Women-led, Afro-Cuban power ensemble OKAN officially launches debut EP Laberinto on October 19, with a special release concert at Lula lounge in Toronto, on Oct 21. OKAN members have recently toured Europe with great success, and the band is on tour this fall with stops in Kingston, Burlington, Ottawa (National Arts Centre), Edmonton, and an official showcase at Mundial Montreal. A full length CD will be released in April with support from the Ontario Arts Council and Canada Council.
Taking the name from the word for heart/soul in the Afro Cuban religion Santeria, OKAN co-leaders, composers and multi-instrumentalists Elizabeth Rodriguez and Magdelys Savigne enthusiastically embrace Cuban genres and musical roles that have historically been dominated by men, to create a distinctive and personal world jazz fusion.
The group’s first recording, Laberinto, features five original compositions and arrangements produced by Latin Grammy-winning bassist Roberto Riveronand released on Toronto’s Lulaworld Records label. It features special guests Pablosky Rosales, Jeremy Ledbetter, Bill King, Alexis Baro andReimundo Sosa. Powerful vocals, incredible musicianship and potent lyrical content come together as the composing duo explore love, painful breakups, longing for home, and immigration.
The title track moves from a florid piano opening, to a gently percolating shuffle, supporting the harmony vocals of Savigne and Rodriguez, to a rhythmically complex bass-and-percussion workout that drives the song ever forward. “Desnudando El Alma” is a gorgeous love ballad that shines a light on the utterly captivating voice and phrasing of Rodriuguez, with a string section/piano solo that’s sweet as the proverbial honey. If Stevie Wonder was Latino, this is the music he’d be making.
“Last Day” is a rare English-language foray for OKAN. It’s a slow-building, slow-burning, and very final dismissal of a badly-behaving, soon-to-be-ex romantic partner. Pianist Jeremy Ledbetter’s solos are impeccable, even revelatory. “1000 Palabras” is initially propelled by a super-fast soul-clap. This dance-inspiring tune finds its accents in violin-and-trumpet breaks, and a series of sudden stops over Savigne’s expert congas. Featured is a killer trumpet solo fromAlexis Baro, and lovely harmony singing throughout. “Quick Stop,” a stripped-down duo performance, is a dynamic, energetic composition feuled by Rodriguez’s fast, entrancing violin figure and Savigne’s tight, muscular percussion.
Born in Havana, Cuba Elizabeth Rodriguez is a classically trained violinist who served as concertmaster for Havana’s Youth Orchestra. In addition to her work with OKAN, she is a JUNO-nominee for her work with Battle of Santiago and performs regularly as a violinist for Toronto’s top timba and salsa ensembles.
Also a JUNO-nominee with The Battle of Santiago and a contributor to Bill King’s Rhythm Express,, drummer/percussionist Magdelys Savigne hails from Santiago de Cuba and graduated with honours in orchestral percussion from Havana’s University of The Arts. Both Elizabeth and Magdelys are JUNO winners and Grammy-nominees for their contributions to Jane Bunnett & Maqueque’s recording projects.
Living and collaborating in the intensely multicultural city of Toronto has enriched OKAN’s composition with influences from Brazil, Turkey and New Orleans. Having performed at the Beaches, Toronto and Markham Jazz Festivals as well as Harbourfront, Kultrun, Lulaworld and the Women in Percussion Festivals, OKAN is already building a loyal fan base across the province.
Laberinto was produced with support from the Toronto Arts Council. The concerts in this fall tour that are presented by Lula Music and Arts Centre (LMAC) are made possible by Ontario Creates through its support for LMAC’s OMF-supported initiative to create more performance opportunities for Latinx artists on stages around Ontario.
OKAN IN CONCERT:
Sept 21 | Grad Club | Kingston, ON
Presented by Lula Music and Arts Centre with Queen’s University Studies in National and International Development (SNID)
Sept 29 | Burlington Ontario Performing Arts Centre Cultural Diversity Festival | Burlington, ON
October 13 + 14 | National Arts Centre w/Miguel de Armas | Ottawa ON
Presented by Lula Music and Arts Centre and MDA Productions
October 19 | Arts Touring Alliance of Alberta | Edmonton, AB
(private presenter showcase)
October 21 | Lula Lounge, w/special guests | Toronto, ON
Presented by Lula Music and Arts Centre
November 14 | Mundial Montreal showcase | Montreal, QC