Cuban Singer/Percussionist Brenda Navarrete’s Beautiful Solo Debut

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A bright new Cuban star has emerged on the world music scene, and she is a young singer/percussionist named Brenda Navarrete. Her sparkling new album Mi Mundo has just been released by the Canadian Alma Records label. A classically-trained percussionist from Havana, Navarrete grew up in a very musical environment and she counts among her influences a wide range of artists – from Coltrane, Ella, and Billie, to Boyz II Men and Take 6. The family record player also featured plenty of Celia Cruz, Beny Moré, and Celeste Mendoza.

Navarrete trained at the Amadeo Roldán Music Conservatory in Havana, where she studied symphonic and Cuban percussion as well as piano. In 2010, she won a national competition at Cuba’s prestigious Fiesta del Tambor, taking first prize in the batá drum category. She had learned Cuban batá, the folkloric two-headed drum used in Santeria rituals, mostly from hearing it from bands on the street (and I also suspect from listening to Los Papines and Los Muñequitos de Matanzas). And although she has a beautiful voice, precise intonation and phrasing, Navarrete confesses to having no formal vocal training at all.

Navarrete’s solo debut album Mi Mundo is beautifully arranged and recorded. She celebrates her spiritual inspiration with songs to the orishas Elegguá and Ochún. I love her version of the Juan Tizol/Duke Ellington standard “Caravan,” here called “Caravana,” which she rhymes with “Havana.” The gorgeous and oft-recorded Cuban lullaby “Drume Negrita” is perhaps my favorite song on the album, and the track highlights Navarette’s natural voice. The Cuban musical cast includes drummers Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, Rodney Barreto, José Carlos, pianists Roberto Carcassés, Rolando Luna and Leonardo Ledesman, bassist Alain Perez, trombonist Eduardo Sandoval, and Adonis Panter on Quinto drums.

I read that Navarette has previously performed in Canada (not surprising as Canada has a much more open policy towards Cuban artists) and the U.S. Given the current political climate, I hope that she will have a chance to tour the U.S. again and gain a wider and much-deserved audience here.

Here she is performing a guaguancó rumba and other numbers at a club gig in Havana:

Banner image of Brenda Navarrete courtesy of Alma Records