This disc grabs you exactly where you were least expecting it. A char-ming young woman, a muslin dress slipped over her, who can adjust her bow while at the same time singing West African hymns. At first you think it’s virtuoso prettiness that characterises Ochumare. And then, in two searing seconds, this diva from Havana now living in Swit-zerland shows her sharp teeth. In a single leap she traverses memories of Chopin, of Chucho Valdés, of New York jazz, of the imperious audacity of Santería ceremonies. Nothing is pretty in this music; everything is urgent.
Yilian Cañizares was born not very long ago, in Havana. Very soon, on drum skins, she learnt the complex rhythms, the dreamlike spaces, an Africa rewritten in the glorious insu-larity of a country that also im-ported teachers from Russia. Yilian is the fruit of several histories. She can play Bach sonatas on a violin of ma-thematical precision. She can produce a New Orleans swing. She can also – quite an achievement – awaken the Yoruba divinities. And notably the goddess Oshun, the soul of fresh water, who best corresponds to her fluid na-ture.
Yilian, a child prodigy, studied at home, in a capital which is a crossroads. Then she set off for Caracas: the or-chestra, symphonies, meticulously learning an instrument that likes to rebel. She made her own destiny, far away from her people, ending up in Switzerland to perfect her arpeggios. Strangely enough, it was here, right in the middle of Protestant Europe, that she founded a quartet named after a Yoruba divinity: Ochumare. Ever since then, they’ve been doing their best to reactivate the hybridised power of Latino jazz, by mixing in everything that, directly or indirectly, has been through their hands.
A percussionist from Lausanne who everyone believes must be concealing his Caribbean origins. A Cuban pia-nist, Abel Marcel, admired by Chucho Valdés, who brings together in a cadence heritages drawn from French impressionism and Black witch doctors. A Venezuelan bass player, David Brito, who has given his instrument a woman’s name; he anchors the group with his thirst for syncopations. And in the middle of these three guys, im-perturbably, Yilian Cañizares doesn’t remain content with dispensing sweetness and light. She lights wildfires, incandescent mambos, with the absolute mastery of a repertoire that takes from everyone without giving anything back to anyone.
She sings ‘Oshun Ede’, a tribute to her personal goddess, as if she had seen the river of that name, shady and steeped in oracles, that flows through Nigeria. Nothing demonstrative, just the awareness that this poetry has been transmitted for centuries, in spite of the oceans that came in between. In ‘Pirulisme’ she conjures up acro-batic angels, full of crushed lyricism, that fly at top speed. She stiches together perfect textbook cha-chas, rau-cous pulsations that seem to come from the old cabarets of the era when Havana hadn’t yet been conquered by tourists who live off the exotic (magnificent solo in ‘Papito’). Even when she murmurs sacred refrains (‘Aso Kara Luwe’) in a language once passed on clandestinely, Yilian relates it to her own cosmopolitan reality. That of a woman who has seen the world.
This album is inexhaustible in its richness. One enters it as one enters the euphoric labyrinth of Caribbean cul-tures. ‘Anything goes, provided that you take nothing as the base’, said the American composer John Cage. Anything will do, as long as you use everything, Yilian answers him. The modern jazz of the Sixties precursors. French contredanses of the nineteenth century. The rhythms of the son cubano. The indestructible prayers of the children of slaves. Ochumare is a rainbow god, a mythical serpent that acts as the umbilical cord to the world as it turns. Amid the profusion of the trails that nurture this disc, Yilian Cañizares reveals an intimate quest. How to find one’s path through the tangled web of origins.