Yissy Garcia–a composer and drummer- is one of the most powerful artists of this new generation of Cuban musicians. There is a lot of groove in her drumsticks, and a lot of creative impulse in her. At the age of 30, the important things for her are rhythm and the way emotions are trapped by the sound language, as if the drums were just an extension of her body. The important things are ambiguity, the fusion between tradition and avant-garde, her ways of blurring the boundaries of Latin jazz, electronics, funk, R & B, Afro-Cuban music.
Yissy –a daughter of percussionist Bernardo García, founder of Irakere and Arturo Sandoval’s band- was born on May 29th, 1987 in Cayo Hueso, a slum in Havana that has been the birthplace of other icons of Cuban music such as Chano Pozo and Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Since she was a child, she was surrounded by a musical environment and joined her father to his Irakere rehearsals. During breaks, she ventured into all instruments, the drum being the one that caught her attention. At the age of nine, she began elementary music studies in the specialty of classical percussion at Manuel Saumell School, and continued to Amadeo Roldán Conservatory to do her high school.
By 2002, she participated in the “PERCUBA” Percussion Festival. Later on, while still being a student, she was invited to play as a soloist with the National Symphonic Orchestra of Cuba, led by the renowned Cuban conductor Zenaida Romeu. In those days, she won a Special Award at the “Fiesta del Tambor” International Festival and also won a Special Award for Accompaniment at the 2005 JoJazz International Festival for young Jazz musicians. She then won again a Second Award for Interpretation in the 2006 JoJazz contest.
That was an important year for her career, not only because she participated with the Quinteto Chico de La Habana –a band gathering outstanding students of the Conservatory- at the Barbados Jazz Festival, where she shared stage with prestigious Jazz players from all over the world such as Horacio Hernández (El Negro), Giovanni Hidalgo, Arturo Tappin and Roy Hargrove, but also because Yissy, a newly graduate, became the woman behind the drums in the popular Cuban band Anacaona, a band that has been together for several decades in the Island. She played with that band for about five, and that was undoubtedly a school for the young percussionist, who had to face for the first time genres like salsa, timba, son; and overcome the challenge of playing two different instruments such as the drums and the timpani.
With that band, she performed on stages throughout Cuba and the world, including the festivals of Curaçao, Martinique, Trinidad and Tobago, Saint Lucia and Aruba, where she had the opportunity to play with American saxophonist David Sanborn.
Year 2006 also meant Yissy’s entry into Interactivo –a space of open creation led by pianist Robertico Carcassés that involves several artists, some of whom have solid professional careers and others who are just in their early stages. Yet, when they are together, they sound like a dream team. It’s been ten years for Yissy in this project –ten years doing “timba-funky”, experimenting with Afro-Cuban sounds, with popular dance music.
She has not only followed the path of Latin jazz, but also has been on stage with Raúl Paz, Kelvis Ochoa, Joaquín Betancourt, Alexis Bosch, Orlando Sánchez (CubaJazz), Yasek Manzano. In 2011, she travelled to Angola to teach percussion at the Mapess Polyvalent Center. In 2013, she won the Drum Prize at the Master-Jam Festival Contest, held in Odessa. She uses the piano for her compositions, but she told herself one day in 2012 that it was time to have her own band. She also told herself that such band had to unavoidably have a DJ in its ranks and that those “musical ranks” had to be supported, above all, by the fusion of electronic beats, hip-hop, R & B, funk , Latin jazz and Cuban music.
Yissy, who admired a particular pianist, Herbie Hancock –who also mixed electronic music in his performances-, who had known DJ Jigüe –a member of Obsesion band- since her days with Anacaona, said to herself that her band had to sound differently. All those events then became the genesis for everything that came next.
