que equivoca’o

Late February, snowy winter night – what could be so compelling to inspire a spontaneous visit two hours north to Montreal? Not the hockey game, in fact Team Canada’s Olympic gold medal victory was announced over the radio on the way there.

No, the answer is a-t-t-i-t-u-d-e, also known as the singer/poet Telmary Diaz.

It turns out her date last night at Club Balattou was a fairly impromptu arrangement in itself, which is probably why I didn’t find out about it sooner. But I’m really, really glad I did.

I was introduced to Telmary a little over two years ago when she came out with her solo debut, A Diario. I remember being immediately struck by her presence, her artistry, and the confident directness with which she delivered her music. She has occasionally mentioned the internal struggle in having multiple callings in singing, poetry, writing, and rapping. (I comfort myself a little with the thought I will never have to worry about having such an array of choices to make!)

The solution she’s come up with combines all of those talents in a “best of all worlds” situation. In a live performance, add to that her perpetual big smile, her irresistable stage presence and seven great local Cuban musicians on everything from keyboards to trumpets and congas. She’s having a party on the stage and everyone’s invited.

That’s what makes a wintertime drive to Canada on a Sunday evening a worthwhile effort.

To describe her music solely by its origin – Afro-Cuban – is too unidimensional to be accurate. Telmary Diaz’s artistry is rooted in the traditional timba, son, rumba, and lando styles of her native Cuba, but just as importantly she translates those styles into the modernized musical languages of hip-hop and rap. She’s also been described as a feminist. Consider how uncommon women rappers are in the first place, much less those from Cuba. So what meaning does “feminist” really have in this context? Any woman who can hold her own (and she does) in the swaggering, macho arena of rap and hip-hop could be called a feminist but ultimately the truth of that designation also depends on the content and message of the music itself. Telmary Diaz isn’t a feminist because she raps, she is a female who raps on themes that include topics that speak directly to women.

With that thought in mind, a song that really distills Telmary’s talents is Que Equivoca’o, from A Diario. It was also the song that closed Telmary’s triumphant second set last night. It’s a pointedly humorous, powerful and catchy anthem sung in Spanish wherein a woman’s address to a man translates: “How wrong you are! Is that what you want? One that washes, you prefer one who waits, who cooks, that mops? Is that the women?” It’s telling of her wide appeal that when the time came for last night’s crowd to sing along with the chorus, everyone – not only the women – joyously joined in with Telmary to bring the evening to a rousing close.  Here’s the song (I dare you not to bop your head along with this!):

Telmary Diaz now makes her home in Toronto. In the next year, paperwork willing, she and her band will be traveling to Cuba to record her second album. When they come back to this area – anywhere in this area, within several hundred miles – you can bet I will be there to join them in their continuing celebration of musical and human empowerment.

Further reading: check out this excellent article on the women artists of Cuban rap and hip-hop music.

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