Orishas, the groundbreaking Cuban urban music group whose original and captivating version of Cuban hip-hop brought them international fame, is reuniting after a seven-year absence.
The trio of Yotuel, Roldan and Ruzzo, who brought you A Lo Cubano and 537 Cuba, return Friday with a new song, Cuba Isla Bella, and a U.S. tour that kicks off in early August and brings them to the Fillmore Miami Beach on Aug. 20.
Yotuel, 39, who since Orishas split up in late 2009 has worked as an actor and songwriter for other artists, including pop star Ricky Martin, said the reunion was inspired a year ago, when he traveled to Havana to scout new musical talent.
“I didn’t see anything that grabbed me,” Yotuel said recently from his home in Miami Shores, where he lives with his wife, singer Beatriz Luengo, and their 9-month-old son, although he travels frequently to Cuba. “And I said to myself, ‘wow, why not reform Orishas?’”
He contacted Roldan, who lives in Paris, and Ruzzo, who lives in Pamplona, Spain. “I said guys, it’s time for the gods to return.”
Orishas came out of Cuba’s underground rap scene in the ’90s, with Ruzzo and Yotuel members of Amenaza, an admired key early act. Named for the gods of Santeria, Orishas blended the urgency of American hip-hop with seductive Cuban melodies and punchy rhythmic intricacy. They burst onto the international Latin pop scene in 2000 with A Lo Cubano (Cuban Style), a sexy, catchy anthem of cultural swagger, whose video, featuring Orishas and a host of Cuban beauties dancing and splashing on the beach, offered a seductive, joyous vision of the island. They performed on the Latin Grammy Awards (winning twice) and the Billboard Latin Music Awards, and gave concerts for thousands at major Miami venues like La Covacha and the Bayfront Park Amphitheater. Their last performance together was at Juanes’ enormous Paz Sin Fronteras concert in Havana in 2009.
The Cuba Isla Bella recording features a number of top musical acts from the island, including Buena Fe, Descemer Bueno (who’s also built a successful hybrid career between Miami and Cuba), reggaeton stars Gente de Zona, salsero Issac Delgado, and uber percussionist Pedrito Martinez. (Yotuel promises surprise appearances during their tour.) The style is more Latin pop than the group’s original sound, while lyrics like “here where my song and my flag were born” and “when I’m not with you I invent you” are full of nostalgic longing for the island.
Yotuel says the group still has its Cuban soul and swing.
“Orishas will always represent everything Cuban,” he says. “Everything that Cuba is suffering and going through, that the people are living in these historic moments. We will always represent Cuba — but the neighborhood, the people, inside and outside of Cuba.”