TELMARY with M1 (of dead.prez), KOLLAGE, JULIAN FAUTH and ARMANI AND 'EM and others as part of the Jazz By Genre Festival at the Docks (11 Polson), Sunday (August 12), festival runs from Thursday (August 9), from 1 pm. $35-$45. 416-870-8000, www.jazzbygenre.com. Rating: NNNNN
Midway through our conversation, Cuban jazz/hiphop poet Telmary Diaz announces she'd like to switch roles.
"I want to be the journalist and for you to be the artist," the musician says with a laugh over the phone from her Toronto home. She's not kidding. Her foray into hiphop began with her desire to follow in the footsteps of her reporter mother - a career plan she finally rejected due to the Cuban press's lack of freedom.
"I saw it would be very difficult to have a book published or even to become a journalist, because they really control people who study to be one there; after that you have all the power of communication."
Telmary found herself led to hiphop by her love of poetic expression and of Cuba's range of musical forms. For her, that range includes jazz and funk; the DJ with whom she formed her first group, Free Hole Negro; "repentistas" (travelling guitar-wielding folk freestyle battlers); and her people's natural musicality in street conversation, all of which she weaves into her solo material.
"Cuba is not just salsa. It's not just Buena Vista Social Club," she stresses.
As it turns out, taking advantage of the country's eclectic palette of poetry, singing and hiphop has given Telmary much more freedom of expression than the media ever could.
Music is her means of broadcasting information about Cuba to the rest of the world and of reporting international stories back to her country. Chuck D may have said rap is the black CNN, but Telmary is the Afro-Cuban C-Span.
To that end, she took the initiative to secure distribution for her debut, A Diaro, in Canada, Europe and Japan.
"I have to find out what's going on around the world and then bring my feelings to Cuban people," she says. "It's not enough to go out and show people the Cuban experience; I have to transmit to them what is happening in the world. I feel that I owe them, because it's very hard for Cubans to leave the country. Musicians and athletes are the only people who have this opportunity."
I caught Telmary's show in March at Lula Lounge and was struck by her delivery over a large, impressive live band. Her singing voice and staccato rhyme flow and the intensity of expression in her face, body language and intonation lent the performance variety, levity and drama. Speaking of which, the singer, who also acts, plays a Cuban rapper in a film that begins shooting in Colombia in September.
While Telmary admits her Spanish lyrics can get overtly political, she tempers her message with a positive outlook.
"It's not like the rappers who complain all the time, who criticize in that negative way. I don't like that," she firmly states. "Cubans are not like that. We laugh, we make a party even when things are sad. My message may sometimes criticize society, but I think you can also listen to the music and dance and relax. You find hope. You find good energy in it."
Additional Interview Audio Clips
Telmary speaks about the musicality of Cuban people
About what she will lose if she disconnects form Cuba
On Overcoming the Spanish-English language barrier in her music
About her musical history
On feeling like an instrument in her band.
On being so exhilerated by her musicians that she sometimes forgets she's performing
About her duty to be a cultural liason between Cuba and the rest of the world.
About her place in the Cuban hiphop landscape.
About her role in hiphop in general.