By Maya Quiroga
HAVANA TIMES — Four years ago, she traded the heat of the tropics for the icy temperatures of Switzerland. Her name is Susana Orta Lopez and she is the lead singer of Siga Volando (“Keep On Flying”), a band treating the European country to Cuban and Latin American rhythms through traditional Cuban charanga.
The young artist, an art instruction graduate of Cuba’s Enrique Jose Varona Institute who completed mid-level singing studies, had the privilege of being a member of the band Novel Voz for 15 years.
Today, she is visiting Havana, where her Swiss band is recording a new album with Cuba’s EGREM label, with Cuban musician Alejandro Mayor as producer.
HT: Back when you were a member of Novel Voz, were you interested in singing salsa music?
Susana Orta Lopez: They’d called me before to sing salsa in Cuba and I never accepted because I wasn’t interested, but I have sung salsa in Switzerland and now I sing fusion. Our band, Siga Volando, has a broad repertoire, because we combine other genes with the traditional Cuban charanga format. I’ve been in other bands, but Siga Volando was the first I started singing in and I’m still there.
HT: What’s it like to sing Latin American pieces in different languages?
SOL: I usually sing in Spanish, though I’ve sung in English and Portuguese with Novel Voz. There are a few numbers in English on the album we are now recording, and the director of Siga Volando, Claude Montandon, has asked me to sing in French, which I do very poorly.
The Swiss are a very peculiar type of European audience; they take in art very passively, without much emotion. I’ve had the fortune of being well received, and I’m happy with that.
I’ve come across Swiss people who dance better than Cubans. There are many dance academies in the country. They are interested in and like Cuban music. They come to the island to take music lessons and then play our music back home.
HT: What is this new album you’re recording in Cuba like?
SOL: The pieces are highly varied. We’d never recorded an album this way before, all of us performing together in a single take. This demands a lot of energy from me, but everything is coming out very well. We’re recording in an old studio that has very special acoustics and much history.
The album combines yesterday’s Cuba with today’s Switzerland. In the album, I sing two pieces written by Cuban musician Alina Torres. They are titled Unle and Madame Caridad. The latter is dedicated to Cuba’s Lady of Charity.
HT: What other projects are you currently working on?
SOL: I recently performed as part of a trio called “Suana O.” The trio was made up by pianist Lucien Behrens and percussionist Jean Baptiste Baldazza. We’ve already put together a repertoire. It has nothing to do with salsa. It’s closer to Afro-Cuban music, arranged and composed using a number of Cuban genres that aren’t usually combined with that music genre, but they sound good when they’re combined. We’ve had two concerts already. We set up a webpage and are taking the first steps.
HT: How do you feel when you sing in Cuba?
SOL: I always enjoy singing in Cuba, because I was born and raised here and I still feel my country’s energy. I came last year with the Swiss project Nolose. Now I’ve come to record an album with Siga Volando. It’s always very satisfying to sing in Cuba. Audiences always give me a warm reception.
(Photos courtesy of the interviewee)