Photo credit Lara Merrington

The HAVANA MEETS KINGSTON 15 piece Super Group will make their debut live appearances in Australia and New Zealand in March 2018. Playing dates at WOMADelaide, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and WOMAD NZ.

A live sound clash with a difference, bringing roots reggae, dub and dancehall together with son, salsa and rumba The HAVANA MEETS KINGSTON band boasts a world-class lineup of musicians: the legendary rhythm section of SLY & ROBBIE (JA) and Band Leader MISTA SAVONA – Keys (AU), are joined by BARBARITO TORRES – Tres/Laud (CU)and ROLANDO LUNA – Piano (CU) from the Buena Vista Social Club, JULITO PADRON from Irakere – Trumpets/Vocals (CU), YAROLDY ABREU from Chucho Valdes – Percussion (CU), RANDY VALENTINE – Vocals (JA/UK), BRENDA NAVARETTE – Vocals/Percussion (CU), SOLIS – Vocals (CU), BOPEE from Inna de Yard – Guitar (JA), OLIVER VALDES – Percussion (CU) and a supporting Australian Horn section.

Tomatrax caught up with Mista Savona, the mastermind behind the album, to ask a few questions.

The album pairs paired legendary and emerging Cuban and Jamaican musicians to re-imagine classic songs and create new compositions, how did this collaboration come about?

I had traveled many times to Jamaica, but this was my first trip to Cuba (back in 2014). I was sitting in a cafe in Havana in Cuba, a great place called Chanchurello. They were playing a CD of rumba music (tradition Cuban music), mainly percussion based. I was daydreaming and imagining how the sounds of Nyabinghi drums from Jamaica would sound mixed with the rumba. I realised it would be very special to mix the two styles, and wondered if it had ever been done before. When I returned to Australia I did some research, and realised there had never been a project bringing Jamaican musicians into Cuba (or vice versa). So I started to think how it could be done.

The music mixes with Jamaican reggae and dance-hall with traditional Cuban and Afro-Cuban rhythms, was it hard to get the different sounds and styles to work together?

A focus was on bringing Jamaican sound system culture together with Afro-Cuban jazz and rhythmic influences. Think rolling baselines and virtuosic percussion, piano and horns. Although the islands have different languages, musical aesthetics and traditions, the fusion works amazingly well. This is a heavy sound on the record and actually works easily & beautifully. Check the first single ‘Carnival’ and the B-side ‘Carnival Horns’ for a taste! I also wanted to focus on their sublime musicianship – these guys are real masters. This album is all about the performances, and less on the post-production which I’ve kept as simple and natural as possible. You could argue that contemporary music is becoming increasingly sterile, with the focus in pretty much all genres now on post-production and auto-tuned (synthesised) vocal performances, which I believe actually stifle & repress deeper human expression. For me music should be about uplifting people, not brainwashing them.

The band has 15 members, is it hard to manage a band with so many people involved?

These guys are all legends and there is a huge amount of respect between members. It’s a massive project and tour, but luckily I have a great team doing all the hard organisational stuff. My focus is on the music.

You previously put out the album Melbourne meets Kingston, how did this combining these styles compare with your current work?

Without even realising it, my 2004 album ‘Melbourne Meets Kingston’ was definitely the ‘Havana Meets Kingston’ younger brother (by about ten years). It gave me the confidence to record and travel and work with musicians all over the world. This new project fusing Jamaican and Cuban musical styles is far more ambitious though, and is my favourite endevour to date.

Are you planning on any other musical/city collaborations of this nature?

Yes! I have some amazing ideas, but they’re on the down low for now.

You’re about to take your band around Australia and New Zealand, what can fans expect from your show?

Full power! The band is made up of absolute legends – the rhythm section from Jamaica is Sly & Robbie, we have Barbarito Toerres (Laud) and Roldando Luna (piano) both from Buena Vista Social Club. Add a heavy percussion section of Yaroldy Abreu (Irakere), Oliver Valdes (Interactivo) and Brenda Navarette (also an amazing singer and rapper), as well as the beautiful trumpet of Julito Padron (Havana Cultura), guitar of Bopee (Inna De Yard) and vocals from Solis, Randy Valentine and Brenda…plus some dancers from Havana…trust me, this show is going to be like nothing else on Earth.

You’ve appeared on releases from artists such as TZU and Diafrix, how does making a guest appearance compare with making your own record?

I love collaboration the most. It brings new things out of people. Anyway, all my projects are about collaboration! I’m not interested in solo bedroom producing…

Do you ever listen to your own music?

Absolutely. I’m a DJ too, and if my own music doesn’t rock a crowd then I know it still needs work. Thankfully I’m at a level now in which I can really enjoy hearing my own songs, even after 10,000 edits in a studio.

What other music do you listen to?

Everything from jazz, blues, world and electronic styles, particularly bass orientated.

What do you have planned after this upcoming tour?

It’s a massive Australian tour in March, followed by a trip to Cuba and Japan and then a full scale Europe tour. Can’t wait! As well as the first album ‘Havana Meets Kingston’ being released later this year, we have a film planned for 2018 alongside the release of the second album. So much good music to come!