By Helson Hernandez
HAVANA TIMES, May 23 — The Cuban female vocal group Sexto Sentido came together in 1997. The quartet has a strong jazz and rhythm and blues sound with a Brazilian influence as well as from its Cuban roots. We interviewed Yudelkis La Fuente, the director and lead singer.
HT: Do you have musical forerunners in your family?
YLF: My parents are musicians. My mother studied choral direction at the National School of Art, and back in her day she was a singer with a very important quartet: Tema 4. She was also a founding member of the group Synthesis and a member of Pedro Luis Ferrer’s group. My mother has a track record of tremendous experience from which I was influenced and became sure of my interest in vocal work. In the case of my father, he is a bassist, though he’s no longer working in that profession. He too worked with Synthesis and with Pedro Luis Ferrer’s group.
HT: In your musical training, what is your exact specialty?
YLF: I studied piano at the elementary and intermediate levels. The members of Sexto Sentido met each other at the Manuel Saumel Music Academy when we were studying together there. Arlety studied violin, while Eliene and Melbis were also specializing in piano. We met and began to sing together as a hobby, to entertain ourselves a little bit, but this gradually became more serious up to 1997, when we founded Sexto Sentido. From then on we continued working together doing jazz, bossa nova and many other forms. This year will mark the fourteenth year that we’ve been a group.
HT: Who are currently the four members of Sexto Sentido.
YLF: Well, at the moment there’s Arlety Valdes, Eliene Castillo; Wendy Vizcaino, who’s a new member; and me, Yudelkis La Fuente.
HT: And if you were to define the responsibilities within the quartet, how would you say the work is organized?
YLF: Well, I’ve been responsible for general direction for some time now. Arlety does the musical direction, occupying herself a little more with the songs, the arrangements and directing the rehearsals. In the case of Eliene, she has always been in charge of our performances, the choreographies. As for Wendy, she’s getting accustomed to our rhythm of work and learning our repertoire, but she’ll being taking on her full role shortly.
HT: And from the vocal point of view, do you each have your own spaces when it comes to distributing the vocal roles?
YLF: I generally act as the lead singer, that’s to say I sing with the highest voice. Arlety almost always has the lowest voice, while Wendy and Eliene exchange voices in the center because the fact is we don’t have a true contralto or a mezzo. Keeping in mind the group that we possess and the registers we each have, we’re continuing to develop our musical aim.
HT: But I’ve noticed that in this latest stage of Sexto Sentido, all of you take leading roles in some songs.
YLF: Yes that’s true. In fact we’ve been trying for it to be like that for some time, because the public itself had requested that from us. We almost always sang in unison all the time, but people wanted to hear our individual voices. Now, on this third disk, the same as with the previous one, “Mi Feeling,” we’re trying to have each one of us playing their own role. More and more we’re breaking from the strickly quartet concept and highlighting the soloist work a little.
HT: When did the new member join Sexto Sentido?
YLF: Wendy has been with us for a year, though she had already stood in with the group for six months in 2007. Previously we auditioned a number of very good singers, but of all those who presented themselves she was the one who most resembled the style and interests of Sexto Sentido. After seeing that she could deal with the rigor of our work, we decided to call her back again when Melbis left the group permanently.
HT: After so many years of projecting an image at a group, undoubtedly it was significant to leave behind one of your members and incorporate a new face and voice. Do you consider that Melbis’ departure could have future consequence for the artistic work of Sexto Sentido?
YLF: Well, we always prioritize is the artistic part not being affected at any moment, and I believe this was achieved. When choosing Wendy we found someone with the same tastes. Though she’s younger than the rest of the members, we have the same musical vision, even the same way of singing. Wendy has a voice that’s capable of binding with ours.
What we tried to look for, in addition to the image, because that’s also important, was not to affect the sonority. If there had to be some change that be for the better, and I believe that it was, as I told you before, this was accomplished, so it’s been worth it.
Especially when we sing live, when the public hears our voices, up to now no one has told us that there’s any difference that tarnishes the sonority or the projection of Sexto Sentido. Also, the artistic part is flowing well. That was the other aspect we were worried about when making a change like that.