And this is somehow what came next:
About seven musicians on the same stage, compositions designed for piano, bass, trumpet, drums, guitar, percussion and DJ machines. Yissy, at the early age of 24, was the leader of an avant-garde project of Cuban contemporary music and had her debut concert on August 4th, 2012, at the Havana Fine Arts Theater. A debut concert that would mark the beginning of Bandancha, a band that would later end up being a quintet: Jorge Aragón (piano), Julio César González (bass), Julio Rigal (trumpet), Dj Jigüe (DJ machines) and Yissy (drums) . All of them are powerful musicians that must serve as a reference in today’s Cuba.
For Bandancha, Yissy has composed songs like Cambios, Pequeña Sambita, Te Cogio lo que Anda, Mr. Miller (inspired by one of the icons of Jazz, New York bassist Marcus Miller), among other songs included in her debut album Ultima noticia –a pioneer to use crowdfunding in the Island. The album was recorded at the Abdala recording Studios in 2015; edited independently in 2016, and licensed by EGREM (Empresa de Grabaciones y Ediciones Musicales) in 2017.
Soon Ultima Noticia entered the Island’s musical scene as one of the references of contemporary Jazz, even though Bandancha’s sound is based on other impulses, on the synergy between its musicians, on those unique compositions filled with energy, and it is impossible to enjoy it if you are quietly sitting on a chair. Soon this first album was nominated for the awards of the 21st International Cubadisco Fair in 2017, where it won two awards in the categories of First Album and Design.
During February and March 2015, the band toured five cities in the United States: New York, Washington, Miami, Knoxville and New Orleans. In June, this project was also invited to the first edition of AM-PM “América por su Música”, a meeting platform organized by Fábrica de Arte Cubano(FAC) (Cuban Art Factory) for Latin American music professionals.
Then, by August of that same year, they performed in El Ciervo Encantado room. This concert combined and fused Jazz, funk and electronic sounds with the rumba and other Afro-Cuban rhythms to create a show that brought together other artistic and urban manifestations. That performance ended up being the first DVD of the project: Descarga con Bandancha, edited independently in 2016.
In November 2015, they participated in the regional event “One Night in Latin America”, regional event of the Latin American Association of Musical Managers (MMF Latam), where there were simultaneous concerts in the continent, and where YISSY & Bandancha shared with Harold López-Nussa and Eme Alfonso at Fábrica de Arte Cubano in Havana.
Later, in March 2016, the band played at the Havana World Music Festival – which brought together several artists such as Juanito Makandé (Spain), Centavrvs (Mexico), among others; and she also played in Austin, Texas. In the world capital of live music, this quintet, led by Yissy, was part of the Cuban entourage –along with Kelvis Ochoa, Telmary, Daymé Arocena and La Flota– who raised the new banner of the Island sounds at the South by Southwest festival (SXSW), as part of the showcase Sounds from Cuba, presented by Roads & Kingdoms and Fábrica de Arte Cubano.
Meanwhile, YISSY & Bandancha also released the first video clip of the band in 2016, Mr. Miller, which was directed by Hector David Rosales. According to NoFM Radio, this video clip is “a beautiful mix of rhythms and textures.” The clip then had two nominations in the 2016 Lucas Awards –one of the most important contests of the Cuban scene- in the categories of Instrumental Video and Best Novel Artist.
Moreover, celebrations on the International Jazz Day came to Havana for the first time by the end of April 2017. Those celebrations brought some icons of this genre to the Island, such as Herbie Hancock, Marcus Miller, Richard Bona, Esperanza Spalding, among others. YISSY & Bandancha was then accompanied by the American singer and bass player [Ms.Esperanza Spalding], to make a memorable concert at the “Tablao” of the Gran Teatro de La Habana “Alicia Alonso”.
Together with Bandancha, she received the “Cuerda Viva” Award on two occasions (2014 and 2016). Cuerda Viva is an alternative music festival in the Island. The Cuban band is currently preparing a tour of the United States and several Latin American countries. In the mean time, their new video clip Pequeño sambita was released in the digital platforms last May. This clip was directed by Manuel Ortega.
