Grupo Asha, Cuba: Preserving Traditions With Modern Beats

Updated: Apr 24

I’ve always been fascinated with how much faith and traditional beliefs are part of the daily fabric of Cuban life. From Havana to Santiago de Cuba, Afro Cuban beliefs and traditions permeate all aspects of life—from music, to dance, to worship. There is pride and reverence in the traditions, and a strong understanding of history, the ancestors and the presence/influence of Africa in the traditions.


How these traditions survive the pressures of modernity is yet to be seen. Will they be forgotten or will they evolve with the times? One group working to preserve traditions, while recognizing the influences of modernity is Grupo Ashe, out of Santiago De Cuba. The musical group bridges the gap between Afro Cuban religious music, and contemporary music. Taking scared music, and making it appealing to a younger generation.


Enrique Orozco (Grupo Ashe’s general director) created the idea of mixing Afro-Cuban rhythms with the base of Afrobeat coming from Nigeria, a touch of Haitian Merengue, French Tumba, currents of other African music, and with a touch of modern electronic in the sound. The result is a sound that goes between "Bakoso" (an Eastern Cuban style that fuses Kuduro, Afrobeats and Cuban rhythms) and "AfroFuturism" Music.


The song "Canto a Yemoja y Oshun" featured in the video below represents Grupo Ashe's fusion sound of modern electronic beats with traditional Yoruba music.



AfroConex connected with Enrique Orozco Rubio, to continue this conversation of preservation of traditions in the face of modernity.

 

1. AFROCONEX: the music of grupo Ashe mixes Afrocuban folkloric music with urban sounds, why did you feel the need to blend traditional/folkloric sounds with modern/urban sounds ?


GRUPO ASHE: The Cuban religions of African substratum are an intangible heritage of our nation. They are a reservoir of authentic traditions and essential pillars of our popular culture. In the face of the imminent impact of globalization, the accelerated technological advances, the new forms of mass communication and the new commercial hegemonic paradigms of the music that circulates throughout the world, we are summoned to rescue and safeguard this extraordinary ancestral legacy. A legacy which has been jealously guarded in the texts of Ifá, in the oral traditions, and in the voice of the Bàbáláwos and Cuban Santeros of the world.


The criteria of Grupo ASHE is to create music that is universally appealing to a younger generation, while maintaining the religious essence of the music. Usually at the end of each religious celebration dedicated to the Orishas there is a break with the sacred moment of the Drum where we typically celebrate with the beat of reggaetón. Due to the absence in the market of a musical proposal that allows the festival to continue without losing the religious essence, we have put forth the music of the Orishas with respect to other Cuban musical genres that merge well with other varied contemporary sounds. The result is greater consumption and acceptance by the younger generation. However in our opinion, there is an inexhaustible varied reservoir of sounds that still awaits to be captured.


2. AFROCONEX: the sound of Grupo Ashe includes influences of Tumba Francesa and Haitian Merengue, these are distinct sounds from Eastern Cuba, why was it important to include these sounds?


GRUPO ASHE: Africa bequeathed us with a very wide sound spectrum, rich in genres and rhythms that are the mother cell of much of the music in the world today. Each and every one of these genres is perfectly fused with contemporary music, an example of this is the group Síntesis who are pioneers in this musical line. But in the very particular case of ASHE it is extremely important since we are more interested in the music, dance and folk influences that have had a distinctive impact on Santiago's culture. These influences are the Tumba Francesa, Haitian Merengue, the Conga, the Bembe, the Rumba and the religious music of the Orishas all fused with the music of many Caribbean countries and some modern African rhythms. This of course gives us a uniquely Santiago identity.


3. AFROCONEX: how does your Yoruba faith influence your creative process ?


GRUPO ASHE: As I explained previously, our reason for being is the safeguarding of this traditional cultural legacy with our own seal. In fact our religious faith is the source that motivates us, guides us and inspires us in this creative process where the most important thing is to find satisfaction in what we we do, but also pay tribute and praise the Orishas and ancestors. The music in this case is an extension of the worship of the divinities.


4. AFROCONEX: many of the Grupo Ashe songs I’ve heard are not only hypnotic in terms of vocals arrangements, but they are also highly danceable. When you created the sound, did you envision people dancing to the music ?


GRUPO ASHE: Of course! one of the essential objectives is to promote the continuity of religious festivities, where everyone can dance, reflect and have fun with these musical proposals without creating a break with the sacred. However these musical proposals are not exclusively subject to religious celebrations. We aspire that in all popular entertainment venues, young people make this music their own, which is part of our cultural legacy.


5. AFROCONEX: what is the overall message Grupo Ashe wants to communicate with its music and sound ?


GRUPO ASHE: It can be summarized as follows:

1. Safeguard the cultural legacy of the tradition of the songs to the Orishas.

2. Pay tribute to the Orishas and the ancestors.

3. To achieve that all this music of the Orishas is impregnated in the young generations through contemporary musical codes with which they can easily identify.

4. Being able to have a space where we can give concerts and educational talks about the culture of the Orishas.

5. That some record company is interested in this work so that our music has a greater reach.


6. AFROCONEX: when someone listens to Grupo Ashe, what do you hope they will get from hearing the music ?


GRUPO ASHE: I hope that they will be delighted and have a connection with this ancient wisdom, like a trip back to the roots.


7. AFROCONEX: Grupo Ashe hails from Santiago de Cuba in Eastern Cuba. When most people think of Cuba, Havana is what they think of. What would you like people to know about Santiago de Cuba ? And how would you describe the music and dance coming from Santiago de Cuba ?


GRUPO ASHE: We are 100% Santiagueros and we try to make that clear in our music by using distinctive folk instruments of the Santiago culture such as the Quinto, which is the leitmotiv instrument of our songs. Santiago is and will be one of the most important reservoirs of Cuban culture, the cradle and beacon of many of the cultural essences of the Cuban people, such as Son, among others.


8. AFROCONEX: in a world without Covid where in Santiago would we be able to hear and see Grupo Ashe ?


GRUPO ASHE: That has yet to be seen given the short time of group creation, for now on our YouTube channel: Ifá es Universal and on the ASHE page on Facebook @ashemusicaafroalternativa


9. AFROCONEX: What's next for the Ashe Group? Any Future projects for the Group?


GRUPO ASHE: We are planning if the epidemiological situation allows it, to specify with a group of professional musicians (surprise) and the Guampara record label for the remastering of our second album ÀLÀÁFÍÀ: alternative Afro-religious music. Which consists of 13 songs with great expectations because in this phonogram it was where we managed to solidify the aesthetic line of our project. It is a very strong musical proposal and we hope it will be to the liking of all those who follow our work.

On the other hand, we are finishing our third production that we have momentarily decided to call ELÉDA: El creatador, which has 12 songs of which there are four already concluded and we hope it will be ready for the month of May.


Celebrating the Orishas with Grupo Ashe.


Another example of the sounds of Grupo Ashe.


Grupo Ashe: Song--Bendicion Orunmilla


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