Danay Suárez Fernández’s first performance was when she was 15, having been invited to join other renowned hip-hop artists in a concert held at the Nacional Theater. That day, self-taught Danay, overwhelmed by the amount of people in the theater, sang with her back to the audience, hoping no one would realize how nervous she was. Nerves got the best of her in her first appearance, but she wasn’t about to give up her dream.
It all began when she was in high-school and a classmate introduced her to hip-hop, rap and reggae. Influenced by that kind of music, after graduating as an IT technician, she began to go to rap concerts. Because it was ideal to express what she wanted to say, as it gave her “freedom of speech and consistency between her words and her attitude,” Danay started rapping ‘by accident,’ as she rhymed about the things that mattered the most to her. Rap also gave her the opportunity to meet, work and share with people who still believe in love and art, including Aldo Rodríguez--one of the most celebrated underground rappers and member of Los Aldeanos--who helped her produce and record her own songs. She also appeared on the documentary Calle Real 70, together with many other underground Cuban hip-hop artists with whom she has also collaborated, including Papá Humbertico, Raudel, Explosión Suprema, Anónimo Consejo, Krudas, Magyorie Epg and El Lápiz. She still fondly remembers their sleepless nights together, rapping, rhyming and improvising, and acknowledges that rap is more like her habitat, her element, where she can be herself.
In 2007, fearless Danay gathered her demos and showed up at the house of Cuban fusion superstar X Alfonso for “he was the only person in Cuba who I thought would understand what I wanted to do” and said to him, “You don’t know me, here’s my music, listen to it. If you need a backup singer, give me a call.” A few days later she received a call from X and they have been working together ever since. Under X’s wing she met many musicians, did her first tours, experimented with new sounds, improved her technique and became acquainted with the concept of ‘show,’ but most of all, she improved her stage presence, which helped launch her solo career.
Danay, who is still surprised to have shared the stage with renowned artists such as Hernán López Nussa, Omara Portuondo and Roberto Carcassés, has pointed out, “I’ve never said I’m a rapper,” and defines herself as a regular person who expresses what she’s feeling through her songs. But despite her statements, she’s been described as being more a rapper than an R&B singer and is considered by many as ‘the Queen of Latin Rap.’ Additionally, her fans have referred to her as “the representative of conscious female Cuban hip-hop with the most exquisite voice and the most intelligent lyrics,” as well as, “being on a par with the greatest Spanish-speaking urban poets.” However, she feels very passionate about jazz and has made it clear that she’d love to be a jazz singer, “I can rap and sing, but the truth is I wish I was a jazz singer and develop that style. I haven’t done it because I don’t have the musical skills, but I’ll get there some day. I’ve got it inside of me.”
Her love for jazz took her to Havana Cultura Sessions, an album that was the product of improvisation, in the style of the 1960’s jam sessions in Cuba, and was recorded together with British DJ Jack Peterson and renowned jazz pianist Roberto Fonseca, who said when he first heard her sing in the studio: “How come I didn’t know about the best singer in Cuba?!” After their tour of Europe with Danay singing and Fonseca at the piano, they have continued to work together, as evidenced by her most recent album, Palabras Manuales, produced by Fonseca--whom she affectionately calls ‘Fonse.’ This record is, in her own words, ‘a mix of both’ hip-hop and jazz.
A Cuerda Viva 2011 Award Winner for Best Alternative Music Group, Danay Suárez is partially happy with the media exposure she and other alternative music artists have had in Cuba. She cares more, however, about people being able to feel what she’s trying to convey. “What I’d like is to have the strength so that my work can go hand in hand with my ideals of love, honesty, modesty and values, and to make people reflect on and feel moved by what I say.”
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