Alexander Abreu and Havana D’ Primera “Haciendo Historia”

Album Tracks:

  1. 1 Resumen de los 90 
  2. Confiesale 
  3. Cuando El Rio Suena 
  4. Despues de Un Beso 
  5. Las Cosas De Un Amigo 
  6. Mi Musica 
  7. Nina Bonita 
  8. Oni Oni 
  9. Vivencias 
  10. Historia Verdadera 
  11. Que Buscas 

Haciendo Historia marks the first major U.S. release by a new cuban dance band in 10 years and the revival of TIMBA. Led by the multi-taleneted Alexander Abreu, Habana d Primera is an ensemble of the most sought out studio musicians in Cuba who played with the top bands during the dance music explosion of the 1990’s. They are undisputedly the most popular dance band in Cuba today with the highest audience draws in the island. The musical elements in this CD range from straight-up salsa and timba to son, pilon, funk and jazz. Haciendo Historia will definitely have you dancing with its fresh and infectious sound.

Band Bio
Alexander Abreu & Havana D’Primera: Crusaders for Cuban Music


For more than two decades, Alexander Abreu has nurtured a behind-the-scenes reputation as one of the most
sought-after studio musicians in Cuba. Today, he has
finally stepped into the spotlight as a bandleader on a
mission: To rescue Cuban dance music and recapture the
thrilling energy from its modern heyday during the 1990s.
Three years ago, Abreu pulled together an ensemble of
seasoned musicians who had played with some of the best
bands of that exciting era, a golden age of contemporary
Cuban salsa and timba. Concerned about the decline of
Afro-Cuban dance music on its own home turf, Abreu
decided to pick up the standard once carried around the
globe by the very bands he had played with, such as Paulito
FG y Su Elite and Isaac Delgado.

“I feel like one of the great crusaders of Cuban
music,” said the husky-voiced bandleader in a recent
interview (*) published on Timba.com, a Cuban music
website. “Because what is happening with Havana
D’Primera is basically the recovery of music from the
1990s, a great period for music here in Cuba that had been
lost to some degree.”

Abreu formed Havana D’Primera as a collective of
musicians who shared his top-tier experience and his sense
of urgency for music that they consider an art form and a
cultural legacy. They had all matured during the decade of
dominance of the great Cuban dance bands that had been
their training grounds. Since 2000, however, many of the
leading figures in the genre had left the island, including
Manolin, Isaac Delgado and Carlos Manuel, all of whom
were Abreu’s colleagues and collaborators. Meanwhile,
young fans on the island flocked to foreign pop music
styles such as rock, rap and reggaeton, leaving the legacy of
Cuba’s rich native dance music to languish.

For Abreu and his new band, the challenge of sparking
a revival was daunting. No new dance band had managed
to break into the top ranks of popular music acts since the
turn of the century, when Cesar Pedroso broke away form
Los Van Van and formed his own band, Pupy y Los Que
Son, Son. Record labels, radio stations and nightclubs all
catered to the latest craze, especially reggaeton which had
swept salsa off the charts. Incredibly, so many deejays had
turned to reggaeton that there was no place to dance salsa
in the capital of the country where the music was invented.

However, the crisis gave Abreu the chance to build a
grass-roots fan base just like the timba pioneers had done at
the start of the dance music movement in the late 1980s and
early 1990s. That was known as “the special period” in
Cuban history, a time of extreme economic hardship when
bands were forced to practice in the dark due to frequent
blackouts and try out their material on stage due to a lapse
in record production. For a while, Cuban dance music was
all about the live performance, a necessity that helped spark
creativity. Taking a page from his predecessors, Havana
D’Primera began working live shows, building a following
the old-fashioned way, one fan at a time.

Before long, fans were packing the band’s regular
Tuesday matinees at Casa de la Musica, a club and cultural
center in the residential Miramar section of Havana. Even
though they had not yet released a record, loyal fans
memorized song lyrics from the live shows, another throwback
to the trial-by-fire of the early timba years.

The weekly gigs were pivotal to the band’s
development. But the early going was rough.
“Yes, the matinee was very important,” Abreu told
Timba.com. “It has really helped to build the character of
the orchestra. We started there with just a couple of tables
of people. Nobody went to those first gigs – nobody knew
about the band. Many people would leave the concerts
saying, “How is it possible that this is happening, and that
people don’t know about it?”

That was soon to change. Before long, Havana
D’Primera was generating the biggest buzz of any new
band since Pupy y Los Que Son Son.
“To put it simply,” writes Timba.com blogger Kevin
Moore, “if I were arriving at Havana Airport tonight,
(Havana D’Primera) would be the first band I’d be
searching for.”

ALEXANDER ABREU MANRESA hails from
Cienfuegos, a province that has produced musical
luminaries (revered singer Beny More) and musical
institutions (the legendary Orquesta Aragon). He comes
from a family of amateur musicians, including his
grandfather who taught him to play the tres, a special
Cuban guitar. As a boy, he wanted to be an athlete, but his
mother took him to a school that tested aptitudes and he got
the highest scores in music. He started studying trumpet at
age 11 and credits his mother for encouraging him to
practice and pursue his career.

