SXSW’s first Cuban showcase makes history

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Daymé Arocena performs at SXSW 2016. Photo by Nancy Flores

Twelve Cuban musicians. Five bands. One night.

“You tell me if you think this was easy to put together,” artist Telmary Díaz teased the crowd at Speakeasy on Friday night. “Hell no!”

Díaz kicked off South by Southwest’s first-ever Cuban music showcase by thanking the festival, showcase organizers and fans for helping make history. Over the years Cuban artists like songstress Danay Suárez have been featured at SXSW, but this year’s performances were part of the first Sounds from Cuba showcase, which was presented by Roads & Kingdoms magazine and Cuban artist center Fábrica de Arte Cubano.

Díaz, a soulful rapper, singer and poet, was backed by musicians from the Afro-Latin jazz quintet Yissy & Bandacha, who also performed later in the night. Watching the chill-inducing artist combination and other music masters throughout the night made Speakeasy the perfect place to hunker down for a few hours while severe weather threats loomed outdoors. While the festival urged participants to seek shelter, those already inside Speakeasy couldn’t imagine leaving anyway.

Díaz’ style ranged from delivering spitfire rhymes that had the crowd cheering to danceable grooves that kept the fans swaying. Her blow-your-mind performance set the bar high for the rest of the musicians who all showed the richness in Cuba’s musical diversity.

First-ever #SXSW Cuban showcase off to amazing start! #Telmary @austin360 #sxamericas

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Adding some modern jazz interpretations to the lineup was Yissy & Bandancha, who fused jazz everything from electronic music to Afro-Cuban rhythms. Yissy, the drummer and bandleader, launched her solo project in 2012.

Rising R&B artist Daymé Arocena, brought inimitable bilingual grooves that easily make her an artist to watch. Her powerful stage presence, charisma and robust vocals kept the crowd asking for more.

Dayme Arocena doing her thing! #sxamericas #atx #latinmusic #musica @austin360 @atxahorasi #cuba

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Rounding out the showcase were veteran performers X-Alfonso y La Flota and Kelvis Ochoa (who will also perform at 3 p.m. Saturday at the free SXSW Outdoor Stage at Lady Bird Lake, which was formerly called the Auditorium Shores stage).

As the presence of Latin music steadily grows at SXSW, let’s hope that these country-specific showcases continue to show people the quality of musicians beyond our borders.