Wara: The band modernising Latin music

Dec 17, 2018 Comments Off on Wara: The band modernising Latin music by
Wara © Greg de Wode

Last month I had the amazing opportunity to speak with Eliane Correa and Juanita Euka, two members of the rising Latin fusion band, Wara. In a South London bar, accompanied by a few glasses of wine, we spoke about politics, identity and the future of Latin music.

Ventana Latina: When was Wara formed and how did you all meet?

Eliane: In London. 10 years ago I came over and was studying in SOAS. My group and I were thinking how we didn’t know any singers, I mean I know how to sing but I’m not a singer. We began just joking around mixing and playing around with different kinds of Cuban music and realised there was really nobody in London who was doing this. Soon after, the agency Movimientos contacted us and we moved forward from there.

One day I went to a fundraiser in South London to look for a singer who could sing strongly in English because I knew no-one. Then I met Juanita and she came to mine where we had chicken and rice…

Juanita: We always have chicken and rice…

Energetic Eliane © Greg de Wode

Eliane:… I thought she had a nice vibe and after that, we started working together. One year later we had a gig with Calle 13…

Juanita: I don’t know how it happened but after a year we were already doing tours. I remember that we were in the minibus, we were arriving at a friend’s house looking out the window at the Hackney Empire and in bright lights, it just said ‘Calle 13 and Wara’, it was like we were hallucinating.

Eliane:…and then, in 2013, Leave to Remain came out so we did another tour. I was also doing a solo Latin jazz project, Juanita was dealing with some more African music and the others had their own separate things to deal with too. We all have our independent paths and projects but when we’re together as Wara, it’s something more. It’s a different sound, a fusion.We have a very niche genre.

What brings us together is more important than what divides us.

Ventana Latina: It’s true, you limit yourselves by sticking to just one genre

Eliane: Yes we have influences from mambo, cumbia, reggae, merengue- everything! The end goal is that people move their hips to the music

Ventana Latina: I went to the gig you did in September in Hackney…

Eliane: That was a fun night…

Ventana Latina: So much fun! I remember you played El Cuarto de Tula [a song by Buena Vista Social Club, iconic Cuban band], why did you choose to play it one among your other songs?

Eliane: [laughs] Yes I remember, actually that song is a little bit of an inside joke. We like to play our own, original music but since we work a lot with Cuban music in particular, there is always someone who wants us to play music by Buena Vista Social Club. When people think about Cuban music, this is always what they think about. So as a joke, we decided to play [their music], but midway we decided to cut it off and restart it. We were trying to say that it’s important to recognise our ancestors but we did it jokingly, introducing it as an influential piece of how we play our music.

Ventana Latina:  Yes because in Cuba you hear the songs ‘Guantanamera’ and ‘Chan Chan’ on every corner

Eliane: That’s it, because tourists only seem to stay in one area looking for this kind of music.

Juanita: We like to take it up a level. When tourists don’t listen to any of the music outside these typical songs, they get stuck in the past. This is why we want to show the versatility of Latin music. What’s happening in Cuba at the moment is incredible but here in London we’re lucky to have our own curator of the Latin Jazz Festival! (points at Eliane) It’s a prime example of what can happen in two years when you’re interactive with your music.

Eliane: Everyone wants to listen to Buena Vista, it’s our duty to show them the other genres.We’re invading the typical Cuban style of music with afrobeats, Cuban funk, reggae and more. We perform contemporary Cuban music. I don’t want to have to be a Buena Vista Social Club Tribute just to make it.

Ventana Latina: Do you find representation is very important then?

Both: Yes

Eliane: Like Calle 13 says, even if you have 2 million followers or 30 million followers

Both: It doesn’t matter!

Eliane: We have so much online support coming from Latin America, strangers contact me all the time. When it comes to social media, the power is in our hands to build our own image and reputation.

Juanita: And we have a voice through which we can express ourselves, we can listen to other groups’ music and they listen to ours.

