In Havana, Dance Rhythms Rule After a trip to Havana this month, our global music specialist has her ears full of Cuban sounds — classical and jazz, electronic and folkloric. Hear the wave that new relations will release.
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Latitudes: Our Favorite Global Music Right Now

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Latitudes: Our Favorite Global Music Right Now

Latitudes: Our Favorite Global Music Right Now

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This week, we have been listening to some of the music that stood out in 2015. One of the big stories this year was warming relations between the United States and Cuba. And that got our colleagues at NPR Music excited about listening to some tunes from the island nation. Anastasia Tsioulcas writes the international music blog Latitudes and Felix Contreras hosts the NPR podcast Alt.Latino.

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: Hey there, Anastasia.

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: Hey, Felix.

CONTRERAS: OK, now you just returned from a trip from Cuba and you wrote about it on your blog Latitudes. So let's listen to some relatively undiscovered artists who have impressed us this year. And let's start with Dayme Arocena.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MADRES")

DAYME AROCENA: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: OK now this is her track "Madres" from her album "Nueva Era." For me, Dayme Arocena represents a cross of Aretha Franklin and the iconic Cuban singer Celia Cruz. I mean, her rich, deep voice really embraces the sound of that religious-based Santeria music that's popular in African culture. And then she veers with a kind of feeling in her voice that, to me, leaves no doubt she's, at some point, listened to the Queen of Soul.

TSIOULCAS: Oh yeah, there is such deep feeling here. It's unbelievable.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MADRES")

AROCENA: (Singing in Spanish).

TSIOULCAS: And, Felix, some of the best Cuban music I've heard this year is definitely transnational. Here's a project that was recorded in Cuba with both American and Cuban musicians.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARTURO O'FARRILL AND THE AFRO LATIN JAZZ ORCHESTRA SONG)

CONTRERAS: There's a lot going on.

TSIOULCAS: Yeah, it's kind of this huge feast of sound. And it's a project that was helmed (ph) by a wonderful New York born and raised pianist and composer named Arturo O'Farrill. And his dad made a very famous project years ago called the Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite which bought together amazing Cuban musicians of that time with American jazz icons like Charlie Parker and Buddy Rich. And Arturo revisited that idea and invited a bunch of composers to continue that kind of bicultural dialogue and the result is this album "Cuba: The Conversation Continues."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARTURO O'FARRILL AND THE AFRO LATIN JAZZ ORCHESTRA ALBUM, "CUBA: THE CONVERSATION CONTINUES")

CONTRERAS: OK, now we want to hear from a group that made a big splash not just among Cuban music fans but hip-hop and electronic fans.

TSIOULCAS: Yeah, Ibeyi

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RIVER")

IBEYI: (Singing) Come to you river. I will come to your river.

TSIOULCAS: Ibeyi is a duo made up of twin sisters named Lisa Kainde and Naomi Diaz. They're from Paris and they're based there, but their dad was a famous Cuban percussionist named Anga Diaz. And they travel back and forth quite a bit. And there's just a lot of layers of sound there.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RIVER")

IBEYI: (Singing) Carry away my dead leaves. Let me baptize my soul with the help of your waters. Sink my pains and complains. Let the river take them, river drown them.

CONTRERAS: I saw them perform here in Washington, D.C., recently and what was fascinating to me is that this sold out concert venue, everybody's grooving to this very roots-oriented Santeria music. It was fascinating.

TSIOULCAS: And hopefully the thaw in our country's relationship means that even more great music continues to pour out of Cuba and really travel.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RIVER")

IBEYI: (Singing) Come to your river, wash my soul.

GREENE: That's NPR Music's Anastasia Tsioulcas and Felix Contreras.

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