Originally, Abreu wanted to drop the trumpet and take
up the flute, but his teachers understood his talent and
insisted, prophetically, that he stick to the wind instrument.
At 18, the young musician moved to Havana to continue
his studies at the prestigious ENA, a breeding ground for
Cuba’s best musicians. He graduated in 1994 and later
would return as a professor, teaching trumpet.

In Havana, Abreu found himself at ground zero of the
timba music explosion that rocked Cuba in the early 90s,
marking an exciting evolution in the way Afro-Cuban
dance music, or salsa, was performed. He played for six
years with the ground-breaking band of singer Paulito FG,
one of the leading stars of the timba revolution. His skills
were forged in this powerful ensemble, working alongside
two musicians he considers his greatest influences –
Carmelo Andres, his trumpet teacher, and
producer/arranger Juan Manuel Ceruto. Several band-mates
from this seminal ensemble would go on to form part of
Havana D’Primera, including Ceruto who produced the
band’s new CD.

Abreu has also played and/or recorded with virtually
every major act during one of the most exciting and
creative eras in Cuban music. He was a member of the
popular and respected band led by singer Isaac Delgado,
who now lives in Miami. As a highly sought-after studio
musician, he has recorded with top bands in disparate
styles, including famed dance band Los Van Van and
powerful fusion group Irakere. He has also worked with
poetic singer/songwriters such as Pablo Milanes and
Amaury Perez, who plays trombone on the new Havana
D’Primera disc. In addition, Abreu was recruited for
previous all-star projects, such as the touring timba band
dubbed Team Cuba and the Grammy-winning Cuban roots
recording “La Rumba Soy Yo.”

After the Cuban dance music scene started receding in
2000, Abreu travelled to Europe and spent time in
Denmark, where he was invited to give master classes in
trumpet and Cuban music at the jazz conservatory of
Copenhagen. During an extended stay there, he joined
Grupo Danson, a band composed of Cuban and Danish
musicians, serving as arranger and composer. (Some of the
songs from that era are included in the new album,
expanded and improved for Havana D’Primera.) Abreu has
appeared in Europe’s top music festivals and in 2002 he
performed on the same stage with Sting, Lou Reed and
James Brown as part of the benefit concert “Pavarotti &
Friends.”

The time he spent performing overseas helped Abreu
avoid the pitfalls of other Cuban timba bands, often
considered too tailored to a home crowd and too hard for
outsiders to dance to.

“I believe that to live outside of Cuba for a time has
been one of the keys to the hallmark of this group,” says
Abreu of his band. “Because I learned how to interact with
people that don’t speak the language. I learned how to
spread that same happiness and energy….You have to be
precise with the rhythms and arrangements. You have to
make sure that they are understandable, that they are solid,
that they are clear, so that people understand.”

But there’s a flip side to that dynamic. Musicians who
spend too much time outside their home base also risk
losing that special creative energy and inspiration that only
Cuba can provide. While in Europe, Abreu was reminded
of the common wisdom: “Cuban music has to be made in
Cuba; if not it doesn’t taste the same.” So by 2007, he was
back in Havana putting together his own band.

The aspiring bandleader came home with only an
embryonic concept, inspired by a New York salsa band he
had caught in Copenhagen. There he had seen the Grammywinning
Spanish Harlem Orchestra, a group of veteran
salsa musicians who came together with a common purpose
— to re-capture some of the original sound and excitement
of the great salsa bands of the 70s. The group — led by
pianist Oscar Hernandez who had played with salsa greats
such as Ray Barretto and Ruben Blades – managed to stir
up enough nostalgia to spark a one-band salsa revival,
touring the world and recording three popular albums
featuring star vocalists such as Blades.

“That served as an inspiration to do something similar
with session musicians in Havana,” says Abreu. “It gave
me the strength to come to Cuba and say, ‘I can do it here.’
From that idea, basically, Habana D’Primera is born.”
Abreu composed and arranged all 11 songs on the new
album. The musical elements range from straight-up salsa
and timba to son, pilon, funk and jazz. He even
incorporates some lines from popular reggaeton tracks,
offering a bridge to the music which, he acknowledges,
reflects the realities of today’s youth. The carefully crafted
lyrics range from romantic to realistic, all based on his reallife
experiences. (“Las cosas de un amigo” refers to a friend
who says one thing to his face and another behind his
back.) Abreu says he tries to make the verses “as sweet as
possible” on paper. On stage, they take on the power and
propulsion of the percussion, merging rhythms with
lyricism.

“That’s why I say, in summary, that I come with the
dance kick of the conga and a book of poetry.”
Recently, Abreu has started using his Facebook page
to post snippets of new lyrics and test his fans’ reactions.
Whether in person or on social media, he’s proud of the
enthusiastic public response to Havana D’Primera. And he
even dares to think that he may have started a new trend.
“Young people are playing Cuban music and I think
that the movement is beginning to grow,” he says. “With
the creation of Havana D’Primera, I think many people
have recharged their batteries and are starting to make
music again.”

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