A cuban vocal revolution…Sexto Sentido

When I first heard of Cuban artists LL&F_SextoSentido5Sexto Sentido, I had the impression most would get when looking at a photo of an all-
female singing group. I had expected to hear a band that was attempting to be Destiny’s Child, TLC, or any other similar R&B act. However, when giving their work a spin, I was blown away with what I had heard.

When listening to Sexto Sentido you’re met with rich harmonies, jazzy licks, and funky drums. Not to mention beautifully sung lyrics delivered perfectly in both English and Spanish. It’s apparent that these artists have something that’s hard to find in US or UK- based R&B groups and that’s a certain sense of sabor . They have this innate “Cuban-ness” that’s felt in their music. It’s a “swing” that’s subtle yet sets their music apart from the rest.

The group consists of Arlety Valdés, Yudelkis LaFuente, Eliene Castillo, and (new girl) Wendy Vizcaíno andre they are easily a force to be reckoned with. Imagine if Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, and Alicia Keys were born and raised in Cuba, and had been friends since 13 years old. Because that’s essentially the story of Sexto Sentido. The four friends (which included their original singer Melvis Estevez) met at one of Havana’s elite conservatoires that was designed to pick up emerging talent from a young age and nurture it no matter the child’s background. They formed their band soon after and became unstoppable, receiving numerous awards and being sent by the Government all over the world as well as working with legendary Cuban musicians such as Chucho Valdés.
Their work has been a large cultural success, often bringing in talent from other parts of the world. Their first album, “Bossa Cubana”, had a Russian producer and was supported by the Brazilian musician João Donato. It gave them their first hit (title track) and was a mix of international covers, as well as their own original pieces.

The second album “Mi Feeling” was rooted in Cuba’s indigenous jazz movement (‘fílin’) of the 60s and although it was a niche album, it was rated as one of the best jazz CDs in the USA that year (2008). The songs can still occasionally be heard on rotation in certain US markets.

The group has a particularly huge following in Copenhagen, and this is due to some unfortunate copyright issues they had during the release of “Mi Feeling”. The Cuban government-ownded record company the group worked with claimed ownership of their entire album, so they saw very little profit. Therefore the group went to Copenhagen to promote and produce their third album “The Way” (written completely by them) and to lalso look for opportunities to tour in Europe and take back control of their music.

I had the pleasure of speaking with member, Yudelkis LaFuente, as well as getting input from the other members as well. Due to Cuba’s unreliable Internet connection the interview was part conversation, and part email. Though, the group’s warm reception, tenacity to speak, and down-to-earth attitude just shows why they’ve been able to have a long-term and impressive career since the late 1990’s.

iSing: You all have been together since 1997, how has your style evolved and changed since then?
Sexto: I believe that working constantly through so many years has made us evolve a lot (keeping up with new trends). Besides that, we have had the luck to be able to perform and to record with many good musicians from all over the world and we have been able to sing different genres and styles, which has allowed us to grow as musicians, and to change our way of feeling and creating music. As a result I believe now we have a sound more solid, more authentic, and at the same time more universal.

iSing: I have read that you are striving to go for a more modern even electronic sound. You all have done well in fusing your Cuban heritage with various genres. How do you intend on going about this?
 That was our main intention when we recorded our last album “Noche de Brujas” (Witches Night), and I believe that, in a certain way we have achieved it. We needed more dancing and less complicated songs, for a younger audience, an audience that is mostly listening to reggeaton and electronic music in all its variants. At the moment, thanks to the video clip of “Baila Loco”, and the success of the video clip “Brujas”, there are people calling us “witches”, and that is because it is the most recent and surely the only thing they know of Sexto Sentido. I actually think that is positive!

iSing: In the video for “Canto a Eleggua”, you’re all sitting on the floor and singing, harmonizing and clapping. It’s a very intimate and intoxicating song. I can certainly see why people would equate it with witchcraft!
 That’s another we get a lot of positive reaction from!

iSing: If you had to choose three of your songs that you would say “defines” Sexto Sentido, what would they be? Let’s say you’re introducing someone to your work, which songs would you play them?
That is difficult to answer! There are many songs that I could say they have the sound that defines Sexto Sentido, but if I had to

choose three, they would be: “Canto a Elegguá”, “Eres feliz” and “Chisme”.

iSing: Those are all beautiful pieces! We’ll be sure to link our readers back to them! So, tell us what the group has planned for 2015. Any release or tours?
 We are about to take a long pause to prepare some individual projects.. Later, we are thinking of recording another CD, maybe acapella. Meanwhile we are working with a Cuban singer and composer (Luis Barbería) and we will be performing with him in Cuba next month.

iSing: As someone that’s been performing for over 20 years, can you give our readers any tips on vocal longevity? And how to keep your voice healthy over a long career? Would you say your vocal technique has evolved over the years to accommodate your busy career?
 I wouldn’t know just exactly how much my voice has evolved. I suppose it is normal that it sounds a little bit deeper than 10 years before, and I like that. But I think that the most important thing is how much we evolve in our minds and our heart in regards to the music and life in general—–that can certainly change our sound! Apart from that, I would always suggest plenty of rest and water!

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iSing Magazine is a digital publication dedicated to singers.