TORONTO’S AFRO-CUBAN ENSEMBLE OKAN RELEASE NEW SINGLE MERCEDES FEATURING TELMARY DIAZ
FORTHCOMING ALBUM ESPIRAL OUT OCTOBER 9
VIA LULAWORLD RECORDS
LISTEN TO TITLE TRACK HERE
JUNO-NOMINATED AND INDEPENDENT MUSIC AWARD-WINNING GROUP BLEND HISTORY HERITAGE, STORYTELLING AND SPIRITUALITY
Toronto, ON – August 28, 2020 – Toronto-based JUNO-nominated ensemble, OKAN, deliver a bold new single, Mercedes, today. The song, which features Cuban rapper, Telmary Diaz, is the second release from their forthcoming album, Espiral, due October 9 via Lulaworld Records. Listen to the song here.
Mercedes includes elements from a genre called Pilón; a rhythm that is native to, but seldom played in Cuba today. OKAN wants to help preserve this near-extinct sound, while the narrative of the song is founded on double entendres; a story about Mercedes, a beautiful Cuban woman who trades her favours to different people. It paints a very realistic picture of the struggles Cuban people face today, and the Cuban way of discussing these topics with a dark sense of humour.
“Working with Telmary has been a dream come true. She's a woman that has been in the Cuban music scene since we were teenagers. She has overcome the difficulties of being a female rapper in Cuba, where the vision is very Machista,” OKAN says of the collab. “That's also why it means even more for us to have had this opportunity with her. Her rapping style was perfect for the kind of genre and lyrical content that we were looking for in Mercedes. We are so happy with the results and of course having an experimented female artist from our country makes it even more gratifying. We hope that the audience gets the vibes we intended when we did the song although the lyrics are in Spanish. The perfect dancing piece and very typical of the Cuban culture.”
Espiral (Spanish for ‘spiral’) is the title track from OKAN’s forthcoming project, blending sonic elements both classic and contemporary, while honouring their Cuban roots. Listen to Espiral here.
“The title track, Espiral, is an arrangement that we did of an Afro-Cuban chant we first heard in December of 2018. It’s not as well-known as many chants and comes from the Arará sect (or denomination or tribal tradition) of the Santeria religion, as opposed to the Lucumi sect of the religion,” OKAN says of the song’s inspiration. “We then decided to mix this Afro-Cuban chant with another genre called guajira from the Eastern countryside of Cuba. This hasn’t been done before, or at least we don’t know of.”
Following up on their Juno-nominated, Sombras, and Independent Music Award-winning debut release, Laberinto, OKAN’s sophomore album, Espiral, delves deeper into the group's rich Cuban roots, finding renewed inspiration in this musical heritage. Taking their name from the word for heart in the Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria, OKAN fuses these powerful elements with jazz, folk and global rhythms. The Santeria influences are most evident in the opening track, Espiral, which uniquely blends folk genres of Eastern Cuba with Santeria-derived chants.
Showcasing the stunning vocals, violin and percussion of co-leaders and composers, Elizabeth Rodriguez and Magdelys Savigne, Espiral features contributions by leading Canadian Cuban artists Telmary Diaz, Miguel de Armas, Hilario Duran, Roberto Riveron, Alexis Baro, Frank Martinez and Pablosky Rosales.
A highlight of the album, Águila, honours the strength of women who make sacrifices to better the lives of their families. Written for Elizabeth’s aunt, who had to leave her husband and daughter in Cuba while she immigrated to the U.S., the piece moves from sorrow to rediscovered strength that derives from family, faith and tradition. See below for a complete tracklistng.
OKAN's music spans the worlds of jazz, folk and global roots. This is reflected in the group's touring activity with invitations from leading festivals such as Mariposa, Sunfest, Blue Skies, and Lotusfest as well as San Francisco, New Mexico, Jaipur and Toronto Jazz. Recent projects have included a live appearance with Polaris Prize winner, Lido Pimienta and recording for the upcoming release of Colombian electro-cumbia superstars, Bomba Estereo.
The group recently performed a stunning livestreamed set for Philadelphia Folk Festival, which followed a Toronto Jazz Festival live stream via JAZZ.FM, and a livestreamed set at Blue Curtain Concerts Festival – watch it here.
Born in Havana, Cuba, Elizabeth Rodriguez is a classically trained violinist who served as concertmaster for Havana’s Youth Orchestra. Magdelys Savigne hails from Santiago de Cuba and graduated with honours in orchestral percussion from Havana’s University of the Arts. Both are also Grammy-nominees for their contributions to Jane Bunnett and Maqueque, of which they are former members.
Stay tuned as OKAN’s unwinds more music from Espiral, and join them for their upcoming performances below.