The band leader of The Sugar Kings talks about Cuban influences and the group’s upcoming trip to Doha.
Is this your first trip to Doha?
Actually it’s the band’s second! Randomly, we had a fleeting visit for a football friendly between Uruguay and Spain a few years ago.
Tell us a bit about yourself and the band…
We invoke the spirit of old Havana. The Sugar Kings Cuban quartet presents vintage mambo, guaracha, bolero and cha cha cha, with vocal harmonies, exciting rhythms and abounding Cuban sunshine. I play percussion and sing. I am from Havana, Cuba’s capital. It is a very vibrant, lively city with music on every corner. I specialise in Latin percussion and Afro-Cuban drumming, Cuban rumba and Afro-Cuban folkloric music. The legendary pianist, Jesus ‘Chucho’ Valdez of Irakere, lived a few doors away from my grandparents. He inspired my love of Cuban music and introduced me to amazing genres from all over the world.
Will much of the music be recognisable for the Doha crowd?
We may be singing in Spanish but traditional Cuban music is infectious and it’s easy to join in.
Are you expecting the Latin American crowd to come out in force?
I hope so! Latin Americans know how to have a good time. They love music and enjoy dancing.
Tell us about your involvement in British dramas and comedies.
The Hour starred big names like Dominic West and Ben Whishaw. I was asked to compose four songs for the show with my quartet. It was set in 1950s London and we shot the scenes in an underground dancing club in London’s Soho. Auf Wiedersehen Pet was a funny one. The episode I appeared in was set in a Cuban village. I recorded and played Cuban folkloric music featuring Batá drums and appeared on the show. I don’t think they’d ever heard anything like it before!
What does percussion bring to the table?
The heartbeat of every Cuban band is percussion. Many bands have three, four or five percussionists in the band, all playing interlocking polyrhythms that bring texture and colour to the music.
Many of your influences are Afro-Cuban. Can you tell us exactly what that means?
Like most Cubans, my heritage is from Spain and Africa. The influence of our African culture has been kept alive and strong through music (particularly drumming and singing) and has shaped Cuban music today.
Do you hope this is one of many journeys to Doha for The Sugar Kings?
I hope so. We want to keep sharing our music with you.
The Sugar Kings will be performing on September 30 and until October, 2 including a Cuban themed brunch at The Grill on October 2. For event info visit www.facebook.com/cocolattelondon/events. Grand Hyatt Doha, West Bay Lagoon (7021 8094).