on musical challenges and new influences which bringing that come with their fair share of controversy.
The group’s frontman Carlos Díaz Soto talked to CubaPlus, ready to settle any doubts about the group’s current direction. He feels that every phase is for the best since each marks a new step in the band’s evolution and maturity.
“We can’t let ourselves stagnate musically,” he says, “Qva Libre needs to experiment and that’s what we’ve been doing over these years.”
Certainly the band has passed through several chapters since its beginnings as a rock project called Amnesia.
“I think those are closed cycles, first a metal stage with the album Resistencia y reciclaje, then the Viva Qva Libre album with alternative music and later Rock duro mami, which started to make inroads into more urban sounds,” he explains.
These movements through different styles mean their audience varies. Yet, although Carlos laments the loss of some fans, he affirms that Qva Libre is a massive popular phenomenon.
This brings up a question, thinking about the popularity enjoyed by a lot of music with mediocre rhythms and crass and violent lyrics.
Is mass popularity synonymous with quality? “When you’re massive,” he replies, “you realize you haven’t made a mistake. But it’s not the fault of the music or the genre. It’s about working hard and showing you’re capable of making any kind of music well.”
For that reason, and to exorcise an old demon, Carlos founded the group 13. The idea was to promote the concept to a younger audience and it was focused on rap, a genre that has a bad reputation but in Carlos’ opinion has something to offer to Cuban music.
“That is how we’re confronting a big and banal phenomenon that is ruining Latin music today,” he states.
The group is working under that premise while still celebrating the success of its last record, Los caballeros de la noche, a welldeveloped twenty-track brass and percussion album.
They are also focused on ambitious ideas, with a new band member (Kendaya) who is bringing a rejuvenating tone to this psychedelic squad.
“The new album picks up the Qva Libre sound again. In it we incorporated foreign harmonies, rhythmic cells from the clave [the rhythmic cornerstone of Cuban music], the gourd, the brass section, the piano, and it even flirts with the son and songo of Los Van Van.”
Otro palo por tu culpa will be the title of the new disc. In Carlos’ words it is indisputably more commercial music but that doesn’t stop it being genuine.
Among his other projects there is also a film made up of three of the music videos from the upcoming album. Like much of their previous audiovisual work, this will be directed by José Rojas.
Another idea he has going round his head is to make a more traditional album, with performances from musicians of different generations and from all over Cuba.
Qva Libre is becoming a laboratory. The diversity of genres they fuse and their colourful aesthetic on stage is attracting a younger audience, while there are still plenty of veterans who dance and sing along to their tunes, that are always peppered with a little roguish humour and double meanings.