Cuba, the tropical isle of mystery – cigars, salsa dancing, sunshine, and communism. In January 2010, the New York-based artist, Dub Sonata, travelled down to the island in search of records to sample and tracks to mix that would get the body moving and mind ticking.
LIS: How did you get to Cuba?
Dub Sonata: Swam
LIS: How long were you there?
Dub Sonata: 8 days
LIS: Where did you stay while you were there?
Dub Sonata: In peoples’ houses mostly. “Casas particulares” is what they call them. My boy, Carlos, from Havana Centro, a great conguero (conga player) we met – his family took care of us. Went to Matanzas for couple days, too. The people in Cuba are mad nice and for the most part took us into their homes without question.
LIS: Did you have any intentions, hopes, or goals before you arrived?
Dub Sonata: To see a lot of live music and dig up some records.
LIS: Do you have any new hopes or goals after spending time there?
Dub Sonata: I hope that the U.S. lifts the embargo* against Cuba. I hope next time I travel there it won’t be illegally.
LIS: So, tell me about the actual production of the CD.
Dub Sonata: All of the songs are based on samples I took from the Cuban records I got down there. I ran all the source records through an MPC2000xl and after that process was done, I started bringing musicians into the studio. One by one, they brought the project to life. Upright bass, flute, trumpet, alto sax, grand piano, various percussion. I did all the synth stuff on my Miko. Everything was recorded into Pro-Tools 7 LE and mixed in Pro-Tools 8 HD.
LIS: How did you get the samples?
Dub Sonata: Well, the records – I got some of them from Carlos’ family as a gift and the rest from this random store that had a decent collection of records in the back. In total, I got about eighty LP’s and forty 45’s. Half of them were Russian or Japanese imports of mostly American and British music. The other half was music from Cuba, and those are the records I used as sources for samples.
LIS: I really liked Track 7, “Chess.” Did certain samples resonate with you, your own experiences or of those close to you? If so, please explain.
Dub Sonata: Thank you. I had been seeing this group playing chess every day a couple blocks from where I was staying, so the last night I was there I walked over to them and asked if anyone wanted to play me. It was getting late and nobody wanted to play anymore. Then this dude, named Manolo, came outside and was like, “Bien.” At first, he looked at me like he didn’t respect me, as if he just felt like beating somebody at chess. He and his boys were talking some shit in Spanish, which I’m not exactly fluent in. They were trying to mess with my nerves and fuck up my concentration. I lost my train of thought a couple times trying to interpret what they were saying, and because of this, I made some moves without thinking them out. No excuses, though. After an hour or so, he beat me. It was the first time I had lost in like 3 years, no joke. I play almost every day, too.
By the end of the game, he had respect for me, because I could play. He wasn’t expecting that competition. So, that song represents the battle that went down that day. The battle was lost, but the war was not over, and it never is. Naturally, I had to go to The Fugees for the Lauryn Hill line, “I play my enemies like a game of chess…” Shout out to my boy Scram Jones who did all the scratches on the album, and shout out to Manolo, too!
LIS: What musicians did you work with on Nights in Cuba?
Dub Sonata: Brenden Tacon did all the percussion, John Feliciano handled the upright and electric bass, and Duncan Hardy played all the sax and flute. Those three were actually studying under Arturo O’Farrill at the time, which was great since they were all very familiar with Cuban styles. Ryan Gardner added the trumpet lines and Christopher Burke played piano on five songs, including the intro. Scram Jones did all the scratches. My boy Greg “G-Perl” Perlman played the drums on “Los Muertos,” and Abram Kaplan played the guitar on the outro.
LIS: Where did you record with them?
Dub Sonata: Everything was recorded in my studio at The Mes Hall in Mt. Vernon, NY.
LIS: So, what’s next for you? Do you have any new projects you’re working on?
Dub Sonata: I am going to release a Nights In Morocco record soon. The music is done, I am just trying to situate it properly. Aside from that I am working on an album with Double A.B., called “Kush Groove,” which is our best material yet, hands down. I did a bunch of songs with Vordul of Can Ox recently. I also just released an EP with The Aztext last Tuesday, the fourth installment of their “Who Cares If We’re Dope” series on Elevated Press Records. It is dope, but who cares?
*Author’s Note: For five decades, the United States has implemented an economic embargo on Cuba. Embargoes, also referred to as “sanctions,” are a tactic used by one or more nations to force change in another nation’s policies. In reality, embargoes often hurt the weakest people in a nation, the children, elderly, and the poor, and they usually have little tangible effect on those in power. It’s been fifty years of the U.S. embargo against Cuba, and clearly, it’s intentions are not being met. Travel restrictions, relaxed under President Clinton, were tightened heavily under President G.W. Bush, and recently, President Obama has lessened restrictions. Some journalists, students, and other citizens willing to spend between $2,000-$4,000 for a guided week with government approved tour companies may now legally enjoy the island of the unknown. Does the tour stop at Guantanamo Bay, I wonder?…
On September 13th of this year, Obama renewed the embargo act, aptly named “Trading With The Enemy Act,” for a year. This renewal is a standard annual presidential practice. Obama supported his decision with the fact that Cuba “certainly [has] not been aggressive enough when it comes to liberating political prisoners and giving people the opportunity to speak their minds.” Barack ‘ole boy…sweet irony shall unfold for you, as the American public focuses more and more on the question of free media and free speech here in the land of the free.
** Dub Sonata’s Nights In Cuba can be purchased on iTunes. Check out his website at www.dubsonata.com