WORKING MANS BAND
Roldans voice sounds weary as he tries to speak over significant background noise from his home in Paris. His answers come usually in monosyllabic words, and if he were sitting across from me and not several thousand miles away, its safe to assume that his eyes would be pretty damn bloodshot. For Roldan, this is just part of the job description of being a part of the Cuban sensation Orishas.
Since their debut release, A Lo Cubano in 2000, Orishas has been on a whirlwind schedule promoting the album and converting the globe into fans of their positive, Latin-tinged hip-hop. Judging by the sound of Roldans voice as he continues to answer an onslaught of iquestions, the effort has taken its toll.
"We have been touring for two and a half years, with a couple of rest periods in between," Roldan explains. "During that time we have played more than 250 concerts. This is a number that reflects only concerts in support of A Lo Cubano. Weve already done about 30 concerts for our new album, Emigrante, which was only released about a month ago."
In the same vein as their first album, Emigrante finds the group singing and rapping upbeat melodies while also adding their Latin roots into the mix. For those who werent paying attention, lets recap the geography of the band. Orishas is a Cuban hip-hop trio currently based in France, named after African Santeria deities, with members living in different parts of Europe, catering to tens of thousands in concerts from Roskilde, Poland to Los Angeles, California. Such a globe-trotting existence accurately echoes the central theme behind their sophomore release.
"Emigrante is dedicated to all immigrants all over the world," Roldan says. "Everyone has a common theme. We sing about problems and lack of rights for all of the different people. Though we write some songs with political slants on them, we dont want to specify ourselves as a political band. We sing about common themes that people can relate to, and we write cultural commentary about things that are happening globally."
As much as the group sees everyone has in common with one another, cultural differences have also been frustrating for Orishas when they perform in various countries. Besides the idiosyncrasies that differentiate countries, Orishas finds that actually becoming a part of a regions popular culture is both crucial to a bands success and frustrating.
"We dont feel like we are a part of the culture in the United States," Roldan explains candidly. "Whatever is being played on the radio and television 24-7 is basically what the public is going to go out and buy. Were not a part of that and so were not able to establish ourselves in the U.S.. Thats the same way it is here in Paris too."
While Orishas admits that Emigrante may not be exactly flying off the shelves stateside, its sales in the rest of the world have been pretty noteworthy. Currently, the album has hit gold status, and with another vigorous touring schedule around the bend sales are only expected to increase. And even if theyre a little tired after all of their work, a few interviews here and there can only help.
"We are planning on doing an extensive tour soon," Roldan says with a stifled yawn. "Mainly because the radio isnt being very responsive to this album, so were bring it to people to get Emigrante out there."
While the constant performing has become almost second nature to the band, playing for an audience has never become an easy thing for the group. While Roldan doesnt get nervous on stage, he is always conscious about pleasing his audience.
"When Im performing, Im very happy because I know I have 10,000 loyal followers. This time its a bit weird to me in relation to our music. Theres a contradiction between the concert and communication after the concert with many of our foreign audiences. During shows, theres this great communication and response. Afterwards, we never hear anything else. Theres no connection, so were not getting much feedback and cant get a feel for how we are being received."
10,000 is a pretty generous guess on the typical Orishas concert attendance. Sharing festival stages with widely ranging artists from Iggy Pop to Marcus Miller to headlining even bigger shows in areas such as their home in Cuba, Orishas is helping to spread their own take on hip-hop worldwide.
Besides the obvious Latin sound, a major factor that separates Orishas from other hip-hop mainstays that becomes apparent during their live show is their abhorrence for traditional hip-hop stereotypes.
"As far as our show and music go, we completely stray away the regular hip-hop culture," Roldan confirms. "Im not interested in the hip-hop culture that currently exists. There are enough problems in the world. Ive always been more interested in traditional classical music. In all honesty, I did not discover hip-hop. Hip-hop discovered me. I was called for this project, which became Orishas, and fell in love with the music. I dont want to go to a concert where women are being called bitches, and everything you do in U.S. hip-hop shows. Id rather do something else."
In the mid 90s, a huge reemergence of Cuban music infiltrated the U.S. market, largely due to the overwhelming crossover success of the Buena Vista Social Club. Its clear that Orishas is helping to make Cuban-influenced music more than a trend in the United States.
"Its quite understandable that the group has been compared to Buena Vista, though they are more old school," Roldan says. He pauses for a moment, searching for the simplest explanation possible. " Orishas is Cuba for a newer generation."