In addition to that, other projects also make Yissy an outstanding artist: the young composer participated in a jam session at the Meliá Cohíba Hotel in 2014, where she met saxophonist Jane Bunnett, who invited her to be part of the Maqueque line up. This band evokes the spirit of young women in the oldest Afro-Cuban dialect.
Together with Yusa, Daymé Arocena, Magdelys Savinge, Danae Olano and Celia Jiménez, YISSY joined the Canadian artist Jane Bunnett to record the album: “Jane Bunnett and Maqueque”. This record was the winner of the 2015 Juno Award for Best Jazz Album. Later on, she recorded a second album, Oddara, published by Linus Entertainment (2016). She has participated with Maqueque in the most important festivals in Canada and the United States.
She also played on Argentina’s stages with Yusa, Kelvis Ochoa and William Vivanco in 2014, in a tour that was called El Sur Suena a Cubano (The South sounds like Cuba). She also accompanied Omara Portuondo in her tour of Mexico. In 2015, she traveled to Japan with Yusa. In March of that same year, she was a member of the band Women of The World, along with Eme Alfonso, Mélissa Laveaux, Ellen Andrea Wang and Lucia Rey, who had performed at the Havana World Music festival. In October of that same year, she also participated in the Les Voix Humaines Festival, organized by Leo Brouwer’s Office, in a concert with the spectacular Badi Assad, held at “Mella” Theater in Havana.
One of her featurings includes the album Feeling Marta, with Gema Corredera. This album was the winner of the 2016 Cubadisco Award in the category of Trova; and it marked the debut of Yissy in a genre which had never been explored by her before –the feeling.
However, the versatility of Yissy behind the drums has gone beyond the boundaries of a show. She has also become a reference for several contests in Cuba and the United States. She has been a judge at the JoJazz Festival for three years in a row, and since 2016 she has also been a judge at the annual “Hit like a Girl” International Contest, which assesses the work of female drummers, thus joining the prestigious list of judges of this contest. One of the names that stands out in such list is that of Terry Lyne Carrigton, a famous American drummer who invited Yissy to teach the Island rhythms at the Berklee College of Music in 2015. In addition to that, the 2017 Cubadisco International Festival had Yissy as one of the judges at its latest Festival.
La Flota, a band that gathers other Cuban musicians like X Alfonso, David Blanco and Ernesto Blanco, and whose banner represents the different sounds of rock and roll, is also another project that should be included in the biography of this artist. Another highlight of this artist is Banda XX, -an all women band. The double X is a reference to the female chromosome. This band was directed by Yissy at the Jazz Plaza 2016 Festival and it brings together a group of talented female artists from the Cuban scene such as Daymé Arocena and Zule Guerra.
There is another moment that has defined the artistic career of this Cuban drummer: It’s April, it’s 2016, and it’s the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. Several North American artists traveled to Havana to play and exchange with Cuban musicians. That delegation included some cracks like Smokey Robinson, Usher, the violinist Joshua Bell, Dave Matthews, among others.
Matthews –a rocker and leader of Dave Matthews Band and Grammy Award winner for his single “Gravedigger”, performed on the stage of Fabrica de Arte Cubano, accompanied by another rock and roll freak and member of the Generation of the Topos (moles) in Cuba –Carlos Varela. Both artists were accompanied by a luxurious band: Aldo López Gavilán (piano), Yissy García (drums) and Julio César González (bass). Matthews and Varela have been playing ever since in other places, thanks to the synergy of that band which they managed to put together on that occasion.
In November 2016, the Cuban percussionist played at Lincoln Center in New York with maestro Joshua Bell, the Havana Chamber Orchestra, pianist Aldo López Gavilán, Carlos Varela and Dave Matthews. This concert was recorded by Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), as part of the “Live at Lincoln Center” series, and it was nominated for the EMMY Awards in 2017. Along with Matthews and Varela, she also played in concerts in Washington and Cancun, Mexico. Since then or maybe earlier than that, La Flota project with Yissy García as drummer, composer, an enthusiast of jazz, electronic music and all types of fusion that has ultimately resulted in good music- has been including rock and roll in its repertoire