Putting out a 'Havana Cultura' compilation in 2009, before curating Mala's 'In Cuba' project for his Brownswood label last year, Gilles Peterson's love affair with the largest Caribbean island state is no secret.
“Where Jamaica is very well-known for reggae, Cuba is well-known for practically every Latin rhythm you can think of,” explains Gilles. “It goes back to the fact of Africa coming into Cuba, just like it had an effect on Brazilian music, coming through the slaves and indigenous music, and that's where fundamentally the rhythms, the patterns were created and they've been augmented into music ever since.”
Tracing its influence back to the dispersion of Cuban rhythms into the funk and disco emerging in New York during the '60s and '70s, it's not just the essence of this fruitful music scene that's so important to dance music heritage, but its potential too. The Mala project brought to light traditional Latino sounds and their compatibility with bass-influenced electronic styles, and other artists like Fango have since experimented in a similar way.
Vocalists like Janet Suarez are among some of the best Gilles has worked with, he says, while bands and collectives such as Ogguere and Obsesión continue to cultivate the funky seeds sown by a band like Irakere in the '70s. The next step, then, is to spot unchecked talent (via a remix competition run on havanaculturamix.com) to create music alongside Gilles and a selection of Cuba's finest musicians over a 10-day period in Cuba's capital city, Havana. With Gilles on the panel, on a project backed by arguably Cuba's favourite export, Havana Club Cultura Mix is the latest ambitious venture into world music for the 6music man, so we asked him to tell us a bit about his world...
Remember the first time you went to a club? Tell us about it...
“It would have been going to the Caister Soul Weekender when I was 16. Going to King's Lynn on a train as part of my soul crew called the Sutton Soul Patrol, and so that was back in the day. Would've been 1979. I remember DJs like Bob Jones, still going strong, being there and playing heavy jazz records and people like Chris Hill, used to call him the 'Godfather of the British soul scene', and he was playing boogie and disco music, and people used to dance in a good way, it was a good time. Great period to be young and living in England.”
What is the most crucial record of all-time?
“Probably 'Echo Beach' by Martha and the Muffins. Why? Dunno (laughs). I was really into punk and jazz and that seemed to fit in the middle.”
Three tunes that never leave your bag, USB or whatever you use to DJ at the moment?
“I would say... 'Mirror Maru' by Cashmere Cat, 'Open Your Heart' by the Bar-Kays and Airto 'Xibaba'.”
What do you use to DJ?
“I use all formats.”
What's your lights up, end-of-the-night tune? And why?
“Recently it has been 'Night and Day' by Ella Fitzgerald, because the girls look great with the lights on at 5am dancing to Ella Fitzgerald.”
If you could meet anyone — alive or dead — who would it be?
“Sun Ra, especially as it's his 100th birthday this year.”
Imagine the world is going to end tomorrow. What are you gonna do tonight?
“I would go to Milton Keynes and see Zara McFarlane live.”
Three words to describe clubbing in the year 3000...
“Don't go Ibiza.”