Salsa Sizzle

Issac Delgado's Cuban vision


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Gentlemanly crooners ibrahimFerrer and Compay Segundo might represent the glorious past of Cuban music, but any investigation into the sounds currently tearing up Havana nightclubs has to begin and end with the “Little Prince” of Cuban salsa, Issac Delgado.A founder and former lead singer of Havana dance-floor demolition crew N.G. La Banda, Delgado is one of the lead voices of modern Cuban music. Over their 15-year history, N.G. La Banda were instrumental in creating timba, the explosive, defiantly contemporary Havana dance music that mixed traditional Cuban with modern sounds.

With N.G. La Banda, and now on his own, Delgado has played a key part in keeping Cuban music moving forward and preventing it from slipping into the ossified state many would like. Purists might howl, but Delgado remains confident that what he’s doing is many times more Cuban than a travelling musical museum.

“I was lucky to meet the guys in N.G. La Banda when I did,” Delgado explains from New York through a translator. “We came at a time when people wanted more, something different, in Cuban music, and because of that we ended up being leaders of the movement that ended up becoming timba.

“Irakere was the precursor to what we were doing, but the conditions were just ripe for us. There are purists of Cuban music who hate everything to do with change, and they’re always there, but my music grew out of the situation.

“It’s not always appreciated, though. Last night we played in New York, and this woman came backstage and told me that I wasn’t playing Cuban music, that what I was playing was an imposter’s music. She demanded that I play a song by Orquesta Aragon, older music, because that was genuine.”

The traditionalists would be even more shocked to learn that Delgado began his career singing old-school Cuban music. His elastic voice would seem perfectly suited to classic boleros, but the dapper singer has no intention of living in the past.

“I’ve always listened to many different styles of music,” offers Delgado. “Even as a child, my home was a place where many different things were played and performed.

“It began with the romantic music of Cuba from my mother’s time — boleros, romantic music and what they called the “feeling music.’ My mother was married to the premier exponent of the feeling music, Angel Diaz, and that music was essentially developed in my home. I couldn’t avoid it.

“I had to live in the time that I was living, and my music is a reflection of that life. I kept the sentiments of that old music but brought it into the modern sound. It was an unconscious development of the music in me. I didn’t have to change anything about me or my voice, because it was all Cuban music.”

After recording with musicians all over the world and even living in Spain for a couple years, Delgado could easily go international and leave the fanatical but underdeveloped Cuban music industry for stardom abroad. Check one of his shows in Delgado’s Havana hometown, though, and it’s obvious why he stays.

He’s a massive star in Cuba, and his shows in Havana are volatile parties where Cuban kids fully let loose, and he feeds off their energy.

“Cuban youth are reacting to the struggles of daily life, and this music was a change for them,” Delgado reasons. “I think it makes their life a bit easier. It’s a release for them, and I’m part of that movement.

“I have to go back to Cuba to replenish myself with the daily life in Cuba. That’s my greatest source of inspiration, and my fans understand that.”mattg@nowtoronto.com

ISSAC DELGADO at Lula Lounge (1585 Dundas West), Thursday and Friday (July 4 and 5). $45-$55. 416-588-0307.

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