Covering The Tracks: Auntie Flo & Esa present Highlife World Series: Cuba

Earlier this month, we brought you news of the Highlife World Series, a new three-part collaborative series from Huntleys & Palmers offshoot label Highlife. Presented by Auntie Flo and Esa, it features original songs from local musicians around the world. Kenya and Uganda will appear later this year, but first up is Cuba, the result of a two day recording session in Havana, while Esa and Brian (Auntie Flo) were playing at the inaugural Havana World Music Festival. Party inspired by Mala’s 2013 album Mala in Cuba, the EP has that distinct Huntleys & Palmers fusion of world music and western instrumentation that we can’t stop featuring on the site. With the EP out this week, we asked Brian and Esa to talk us through each track and bring to life the creative process. Check out words, photos as videos below.

Highlife World Series: Cuba is out now on Highlife. All proceeds from each release will be sent back to the respective countries to fund further musical creativity in the future. For any aspiring producers out there, check Esa’s website for more info on one-on-one tutorials with the man himself.

Auntie Flo feat. Eric Alejendro – Die Bailando

We turned up to the studio on the Tuesday morning not having a clue what or who to expect. But we got lucky – Eric, Yissy, Jorge and Julio are all super talented musicians and was amazing to be able to record with them. During the first day, we recorded percussion, keys and trumpets and some vocals with Eric doing an amazing duet with Shingai Shoniwa who was on tour with us. During the evening, I chopped up some of the recording and made a simple loop. The next day, Eric returned so i gave him my laptop and some headphones and asked him to think about some lyrics whilst we got on with recording other tracks from my new album. We were getting close to the end of the session as we were booked to make an appearance on Cuban Music Television in the afternoon. With 10 minutes left Eric said he had a vocal and we quickly set up a mic for him and hit record. The loop ran out after 6 mins so we recorded him again and were blown away by his vocal. The finished track is really raw (you can hear him asking if he should “sing with more expression” at one point) and the finished version is just recording one joined onto recording two.

Esa – Sabela De Cuba (Afro Synth Mix)

This track has been influenced not only by the Afro Cuban sounds from the Western African ancestry, and the early electroacoustic sounds of Juan Blanco (Laboratorio Nacional de Música Electroacústica), but also from my observation of the youth and how advanced they were in technology, music and culture, despite their current political situation. I had the pleasure to host a Production Workshop with a focus on Ableton Live and here is where I encounter some 50+ participants who eagerly attended and astounded me with their vast knowledge on various aspects of music production and technology. This Afro Synth Mix takes me back to my roots of South Africa and the sounds from the early to late 80s; how the traditional songs, sounds and technology were used and how this made for new and interesting music like Kwaito, Bubblegum and Afro House.

Esa – Vitrales

After having had the pleasure to experience the Laboratorio Nacional de Música Electroacústica I was able to obtain the archives of all Juan Blanco’s first pieces of music during some of our final conversations in Havana. He was the first Cuban composer to utilise electroacoustics, spatial music and multimedia, he also performed with Oscillators and Tape recorders. A few months after getting back to London, I managed to find the time to listen to these pieces of amazing music. I then prepared all the recordings done at the LNME and started experimenting with a Modular Synthesiser, Roland JX3P Synthesiser and a Tape Recorder. The result I ended up with was a 20min jam which I later shortened for release purposes. Vitrales is also the name of the first boutique hotel in Old Havana run by the amazing Usmani.

Auntie Flo – Mother Theresa

Theresa is the name of our interpreter and one of the managers of the LMNE, where we recorded. An amazing woman, she was a motherly figure and one of the highlights of the tour so felt fitting to name the track after her. These recordings were originally intended for a forthcoming single due out later this year but when back in the UK I discovered they sounded much better without the backing track to really let the musicality come out. Again, I wanted the recordings to keep that live raw studio feel so there is little treatment done, just a few extra bits added. The field recording was taken from outside our hotel in old town Havana and hope it gives you an insight into a proper Havana vibe.

Highlife World Series: Cuba is out now on Highlife. Juno has it on vinyl and the digital exclusive for this week, then it’s available in most digital outlets. 

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