Ventana Latina: Undoubtedly. Moving onto something a bit more political now… You guys have the song ‘Yo no me voy’ (I’m not leaving)

Eliane: Yes, we’re recording a music video for it in February! In different countries and everything…

Juanita y Eliane: It’s gonna be so good !! (high five)

Ventana Latina: And with everything that has happened with Brexit over the last two years, do you feel isolated or unwelcome at all?

Juanita: Yes of course, The other day was the concert of a friend of ours and we went with a Spanish friend who lives in Clapham. The topic of Brexit came up and how because of it a lot of the Spanish community have left. They feel, due to Brexit, that they’re unwelcome. But what I love about Wara is that we sing ‘YO NO ME VOY’. This stems from the emotion we feel towards Brexit, but it’s also like a middle finger  like I’m not going anywhere, I’m staying. We’ve fought for our right to be here and this song is for all the Latin immigrants in London who have participated and contributed to the city…

Ventana Latina: There’s a massive Latin vibe in London, without it it would be a very different city

Eliane: It’s because there’s hardly any positive representation in the media. The majority of nurses in the NHS are European, your doctors are Indian, your chefs are Italian, Chinese, from everywhere.

Juanita: There’s definitely a lack of respect. If [a Brit] goes to live in another country they’re called ‘an expat’ and us? We’re immigrants. It’s a lack of respect coupled with privilege.

Ventana Latina: Do you think cultural and artistic methods such as music can affect politics? Or make a change?

Eliane: The problem is that the older generation can have a closed mind, and are set in their ways. With this we want to make a political change within our generation because we have way more time on this earth.

Attitudes in society depend a lot on social media and when algorithms stay the same, nothing changes. It’s all constructed.

Algorithms learn what you like and then show you what you should also like, so they can sell you things. If, for example I like Jeremy Corbyn and I click ‘like’, everything I see from then on will be about Jeremy Corbyn. In this way, we pigeon-hole ourselves. We have to be active when using social media because those who don’t have access to our music or our page, may not ever.

We released all the tickets for the Jazz Café all from to a small advert in the Metro. We can’t rely on a click, we have to be active, the internet works by a divide and rule mentality.

Juanita: Our music relates a lot to the left, but if you choose one door to have a following from, another one seems to close. It’s one or the other.

Eliane: That’s why I choose who is on stage for the Latin Jazz Festival. I want to expose them

I want to show that Latin music has so many sides, it isn’t just a small old Latin man on maracas. Things have changed since the little old men from the 70s.

© Greg de Wode 

Ventana Latina: Tell me about feminism in the Latin music scene…

Juanita: We don’t choose our bandmates because they are women, we base it on attitude, our personalities, the energy. Yes there are 3 women at the front but we all come together as a group.

Eliane: There have been examples where machismo [misogyny] has existed in Latin music. As women who play an instruments the way that we are treated varies. But we’re powerful and we don’t accept discrimination. We have the strength to overrule it..

Juanita: When you show your work ethic, you do gain respect.

Ventana Latina: That’s true, and when you sing about political issues rather than waiting for a prince…

Juanita: Yes, we avoid lyrics about trying to be a princess, it’s unrealistic. We don’t want to represent women as poor little girls, who don’t have guts.

Eliane: If we don’t represent ourselves as strong and powerful PEOPLE, then we won’t be.  We need to lay the foundations, there’s been the #MeToo movement, things have changed. Catcalling has gone down, people are more careful about what they do and say.

If we had put forward this song [Yo no me Voy] 30 years ago, they would have been like ‘No thanks, who’s next?’But nowadays, we’re being lifted up and supported. Everything changes.

Ventana Latina: Thank you for your time and inspiring words! We can’t wait to hear more from Wara in the new year.


Words and interview by Gina Agnew
Photos by© Greg de Wode

Special thanks to Eliane Correa and Juanita Euka.

Wara will continue touring in February 2019

Instagram: @waramusic

Artes Visuales, Especial Artes Escénicas, Música

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