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Sexto Sentido: A vocal quartet with a
Arlety Valdés, Yudelkis Lafuente, Eliene Castillo and Melvis Estévez make up the famous Cuban vocal quartet Sexto Sentido. They've been a hit over the past few years on the island and appeared on the most popular radio, TV and theater shows in Cuba and on other international stages. I caught up with them at the renowned Jazz Café in Havana's Vedado neighborhood and spoke with Melvis about the group's music, history, recordings and much more. Up next, my interview with Melvis Estévez.

How would you describe or qualify your music and your way of singing? Experts say that you mix different rhythms, different genders...

"Actually yes, we mix different rhythms, but I think it has more influence from jazz, we have a lot of influence from jazz, even from blues. We started doing rhythm and blues. The first year of our group we began composing, arranging and writing our own songs and it was in the rhythm and blues style.

"We wanted people to know what we did, because it was very local, at school, just teachers knew about us. And then we had the chance of participating in a competition for young students, named Jojazz. That was in 2001, and then we had to change our repertory and make it more jazzy, so we like it very much. Actually we won the first prize of that Jojazz, and then we started introducing jazz elements in our music. We also mix it with Cuban rhythms, since we are Cubans we cannot forget our roots, so we make a kind of mix of jazz, rhythm and blues and Cuban rhythms."

How much did you like your first CD Bossa Cubana in 2002-2003? I understand that it was the CD and the video clip that made you famous.

"Well, I like it very much. We are not satisfied; we think we are never satisfied with our work. It was very difficult for us to accept it at first because the producer was a Russian guy named Vartan Tonoian who already had his design of what he wanted us to sing, and we were not used to work like that. We create our own songs, we write them, we arrange them, and this guy just came and said: 'I want your voices and your way of arranging music, and then these are the songs you are going to sing. I just want you to make it different'.

"That was a big shock for us but then we did it and we liked it the way it was while we were making the musical arrangements. And I think in the end it was a nice work."

Can you tell me about the songs that the album included?

"His interest was to make well known songs internationally, to show people how different versions of well known songs sounded in the voices of Cuban musicians. That's why he chose from Stevie Wonder "The Secret Life of Lands," from the Beatles "Come Together" and also Cesar Portillo de la Luz, because he is Cuban, so he chose "Es Nuestra Cancion," and also Brazilian rhythms. He wanted to show how we could sing and arrange different styles."

What has happened since Bossa Cubana in terms of recordings, tours, performances?

"Well, the first year after Bossa Cubana was recorded was very successful for Sexto Sentido. We went to Moscow and we also performed at the Chaikovsky Conservatory, so we had the chance to exchange with different audiences. It was very, very successful for Sexto Sentido, because different kinds of audiences liked our work very much, and they even asked us to come back.

"In the second year, we didn't travel much. We didn't tour a lot, but then we participated in a Festival which was named Rio-Habana-New York, also in Moscow. And then we went to Mexico, to Germany, for a cultural exchange with a German university in Hale de Sale. And I think it was a nice time for Bossa Cubana, but then we started new projects, and we went to other places."

Well, you recently won the Cuba Disco Prize, the most important Cuban recording industry award, with the album "My Feeling." Why "My Feeling?" Is it a tribute?

"Yes, actually it's a tribute to all the composers and in general to that gender known as 'feeling' -- very famous in Cuba in the fifties. And we decided to do it because we thought that we owed it to those composers, because we didn't have the chance to participate, to be part of those beautiful years or generations when beautiful and exceptional songs were written and sung and performed by excellent artists and musicians.

"We were born a few generations later, but we still felt the soul of those songs. We wanted to pay our own tribute to that time. So that's why we selected the repertory, we chose beautiful songs. We know that a lot were left out, we did what we could just in one CD."

And more or less, what composers and what tunes did you include in that CD?

"We chose, more or less, the best known songs and composers, but we also wanted to show people other songs, not what everybody knows, because it's already done. So we chose René Tozuet, Marta Valdes, Vicente Garrido, who is not Cuban but was a very great composer of 'feeling', also Decemer Bueno, who is a young composer, but he is very close to'feeling'. He has beautiful songs."

And now about your name, Sexto Sentido, "Sixth Sense". Why Sixth Sense?

"Well, it's a funny story, because people think that we really looked for it very meticulously, but we didn't. Actually it was selected by chance. We were fifteen years old and we were practicing in a room at our school as we usually did, just doing something. One of us was playing the piano, another was singing, another was writing. That's the environment always surrounding us. And one of our closest friends whose name is Eric Labaut Lay, which is, by the way, grandson of Rafael Lay, he was just sitting there and said: 'Why don't you call your group Sexto Sentido?'. He was fourteen years old, maybe fifteen, and I think it just came to his mind.

"Afterwards, it started making sense. We said: 'Yes, yes, Sexto Sentido -- because of this, because of that'. And I think it's a very sophisticated name and it matches quite well with what we do. So that's the real story of Sexto Sentido."

Is there any tune that you like most in your repertory that you remember more dearly?

"I actually love all we do. I am a fanatic of Sexto Sentido. I shouldn't say this, but I do. I think that's the main reason why we have been together more than ten years, because we like very much what we do. We also admire the work of other artists, other singers and arts in general. We like it very much, we like to share it, but we find our music special because we do it very sincerely. We really give what we feel. And we communicate very well; that's why, we like it and we are still together."

And in your opinion what makes Sexto Sentido different from Cuban quartets?

"Maybe it's time. I think we are lucky to have been born after big famous quartets; I mean, big in terms of great. You see, great quartets already have their history in the Cuban music. At first, we didn't know about them. That's the truth, we didn't know about Zafiros, we didn't know about Las D'Aida, because we were young and the first music we were listening to was modern music. At that time it was Boyz II Men, actually American music singers. That's what we were hearing at that time and we wanted to sing like them, because we like very much the harmonies, the voicing, everything was so perfect. And we were surprised with those human voices. That was the main reason that made us form the group.

"Actually I can tell you the name of the group which inspired us. It was Take Six. When we were twelve years old, Arlety said to me: 'Listen to this'. And my life changed, our lives changed. We said: 'We have to do something like that'. And we were very close and we started searching, looking, finding melodies. We didn't want to copy them, because we had other ideas.

"We were very young, and we wanted to create and to make something like them, but not to sound as them. So, later, when we grew up a little, we found that in Cuba we also have a lot of musical treasure and we have a history in quartets. So, then we found and introduced elements and we found the differences. I mean, because it's true that the vocal music of the United States, the Black music, as some call it, is very rich, it has a lot of power, and the singers, musicians and performers are exceptional. But they cannot play with rhythm as we Cubans can. That's why, when we were more mature, then we searched and looked and found our own style."

Source: By Damián Donéstevez, Radio Habana Cuba

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