P18 with ISSA BAGAYOGO, CHEIKHA RIMITTI and SAHRAOUI at Harbourfront Centre (235 Queen's Quay West), Friday (July 12). Free. 416-973-3000.
Tom darnal's idea of cuban music has nothing to do with the past and everything to do with the future.While most dabblers in the island's music are obsessed with quaint interpretations of traditional rhythms, the Paris-based musician and former Mano Negra keyboardist Darnal is all about rocketing Cuban music forward. His P18 collective is split between Havana and France, and while it incorporates some classical Cuban elements, it's also defiantly modern.
P18's Urban Cuban debut tried to fuse Cuban beats with contemporary electronic music, with varying degrees of success. The group's new Electropica disc is more successful because the mix sounds more natural and organic. Recording basic tracks in his Paris lab, Darnal then took the tunes to Havana to be reworked and built on, and then mixed them down back in France.
A country where recording technology is antiquated at best and things like samplers and drum machines are non-existent isn't the ideal location for making Afro-Cuban electronic music. But Darnal insists there are more opportunities than roadblocks.
"In Cuba there is a lot of energy, and they have the best knowledge about percussion in the world," Darnal explains from Paris. "There is this incredibly high level of musicianship. They don't really need to be that into technology. You remember that group Vocal Sampling? There was no sampler, but they just improvised and did it themselves with their voices. It's actually better that way.
"Because of the embargo, not much in the way of equipment or records comes to the island from the French electronic scene, but there is interest and a willingness to experiment.
"Sometimes, coincidence is your best friend in Cuba. When we started this project, we had no idea what was going to happen or who was going to show up and play on the record, but it came together."
The result is a record that falls between genres and styles. There are electronic and Afro-Cuban elements to Electropica, but the album isn't specifically either of those things.
"We wanted to create the feel of an imaginary city or country called Electropica," Darnal says. "It's an island in the Caribbean that could be Cuba if everything was working well and if there was solar energy everywhere, and a different kind of mentality. It's a futuristic hybrid, like the music."
It should come as no surprise that P18's global scope isn't miles away from the cross-cultural meltdowns of Darnal's former Mano Negra bandmate Manu Chao. Both musicians mix older Latin sounds with current influences. Darnal's take on guerrilla fusion is a good deal slicker than Manu Chao's, but the goals are the same.
Like artists such as Argentinian future-tango crew the Gotan Project and Afrobeat boss Frederic Galliano, Darnal and P18 float between scenes and cultures.
"We are part of the contemporary Cuban scene, but we obviously aren't a Cuban band," Darnal admits. "That's fine, though. We're more interested in trying to redraw the map.
"Most people approach this music as flavour; they use Cuban percussion for their house tune. We're trying to see the larger picture. It's so interesting to be connected rather than just be a house producer in your own little town. You have to explore, and my life wouldn't be complete without this."email@example.com