HT: Is there some specific place in Havana where people can see Sexto Sentido perform live, some regular venue?
YLF: Well yes, we have regular performances at the Ambos Mundos Hotel every Saturday at 7:00 in the evening. We’re there in the Monte room on the second floor, where they also have interesting art exhibits at the same time. This hotel is located in the centrally located Obispo Street in the historic district of Old Havana. Their telephone number is 860-9529. We’re always there, expect when we’re on an international tour.
HT: The Cuban composer Decemer Bueno, who is very much in fashion these days in Cuban music, has had a remarkable influence on your repertoire.
YLF: We’ve been very close to Decemer for several years. Even when we were beginning he helped us a lot, especially in the musical part we were able to learn some very valuable things from him. He’s an excellent composer and is always backing us. He liked the work of the group, so he gave us songs that have come to define the sonority of Sexto Sentido to a large degree, ones like No te vayas and En tu voz. We’re grateful because of that. We also composed songs together. His imprint has been really important.
HT: Yudelkis, in 2012 you will celebrate 15 years of work. Is that a date to keep in mind?
YLF: Yes, we want to give a big concert, with lots of guests. Something ambitious that we want to do is something that summarizes this whole period of Sexto Sentido’s existence. We’ll try to celebrate without leaving out any stage. We want to highlight the most significant moments in our development, and we’re also thinking about using it to make a new CD.
HT: Speaking of disks, your first production was with a Russian producer.
YLF: True, that disk was recorded here on the island at Abdala Studios, but it was thanks to a Russian producer. It was our first recording experience and we included songs from the United States, Brazil, Cuba…classic songs. Though we weren’t completely satisfied, we always remember it with love for being our first confrontation with the recording world.
The second disk was “Mi Feeling,” a very beautiful work in which there is much more maturity. We were also directed by the maestro and excellent musician Joaquin Betancourt, who brought out the best in us in that production. With that CD we won an award at the annual Cubadisco competition after being nominated in the cancionistica category.
HT: What can you tell us about the new production, because the song “Guajiro” from that disk is being aired a lot?
YLF: “Guajiro,” also by Decemer Bueno, has turned out to be a hit, perhaps owing to that mixture of sucu sucu and the music video that reinforced its success. It’s an excellent video created by director Alejandro Perez. I can tell people that “Guajiro” is the most different piece on this new disk because otherwise it’s made up completely of our own songs. That contrasts to the other productions, which means that we’re now bringing our creative restlessness out into the light.
This disk is titled The Way. It has a mixture of songs in English and Spanish because it’s also taking into account the international market. “Guajiro” is the song that moves away from all that. It’s the one that brings us closest to our origins, to “Cubaness.” All of the other songs show a very clear influence of jazz and rhythm and blues. I think they’re our songs, and if the public likes them then an award is waiting for us.
HT: I understand that this CD was produced independently?
YLF: Exactly, with the production assistance and aid of a German friend. It was made independently without any record company acting as an intermediary. Now our job is to try to distribute it as widely as we can as if we were a record label, something that’s quite complicated. But anyway, I think that with the help of the Biss Music label we can distribute it all across Cuba and abroad. We already have some offers to issue the disk and to also put it out on the Internet. So I’m sure that something will come out of this work.
HT: Before concluding the interview, you said you wanted to take the opportunity afforded by our web site to help a friend who’s trying to find her father. So now I’ll give you that chance. Perhaps some reader will turn out to be an important contact for this.
YLF: Yes, and I thank you very much. She’s a German friend who has spent many years looking for her father in Cuba. She doesn’t know him of course, only his name, Nelson Puente. Her mother told her that he must be 47 years old and worked at some time at the Tinima brewery in Camaguey Province. I suppose that because of this he’s a professional brewer, and that was also why he was in Dresden, Germany, in 1984.
She would very much like to meet her father and the rest of her Cuban family. If anyone has some information they can contact me through this web site (Havana Times) or access the site of Sexto Sentido group on the Internet at: www.myspace.com/sextosentidocuba