Toronto-based Afro-Cuban jazz fusion ensemble, OKAN, today share their bold single, “Mercedes” featuring Cuban lyricist, Telmary Diaz. Following the title track, “Mercedes“is the second single released from the group’s forthcoming second full-length album, Espiral, due out October 9th via Lulaworld Records. Listen HERE.
Featuring Cuban rapper Telmary Diaz, pianist Hilario Duran, and trumpet-player Alexis Baro, “Mercedes” includes elements from a genre called Pilón; a rhythm that is native to, but seldom played in Cuba today. OKAN want to help preserve this near-extinct sound, which came to life in the ’50s and ’60s, taking rhythm cues from the motions of workers pounding sugarcane and coffee beans. The narrative of the song is painted with double entendres; it’s a story about Mercedes, a beautiful Cuban woman who trades favors to different people. It describes a very realistic picture of the struggles Cuban people face today, and the Cuban way of discussing these topics with a dark sense of humor.
Taking their name from the word for “heart” in the Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria, the all-female ensemble are led by Grammy-nominated, classically trained violinist Elizabeth Rodriguez and Grammy-nominated, orchestrally trained percussionist, Magdelys Savigne. Together, they compose moving, unique pieces that cross histories and geographies, fusing Afro-Cuban lineages with jazz, folk and global rhythms.
Throughout their upcoming sophomore album, Espiral, Elizabeth and Magdelys explore genres as diverse as Danzon, Samba, Merengue, cover the Bolero great ‘La Lupe,’ tackle Mexican pianist Conseulo Velazquez’s ‘Bésame Mucho’ and impart stories of immigration, courage, and love, all while absorbing and reflecting back the influences of their adopted hometown, the multicultural melting pot of Toronto. The album also features contributions by leading Canadian Cuban artists Telmary Diaz, Miguel de Armas, Hilario Duran, Roberto Riveron, Alexis Baro, Frank Martinez and Pablosky Rosales. “Águila” stands out as highlight, a track devoted to the strength of women who make sacrifices to better their families. Written for Elizabeth’s Aunt, who had to leave her husband and daughter in Cuba while she immigrated to the U.S., the piece moves from sorrow to rediscovered strength rooted in family, faith and tradition.
Known for their memorable and energetic live shows across Canada and the world, the ensemble has been invited to play at the SF Jazz Festival, India’s Jaipur Jazz and Blues Festival, New Mexico Jazz Festival, Toronto Jazz, among others, as well as make live appearances with Polaris Prize winner Lido Pimienta, Colombian electro-cumbia stars Bomba Estero and more.
“Mercedes” by OKAN is out now, buy/stream it here.